Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Year of the Surprise Netminders

Last night, Scott Clemmensen got his seventh win in nine start and Steve Mason got his third win in four starts and hasn't let up more than two goals in those four starts; which has lower his goals-against average to a league low 1.91 and raising his save percentage to .929. Craig Anderson in Florida has seemingly usurped Tomas Vokoun's starters position and won five of his last seven to bring the Panthers marching along, while also in the Southeast; Brent Johnson has regained his form when he had 30 wins back in St. Louis and has shown he can be a solid starter in the league.

All four of these names, you'd never suspect they'd be the big stories between the pipes. In terms of Clemmensen, Anderson, and Johnson-- some thought they'd be eternal back-ups while the jury on Mason was still out due to injuries and the fact he played on a subpar defensive team like the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Mason and Clemmensen are in there due to injuries to the incumbent starter, Johnson and Anderson's performances have created some sort of goaltender controversy in their clubs; but so long as their winning, it shouldn't kill chemistry all together.

We saw something similar like this last year with Ty Conklin coming on like gangbuster (to use a term from the 1930s) when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured, while you can't say the same thing about Dany Sabourin this year with MAF out due to injury.

To a lesser extent, you can throw in Alex Auld and Curtis Sanford in the mix with injury and controversy, which proves how valuable back-ups can been should the starter go down or struggle with their play. You look around the league and see a lot of veteran back-ups being signed like Curtis Joseph, Steve Valiquette and Brian Boucher, who could make a difference should they be thrown into heavy rotation. Even youngsters like Jonas Hiller and Antero Niitymaki can be able to make a difference even though their NHL experience levels aren't up to snuff in most cases; they could still win games if need be.

You wonder why some teams, especially in the case of the Calgary Flames, risk the chance having a very young, very inexperienced goalie in their bench. While Curtis McElhinney has a lot of promise, he still may not have what it takes to jump in and carry the workload of that Miikka Kiprusoff. In addition in that, his development could be stiffled by sitting on the bench and not getting playing time, even at the AHL level.

We'll have to see what the second half of the season brings and what goalies can bust out a surprise should the starter falter or get injured like Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo have this past season, which allowed guys like these to step up into the limelight and get the recognition they have dreamt about while wearing their baseball cap and opening up the gate to the bench.

No comments: