An unheard of goalie collected a shutout in his NHL debut, and another backup shined as well. We’ll look at both in-depth in this today’s Goalie News.
Driedger Debuts With a Shutout
If you want to go from total unknown to budding star in a single evening, debuting in the NHL with a shutout is a good way to do it. That’s what Chris Driedger accomplish Saturday with the Florida Panthers, stepping into the role vacated by Samuel Montembeault.
The Panthers have been desperately searching for answers in net this season. They paid huge money for Sergei Bobrovsky in the offseason, but he has been absolutely dreadful, with a 9-6-4 record and a .884 save percentage (SV%). Montembeault hasn’t been much better, going 3-2-1 with a .889 SV% and a 3.31 goals against average, which is why the Panthers sent him to the American Hockey League and took a chance on Driedger.
According to George Richards of The Athletic, head coach Joel Quenneville admitted that Driedger’s opportunity was not scheduled, but was instead a benching of Bobrovsky (from ”That is where it’s at’: Panthers send Sergei Bobrovsky to the bench, giving Chris Driedger his first NHL start,’ The Athletic, Nov. 29, 2019).
We expected to give [Driedger] a game on a merit-based basis by how he played in camp, how he played down there last year and this year… We will see how he handles what is a great opportunity for him. Bob will certainly get back in there soon. This is not a scheduled start, but that is where it’s at.Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville
Driedger certainly seized his opportunity, stopping 27 shots in his start against the Nashville Predators, including six on the power play. The definition of a journeyman in every way, the 25-year-old was making his first NHL start now, despite being drafted in the third round by the Ottawa Senators all the way back in 2012.
But it was a well-earned opportunity, and Driedger, who has been sensational in the AHL this season, took advantage. If tradition holds, he should also get the start on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Fans won’t have to think hard about the last time a 25-year-old career AHL goaltender made a significant impact on an NHL team. Could Driedger become this season’s Jordan Binnington?
Georgiev Perfect in New Jersey
Driedger wasn’t the only young goalie to excel on Saturday. Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers also posted a shutout, the third of his career, in his game against the New Jersey Devils.
The 23-year-old Bulgarian goaltender has been unpredictable in recent starts, with a few impressive performances and some embarrassing defeats. But he was certainly on his game in New Jersey, stopping all 33 shots against him, and helping the Rangers secure a 4-0 victory over the struggling Devils.
With Henrik Lundqvist having just captured fifth place on the NHL’s all-time goalie wins leaderboard with his 456th victory, the Rangers need to begin to think about its future between the pipes. Georgiev has proved he can perform well at the NHL level, at least in a backup role, but top goaltending prospect Igor Shestyorkin is hot on his heels and looking for the starting job.
While it will make for a tough decision in the coming years, it’s better to have two strong prospects to pick between than none. Georgiev is continuing to prove that the future of the Rangers’ net is in safe hands.
Beyond the Game
Goaltenders are fierce rivals on the ice. At least, that’s usually the case. But everyone knows hockey is just a game, and there are bigger things beyond it that are more important. That’s what led to this touching moment between Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks.
Markstrom recently announced that his father had passed away, and Murray, who went through the same thing last season, came over before the game to offer some words of comfort and support to his rival. It’s a sweet and potent moment that reminds us that there’s more to hockey than the final score.
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Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.