As the NHL’s 2021-22 season heads into its second month, the volume of activity has started to reach the point where storylines based solely on smaller sample sizes are no longer. Some trends have maintained consistency, whether successful or otherwise, while new patterns have begun to emerge.
Whether their performances are being celebrated or criticized, the league’s biggest names continue to find their way into hockey’s headlines. Meanwhile, teams are not shying away from infusing inexperience into their lineup if they deem it a necessary approach.
Ultimately, the best performances will always demand the brightest spotlight and rightfully so. With that in mind, here are the netminder narratives from Oct. 26-Nov. 1 that proved most deserving of your undivided attention.
NHL Goaltending Leaders
Looking to only those who have played at least four games or more at this point in the season, these are the goalies that currently lead the league in wins (W), goals-against average (GAA), save percentage (SV%), goals saved above expected (GSAx), and shutouts (SO).
W: Frederik Andersen (7)
GAA: James Reimer (1.13)
SV%: James Reimer (.964)
GSAx: Sergei Bobrovsky (13.5)
SO: Jacob Markström (3)
As was foreshadowed in last week’s report, Week 3 forced a number of fluctuations across the leaderboard. Add in requiring a minimum number of games to help highlight those who are consistently effective and it filters out the more isolated performances.
What’s in a Save?
Goalies don’t always get the credit they’re due for simply doing their job. While a forward is celebrated any time they hit the back of the net, a netminder doesn’t see the same level of response for every puck they keep out of theirs. Especially when it’s a standard stop, which many may otherwise assume was shot straight at the goalie without recognizing the importance that positioning, confidence, and experience can have on making it all seem so simple.
Whether the level of acrobatics relied upon is a result of being out of position or it’s simply what was necessary based on how the play unfolded, it’s in those moments that fans witness a level of movement reserved only for this role.
Regardless of how or why a save was made the way that it was, it’s not as though any specific version is valued any higher than the rest. Simply stated, dramatic stops aren’t worth more than those that appear mundane.
With that said, like any form of art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Knowing that each and every stop is equally as important towards the team’s collective objective, you can be the judge of which ones are most appealing. Ultimately, as long as the athlete is getting the job done, the subjectivity behind each save is irrelevant.
Grubauer Makes History in Seattle
Despite the success that the Vegas Golden Knights were able to achieve right off the hop, most recognize that’s far from what to anticipate out of an expansion franchise. Following their 1-4-1 start to 2021-22, the Seattle Kraken’s results were aligning more accurately.
Yet, the Kraken wasted little time in securing their first home win in Seattle. It only took their second regular-season game at Climate Pledge Arena, on Oct. 26 against the Montréal Canadiens, for the league’s newest club to record team history. Philipp Grubauer did his part, stopping 23 of 24 en route to the 5-1 victory.
As though that wasn’t enough excitement for the home crowd, Grubauer was back at it two nights later when the Kraken welcomed a much more competitive Minnesota Wild roster on Oct. 28. Again, he only let one slip past him, as his 30 saves helped Seattle secure a 4-1 win.
Although there are plenty of games left to determine just how difficult the Kraken will make it for opposing teams to visit Seattle, a couple of home wins early in the season helps to further legitimize the organization and Grubauer’s title as their No. 1.
Bernier’s Hot Start With the Devils
When you think of goaltenders from the New Jersey Devils, it’s safe to say Martin Brodeur’s name comes to mind. However, he’s not the only one featured throughout their record books. In fact, newcomer Jonathan Bernier‘s initial success as a Devil actually pushed him ahead of Brodeur in a fairly remarkable way.
His 33 save performance on Oct. 30 against the Pittsburgh Penguins was good for a .943 SV% and a 1.24 GSAx. While that was already impressive enough, Bernier’s 3-0-0 start is what pushed him into a class beyond Brodeur’s achievements in New Jersey.
While it’s irrational to assume that Bernier can remain undefeated all season long, the fact that he was able to begin his first year in New Jersey with three straight wins deserves recognition. Especially being that he’s only the second athlete in Devils history to achieve the feat.
Such a strong debut for the 33-year-old, who happens to be the oldest netminder to have played for the Devils thus far this season, should make it a lot easier for their coaches to determine who they see as their go-to moving forward.
Markström Fuelling the Flame in Calgary
Following an impressive 2019-20 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks, Jacob Markström took his talents to the Calgary Flames via free agency. Needless to say, the Flames had high expectations. Unfortunately, Markström’s stat line was diluted shortly thereafter, with a 2.68 GAA, .904 SV%, and -9.3 GSAx through 2020-21. Not quite brag-worthy.
Having already signed Markström to a six-year deal, the Flames had five more seasons left to hope that he’d find a way to be worth his $6 million salary. Lucky for them, an opportunity at a fresh start in 2021-22 is apparently all that Markström needed to set the stage for a much better showcase.
Last week, the 31-year-old went 3-0-0 after beating the New York Rangers (Oct. 25), Penguins (Oct. 28), and Philadelphia Flyers (Oct. 30). What’s more, is the way in which he owned the Metropolitan Division. Markström stopped 93 of 94 shots faced, resulting in two shutouts through that three-game span and the reason his GSAx improved to 8.0 on the season.
Although he won’t see that same pattern sustain, maintaining his elevated presence will be crucial for Calgary. Markström is one of the main reasons the Flames are battling for the top spot in the Pacific Division, following their 6-1-1 start to the year. Safe to say, this is the type of return on investment the organization was hoping for.
Fleury Finding His Form in Chicago
Marc-André Fleury has had an awful start with the Chicago Blackhawks. Four straight losses, including 18 goals against and a game in which he lasted half of a period before being pulled, was not the type of play expected out of the former Vezina Trophy winner. And his GSAx placed him near the bottom of the league, to boot.
Despite the new-look Blackhawks having been constructed to contend, their results were failing to align and Fleury’s effort wasn’t helping matters. Being the competitor that he’s proven to be over the last two decades, losing was taking its toll. Fortunately, for the Blackhawks, Fleury doesn’t make a habit of cold streaks.
Although their 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 30 put them at 0-8-1, establishing a franchise-worst start to any season, the positives that came out of that defeat were undeniable. Most notably in net. Fleury stopped 36 of 37, good for a 2.62 GSAx and a foreshadow of things to come.
Fleury was back between the pipes on Nov. 1, as the Blackhawks hoped to avoid hitting a 10-game losing streak at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. Picking up right where he left off, a .967 SV% helped Chicago secure their first win of 2021-22 as they beat the Senators 5-1. Fleury’s recent play is far more consistent with what the Blackhawks should expect from him, which means it’s fair to anticipate more success is right around the corner for this club.
What’s at Stake Through Week 4
Teams are just now approaching the 10-game mark, so there hasn’t yet been enough time for even the strongest lineups to push too far ahead of the pack. Even the worst records, at this point, aren’t bad enough to suggest a bounce-back is impossible.
RELATED: Top 10 NHL Backup Goaltenders
With that said, goaltending will become far more of a focus as the 2021-22 schedule progresses. Security in net will allow those respective rosters the ability to navigate narratives that teams facing controversy won’t be anywhere near. Needless to say, goalies will remain the centre of attention, regardless of whether the storylines are optimistic or otherwise.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
Find me and more of my work at mralwayswrite.com.