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Weekes: Backup goalies unheralded but vital

by Kevin Weekes

You know me, I'm a goalie, which makes me a goalie guy. I love to watch goalies. And I watch them all.

Everybody knows about the talent, skill, demeanor, toughness and all those types of attributes that the best goalies in the League have. You know about Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Semyon Varlamov and others.

But for this week's Friday blog, I'm here to tell you what I like and what I know about five of my favorite unheralded, unsung goalies in the NHL. These guys may not be in line to win the Vezina Trophy any time soon, but they are excellent goalies and extremely important to their teams.

Anton Khudobin, Carolina Hurricanes

He reminds me of a modern version of Arturs Irbe.

He's undersized, but he plays big. He's scrappy. He's in great shape. He works hard. He's very flexible and he competes very hard on the puck. There is no quit in his game. He's very strong mentally.

I just love the fact that he's an underdog and he always has to prove himself. It's been a long hard road, but he takes his job very seriously and his role very seriously. He appreciates being in the League and he's put in the work, a lot of work.

It's been a long time coming for him. He didn't have much of an opportunity in Minnesota, but in Boston he played very well behind Tuukka Rask. They had a great relationship and Claude Julien and goalie coach Bob Essensa had a lot of faith in him.

What he was able to do from a performance standpoint last season in Carolina says a lot about him. I thought he was excellent.

Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

He played in Sweden with Henrik Lundqvist's brother Joel, and he told me how much of a veteran leader Joel was for him when they played together for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. He had to fill Henrik's shoes in Frolunda and that's not easy. He did it.

What I also like about him is he plays to his size, but he's not limited to just playing to his size. He can react to pucks.

I love the track he's on. I remember last season, his first appearance, he looked comfortable right away and started playing the puck. He inspired a lot of confidence in that team.

Of course John Gibson is a super prospect, but I think a lot of people fell asleep on Andersen. I think he had to make a believer out of people and he did.

Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings

He's another one that took a long, long road. He had a long road in Manchester of the American Hockey League under the tutelage of Bill Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh. He played a lot of games.

He's also another goalie who plays to his size, but he doesn't just rely on his size. I like his reaction and composure.

Let's be honest, any time you're stepping in for Jonathan Quick -- I mean, that would rattle most guys just based on the enormity of what Quick is, what he's done, how he plays, etc. When Quick went down last season; yes, you could say L.A. played well defensively but a goalie still has to make saves, especially in the unforgiving West, and Jones showed me a lot.

Another thing: When you play with a goalie partner, you start taking up some of his traits. Either consciously or subconsciously you start mirroring some elements of his game. Well, nobody can mimic what Quick does. He's like one in 7 billion to play the way he does.

But Jones sees what Quick does every day in practice and he's still playing his own game. That's tough to do. You see Quick doing all the gymnastics, the athleticism and the breathtaking stuff he's able to do physically and you can be like, 'Man, that's fun to watch, how do I do that? Can I try that?'

Jones doesn't. He still plays within the structure of his own game. I love that about him.

Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild

I can definitely make a case for Kuemper. He's a bit off the grid, but Minnesota is one of the best hockey markets in the world. They live hockey there. They don't just play it and love it, they live it. They have Kuemper and I thought he did an excellent job for them last season.

He has a strong net presence about him. He doesn't chase the game, instead he plays within the flow of the game.

He's big and he'll get out and play the puck a bit, but he told me before the season when I saw him at the NHLPA Rookie Orientation camp that he's worked a lot on his strength and he feels stronger, more muscular. He feels that's going to help him not only be more explosive, but to not wear down. With the travel in the Western Conference, he felt he needed to be stronger and have more endurance, to take his strength and conditioning to the next level.

When I saw him there it looked like he was bigger, definitely more muscular. That's going to help him. The Wild will need him.

Cam Talbot, New York Rangers

The way Talbot came in last season, under the circumstances when the Rangers really were reeling and Lundqvist was reeling, he was a big difference-maker. That was major.

Talbot got the Rangers valuable, valuable points, and he allowed Lundqvist to refine his game, rediscover it, tinker with it a bit. He allowed the Rangers to stay in the race in the Eastern Conference while they were waiting for their No. 1 guy to get his feeling back.

If not for Talbot last season the Rangers might not have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For a while Lundqvist couldn't figure his way out of his slumps, but Talbot helped the Rangers figure it out.

That time between starts can be tough. Trust me, I know. You're sitting for four games, and then it's six, eight, 10 and then all of a sudden you're in Boston for an afternoon game and the coach says, 'OK, you're going.' That's a tough assignment.

But I like Talbot's demeanor. He's calm, respectful, mannerly; that's a tough line to walk when you're playing with a guy as great as Lundqvist, who commands so much attention on and off the ice in a market like New York.

That he's able to feel good about his game and still be humble enough to be supportive of Lundqvist says a lot about him. It's a tough situation when you're in the shadows of a superstar getting so much attention. You have to come to the rink and not feel any resentment. That can play with your psyche and it does, but for Talbot, he handles it easily and with a great demeanor.

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