So it occurred to me a while ago that this year there’s a seeming huge influx of rookie goalies, or goalies who’d logged fewer than 10 regular season NHL games. While some teams chose to go with two veteran goaltenders (See: the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, et. al), many teams have chosen to give the backup slot to a kid, a goaltender who hasn’t seen a lot of time. These teams are taking different approaches, as well; some are just throwing the newbie into a tandem spot, logging just as many games as the veteran they’re working with, and some are being more cautious, limiting their backup’s playing time, easing him in.
So let’s do a little analysis here on the four biggest rookies out of the gate in goal this season so far.
Name: Tuukka Rask
Team: Boston Bruins
Former Team: Providence Bruins
NHL games played so far this season: 8
Fun Fact: I mean, have you HEARD about MilkCrateGate? Come on.
Analysis: Rask is shining in a season where the Bruins were out two of their star players for the first quarter-season. The team has given him a little more than a third of the games so far – not overworking him in his rookie season, but definitely not coddling him either. He’s been a good solid backup for Tim Thomas and should continue to do so as the season goes on. Rask has also already logged two shutouts and his first NHL point, an assist against Buffalo on 11/20/09.
Name: Semyon Varlamov
Team: Washington Capitals
Former Team: Hershey Bears
NHL games played so far this season: 11
Fun Fact: Has changed the spelling of his name about 145 times. Also drew a bit of ire this summer when he made a bit of an…uncouth comment about women in Washington DC.
Analysis: Varlamov is benefitting from a strong Capitals’ offense, posting a stronger record than Rask despite having a higher GAA; a bit of a shaky start early in the season which has since evened out is also a contributing factor to his higher GAA. Unlike Rask, who has solidly claimed a spot behind Tim Thomas, Varlamov is actually in solid contention for the starting spot on the Caps’ lineup. He’s still young, though, so although at this point in the season his record is better than Theodore’s, that will probably even out as the season goes on. Expect to see a fairly even split in games between these two this season, barring any injuries.
Name: Jonas Gustavsson
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Team: Farjestads BK Karlstad (Swedish Elite League)
NHL games played so far this season: 11
Fun Fact: Nickname is “Monster.” Not really sure why.
Analysis: With Toskala performing terribly, the defense scoring goals on their own net, and MacDonald still seemingly not mature enough to handle NHL games, it’s easy to understand why Gustavsson has been given more starts than either of Toronto’s other two goalies – he’s actually recorded three of their four wins. This isn’t saying much, though – the Leafs are terrible this year, and it’s going to take more than really good goaltending to fix that. Considering the immense fail by his team in general, it’s actually a point of contention that Gustavsson’s 3.23 GAA is fairly impressive.
Name: Jimmy Howard
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Former Team: Grand Rapids Griffins
NHL games played so far this season: 10
Fun Fact: Is from Ogdensburg, New York, which happens to be WHERE MY MOM IS FROM. Relevant to everyone else’s interests, Howard holds both the single-season and career records for GAA, Save %, and shutouts at University of Maine.
Analysis: Howard has been in and out of the NHL for a few years now, never recording more than a few games. However, this year he was promoted to full-time backup to Chris Osgood, after Detroit failed to offer backup Ty Conklin a contract renewal. Howard is proving to be a competant backup, putting up similar numbers to Osgood’s so far this season, and is definitely going to be a player to watch this season if he keeps it up – might see similar playing time as Rask in the long run, barring injury or sudden fail by Osgood. Although, to be fair, Osgood’s been sick…so who knows.
There are several other goalies who have logged 4-5 games in the NHL this year (Niemi, Greiss, Deslauriers) but I neglected to include them as they’ll likely see very limited playing time this season, as opposed to these four who should see a significant number of games. Have an opinion otherwise? Feel free to debate in the comments.