Goalies Stepping Up Late In Playoff Push
We are about 10 games out from the second season and as the flourishing teams begin to lock up their spots near the top, a handful of teams are fighting for the final two playoff spots. Regardless of a contender’s place in the standings, there is no competing for the cup without a solid defense. “Defense wins championships” is repeated all around sports. As the backbone of the defense, goalies are heavily relied upon come April, May and even June. As teams get deeper into the season and playoffs, the forward’s bodies take major physical and mental abuse and that often leads to mental mistakes on the ice.There are no Stanley Cup Champions who have won without a solid goaltender performance. ZERO. These goalies have heated up at the right time and have given their club the opportunity to play for the cup.
Ben Bishop: After a slower start for Dallas, Bishop has picked up the pace and has statistically become one of the best goalies in the league. He is currently leading the league in save percentage (.933) and is second in goals against average (2.05). Bishop has posted an incredible 4 shutouts in 9 games (plus 1 period). Unfortunately, similar to the story of much of his career, Bishop has been sidelined by injury. He is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin will step in as the starting goalie until Bishop’s return.
Jordan Binnington: One of the most surprising goalie stories of the season, Jordan Binnington has replaced Jake Allen as the starter in St. Louis and since then the 25 year-old has been nearly unbeatable. Since being drafted in 2011, he had only seen the NHL ice once. Until he was called up near mid-season, and has since posted a 17-4-1 record including a 9-game unbeaten streak and 5 shutouts. Binnington now leads the league in goals against average (1.77) and second in save percentage (.931). The Blues were at one point near the basement in the Western Conference and are now at the 6-spot in no-small part due to Binnington.
Darcy Kuemper: As one of the teams who were not projected to sniff the playoffs, the Arizona Coyotes have surprised the league and are currently sitting in the 8th seed. Kuemper has floated around the league and until this season had never embraced his role as a starter. This season the Coyotes shuffled around with a few different goalies including Antti Raanta, Calvin Pickard and Adin Hill. Kuemper rose to the top. As the team heated up in late January, so did Kuemper. In the last 20 games, Kuemper has gone 14-5-1, including a 7-game win streak. Kuemper has landed in the top 10 in save percentage (.920) and goals against average (2.48). The Coyotes are clinging on top that 8-spot and will rely on Kuemper to help lock it up at the end of the 82-game grind.
Robin Lehner/Thomas Greiss: It was a difficult offseason for the Islanders and their fans, losing long-time captain John Tavares. They did add Coach Barry Trotz from Champion Washington Capitals and unproven goaltender Robin Lehner from Buffalo to join Thomas Greiss in net. As it has been for the last few seasons on the Island, there has been no true number 1 goalie. In the past it had not worked out between Jaroslav Halak and Greiss. They were the noticeable hole in the Islanders defense. This season has been different, and the combo of Lehner and Greiss has led the Islanders to a top 4 spot in the Eastern Conference. The tandem has split the season nearly in half, (40-38) and are both sitting in the top 5 for save percentage and goals against average. Both goalies are having career years and come playoff time it will be interesting to see how Barry Trotz handles the situation.
Honorable Mentions: Carey Price (2.57GAA, .915 Save%), Petr Mrazek (2.52GAA, .908 Save%), Corey Crawford (3.05GAA, .907 Save%)