Canada

Stanley Cup teams showing that less can be more when it comes to No. 1 goaltenders

BOSTON – When Jordan Binnington first donned the pads of a goaltender as a 7-year-old growing up in Richmond Hill, he was a fan of both Patrick Roy and Curtis Joseph.

Roy, then with Colorado, and Joseph, then with the Maple Leafs, were workhorses, products of a generation of goalies that didn’t like to give up the net to their backup. Sixty games seemed to be the minimum number of games played by the top netminders.

Now, as Binnington and the St. Louis Blues face Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup, that era of goaltending seems to be coming to an end.

Neither Binnington nor Rask played 60 games in the regular season, even factoring in Binnington’s starts in the AHL. That means, for the seventh season in a row, the Stanley Cup will be won by a goalie who didn’t get into 60 games.

“With the schedule and travel and all that, you need two good goalies,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “You’ve got to use both of them. I’m not going to give you a number, but that’s, obviously, depending upon the goalie, the feel and everything that goes on, but all I know is you need two guys.”

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Much like baseball limits pitch counts on pitchers, and even NBA teams rest players for entire games, hockey seems to be moving toward “load management” for goalies.

Twenty years ago, 17 goalies played 60 regular-season games, led by Martin Brodeur’s 70. This year, only eight goalies, including the Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen, started at least 60. Only four of their teams made the playoffs; each had inconsistent backups.

The Bruins used the two-goalie system during the regular season. They added veteran Jaroslav Halak with the idea of lightening Rask’s load, and he was pressed into more action than expected when Rask took a personal leave of absence. Halak played 40 games.

“On a bunch of different levels, that was exactly what we had planned to do,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said. “We just felt that you get to this stage and, mentally and physically, that position demands so much. And Rask’s had some injuries, he’s played a lot of hockey over the course of the years, had a lot of success. We felt we needed somebody to complement that to push him.

“When he didn’t have the net, Tuukka was able to let his own game sort of disappear for a day or so. And I think those are vitally important moments. And you get to the stage now where, in those other cases, sometimes they were flip-flopping goaltenders and playing the best one. Rask, to his credit, has played really well and gotten better as the playoffs have gone along.”

Rask played 46 regular-season games, his fewest since he played 36 of 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season — when the Bruins went to, but lost, the Stanley Cup final.

“It was great,” Rask said. “Gave me rest. Gave Jaro rest. We had two goalies playing good hockey. Gave our team chance to win games. It worked out great.

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“There’s a big difference if you play 45 or 65 games. It makes a difference. If you go on those runs when you play 15 games in a row in the regular season, then you don’t have the time to get the rest you want to. Play 15, then take one game off, then you play another 10, it wears on you.”

Blues GM Doug Armstrong didn’t sound as convinced in the idea that less is more when it comes to starting goaltending, but was open to following the trend.

“I think you keep an eye on it,” Armstrong said. “I think every individual’s a little bit different and the travel schedule is more difficult now, I think the condensed schedule is very difficult … you certainly need a group of 25 players, and that includes two goaltenders, to have a successful season.”

Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran

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