My week was already ruined when Nikolai Khabibulin went down with an injury, so Ryan Miller’s high ankle sprain was like sticking a rusty nail in a festering wound that probably wasn’t going to heal anyways. Boy, it sure is tough to find a goalie that can play so many games down the stretch and still produce dazzling consistent performances.
And then I realize, “wait, you old coot, there’s actually a ton of goalies right now playing out of their gourds, while still acting as true workhorses for their teams!” Those would be the Kiprusoff’s, Turco’s and Luongo’s of the league. But beyond the well-known durable goalie stars, there are two others that silently have continued the workhorse movement – the wise and experienced Dwayne Roloson and Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun’s fiery run in February continued over the weekend with a 41-save shutout over the Boston Bruins. That was his 18th start in 20 games, proving Florida’s not-so-secret plan is to start him in every single game he’s capable of starting. That’s pretty much all of them, so don’t be surprised if Anderson’s day dreaming about playing for another team next season. We all know that Anderson won’t stand for sitting on the bench, but with Vokoun on absolute fire, it looks like Anderson’s stuck dealing with it. Even if Vokoun has an off night or suffers a loss, the team isn’t looking down the bench to switch goalies, which is a stark difference from Florida’s plan back in November and December.
Vokoun and Anderson remind me of John Vanbiesbrouck and Mark Fitzpatrick back in the 1995-96 season. They were arguably the best 1-2 punch in the entire league, as they both posted similar statistics and pushed the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, Beezer would tell you that he played the best hockey of his entire career the final six weeks of the regular season and into the finals against Colorado.
So can history repeat itself in March and April for Florida? Vokoun has three shutouts in ten days and a total of six this season. He faces a ton of shots due to Florida’s offensive system and therefore has a scintillating .927 save percentage, yet still flies under the radar because of early-season inconsistency. Now he’s playing like one of the best goalies in the league and proving something that is being mirrored in the Western Conference by Roloson.
Roloson has started 15 straight games for Edmonton since Mathieu Garon was traded in mid-January. Albeit he hasn’t posted the same spectacular stats as Vokoun, he has embraced the fact that he’s known more for his work ethic and determination rather than his skill. And that’s just fine with him, because in every single game he has the confidence needed to play strong and never give up on a play. He’s not as talented as Luongo, but he’s just as vital to the team winning. And the same can be said for Vokoun.
Now if you were watching Hockey Night in Canada late Saturday night, you hopefully heard Kelly Hrudy talking in the After-Hours program about the importance of a goalie’s mental toughness and confidence. Then you heard the great Glenn Hall speak of it as well. First of all, what a special moment that was for goalies everywhere. Roloson looked like a 20-year-old when he finally had the chance to ask Hall a question. I thought his question was interesting to say the least, but a perfect fit for the theme as he asked, “Who was your favorite goalie student?”
Hall’s answer was comical because of the pure truth behind it. Like most venerable goalie coaches would say, Hall simply replied that all of them were special. But he also mentioned that his memories of Roloson growing up in Humboldt, Saskatchewan were certainly one of his highlights. Sure enough, Roloson’s reaction to the answer was a bit of a chuckle, but deep down he knew it was an inspiring one. And so the theme of the show was hammered home - a goalie’s mental toughness and their ability to visualize their success is extremely crucial to the team’s success.
So right now, in this intense playoff race, mental toughness is the key to a Cup run. And what is one thing you can bank on getting from a veteran goaltender like Roloson or Vokoun or Tim Thomas? Discipline and confidence while still being a workhorse. And those are the main ingredients in Roloson and Vokoun’s delicious play right now.
Look at some of the youngsters this season and they have been struggling as of late. Steve Mason just got burned by the Ducks and has allowed 11 goals in three games. Jon Quick was lit up by Phoenix and has also allowed 11 goals in three games. Sure enough, the pressure is starting to mount for a number of these young goalies and their lack of experience is invading their success. Over the weekend you saw unbelievable saves by guys like Marty Turco and Scott Clemmensen, yet you also saw the likes Mason, Henrik Lundqvist and Quick allowing uncharacteristic goals.
Yes, there are still a handful of young stars that break this trend of lacking confidence, just like there are veterans struggling to stay afloat. Goalies like Pekka Rinne, Jaroslav Halak and others are certified gold down the stretch because they KNOW they have the strength and skill to win a lot of big games, so the confidence is there. Halak had another sensational 40-plus save win on Saturday, so he’s continuing to play well despite the mounting pressure in Montreal. He’s focused, not distracted by outside forces and wants to be the starter…so is it only a matter of time?
Ultimately, there’s a bigger picture to this story. That would be the necessity of veteran goaltenders in the NHL. Their wisdom at the age of 35 and up, their experiences and unwavering confidence is infectious to younger goalies and the entire team. Leadership is a rare characteristic, so there will always be lingering seasons for guys like Sean Burke, Olaf Kolzig, Chris Osgood, Curtis Joseph and more. They are wise leaders for the young studs and teach the little things goalies must to learn, like diligence, professionalism and patience, in order to play 60+ games. They are necessary in continuing the workhorse movement and they can still help a team win the Stanley Cup.