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Weekes: Condon, Raanta among game's best backups

by Kevin Weekes

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, in conjunction with the new Canada Post goaltender stamp series, provides his insight into the position he played for 11 seasons in the League.

This week, Weekes discusses the best backup goalies in the League.

How important are backup goalies? Last season Scott Darling was 3-1-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a. 936 save percentage in five games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was a key contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks' championship when Corey Crawford was struggling.

And when Henrik Lundqvist missed nearly two months because of a vascular injury in his neck, Cam Talbot kept them afloat, going 16-4-3 with a 2.16 GAA, a .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 23 games and helping them win the Presidents' Trophy.

So let's take a look at the most valuable backup Game Savers this season:

Mike Condon, Montreal Canadiens

With the news Monday that Canadiens goalie Carey Price will miss at least six weeks because of a lower-body injury, it's Condon's time. He is in such a tough spot because he's replacing one of the best goalies in the world, like Talbot did last season. It was a great opportunity for Talbot, but he stepped up and was amazing. To me, he helped secure the Rangers' season.

I think Henrik is the best goalie in the League this season. He's been the Rangers' MVP and is on a similar pace that Price was on last season when he won the Hart, Vezina and Jennings trophies, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award. When you put all that together, we know what Price means to the Canadiens and Condon has to step in for him. So far Condon has done an exceptional job. He's earned everything he's gotten and is very humble. I met him last week at Madison Square Garden. He loves playing in the NHL and appreciates being here. It wasn't an easy road for him by any stretch. Condon has committed himself to be in good shape and has worked hard on that element of the game. I spoke Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite who said Condon always comes to the rink ready to listen and is focused.

When I watch Condon play, he reminds me of former Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet. He has a similar technical foundation to his game and wears the same number as Huet. Condon will continue to learn and has a calm demeanor in the net which inspires confidence in his teammates.

The tough part was that he had to play nine straight games when Price missed three weeks because of the injury the first time and he kind of got tired at the end of that run. But it's a great opportunity for him. He's played well. He's going to have at least six weeks to play. Condon has earned his right to be here. He had an excellent training camp, a tremendous preseason, showed up ready to go and earned the backup job.

Zachary Fucale was called up from St. John's of the American Hockey League, which will allow Dustin Tokarski the opportunity to play three games this weekend in the AHL. I've got a sense of how well Condon has played so far and what he looks like, but in the case of Fucale, this is all new to him. So it will be interesting to see how coach Michel Therrien manages the backup situation.

Antti Raanta, New York Rangers

Raanta had the first regulation home loss of his NHL career Sunday (17-1-3) in a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He was awesome in that loss though; the Rangers just couldn't score.

Having spoken to him, he feels great playing here. He really loves working with goalie coach Benoit Allaire so far. Raanta has given the Rangers a chance to win every game. He's gotten so many points for them in games he's played. He's played so well, very confident, and of course he is technically sound.

Raanta is 4-1-0 with a 1.36 GAA and .952 save percentage, and has allowed seven goals in six games. He reacts to the puck, has active hands, has been really calm and has provided great support to the Rangers and to Henrik. Talbot was amazing in that role last season, but Raanta has been incredible this season as well. He's been a lot of fun to watch when he's been able to get into the net.

Jonas Gustavsson, Boston Bruins

Gustavsson has been tremendous in Boston. There were questions as to who the Bruins' backup would be this season but they signed Gustavsson to a professional tryout contract during training camp and made him the backup right before the season started. In six games Gustavsson is 5-1-0 with a 2.15 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

He played really well with the Detroit Red Wings the past few seasons but he battled some injuries. Now he looks confident in the net. Tuukka Rask started 67 games for the Bruins last season but Gustavsson has come in and given him some rest.

Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall signed Neuvirth as a No. 1A goalie to pair with Steve Mason. Neuvirth's .939 save percentage is best among goalies to play at least seven games, and he had three shutouts in his first six starts. Mason has played very well in Philadelphia since he's gotten there but he's also battled some injuries, so Neuvirth has needed to play well and he's come up big.

In 11 games Neuvirth is 5-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and three shutouts. In nine starts he has allowed 13 even-strength goals.

Honorable mentions

Anders Lindback, Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes' fourth backup goalie in the past four seasons has looked really good so far. Obviously we know Mike Smith is their guy, but this is the best we've seen Lindback, who is on his fifth team in six seasons. Lindback compliments Smith very nicely.

Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

Jaroslav Halak has a 2.02 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, but Greiss has played well also. In 12 games he's 7-3-2 with a 2.30 GAA and a .925 save percentage and has won his past two starts. Not to mention Greiss has given coach Jack Capuano the luxury of having two guys he feels are No. 1 goalies and that he can trust on any given night.

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