Despite a wicked start against the Winnipeg Jets, which saw the team jump out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, the Vegas Golden Knights dropped their second straight overtime game on Saturday night.
The team coughed up a 3-1 lead in the third period and saw Kyle Connor give the final dagger in the extra period. For Vegas, the game was a disappointing result given the team’s strong start, but more so, it was just the latest example of a growing concern for the team – the play of their backup goaltenders.
Backups Not Getting It Done
Saturday’s game was just the third appearance by a Vegas goalie not named Marc-Andre Fleury this season and still, the team remains without a win in those games. Just over a month into the season, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk have a combined record of 0-2-1 with a 5.03 goals-against average and a .867 save percentage.
Now, of course, it goes without saying that it’s been a severely small sample size. Subban played just 20 minutes of the team’s 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, and all of Saturday’s game against the Jets. Meanwhile, Dansk has played just a single game. Nevertheless, the fact remains that eventually the Golden Knights’ backup, whether that be Subban or Dansk, will need to start playing more and winning in the process.
In the game and a period that Subban has played, the 25-year-old has allowed six goals on 53 shots, while Dansk’s lone start of the season was a 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gallant Is Trying to Make It Work
While the Golden Knights appeared to have been reluctant to use their second-string goaltenders in the early going, head coach Gerard Gallant has proven that when he does, he will try to put them in a position to succeed. While many coaches prefer to solely play their backup goalies during the second game of a back-to-back – just ask Michael Hutchinson of the Toronto Maple Leafs – Subban’s two starts have come with at least one day of rest, while Dansk got the first game of a back-to-back.
Going forward the Golden Knights have just nine sets of back-to-backs remaining this season. As we mentioned above, generally these instances are where most teams get their backup goalie starts. However, head coach Gallant has already shown that he has no problem playing Fleury in back-to-back games. The veteran netminder started both sides of a back-to-back on Oct. 12 and 13 in games against the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, which the Golden Knights won 6-2 and 5-2, respectively.
So Gallant will be forced to play Subban or Dansk in circumstances outside of back-to-backs if he is to give Fleury adequate rest throughout the season. If he opts not to he will run the risk of severely tiring out his No. 1 netminder. It’s something that could be harder to justify for the veteran coach if these goaltenders can’t find a way to wins games.
Backups Must Be Better for Fleury’s Sake
The Golden Knights are going to need to rely more on their backup goalies or they will risk wearing out Fleury heading into the postseason. (from ‘TRAIKOS: Taking the load off the starting goalies,’ National Post, 09/26/2019) That’s a fact. Fleury has played in 13 of the first 16 games of the season. At this rate, Fleury is on pace to play 66 games, which would be just one game shy of his career-high, which he reached during the 2006-07 and 2011-12 seasons. A total that high is a lot for a goalie who turns 35 years of age on Nov. 28.
Fleury has undoubtedly had a strong start to the season, jumping out to a 9-3-1 record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average. However, he can’t do it all. Vegas sits in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and finds itself two points back or ahead of six teams, meaning points in the early going are incredibly valuable.
The play of Subban and Dansk shouldn’t make or break the Golden Knights season. However, the more Fleury is forced to play the more potential strain the team risks putting on their No. 1 goalie. All this means Gallant could be forced to make a difficult decision: risk playing the backups and losing games, or playing Fleury and risking fatigue.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.