In the blink of an eye, the NHL season is more than one month old and you might have dropped and signed more goalies than you did all of last year. Just take a look at the goaltending situation for each team and there are many “starters” giving way to their “backups”. Whether it’s due to their team severely lacking in the scoring department, nagging injuries or their own troubles between the pipes, this season is quickly turning into the backup goalie revolution.
Extremely young goalies with less than ten games under their belt are shredding the traditional idea that they must be “groomed” or “brought up slowly” in order to succeed in the NHL. Instead, they are being thrown into the fire and truly thriving. Let’s take a look at the top three goalies (as of today) that are getting their first true taste of NHL action and doing a remarkable job within their roles.
Dan Ellis (4-0-0, 1.35, .952, 2 SO)
The former third-string goalie for the Dallas Stars lost the battle for Marty Turco’s backup last year to a formidable Mike Smith, left as a free agent following a season in the AHL and then found a home in Nashville. Then Dobber said that Ellis would win the backup role over Pekka Rinne thanks to a one-way contract, which he did, leading to his much-deserved second chance.
One month later and Ellis already won his fourth straight game with 30 saves on Friday against the feisty Edmonton Oilers. The previous night, Ellis posted his second career shutout (his second in three starts) after stopping 29 shots in Vancouver. Now he’s ranked among the NHL leaders in GAA (1.35) and save percentage (.952) and is giving the Predators some much-needed stability in net. Although the blame cannot be put completely on the shoulders of Chris Mason, it is obvious that a change was needed for the time being. Ellis has answered the call in spades and has done a tremendous job of helping out his defensemen by using his puck-handling skills to jumpstart plays.
Just look back at goalies that have posted a shutout in their first career start and you will see that Ellis is on the right track, possibly even slated for a very successful NHL career. It looks as if his time in the Stars’ system may go a very long way in keeping his stock high, as being that “third defenseman” is more and more important these days.
Carey Price (2-1-1, 2.65, .906)
Carey Price is remarkably cool, calm and collected so far in net for Montreal, but is he the “real deal” as many analysts are expecting? It’s too soon to be sure.
Yes, I was one of the few who said he wouldn’t even make the Opening Night roster, so I’ll be the first to say I was 100 percent dead wrong in that regard. But to my credit, I had never seen him play NHL hockey before. In fact, few had, except for those who witnessed his preseason action. So while we can’t be blamed for disbelieving due to the fact he had no NHL experience, it’s certainly has turned into a pleasant situation for the Canadiens and Price, for he’s learning more every day from Cristobal Huet.
His four games have proven, however, that he’s certainly capable of being a very successful goalie. What I love about Price’s style is the way he uses his size and how he doesn’t always depend on the butterfly. He’ll stand up to make a save and that plays a giant role in his ability to stay strong late in games, including those eight-round shootouts. This hybrid style of goaltending is proof to me that he has the smarts needed to succeed against even the best shooters in the league.
It usually takes goaltenders a couple of seasons to develop their rebound control and adjust to the speed at the NHL level, but Price doesn’t seem to need an adjustment period at all. Either way, Price is here to stay and he’s only going to get better. His stickhandling, rebound control and communication skills are much more advanced than I ever expected. He has certainly proved me wrong.
Dany Sabourin (2-1-1, 2.28, .917,)
Sabourin seems the least likely to become a top-flight NHL goaltender compared to the others, but to his credit he has been thrown into tougher situations than they have.
It all goes back to Game 5 of last year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals when Roberto Luongo mysteriously disappeared into the Canucks locker room during the first few minutes of overtime. The Vancouver Canucks were facing elimination against the Anaheim Ducks and Sabourin in turn made five solid saves before Luongo returned from an untimely case of…well, you probably know the story. The Canucks later lost the game, but those five saves caused Sabourin’s stock to suddenly soar.
Already thrown into three games in replace of Marc-Andre Fleury, Sabourin has played like a veteran. He played especially strong this past week as a starter against Minnesota, where he made 28 saves on 30 shots in a big road win and then 30 saves on 33 shots in a loss against Colorado. The future’s bright for Dany so long as he keeps playing the “relief goalie” role by turning bad team starts into big team wins.