Following a rather busy offseason around the NHL, it was only fitting that the game’s goalies began drafting their 2022-23 storylines early on in the campaign. From internal battles among new tandems, underperforming superstars, rookies earning a spotlight, and everything in between, October offered quite a glimpse into what fans should expect from their favourite team’s netminders this year.
Here are the most headline-worthy goalie-centric narratives already dominating each division, foreshadowing what’s to come throughout the months ahead.
NHL’s October Goalie Leaders
Although mostly familiar faces have found their way to the top of the ranks early on, those who currently sit atop each respective category may be a bit more surprising.
Using a sample size of at least four games played, these are the goalies who led the NHL in wins (W), goals-against average (GAA), save percentage (SV%), shutouts (SO), and goals saved above expected per 60 (GSAx/60) throughout the first half-month of the 2022-23 schedule.
W: Linus Ullmark (7)
GAA: Jake Oettinger (1.40)
SV%: Stuart Skinner (.955)
SO: Logan Thompson (2)
GSAx/60: Stuart Skinner (1.667)
As some expectedly stronger organizations are already dominating the Atlantic Division early on in the campaign, others have struggled out of the gate even as their goaltending is far from being to blame.
Samsonov Quickly Taking Over Toronto’s Net
Despite a slower start for the Toronto Maple Leafs than would be anticipated from a 2023 Stanley Cup favourite, management can at least rest assured that their new look in net is not the problem. After Matt Murray was sidelined the day following his opening night loss, Ilya Samsonov quickly become Toronto’s go-to goalie.
Although the expected battle among the duo would have seemingly been best for everyone involved, that Samsonov is performing as he is without having to compete for the crease offers a different type of reassurance for the Maple Leafs. One that suggests he’s already in mid-season form, ready to take on the title as Toronto’s No. 1.
Through his first six starts, Samsonov is 4-2-0 with a .920 SV%, 2.35 GAA, and 0.873 GSAx/60. If Samsonov can maintain this type of presence once the rest of his team starts to produce like they’re better than the .500 club they’re currently pretending to be, the rest of the Atlantic will be in trouble.
Ullmark Crowding Swayman’s Spotlight in Boston
Following a 2021-22 season in which the duo achieved fairly similar metrics for the Boston Bruins, Ullmark has quickly jumped ahead of Jeremy Swayman in terms of their early impact in 2022-23. Not only is Ullmark undefeated through his first six starts, riding a 6-0-0 record into November, but his .945 SV% and 1.70 GAA offer a drastic upgrade over what Swayman has accomplished thus far.
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Even if it initially seemed logical to give 24-year-old Swayman more runway as the Bruins work to remain relevant, 29-year-old Ullmark isn’t ready to step aside that easily. Being that Ullmark’s efforts have helped Boston take hold of first place in the division, there’s no reason to suspect they’ll be changing starter strategies any time soon.
Sharing rankings proximity with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, it’s safe to say that those in the Metropolitan Division started the season under more of a microscope than the rest of the league.
Hart Finally Finding His Footing With Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers have to be considered an early favourite as the surprise franchise of the year, given their 5-2-1 start that has them right within the postseason conversation. While the team has overperformed as a collective, one need not look much further than Carter Hart as a prime reason for their success.
Following an initial debut through 2018-19 and 2019-20 that had the former second-round pick pegged as a future star, Hart struggled in the seasons that followed. Justifiably, his capabilities began to be questioned. However, he was clearly determined to turn the page, despite the lacklustre expectations placed upon the 2022-23 Flyers.
The only goalie with any wins in Philadelphia so far this season, Hart is currently 5-0-1. He’s also averaging a .938 SV%, 2.31 GAA, and 1.483 GSAx/60. Regardless of whether or not the Flyers regress as a squad, there’s no reason to believe it will be Hart’s fault this time around.
Merzļikins Has to Be Better for Blue Jackets
The fact that Elvis Merzļikins accumulated a league-worst GSAx of 9.2 throughout October sums up why the Columbus Blue Jackets are already looking up from the bottom of the Metropolitan. While it’s true that they also haven’t extracted much relief out of rookie Daniil Tarasov, Columbus needs more out of Merzļikins.
“He is big, athletic and has a tremendous passion for the game, and we believe he will be an integral part of our success in the coming years,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.
Currently playing through his five-year term, which pays Merzļikins $5.4 million per, the Blue Jackets have to see their No. 1 netminder’s numbers improve beyond his .864 SV% and 4.75 GAA. Even as the team has struggled in recent years, solid goaltending gave them a chance to win on any given night. Columbus needs that edge back and fast.
So far this season, the Central Division has seen some contenders struggle to maintain their status within the standings as underdog tandems have found ways to outperform all the while.
Fleury Rebounds After Slow Start in Minnesota
Although unusual for Marc-André Fleury to experience as slow of a start as he did in 2021-22, it could be explained away as a result of being that he was backstopping a disjointed Chicago Blackhawks roster. However, that he mirrored similar results to kick off 2022-23 elicits a drastically different level of concern, given that the Minnesota Wild are currently considered to be far closer to contending than Chicago.
Winning only one of his first four contests this season, Fleury set a 4.50 GAA and .847 SV% throughout that span. Fortunately, for both he and the Wild, the future Hall of Famer didn’t let that pattern play out for nearly as long as it did while he was a Blackhawk.
Fleury concluded the month on a three-game winning streak, during which he stopped 76 of 82 and averaged only a couple of goals against per game. This is the version of Fleury that Minnesota hoped they’d see, after signing him to an extension that runs through 2023-24.
Stalock Surprising Skeptics in Chicago
After letting their most familiar faces in net walk this past offseason, and rather than seeking the assistance of any up-and-comers who may have encouraged some healthy competition, the Blackhawks chose Petr Mrázek as their new starter and added Alex Stalock as his backup. Both veterans seemingly far from their peak playing days, little was expected of Chicago’s new duo.
That said, if Stalock’s goal this season was to surprise skeptics, after only entering one NHL contest in 2021-22, then mission accomplished.
Helping the rebuilding Blackhawks remain relevant in October, after taking over the No. 1 role with Mrázek sidelined, Stalock’s .914 SV% and 2.95 GAA helped him earn a record of 3-2-1. Time will tell if he can maintain that momentum, let alone who Chicago will prioritize when both goalies are back in action.
Although it’s far from shocking to see which Pacific Division clubs have already risen through their ranks in 2022-23, what could cause a little more controversy are the goalies performing best at the moment.
Thompson & Hill Improve Vegas’ Neverending Luck
With their undisputed No. 1 Robin Lehner out for the year following offseason surgery, the Vegas Golden Knights had limited options when it came to replacing the veteran. Luckily for them, Thompson and Adin Hill were not willing to succumb to a status that makes them seem any less famous than their colleague.
Thompson’s only 20 games played since 2020-21 haven’t stopped him from performing as though he’s far more experienced, while Hill’s determination to write a more successful chapter to his career than he was able to with the San Jose Sharks or Arizona Coyotes is already paying dividends.
Mostly splitting the workload throughout October, Thompson’s .943 SV%, 1.69 GAA, 0.861 GSAx/60, and two shutouts barely edged out Hill’s comparable stat line. Yet, Hill didn’t lose last month while Thompson went 4-2-0. Simply stated, Vegas appears to have hit the jackpot with these two as their main act.
Skinner Stealing the Crease in Edmonton
Reflecting on the Edmonton Oilers’ ability to end October second in the Pacific, it would have been easy to assume that newcomer and former all-star Jack Campbell helped infuse success into their recipe. However, his .888 SV%, 3.89 GAA, and -0.408 GSAx/60 through the first month of the season tell a different story. Meanwhile, his backup’s individual metrics have been far more flattering.
It would be in Edmonton’s best interest to see what Skinner is truly capable of with an increased workload, after starting the season with a .955 SV%, 1.59 GAA, and 1.667 GSAx/60 through his first four games played. Odds are that Campbell will find a way to balance out his stat line to some degree, but that doesn’t mean that the Oilers should do themselves the disserve of ignoring what Skinner can accomplish in the meantime.
More NHL Netminder News & Notes
Following a rollercoaster ride of a career, hitting various peaks and valleys along the way, Devin Dubnyk has retired from the NHL. Dubnyk was part of six different organizations throughout his 12 years in the league, which included a Masterton Trophy thanks to his 36 wins, 9.29 SV%, 2.07 GAA, and six shutouts in 2014-15.
Dubnyk’s resume notes 253 wins and 33 shutouts alongside his .914 SV% and 2.61 GAA. Respectable numbers for a goalie who deserves his rightful recognition.
RELATED: Brothers in the NHL
As the NHL calendar flips over to November, it’s safe to say that the influx of goaltender stories has just begun. If you’re hoping to remain informed on all that matters most this season — when it comes to netminders, specifically — then stay tuned for the next NHL Goalie Report.
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