DETROIT -- On Sunday night, Dominik Hasek started his third game in a row, an occurrence that has only happened once prior this season (the first three games of the Red Wings’ season).
But for the first time, he was able to win those three consecutive starts, after finishing off the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2.
The stellar play of backup Chris Osgood has allowed coach Mike Babcock the opportunity to rest Hasek more than usual in an attempt to help him work through a nagging hip injury and stay fresh for a late season playoff push.
The attempt to protect Hasek’s health is greatly assisted by the Red Wings’ defense, which had allowed a league low 634 shots coming into Sunday night, or just under 23 shots per game. Sunday’s game continued that trend, with the Wings outshooting the Hurricanes 38-17.
“Well, what can I say? We play very well in every zone,” remarked Hasek after the game. “They have players who don’t need too many chances and they can score goals, but we didn’t give them any chances and we controlled the game.”
For a goalie who has seen almost 20,000 shots in his 15-plus season career, the combination of an overpowering Red Wings defense and the presence of more-than-capable backup is paramount to long term preservation.
While it seems clichéd, it is true that the first period sets the tone for the rest of the game – including Sunday’s game against Carolina, Hasek has not seen more than seven shots in any first period since October 15 vs. Anaheim – a span of nine starts.
The Red Wings’ single-season games played leader is Tim Chevaldae, who played in 72 in the 1991-92 season, but you would have to go back to the 1964-65 season to get to the next goaltender to start 70 – Roger Crozier. Prior to that, it was much more common: Terry Sawchuk and Glen Hall started 70 games a combined five times in the 1950s.
Hasek, who will turn 43 on January 29, has not started more than 60 games in a season since his 2001-02 campaign with Detroit, when he started 64.
Ideally, the Wings would like to keep it that way.
Babcock talked about the league-wide trend towards splitting time, as well as the play of his own tandem. “We’re going to go back and forth now [between Hasek and Osgood] and let them both play. They’ve both been excellent. I think a part in the league now is if you can have two [goaltenders] with the amount of travel, it’s better than just one.”
His run through last year’s playoffs (1.79 GAA, .922 save percentage) was among the best in the league, and for a team hoping to make another extended run into the postseason, having Hasek available and in peak condition is of the utmost importance.
And Lord Stanley has recently smiled upon teams with top-notch goaltending tandems: in 2007, the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who split time in the regular-season with Ilya Bryzgalov, and when the Hurricanes won it in 2006, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward shared netminding duties with Martin Gerber.