It’s Monday morning and that means it is time to take a look back at the week in National Hockey League goaltending. One goaltender ended a long losing streak while a pair of netminders are aiding in a slide down the standings.
Lehner Blows Off Some Steam
If there was ever a team that needed a big win on Sunday night it was the Chicago Blackhawks. They stumbled back into the United Center after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period at the St. Louis Blues the previous evening. The team has been trending in the wrong direction of late which has a lot of fans in Chicago looking for big changes.
Robin Lehner made 23 saves to help the Blackhawks take down the Minnesota Wild, 5-3, last night. The game was a back-and-forth affair with the Blackhawks holding on to a one-goal lead in the late stages of the game. Patrick Kane put the game out of reach by completing his hat trick with an empty-net goal with just over a minute to play.
Lehner was quick to celebrate the moment.
He was obviously happy for his teammate’s hat trick, excited about a win and probably thrilled this game was not going to head to a shootout. It has been well documented on just much Lehner struggles in the shootout and he has not been afraid to address the issue either.
“My strength is reading the play,” Lehner said after a shootout loss last month. “My strength is reading what’s going to happen and I can determine, ‘I need to be set for a shot,’ or, ‘I need to be set for a deke.’ That’s what my good abilities are, in my opinion. I’m always ready — people don’t beat me clean on shots, my clear shot save percentage over my career is up there with some of the best. My reading the game is my best ability, and in the shootout, I’m in an in-between the whole time. I can’t determine if he’s going to shoot or he’s going to deke.
“They come in slow motion and they can do both, then I’m 50-50 instead of set doing one thing. Same with a breakaway. Breakaway comes in, I know by the hash marks if he’s shooting or if he’s deking — you can see the back pressure, you can see how fast he’s coming, you can see how he has his stick, you know what’s going to happen. You can’t in a shootout: they come in on a side angle and they come in slow and they brake and they stop, I can’t read it. It takes away the best part of me as a goalie, and that’s just how it is.”
Lehner has been in three shootouts this season with the Blackhawks; he has lost them all and has only stopped one out of the seven shooters he’s faced.
The Week in Review
With Jimmy Howard out due to an injury, Jonathan Bernier has been getting the bulk of the starts for the Detroit Red Wings. The 31-year-old netminder finally gave the Red Wings fanbase something to cheer about during his two starts last week.
On Thursday night, Bernier made 26 saves in a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The win was the team’s first since Nov. 10 and snapped their 12-game losing streak. Bernier even had an assist in the game and now leads all NHL goaltenders with three helpers on the season.
Bernier’s best work of the season came on Saturday night when he made 42 saves in a 2-1 victory at the Montreal Canadiens. He was less than one minute away from a shutout before former Red Wing Tomas Tatar spoiled the party with 46.7 seconds to play.
It was a big night for Bernier, who grew up in nearby Laval, as his parents, brother and many friends were at the Bell Centre. Entering the contest, he was 2-11-3 with a 3.25 goals-against average (GAA) and .898 save percentage (SV%) in 18 career games against the Canadiens.
“I felt pretty good,” Bernier said after the game. “To be honest, last 5-6 games, except Pittsburgh I didn’t play well, but I felt pretty good. When you look at some of those goals, off our D, off their player and things you can’t really control, I think it was deflating for our team but we finally got some bounces last game against Winnipeg and the wheel kind of started to turn on our side. Tonight, every time you score first it’s a big difference in this league, and we did again tonight. Anytime you play at home in front of your family and friends it’s always special. It’s a team I grew up watching, I take a lot of pride to play well in here and put on a good show.”
For much of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were winning in spite of some below-average goaltending at times. However, the poor play between the pipes has knocked the Oilers out of the top spot in the Pacific Division and they are risking falling out of a playoff spot altogether if they can’t figure out how to right the ship.
Both Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith struggled this week as the Oilers dropped all three of their games. Edmonton has lost four games in a row and seven of their last nine. During this span, the Oilers have allowed at least four goals in six of those games, including in each of their last three.
The week began with Koskinen surrendering six goals on 32 shots in a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice. Thursday night was Mike Smith’s turn to start in the net at the Minnesota Wild. He struggled mightily in a 6-5 loss in which he only faced 26 shots. Koskinen added to the misery in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
There is only so much Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can do on their own and the goaltending needs to step off if the Oilers want to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
Backup of the Week
Cam Talbot has not had the greatest of seasons with the Calgary Flames, posting a 3.05 GAA and .907 SV% in his nine games. However, the Flames have been the exact opposite of their Alberta rivals in Edmonton as everything has been right for them of late.
The Flames won their first seven games since Bill Peters resigned and Talbot did his part on Tuesday night. He stood on his head while making a season-high 46 saves in a 5-2 victory over the first-place Arizona Coyotes.
“The beginning of the year, those were the ones that were going against us,” Talbot said after picking up his third win of the season. “We’d miss an open net at one end and they’d come down and score, but it seems like the tables have kind of turned. You play your way into those lucky bounces.”
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.