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Five goalies who could earn their NHL stripes

by Adam Schwartz

There are only 60 goalie jobs in the NHL, and while most of them are held by veterans, every season there is a couple of young masked men manage to break into the NHL community.

The following are five goalies who have played fewer than 20 career NHL games -- none have played in more than 10 in a single season -- that figure to be on their respective club's opening night roster.

Curtis McElhinney, Calgary Flames -- There is no doubting Miikka Kiprusoff is the man in Calgary's crease, but coach Mike Keenan has a history of having an itchy trigger finger when it comes to pulling goalies, so McElhinney may get more time than expected.

McElhinney started last season as Kiprusoff's backup, relieving him four times and starting just one game, against the St. Louis Blues, which Calgary lost, 4-0.

McElhinney was demoted to Calgary's American Hockey League affiliate, the Quad City Flames, after veteran Curtis Joseph was signed as a free agent in January. But Joseph returned to Toronto this summer, which should give McElhinney another crack at playing second fiddle to Kiprusoff.

Tobias Stephan, Dallas Stars -- The fact the Stars haven't signed last season's backup goalie, Johan Holmqvist, is a clear sign that they trust Stephan.

Stephan has played just one NHL game, but he allowed just two goals while facing 40 shots against the Blackhawks on Oct. 13, 2007. Despite his strong performance, Stephan didn't earn a victory because Chicago got a tying goal late in regulation and then won in overtime.

For the bulk of last season Stephan was the starting goalie for Dallas' AHL affiliate, the Iowa Stars, and had a 27-25-2 record with a .910 save percentage and a 2.65 goals-against average.

Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings -- Seven goalies played for the Kings last season. The club hasn't had a star at that position since Rogie Vachon in the late 1970s, but Bernier could change that.

Bernier started last season with the Kings, winning the first NHL Premier game against Anaheim in London, but he lost his next three starts and was returned to the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in October.

Bernier's 2.73 goals-against average for Lewiston was second in the QMJHL and his .908 save percentage was tied for fourth in the league.

Bernier will have a battle on his hands to earn a spot in the NHL this season, as Jason LaBarbera is expected to start, and Erik Ersberg, who had 2 shutouts in 14 games, will be in the hunt for the backup spot.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- When the Predators traded Chris Mason to the St. Louis Blues, it was an indication of their confidence in Rinne, who was drafted in the eighth round (No. 258) in the 2004 Entry Draft.

Rinne has been the starting goalie for the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville's AHL affiliate, for the past three seasons, leading them to the playoffs each time.

Even though Milwaukee hasn't been past the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons, Rinne did lead them to the Calder Cup Final in the 2006-07, where they lost in six games to the Hershey Bears.

Dan Ellis, the Predators' starting goalie, has just 51 games of NHL experience; if he slips, Rinne could wrestle away the starting job.

Joey MacDonald, New York Islanders -- MacDonald has been property of three different teams -- Detroit, Boston and the Islanders -- in the last two seasons, but has played just 17 NHL games.

MacDonald, who played two games with the Islanders last season, has a one-way contract for this season and will see regular NHL action behind starting goalie Rick DiPietro.

Last season MacDonald split the goaltending duties for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' AHL affiliate, with Mike Morrison and was 16-19-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .909 save percentage.


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