The NHL loves a spectacle, and the Stadium Series game at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado was certainly that. Unfortunately, the game featured a major injury to one of the team’s starting goaltenders. Also, two Pacific Division goalies had major shutouts on Saturday.
Grubauer Injured Outdoors
The Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings have been awaiting Saturday’s Stadium Series game all season. They debuted new threads months ago, and have spent several days in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy soaking in the festivities. The goalies even got new buckets for the occasion. Playing at night with temperatures below zero, the two teams struggled for traction in the unfamiliar environs. Philipp Grubauer got the start for the Avalanche, facing off against Jonathan Quick of the Kings.
Through two periods, the game was fairly quiet, with each side scoring one goal. Grubauer faced limited action, making 14 saves on 15 shots, allowing only that one goal to the Kings’ Tyler Toffoli. Then, early in the third period, everything changed.
In the third minute of the period, Austin Wagner crashed towards Grubauer’s net with Ian Cole defending against him. Grubauer slid behind the net and went down in pain. Thinking it was as a result of a collision with Wagner, the fans in attendance began to boo. But upon closer inspection, the injury actually came after contact with a reversing Cole.
Grubauer hit the ice in pain and needed assistance getting off. Pavel Francouz, in the midst of a fantastic rookie season, was forced into action without warming up in the cold. Toffoli scored two goals in the final minute, one on the empty net, to secure the first-ever hat trick in an outdoor game and give the Kings the victory.
After the defeat, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar sounded concerned about his goalie’s future. “The fact that he left the game tonight tells me there’s certainly the possibility that he’ll miss games,” he said.
The Avalanche play next on Monday, which is when an update on Grubauer is likely to come. With just a week between then and the trade deadline, the general manager Joe Sakic will need to decide how long Grubauer will be out and whether Francouz can shoulder the load. They have been linked to Henrik Lundqvist in the past.
Jones’ First Shutout of the Season
Martin Jones has not had a spectacular season by any means. He currently possesses a 3.15 goals-against average (GAA) and a .894 save percentage (SV%). Both he and Aaron Dell have struggled, which is part of what led to the firing of Peter DeBoer. But on Saturday, Jones offered his best performance of the season.
Ironically, Jones came up against a Minnesota Wild team that had just fired its head coach, Bruce Boudreau. Interim head coach Dean Evason made his debut on Saturday, and Jones ensured that it would be a sour memory.
The Wild put on an offensive showcase, managing 39 shots, but Jones stopped them all. Despite the heavy shot total, the quality of the scoring chances was limited. According to Natural Stat Trick, Minnesota had just seven high danger chances (HDCF) and 1.84 expected goals (xG).
Still, for Jones, who has struggled since the 2017-18 season, it was a momentous night. It was his first shutout since Mar. 11, 2019. On the day the Sharks found out that defenseman Erik Karlsson would miss the remainder of the season with a thumb injury, it was some much-needed good news. But it will take many more strong starts from Jones to revive the Sharks’ playoff hopes.
Fleury Blanks the Islanders
The New York Islanders have scored 10 goals in the last four games. Unfortunately for them, all 10 came in the first two of those games. They have gone goalless in two straight. And on Saturday, the culprit in the opposing net was Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights.
It wasn’t exactly a difficult night’s work for the veteran netminder. The Islanders mustered eight HDCF and 1.74 xG, but Fleury needed just 19 saves to grab the clean sheet for the evening. The Islanders will look to break their scoring slump on Monday against the Arizona Coyotes.
As for Fleury, the shutout was the 60th of his career. That moved him out of a tie with Evgeni Nabokov into sole possession of 18th place all-time. He is now chasing Toronto Maple Leafs’ legend Turk Broda’s 61. Among active goalies, only Lundqvist leads Fleury. The New York Rangers’ veteran has 64.
Goalie Gram: Merzly’s Mutt
Elvis Merzlikins has been just about the hottest goalie on the planet in the last month or so. He has almost single-handedly kept the Columbus Blue Jackets relevant in the absence of Joonas Korpisalo. But according to his Instagram, hockey isn’t the only thing on his mind, as a member of his family celebrated a big birthday on Saturday.
Koby is a “cavapoo,” a cross between a Poodle and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and he is adorable. Merzlikins’ pup turned one on Saturday, and the goalie made sure the world knew how excited he was. “You are the best thing I have, you always make me smile and it’s awesome to play with you,” the goalie said. Whether his girlfriend, who was also pictured, resented the demotion is uncertain. But there’s no doubt the three look like a happy family. Happy birthday, Koby!
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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.