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InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Atlantic Division

InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Atlantic Division

It’s another new NHL season – and for a number of teams across the league, there’s going to be a drastically new look in net.

With the expansion draft sending one well-known starter out west – and a number of other teams doing the goalie shuffle as a result of the addition of Vegas to the league – it’s a lot to keep up with.

InGoal has taken a deep dive into the in-net situations for all 31 (yes, there are now 31) teams around the league. From the starters to the minors, each and every franchise has been broken down into what you’ll see now, who’s coming up in the future, and what that means for the team.

All stats have been pulled from First Line Stats, unless something is otherwise noted. To make things a bit more even across the board, all stats will be at even strength only, to eliminate special teams biases and the subsequent noise they can bring to a player’s statistics.

To help out those new to advanced stats, we’ll be looking at even-strength save percentage (a goaltender’s raw save percentage during 5 vs 5 play), adjusted save percentage (his save percentage during 5 vs 5 play adjusted slightly to account for shot location), and high-danger save percentage (his save percentage for shots faced from the slot only).

BOSTON BRUINS

TUUKKA RASK

Age: 30
Contract Status: $7M until 2021
Games Played (2016-17): 65
Save %: 91.9
Adjusted Save %: 91.36
High Danger Save %: 79.5

Rask is coming off a down year that had fans and media in Boston worried: he is, after all, signed at a large cap hit through 2021. Part of this was Boston’s defence, no longer the force it was during Rask’s most impressive seasons. Rask’s high-speed game that relies on powerful and efficient down-motion to get around the crease is one that may not age as well as other, less active goalies’ styles. That being said, there’s no reason to worry Rask has begun any sort of age-related decline yet.

Rask has seen his high-danger save percentage settle under league average the past three seasons, which had previously been one of his statistical strengths. As he’s become more exposed, Rask has become somewhat less patient on top-quality chances, leaving him relying more on his athleticism and less on strong positioning, opening up holes as he reaches for pucks. Maintaining his patience (and temper!) behind a flagging blue line will be the key to Rask’s success this season.

ANTON KHUDOBIN

Age: 31
Contract Status: $1.2M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 16
Save %: 90.5
Adjusted Save %: 90.82
High Danger Save %: 77.8

Though Rask had a down season, his job was never in jeopardy. Khudobin, despite posting poor numbers in every category, was still the best of Boston’s backups. Khubodin’s blocky, inelegant style has been effective in the past, but his relative lack of mobility leaves him off balance and battling when his team permits lateral passes and carries through the slot. The Bruins need reliable backup goaltending to ensure Rask isn’t overworked by season’s end; Khudobin is capable of providing it, but has to seize the opportunity.

OTHER OPTIONS

Zane McIntyre is coming off a strong AHL season, but wasn’t able to parlay his efforts into NHL success during 8 games with the big club. Malcolm Subban would have been next on the depth chart, but he has struggled to meet high expectations, and was just picked up on waivers by the Golden Knights. With one pro season between them, Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman are unlikely to see NHL action in 2016-17. In the short term, at least, the Bruins will have to consider bolstering their goalie depth if last season’s trends continue.

BUFFALO SABRES

ROBIN LEHNER

Age: 23
Contract Status: $4M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 59
Save %: 92.7
Adjusted Save %: 91.69
High Danger Save %: 79.2

Life as a Buffalo goaltender has been difficult over the last few years, but Lehner has quietly put up solid numbers there the last two seasons. Asked to carry the starter’s load for the first time in 2016-17, he responded well, giving management confidence he can provide stable, quality goaltending as the team continues its rebuild and moves toward contention. Lehner’s attacking style and reputation for angry on-ice reactions sometimes get him into trouble. If he can keep his feet under him, and his emotions in check, there is no reason to believe Lehner can’t continue to have individual success and enjoy some well-earned team success in the process – eventually.

CHAD JOHNSON

Age: 31
Contract Status: $2.5M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 36
Save %: 91.5
Adjusted Save %: 91.64
High Danger Save %: 80.7

Johnson makes an unexpected return to Buffalo after spending the 2015-16 season there, dealing with the aftermath of the direst tank job the league had seen in years. He acquitted himself well in a tandem role the last time around, which may be why the Sabres were interested in re-acquring his services. Johnson spent last season in Calgary where the initial plan was to back up newly acquired Brian Elliott. When Elliott struggled early, Johnson ran with the starter’s job and capably handled the unexpected workload. As the season progressed, however, Johnson began to fade, losing the crease to a revived Elliott.

He finds himself, once again, expecting to back up the more established starter. He’s more than capable of pushing Lehner for starts, and if Lehner struggles early, Johnson could find himself in a very familiar situation.

OTHER OPTIONS

Linus Ullmark is likely Buffalo’s third option right now, with a handful of NHL games to his credit. Adam Wilcox will battle for starts with Ullmark in the AHL, and could move past him on the depth chart with a strong season. Barring injury to or significant struggles for Buffalo’s top 2, it’s unlikely the AHL pair will see NHL action. Youngsters Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf round out the team’s goaltending depth, both likely to gain seasoning in the ECHL this year.

DETROIT RED WINGS

JIMMY HOWARD

Age: 33
Contract Status: $5.3M until 2019
Games Played (2016-17): 26
Save %: 92.5
Adjusted Save %: 92.45
High Danger Save %: 84.4

Howard looked set to pull off a career year before injury cut out a large chunk of his 2016-17 season. A change in philosophy, characterized mainly by taking far less aggressive depth, paid dividends for Howard, albeit in a small sample last season. Aggressive goaltenders usually rely on a solid, predictable defensive system to take away lateral options, and since that wasn’t present in Detroit the last couple of years, it makes sense that the retreat to more conservative depths would help his game. Howard comes into the year as the presumptive starter, well rested and ready to reclaim his crease full-time. He is entering the stage in his career when goaltenders have to have their minutes managed more carefully, however, and it would be best for Detroit if Howard were, at most, half of a goalie tandem. Considering how porous Detroit’s blue line looks to be this season, Howard is going to find himself in tough most nights.

PETR MRAZEK

Age: 25
Contract Status: $4M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 50
Save %: 91.5
Adjusted Save %: 91.78
High Danger Save %: 83.9

When Howard fell to injury last season, the goalie controversy in Detroit seemed to be decided by default: Mrazek and Howard had been duelling for the blue paint the season before, and it was obvious the younger Mrazek was being groomed to take over for the older Howard. Unfortunately, the succession was anything but decisive. Mrazek struggled throughout the year, even losing the crease at one point to Jared Coreau. The organization’s opinion of his play fell to such lows that their one-time goalie of the future was left unprotected in the expansion draft. Mrazek’s problems with consistency stem from a style that echoes the way Howard used to play: active, acrobatic, and aggressive. Detroit simply isn’t the kind of team that can support such a method any longer, and unless Mrazek can curb his attacking tendencies, Detroit might be in for another season of uncertainty in goal.

OTHER OPTIONS

As mentioned above, Jared Coreau is third in the Wings’ pecking order, and challenged Mrazek for starts last season. He’s coming off a championship season in the AHL, and recently cleared waivers, meaning he’ll likely be starting there again. Tom McCollum’s role as AHL backup is likely to be reprised, while freshly signed Matej Machovsky will start his North American pro career in the ECHL.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

ROBERTO LUONGO

Age: 38
Contract Status: $5.33M until 2022
Games Played (2016-17): 40
Save %: 91.4
Adjusted Save %: 91.09
High Danger Save %: 76.6

The Florida Panthers are coming off a disappointing season, having set expectations so high the year before. Veteran Roberto Luongo’s down year was both a cause and effect of the team’s problems, as he struggled to maintain his traditionally high performance level without the insulation he’d grown accustomed to later in his career. He’s 38, which, even for elite goaltenders, is a venerable age, and though his game is conservative and efficient, concerns about his endurance over a full season are justified.  He’s under contract till 2022, which means that, while he remains the presumptive starter, the writing is on the wall for his gradual ceding of the throne to the younger James Reimer, who already played more games than Luongo last season. Expect a tandem approach this season, with 1a and 1b decided as the season wears on.

JAMES REIMER

Age: 29
Contract Status: $3.4M until 2021
Games Played (2016-17): 42
Save %: 93.3
Adjusted Save %: 93.27
High Danger Save %: 85.5

Reimer, no stranger to tandem situations, turned in a quietly strong performance while taking the slight majority of Florida’s games. His high-danger save percentage was especially strong, and his deep, reactive game seems well suited to Florida’s style of play. Freed from the eternal goalie controversy he battled through in Toronto, as well as the intense media scrutiny of that market, Reimer has been freed to develop his game and gradually assume the starter’s role without immediate and constant pressure. Certainly Luongo will push him, but the competition is far more likely to be a friendly one, with Luongo serving as a veteran mentor.

OTHER OPTIONS

Harri Sateri, 27, returns to North America from the KHL, and will start the season in the AHL, likely to remain there barring an NHL injury call up. Samuel Montembeault, fresh out of junior, will start his professional career in the AHL as well, likely backing up the more experienced Sateri. Beyond that, Florida’s top prospects are Hugo Fagerblom and Ryan Bernard, but neither will play in the Panthers organization this season.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

CAREY PRICE

Age: 30
Contract Status: $6.5M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 62
Save %: 93.6
Adjusted Save %: 93.33
High Danger Save %: 87.1

Carey Price remains the gold standard for technical proficiency in today’s NHL, and the Canadiens will need him to be exactly that if they expect to contend for the Atlantic title. Last season was a mixed bag for Price: he started well, then struggled in the new year. A week to rest without any games combined with a head coaching change rejuvenated Price, who finished the regular season in Vezina-worthy form. The Canadiens rely on and expect so much from Price that the temptation has been to play him as much as possible. With his history of injury, as he moves into his 30’s, the Canadiens would do well to manage his starts to keep him as fresh and healthy as possible. This has never been easy to follow through with, however, because the talent gap between Price and his backups has been extreme for a few years now.

AL MONTOYA

Age: 32
Contract Status: $1.06M until 2019
Games Played (2016-17): 19
Save %: 92.0
Adjusted Save %: 91.9
High Danger Save %: 88.6

Montoya acquitted himself well enough in his first season with the Canadiens last year, giving Price the rest he needed without surrendering too many standings points (unlike, for instance, Boston’s backups). Montoya is a cheap serviceable veteran option, and that price tag will become especially valuable when Price’s new mega-contract kicks in to start next season. His role was made abundently clear last season when he was left twisting in the wind for 10 goals in a single game, in order to give Price the night off. Though Montoya may be sufficient in a limited role, the Canadiens would have an easier time easing Price’s schedule with a stronger backup option. If Price is injured, you can bet Montreal will look beyond Montoya to fill the void, even for the relatively short term of a single season.

OTHER OPTIONS

Charlie Lindgren has been a welcome surprise in the Canadiens’ system, and after a strong AHL season, may actually be ahead of Montoya already: he needs games, so he’ll start the year in the AHL,  but if there are problems with the big club, expect to see him on the first bus to Montreal. Zach Fucale hasn’t yet been able to live up to his draft billing, but will play behind Lindgren in the AHL to start the year, after spending last year in the ECHL. The net he left there will be filled by promising prospect Michael McNiven, starting his first season as a professional.

OTTAWA SENATORS

CRAIG ANDERSON

Age: 36
Contract Status: $4.2M until 2018
Games Played (2016-17): 40
Save %: 94
Adjusted Save %: 93.55
High Danger Save %: 85

Craig Anderson is coming off the most emotional season and year of his life after his wife Nicholle was diagnosed with cancer. Despite taking significant time to be where he was needed most, Anderson managed to play in 40 regular season games, posting impressive numbers while doing so. With Nicholle now declared cancer-free (!!), Anderson will once again take over the lion’s share of starts for the Senators. That being said, it would be wise of Ottawa to rest Anderson more often than they might be inclined to. At 36, playing a demanding, athletic style, Anderson would be well served by appearing in closer to 50 games, rather than 60+. That rest can make a big difference on a big body come playoff time.

MIKE CONDON

Age: 27
Contract Status: $2.4M until 2020
Games Played (2016-17): 41
Save %: 91.9
Adjusted Save %: 91.68
High Danger Save %: 82.4

Mike Condon showed that he was truly an NHL goaltender last season, carrying the majority of starts for an Ottawa team frequently missing their talented starter. He didn’t have to be spectacular – he simply had to provide near league-average goaltending over an extended stretch, which he did. This was seen by many as a kind of redemption after his season as Montreal’s de facto starter, though in fairness, he was not put in a position to succeed with the Canadiens. Thanks to Condon’s success, Ottawa should feel more comfortable resting their number one. He won’t play half the games, but 30 appearances isn’t out of the question.

OTHER OPTIONS

Andrew Hammond missed most of last season due to injury, surgery, and recovery, and now finds himself in a battle for an AHL crease, rather than an NHL backup job. Danny Taylor, a veteran who played in the KHL last year, makes his return to North America to fight for AHL ice time. Prospect Markus Hogberg finds himself in this battle too, leaving the organizational goaltending picture very uncertain beyond the top level.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

ANDREI VASILEVSKIY

Age: 23
Contract Status: $3.5M until 2020
Games Played (2016-17): 50
Save %: 92.4
Adjusted Save %: 92.27
High Danger Save %: 84.7

Vasilevskiy is one of the most exciting young goaltenders currently playing the NHL. He struggled at times last season when filling in as the starter during Ben Bishop’s injury, but once Bishop was traded and the crease was his, he started to look more like the goalie the Lightning need him to be. Bishop leaves some very large shoes to fill, but Vasilevskiy is more than capable of filling them. Last year ended up looking like a dry-run for the young netminder’s career as a starting goaltender; he’ll have to be ready right out of the gate this season, however, as the expectations for this team are much higher than their results last season might indicate. Vasilevskiy’s strength and flexibility are superb: if he can raise his puck tracking to the same level, his ceiling is limitless.

PETER BUDAJ

Age: 35
Contract Status: $1.02M until 2019
Games Played (2016-17): 60
Save %: 92.5
Adjusted Save %: 92.44
High Danger Save %: 80.7

Budaj is coming off perhaps the most interesting season of his career. Initially slated to back up Jon Quick in Los Angeles, he found himself in the starter’s net immediately because of Quick’s early-season injury. Budaj played so well, especially in the early going, that the organization didn’t feel a need to find a different starter. When Quick returned, Budaj had raised his stock enough that he became a trade asset, and was flipped to Tampa Bay with Bishop coming the other way. Budaj should prove a solid veteran backup, and his dressing-room presence and friendly team-first demeanour have been noted by every team he’s played for. If Vasilevskiy struggles at points during the season, Budaj is the right person to help steady the ship.

OTHER OPTIONS

Journeyman Michael Leighton is the only real NHL-ready option the Lightning can turn to in case of injury, a problem that would need to be addressed immediately. Prospect Connor Ingram will begin his first professional season with Leighton in the AHL, though neither they nor any other goalie in the Lightning organization is likely to appear in an NHL game barring very unfortunate circumstances.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

FREDERIK ANDERSEN

Age: 28
Contract Status: $5M until 2021
Games Played (2016-17): 66
Save %: 92.70
Adjusted Save %: 92.56
High Danger Save %: 82.7

Frederik Andersen started his time in Toronto last year by terrifying the organization with a depth experiment that went horribly wrong. By November, however, he ended the experiment, and put a strong season in the books, taking the Leafs to the playoffs and leaving everyone sighing in relief. That said, though Andersen had a good season overall, his consistency was questionable, and he rode hot and cold streaks throughout the year. Part of this was no doubt his learning how to manage life as a very busy starter. Add a young, talented, but inexperienced team to the mix, and it’s easy to see why Andersen’s performance took some big swings. Expect him to be prepared from the outset this year, unlike last where he missed the World Cup of Hockey and training camp with a hand injury. It’s easy to imagine Andersen outdoing last year’s solid performance.

CURTIS MCELHINNEY

Age: 34
Contract Status: $0.85M until 2019
Games Played (2016-17): 21
Save %: 92.7
Adjusted Save %: 92.56
High Danger Save %: 86.9

McElhinney is an unremarkable goaltender with an unremarkable game, which worked out just fine for him and the Leafs last season. In limited action behind the workhorse Andersen, he posted league-average numbers, which is everything you want from a journeyman backup playing behind an inexperienced team. If Andersen can handle playing 65+ games again this season, the Leafs can likely expect more of the same from McElhinney. If, however, they want Andersen to play less, McElhinney may have a more difficult time holding down the fort with a more challenging schedule.

OTHER OPTIONS

With the departure of Antoine Bibeau for San Jose, Garret Sparks has become the clear third man in Toronto’s goaltending system, and if given the opportunity, could displace McElhinney. Kasimir Kaskisuo joins Sparks in the AHL this season, expecting to back up the more experienced netminder. Prospects Joseph Woll and Ian Scott are both at least one season away from making their professional debuts.

About The Author

Paul Campbell

Paul Campbell is a writer at InGoal, and a former CIS goaltender and women's goaltending coach for Mount Allison University. He occassionally moonlights as a university literature instructor.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy was the game’s first star and Jake Allen kept his team in it as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1. Take a minute to enjoy some of their best work in tonight’s Save Story.

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