Blues Enter Playoffs with Two Strong Starting Goalies

When the NHL playoffs begin on Monday, the St. Louis Blues will be starting Ville Husso in net. The young, Finnish goaltender has supplanted former Stanley Cup winner Jordan Binnington as the team’s number one, at least for now, and there is little to no controversy about that reality.

Related: Blues’ Goaltending Future is Bright

But in the modern-day NHL, most teams who hope to go deep into the playoffs will need to rely on two options in net at some point. And while some may believe Binnington’s season is a total loss, in reality, the Blues are fortunate to enter the postseason with two in-form goaltenders.

Husso’s Breakthrough Success

The Blues drafted Husso early in the fourth round in 2014, and for many seasons, analysts viewed him as the team’s goaltender of the future. Binnington’s meteoric rise in 2019, coupled with Husso’s up-and-down play in the American Hockey League, put those plans on hold for several seasons. After Husso’s poor debut season in the NHL last year, it looked like he might never truly achieve his full potential at the highest level.

Ville Husso St. Louis Blues
Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

But something was different about him from the very start this season. In fact, he recorded a shutout in his very first game, making 34 saves against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 25. That marked his second-consecutive shutout, as he’d closed the 2020-21 season with a perfect performance as well. By the time six consecutive decisions (in seven games) from Jan. 7 to Jan. 27, it was clear Husso would be the team’s starter. Friday night’s performance in a largely meaningless game against the Vegas Golden Knights excluded, he went 9-0-2 in his final 11 starts, helping the Blues finish ninth in the league in points.

All told, he finished 25-6-6, with a .921 save percentage (SV%) that tied for fifth in the league amongst goalies with more than 10 games played. His 2.47 goals-against average (GAA) ranked 11th in that same group, and his 16.75 goals saved above average (GSAA) fell ninth overall as well. He was one of the league’s best goaltenders, and thanks to splitting work with Binnington, he should be one of the freshest presumptive starters entering the playoffs, especially with a rash of injuries late in the season. Husso’s role at the top for the Blues is insurmountable.

Binnington Better Than Assumed

With that said, the former hero Binnington is a better asset than most fans believe. His hockey card numbers are poor: 18-4-4 with a .901 SV%, a 3.13 GAA, and minus-6.6 GSAA. He has not been the same goalie he was when he virtually single-handedly redeemed the Blues from disaster, taking them from the worst team in the NHL to Stanley Cup Champions in 2019.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But Binnington’s numbers late in the season are improved from his full-season performance. In his final 13 games, after his worst stretch of the season, he went 7-4-1 with a .908 SV% and about a 2.53 GAA. Those numbers are far from jaw-dropping, but they are much closer to league average, and the GAA rivals Husso’s full-season mark. If you remove the last two games he started (a strange matchup against the Arizona Coyotes and a rough beating by the conference-leading Colorado Avalanche), the numbers improve further still: a .918 SV% and 2.27 GAA.

Of course, cherry-picking stats does not make a bad goaltender good. But the late-season numbers suggest that Binnington is not an unreliable goaltender in crisis as many believe. He is in decent form, and if needed, the team can turn to him in a pinch. After all, there’s no question that he performs best under pressure.

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Goaltending May Determine Blues vs. Wild

In their tight matchup against the Minnesota Wild in the postseason, goaltending might play a major role. The Wild went out and acquired reigning Vezina Trophy winner and certain future Hockey Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline to shore up their tricky netminding situation. The Blues will open the series with the relatively-inexperienced Husso staring at him from across the arena. That matchup could end up being the difference in a tight series between evenly matched teams. But should anything falter for either team, the Blues have the depth advantage. Even the most pessimistic analyst would likely take Binnington in a playoff game over Cam Talbot. The Blues are in good hands with two strong goaltenders entering the playoffs.

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