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Unmasked

Tandems, Binnington and 'butter stacks' among top goalie stories of 2019

Lehner's continued success, Askarov's potential also noteworthy

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

There were no shortage of stories involving goalies during 2019, and Unmasked was here to cover most of them.

Here are the top NHL goaltending stories in 2019:

 

Rise of tandems

The era of the workhorse No. 1 goalie isn't finished in the NHL, not with six on pace to play 64-68 games this season. But the trend is moving toward a more balanced workload and a near-equal split in some situations. 

The Dallas Stars with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, the Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner), the Boston Bruins (Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak) and the New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev) each are taking more of a job-share approach to the concept of starter and backup, following the example set by the New York Islanders with Lehner and Thomas Greiss last season, and continuing with Greiss and Semyon Varlamov this season.

 

Return of the pad stack

No one is calling for a return to kick saves, and it's hard to imagine a day when the butterfly isn't the predominant save selection (it is not, however, a style) in the NHL, but there's been a first-half increase in pad stacks this season as more goalies employ variations of the old-school save. Labelled a "butter stack" by goaltending analyst Paul Campbell, there have been at least seven highlight examples of an NHL goaltender sliding on his knees before breaking out a combination pad stack and windmill glove save. There was enough of the save and the new catch phrase to get the attention of Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who was asked if it's more important now to be unpredictable against increasingly dynamic attacks.

"It's kind of a fine line," he said. "You don't want to be a loose cannon out there either, but yeah, there's definitely benefits to throwing a butter stack in every once in a while."

 

Narrowed stances

On a more serious technical note, the trend toward narrower stances continues as an answer to an increase in lateral offensive attacks that force a goaltender to rotate from one side to the other. Stances that get too low and/or too wide too soon in a sequence can leave a goalie locked in and unable to keep up or on angle as they are forced to move from side to side.

 

Luongo retires

When Roberto Luongo retired on June 26 after 19 NHL seasons, the 40-year-old did so as the best goalie in the history of two teams, leading the Vancouver Canucks (252) and Florida Panthers (230) in wins. He was second in NHL games played by a goalie (1,044), third in wins (489) behind Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551), and won the gold medal with Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics. Though his constant desire to find ways to get better will be missed, thankfully his Hall of Fame Twitter handle, @strombone1, remains.

Video: Luongo retires after 19 NHL seasons, 489 victories

 

Big deal Bob

Luongo's departure, combined with a trade that sent James Reimer to the Carolina Hurricanes, created space for the Panthers to sign Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract as a free agent July 1. Bobrovsky's early transition from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Panthers has been a little more worrisome behind an often-permissive defense, with an .899 save percentage in his first 29 games. It's hard to imagine that continuing long into 2020 as the two-time Vezina Trophy winner gets comfortable in his new environment.

 

Style still matters

Though the trend toward predominantly white pads and gloves for goalies continues because of the belief it looks bigger and provides a split-second advantage of visual ambiguity for shooters, some goalies still side with style.

From bright colors like Marc-Andre Fleury's gold set with the Vegas Golden Knights, to the black base worn by Crawford and Lehner, to hand-sewn graphics on Halak's pads for the Bruins, style is taking a more pronounced place. The seemingly endless possibilities of Bauer's digitally printed equipment, exemplified by Henrik Lundqvist's signature look with the New York Rangers and Linus Ullmark's stylish swords on a 50th anniversary design for the Buffalo Sabres, provide more opportunities for goalie fashion to expand.

Video: Top 10 Saves of 2019: Fleury, Bennington lay out

 

Draft stock rising?

The Panthers used the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to select Spencer Knight, making the United States-born goalie the highest-drafted since the Dallas Stars selected Jack Campbell with the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, and the first picked inside the top 20 since Andrei Vasilevskiy went No. 19 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Draft.

But Knight's status could be eclipsed at the 2020 NHL Draft by Yaroslav Askarov, a 17-year-old Russia-born, right-catching goaltender who made his Kontinental Hockey League debut with SKA St. Petersburg this season. Askarov received an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its preliminary players to watch list and is being projected by some to be the first top 10 goalie selection since the Canadiens picked Price at No. 5 in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Fans will be able to watch Askarov playing for Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, which started Thursday.

 

Why wait?

Carter Hart made his NHL debut Dec. 18, 2018, halfway through his first pro season, and now the 21-year-old is the Philadelphia Flyers' starting goalie. Georgiev is in his third season with the Rangers and the 23-year-old is stealing starts from Lundqvist, one of the top goalies of the past decade. Juuse Saros, the Nashville Predators' 24-year-old goalie, is pushing Pekka Rinne for playing time. Ilya Samsonov, who is 22, is a full-time NHL backup for the Washington Capitals, and Mackenzie Blackwood, who turned 23 on Dec. 9, is in his second season with the New Jersey Devils.

"Goalies take longer to develop" no longer works as a blanket statement.

 

Binnington breakthrough

Jordan Binnington's breakthrough season with the St. Louis Blues feeds the theory that goalies need time to develop. The 26-year-old spent two additional seasons in the Ontario Hockey League after the Blues selected him in the third round (No. 88) of the 2011 NHL Draft and then 5 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues before becoming a full-time NHL player midway through last season and then helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup. He has shown few signs of being a flash in the pan. After making his first NHL start Jan 7, Binnington led NHL goalies with 41 wins in 2019 and was sixth among goalies to play at least 20 games with a .925 save percentage.

 

Lehner's story continues

Lehner shared his addiction and mental health issues prior to his first training camp with the Islanders last season, then had his best NHL season, going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts, helping the Islanders to their highest point total (103) since 1983-84. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist and won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Lehner signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks on July 1 and the 28-year-old has a .924 save percentage in 21 games, quieting talk his success was a function of the Islanders' stingy style.

Video: CHI@COL: Lehner pushes across from huge save

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