In terms of playoff success, an NHL team’s most important player is its goalie. How many times have we seen a hot goalie be the primary reason why a club ends up raising the Stanley Cup? Yes, it’s safe to say that, more often than not, a team’s potential for postseason success is pinned on the man between the pipes.
So, when you have a big question mark in terms of who’s even going to start in net, as is the case with the Anaheim Ducks, how much of an impact will this have on your playoff performance?
Here’s a quick summary of the situation Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is working with here; he has a starting goalie – Jonas Hiller – who was playing well a few months ago, but has since become inconsistent. There’s the rookie goaltender – Frederik Andersen – who has a stunning 20-5-0 record and 2.29 GAA this year, but no playoff experience. And then you have minor league call-up John Gibson who has won all three of his starts and only allowed four goals in those games. The only one of those three who has even taken the ice for an NHL playoff game is Hiller, but as mentioned, he’s left a lot to be desired lately.
It’s quite a tricky situation for Boudreau, as you’d like to have the most important position on your team solidified. Of course, Boudreau doesn’t seem to see this as a problem.
“I think we’re in a position where we’ve got three good goalies. I don’t think I can screw it up too bad, whoever I choose,” he said, almost inviting a “famous last words” situation.
In a sense, he’s right in the fact that he has three good options in net. Hiller has shown he can be a quality starter in the league, while the stats for Andersen and Gibson show promise. At the same time, having three goalies to pick from, where two have limited experience and the other one has watched his save percentage plummet over the past month, isn’t as enviable as Boudreau makes it sound. Yes, Andersen and Gibson have looked stellar in their time with Anaheim, but postseason experience is more valuable than you think, and neither has any.
Andersen will be getting the nod tonight as the Ducks open up their series against the Dallas Stars. And hey, who’s to say this scenario has to turn ugly? We all remember a young Cam Ward stepping up for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and becoming the first rookie goalie to win a Stanley Cup as a starter since Patrick Roy in 1986. Who’s to say something like this couldn’t happen with Andersen?
But what if he struggles? Does Boudreau stick with him even if his inexperience becomes glaring? If he does make a change, who does he go with? Does he go back to his inconsistent starter or a rookie with a mere three games of big-league experience? More importantly, how long does he wait to make the change? Will he pull the trigger right away and throw someone else in for Game 2, or wait until it’s too late?
For those counting at home, there were six question marks in that paragraph. As you can see, there’s definitely potential for this situation to go south, and it’s not exactly the desirable position Boudreau paints it to be. Forwards and defensemen can only do so much, and if the coach is playing musical chairs in net, it will definitely have an impact on the team as a whole.
The pressure is on for both Andersen and Boudreau. If the young goalie struggles tonight, Boudreau has a lot more to think about going into Game 2 than he’d like. All playoff teams live and die by their goalie, and despite Boudreau’s positive thoughts on the Ducks situation, he’d rather live with one goalie than die with three.