Backup NHL Goaltenders Most Likely to Become Starters in 2013-14
Most teams start the season with a plan that includes a division of work for their starting and backup goaltenders.
In an ideal situation, the top goaltender will start at least 50 but no more than 60 games, while the backup will get the rest of the work. That way, by the time the playoffs begin, the starter has gotten enough of a break during the regular season to be at the top of his game at the most important point of the year.
However, the ideal situation can easily go askew. In some cases, the goalie who begins the season as the starter can't hold his job.
In this feature, we look at backups who may become starters by the time the season is over.
Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres
Early-season starter and backup: Ryan Miller, starter; Jhonas Enroth, backup
Reason for change: Ryan Miller has been one of the top goalies in the NHL for years. He was at the top of his game in 2009-10, when he won the Vezina Trophy and nearly led the U.S. team to Olympic gold in Vancouver. However, the Sabres have slipped badly and are likely to go through a rebuilding process.
With the Sabres going through a downturn, the team will probably make changes. Miller is in the final year of his contract, and it seems certain that he will be traded before the end of the season. That will give Enroth his opportunity as the team's starting goalie.
Enroth scouting report: Enroth is small for the position at 5'10" and 165 pounds. However, he is agile and quick, and that allows him to flash from side to side to make eye-catching saves. He is also a solid performer under pressure, according to The Hockey News.
Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames
Early-season starter and backup: Joey McDonald, starter; Karri Ramo, backup
Reason for change: The Flames are going through a transition year, and that's why a journeyman like McDonald is the starter. McDonald is a hard-working player who will give his team everything he has, but he is not a legitimate starter on a good team. Ramo will certainly get an opportunity to play more regularly for the Flames this year. He has returned to the NHL after playing the last three seasons in the KHL. His goals-against average was below 2.00 each of the past two seasons.
Ramo scouting report: Ramo has ideal size for the position at 6'3" and 215 pounds. He can take away the shooter's angle because of his size and he is cool under pressure, according to The Hockey News.
Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers
Early-season starter and backup: Jacob Markstrom, starter; Tim Thomas, backup
Reason for change: The Panthers signed Tim Thomas after giving him a tryout in training camp. They did not bring in the two-time Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner to sit on the bench. They will work him into the lineup on a fairly regular basis. Once Thomas, 39, is in top shape and feels good about his game, he will become the team's dominant goaltender.
Thomas scouting report: Thomas is an unconventional goaltender who will stop a shot any way he can. He has a fine glove hand, excellent agility and can slide post to post to make near-impossible saves. Thomas would like to show up critics who say he doesn't have much left, and he is motivated to succeed. Thomas would like to have a chance to play for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, so he would need to put on a stellar performance between now and Jan. 1 to make that happen.
Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers
Early-season starter and backup: Steve Mason, starter; Ray Emery, backup
Reason for change: The Flyers signed Ray Emery in the offseason to upgrade their goaltending after he had a stellar year in Chicago sharing goaltending duties with Corey Crawford. Many expected Emery to win the starting job in training camp, but Mason ultimately emerged with the job. The Flyers are off to a slow start, so a goaltending change seems likely if Emery can show some improvement in the next couple of months.
Emery scouting report: Emery has a disappointing 4.03 GAA and an .873 save percentage in a small sample size of two games. When he is at his best, he puts his athleticism on display and can make acrobatic saves on a regular basis.
Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs
Early-season co-starters: James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier
Reason for change: Head coach Randy Carlyle started the season with Reimer and Bernier sharing the goaltending position. Carlyle's experience has taught him that one goaltender will eventually emerge as the season plays out. Bernier has gotten off to a better start than Reimer. The former has a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage, while Reimer has a 3.18 GAA and a .917 save percentage. Reimer suffered a head injury last week, but it is not serious. He is expected to return to the lineup shortly.
Bernier scouting report: Bernier has excellent reactions and will make brilliant saves when he appears to be out of the play. He also has the ability to shake off bad goals and move on without being haunted by them, according to The Hockey News.
Al Montoya, Winnipeg Jets
Early-season starter and backup: Ondrej Pavelec, starter; Al Montoya, backup
Reason for change: There's little doubt that Pavelec is entrenched as the No. 1 goalie, but much of that is because he has four years remaining on his contract. He has the tools to put together memorable games, but consistency is not his strong suit. Montoya is a solid backup who has recorded a shutout in his only start this season. He will get an opportunity to become the starter when head coach Claude Noel gets tired of Pavelec's inconsistency.
Montoya scouting report: Montoya's best attributes are his size—6'2" and 203 pounds—and his ability to position himself to make the save. He's excellent at cutting off the angle on the shooter. Montoya is one of the better puck-handling goalies as well, according to The Hockey News.
Marc-Andre Fleury's recent playoff form is hanging over the heads of Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma. No matter what kind of regular season Fleury has, the Penguins can't have a great deal of confidence that Fleury will be ready to perform at the top of his game in the postseason.
With veteran Tomas Vokoun on the long-term injury list as a result of blood clots, the Penguins may need to acquire a goalie who can perform in the postseason if they want to have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. Current backup Jeff Zatkoff is not prepared to play in the most meaningful games.
Vancouver is playing well this year with Roberto Luongo back in goal and Eddie Lack backing him up. However, it appeared the Canucks wanted to trade Luongo a few months ago. What if Mike Gillis finds out he can trade the high-priced goalie after being stonewalled in that pursuit for so long? He could decide to make the deal if it would benefit the Canucks in the long run.
It seems unlikely, but it is a possibility.