Should goalies play back-to-back?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By John Wawrow

If NHL coaches want to pro­vide goalies qual­ity down­time dur­ing a con­stricted sched­ule, Martin Biron be­lieves he has an ideal backup plan.

Rather than split starts as teams of­ten do when play­ing on con­sec­u­tive days, the former net­min­der sug­gests it might be more ben­e­fi­cial to have the starter play both and then sit out the next game.

“If your goalie is go­ing to play Fri­day, have Satur­day off and play the Tues­day game, there’s never a time to check out in that time off,” said Biron, who spent 16 NHL sea­sons as a starter and backup. “I’m of the school that thinks it’s al­most bet­ter to play your starter on Fri­day-Satur­day and then not play him un­til next Fri­day, and then he has six days of prepa­ra­tion and rest.”

It’s not as if goalies aren’t ac­cus­tomed to play­ing twice in two days.

“Most of the guys that are young played three (games) in three (days) in the American League. They can han­dle that,” Biron said. “I can’t speak for (skaters), but as a goalie, once you get your mind­set into a game, if you have to ex­tend it for an­other 24 hours that’s fine.”

The goalie bal­anc­ing act is never sim­ple.

And how much in­creased play­ing time back­ups get will be a press­ing is­sue for a league squeez­ing in an 82game sched­ule in a short­ened cal­en­dar. The sea­son be­gan a week later than usual be­cause of the World Cup of Hockey and the sched­ule, for the first time, fea­tures each team en­joy­ing a five-day bye week.

Cap­i­tals goalie Braden Holtby tends to agree with Biron, say­ing there’s too much con­cern placed on goalies play­ing on con­sec­u­tive nights when, in ac­tu­al­ity, the en­tire team is tired.

“His­tor­i­cally, teams aren’t as good on back to backs in gen­eral, and goalies go hand in hand,” Holtby said. “Goalie stats are a lot to do with how your team per­forms. That’s just the way it is. It’s a lit­tle bit harder, but it’s a lit­tle harder for ev­ery­one.”

And, Holtby added, it’s also hard on a backup goalie be­ing thrust into ac­tion with neg­li­gi­ble on-ice time be­cause teams don’t nor­mally prac­tice the morn­ing be­fore play­ing their sec­ond game.

Holtby’s pro­duc­tion bears him out.

Over the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons, Holtby is 12-5-2 when play­ing both nights, in­clud­ing a 6-2-1 mark on Day 2. He’s given up a com­bined 23 goals on each night.

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick’s record is even more im­pres­sive. In the 14 times he’s played back to backs over the past two years, Quick has al­lowed 20 goals the first game and just 12 the next with a 5-1-1 record.

The only strag­gler of the 10 goalies’ records an­a­lyzed by The As­so­ci­ated Press is Tuukka Rask. The Bos­ton starter is 7-1-3 (plus one no de­ci­sion) and al­lowed 18 goals in the first game. He is 2-8-2 with 29 goals al­lowed the fol­low­ing night.

What’s never been up for de­bate is how crit­i­cal the backup’s role is dur­ing a busy stretch or when the starter is side­lined.

Last year, the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens un­rav­eled once Carey Price went down with a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in late Novem­ber. Af­ter open­ing 19-4-3, Mon­treal fin­ished 38-38-6. The Cana­di­ens ad­dressed their backup spot this off­sea­son by sign­ing veteran Al Mon­toya in free agency.

The move has al­ready paid off. The eighth-year player is 2-0-2 af­ter Price opened the sea­son side­lined by the flu.

On the other hand, mi­nor lea­guer Matt Mur­ray led the Pen­guins to a Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship af­ter be­ing called up in March once starter Marc-An­dre Fleury was side­lined by a con­cus­sion.

This year, the Los An­ge­les Kings are bangedup in net with Quick and backup Jeff Zatkoff both side­lined by groin in­juries. They’re now lean­ing on 11year jour­ney­man Peter Bu­daj, who won his first two starts.

Biron said it’s not un­com­mon for mi­nor league callups to find their groove be­cause they’re al­ready ac­cus­tomed to a starter’s work­load as op­posed to the pri­mary backup who’s had less game ac­tion.

By the num­bers

Last sea­son, 85 goalies ap­peared in at least one game. There have al­ready been 60 goalies who have made an ap­pear­ance through the first 92 games this year.

Since 2006, only two goalies have led their team to win a Stan­ley Cup when play­ing 60 or more reg­u­lar-sea­son games.

Quick played 69 times when the Kings won ti­tle in 2012, and Fleury played 62 for the 2009 Cup-cham­pion Pen­guins. On the low-end of the scale, Mur­ray played only 13 reg­u­lar-sea­son games for Pitts­burgh last year. Cam Ward played just 28 dur­ing his rookie year in lead­ing the Carolina Hur­ri­canes to the cham­pi­onship in ‘06.

Of the 10 net­min­ders who played 60 or more games last year, two missed the play­offs: Rask and Ot­tawa’s Craig An­der­son. And only two reached the con­fer­ence fi­nals: Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Martin Jones, whose Sharks lost the Cup Fi­nal to Pitts­burgh. SLUMP­ING The Chicago Black­hawks penalty killers. In al­low­ing two goals on five power-play chances in a 3-2 shootout loss to Calgary on Mon­day, Chicago has al­lowed 14 pow­er­play goals on 24 op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Streak­ing

A year af­ter open­ing 9-0, the Cana­di­ens are 5-0-1 and the NHL’s only team yet to lose in reg­u­la­tion.

Lead­ers

Goals, Aus­ton Matthews (Toronto) and Richard Panik (Chicago), 6; Points, Matthews, 10; Time on ice, Dustin Byfuglien (Win­nipeg), 29:30; Wins, Cam Tal­bot (Ed­mon­ton), 5.

Game of the Week

A show­down of the past two No. 1 draft picks takes place at Toronto on Tues­day, when Ed­mon­ton’s Con­nor McDavid faces Maple Leafs rookie Aus­ton Matthews.

NICK WASS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals de­fense­man Matt Niska­nen (2) bat­tles for the puck against New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash (61) as Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals goalie Braden Holtby, cen­ter, watches dur­ing the first pe­riod of an NHL hockey game, Oct. 22 in Wash­ing­ton.

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