Eastern Edge: Goaltending storylines from the regular season
In this week's Eastern Edge, I revisited a few goaltending storylines from this past season. If there's anything you'd like to see in future articles, please let me know in the comments below, or shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza!
Pittsburgh's Goaltending Controversy
Matt Murray played very well in October, winning seven of his 10 starts while registering a 2.20 GAA and .923 save percentage. He wasn't able to maintain that level of play for the whole season though, as he finished the year with a 2.87 GAA and .899 save percentage through 38 appearances. The big story this season was how Tristan Jarry outperformed Matt Murray and should be the new starter in Pittsburgh. If we're just looking at overall numbers this season, Jarry put up a .921 save percentage and 2.43 GAA through 33 games. So, at first glance, it appears that he outplayed Murray. However, Jarry's overall numbers are boosted by a strong start that saw him win 13 of his 18 games from October to December, when he posted a 1.88 GAA and .938 save percentage. Jarry wasn't all that great in the subsequent months, as he registered a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage through 15 games between January and March. Murray actually outperformed Jarry in that same span, with a .2.73 GAA and .905 save percentage in 15 games. Given all this, I think it's a bit premature to declare that Jarry is the better goalie based on one strong stretch of 18 games. Murray's strong play comes with a much larger sample size, so I'm more comfortable saying he should still be Pittsburgh's number one option. With all that being said, things get complicated because of Pittsburgh's cap situation. General Manager Jim Rutherford said himself that it would be difficult to keep both goalies, so it's definitely an interesting situation to monitor.
Carter Hutton's Struggles
Carter Hutton had a strong start to the 2019-2020 campaign, posting a 6-1-1 record, 2.21 GAA and .926 save percentage in October. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to carry that momentum through the rest of the season as he won just six of his next 22 starts, with a 3.54 GAA and .887 save percentage. Apparently, Hutton had been dealing with some vision issues this season; it was difficult to track the puck as his left eye would move slower than his right eye. Now there wasn't necessarily a correlation between Hutton's struggles and his vision issues –
he started to feel normal again in January, but still had a few lacklustre showings between January and the end of the regular season. However, I can understand how vision problems might throw off a goaltender's rhythm for an entire season. I imagine one would need time to adjust after an ability that was once take for granted, turns out to be unreliable and unpredictable for a short stretch. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like these vision issues will jeopardize his future in the NHL, so hopefully this extra time off allows him to bounce back with a stronger showing next year. In any case, Linus Ullmark should be the starter in Buffalo next season, but we've seen the benefits of having two strong goalies share the net.
I'll never understand the hate that Tuukka Rask gets from some Bruins fans. He has consistently played well throughout his career in Boston but doesn't seem to get the appreciation he deserves. A number of fans were critical of Tuukka's decision to opt out of this year's playoffs due to important family matters. Now, choosing family over work doesn't seem like a controversial decision to me, but I guess some people had issues with Rask's lack of commitment to the Cup. I for one can completely understand his struggles with motivation given the circumstances, but even if you had a problem with his demeanor during the postseason and his comments about the lack of atmosphere in the bubble, I'd expect a little more forgiveness from Bruins fans considering Rask's track record with the team.
He took on a prominent role with the Bruins during the 2009-2010 campaign and hasn't posted a season save percentage below .912 since then. Rask put up an outstanding .934 save percentage and 2.02 GAA during Boston's run to the Cup Final last year and followed that up with a strong regular season this year – posting a .929 save percentage and 2.12 GAA while winning 26 of his 41 starts. He's been an extremely reliable option in fantasy hockey for years, providing stability at a position that is riddled with inconsistency and unpredictability. While other top-tier netminders like Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price have had truly bad seasons before, you can't really say the same for Rask. Obviously, Rask benefits from playing behind a strong team in Boston, but that's part of what makes him so valuable in fantasy leagues. Not only is he a great goaltender, but he also plays for a good team. From a fantasy perspective, that's often more valuable than an elite goaltender who plays behind a below-average team – a good team can limit high danger opportunities, allowing their goaltender to post better numbers and accumulate more wins. Speaking of the team in front of Rask, Boston's defensive corps could look different next year as Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug are set to become unrestricted free agents. It'll be interesting to see if Rask's numbers are affected by a new-look blueline.
Since I mentioned Rask's struggles to adapt in the bubble, I do want to highlight the potential fantasy hockey repercussions. We still don't know whether games are going to be played in front of fans next year, so it's possible that Rask still struggles to perform due to a lack of atmosphere. I personally think that he'll have enough time to wrap his head around the new circumstances, and hopefully his family matters will be resolved by the time next season begins.
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