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Goaltending depth becoming critical throughout NHL

Having multiple options crucial should injuries strike

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo had a voice in the decision to sign fellow goalie James Reimer as a free agent on July 1, and it was not a dissenting opinion.

Luongo was all for it, because he knows how important goaltending depth has become. 

"I was a part of that process; it didn't come out of nowhere," Luongo said. "In today's NHL you have to have three guys that can play, and you need to have a solid second guy so if anything happens you know he can be trusted to carry the load for whatever amount of time."

Though he has been durable through most of his 17 NHL seasons, Luongo, 37, knows how important it is to have multiple goaltending options. He was a big part of the infamous game on March 3, 2015, when Luongo and then-backup Al Montoya were injured against the Toronto Maple Leafs and goaltending coach Robb Tallas almost was forced to play. Luongo returned from the hospital just in time to keep Tallas from having to take over the crease; however, the fracture in Luongo's shoulder forced him to miss more than two weeks, and the Panthers joined a long list of teams that needed three or more goaltenders to make it through the 2014-15 season.

Five of the NHL's 30 teams got through that season using the same two goaltenders. That number jumped to eight teams in 2015-16, but there were also eight that needed four goalies, and the St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens each used five.

In total, 92 goalies got into a game in each of the last two seasons, down slightly from 97 in 2013-14, and early indications this season are that goaltending depth again will be important in determining who makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's less than one month into the 2016-17 season, and five teams already have used three goaltenders. The Boston Bruins have started four, and the Los Angeles Kings have used four and are taking a look at a fifth, with 6-foot-6 goalie Anders Lindback on a professional tryout contract.

Video: PIT@MTL: Montoya denies Schultz's one-timer

The Ottawa Senators are among five teams to play three goalies this season; they've also had a fourth on the bench as a backup, and added a fifth to fill that role on Wednesday, when they traded a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft to the Pittsburgh Penguins for goalie Mike Condon.

Pittsburgh was without Matt Murray to start the season after he broke his right hand playing for Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey 2016, so the Penguins claimed Condon off waivers from the Canadiens, who had hoped to keep him despite signing Montoya in free agency to back up Carey Price.

Having Condon allowed the Penguins and Senators to keep less-experienced prospects playing in the American Hockey League rather than sitting on the bench in the NHL.

"There's no question that you are balancing depth and development, and it's always in a state of flux," said Washington Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, in his 26th season in the NHL. "You have to have guys developing and playing at high levels, and those guys may not help you today but you hope they are going to help you tomorrow, and you have to have guys that are going to help you today, and sometimes those two things contradict each other."

The Penguins had what many considered the perfect depth chart balance last season.

Pittsburgh started the season with Marc-Andre Fleury as an established workhorse No. 1 and backup Jeff Zatkoff well-suited to playing sporadically behind him, a role some goalies struggle with. Though Zatkoff handled spot starts when Fleury was healthy, the Penguins also had Murray playing regularly in the AHL, where he was showing signs of a higher ceiling than Zatkoff in case Pittsburgh required goaltending help for an extended period. When Fleury sustained his second concussion of the season on March 31, that's exactly what happened, with Murray leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Their ideal, three-goalie depth chart played a big role in that win, but it's hard to maintain for long.

Just ask the Kings. They were able to trade Jonathan Bernier and Ben Scrivens, because they developed undrafted free agent Martin Jones behind Jonathan Quick. When they traded Jones to the San Jose Sharks, they still had Jean-Francois Berube on the rise in the AHL, but the New York Islanders claimed Berube off waivers last season and the Kings' once-enviable depth became depleted.

Some teams can get by with two good goalies. The New York Rangers survived a neck injury to Henrik Lundqvist two seasons ago because backup Cam Talbot was ready to step into a bigger role, going 16-4-3 with a .929 save percentage with Lundqvist out. But that also made it hard for the Rangers to keep Talbot, who was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

"It is very hard to keep everybody in the right seat on the bus year to year," Korn said.

 

Season, No. of goalies to appear in one season, No. of teams to use 2 goalies for entire season

2008-09, 89, 10

2009-10, 83, 11

2010-11, 87, 8

2011-12, 89, 11

2012-13, 82, 11

2013-14, 97, 3

2014-15, 92, 5

2015-16, 92, 8

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