A relaxed Frederik Andersen was fielding questions from reporters at a charity event in July when one of the topics that seems to annoy the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie more than most — no matter the time of year — was brought up.
How many games was he expecting to play this season?
“Here we go,” Andersen shot back. “I just try to prepare and be in the best shape possible and be the best I can be.”
The question, however, is one that’s become more prevalent in the NHL over the last few years.
The phrase “load management” found its way into sports’ mainstream lexicon when the NBA’s Toronto Raptors kept a close eye on star forward Kawhi Leonard’s minutes on the way to winning the franchise’s first title last season.
Having played just nine games in 2017-18, the team carefully monitored Leonard’s health, strategically sitting him throughout the schedule so the star forward would be as close to his peak as possible come playoff time.
Goalie workload in hockey has increasingly become a focus, especially with the success of teams that entered the playoffs with netminders that weren’t forced to shoulder all the heavy lifting during the 82-game regular season.
Matt Murray played just 13 times for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16 before leading the team to the Stanley Cup. He then split duties with Marc-Andre Fleury the following campaign and in the playoffs to help secure back-to-back titles.
Brayden Holtby got the call 54 times in an up-and-down 2017-18, but backstopped the Washington Capitals to their first Cup that June. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, meanwhile, wasn’t in the NHL at this time last year before playing 32 games in the regular season and starting all 26 playoff outings for that franchise’s first title.
Needless to say, long gone are the days when Martin Brodeur would start 75 games and then be expected to carry his team through four post-season rounds.
But is there a sweet spot for what amounts to a pitch count for goalies in 2019?
“It’s always a challenge,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. “You have a template, you have a blueprint that you want to go with (for) your goaltenders and we’ve already had to adjust it.”
Heading into Wednesday’s action, Calgary’s David Rittich, Montreal’s Carey Price and San Jose’s Martin Jones led the league in goalie appearances with 23 each, while Andersen and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck came in at 22.
While all those goalies, and a few others, are on pace to make 60-plus appearances, the league is definitely trending towards more of a 50/50 crease split.
First-place Boston has started Tuukka Rask in 17 of 28 games, while clubs like Edmonton, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa and the New York Islanders have basically divided the work evenly.
“If coach wants me to play every game, I will play every game,” said Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s started 18 of his team’s 25 outings. “Some goalies need to play (a lot) of games. Some goalies need to play 30 games. It all depends.”
Dallas netminder Ben Bishop said it’s simple — if both goalies are playing well, they’ll share more of the crease.
“But you don’t know what’s going to happen until you get into the year,” said Bishop, who has started 19 games. “When a guy gets hot, the coach is going to run with him.”
Toronto centre Auston Matthews said that while some version of “load management” could become the rule with goalies, don’t expect to see it with skaters any time soon in a league with razor-thin margins in the standings.
“Guys don’t really like to do that or want to do that,” he said. “They obviously want to play and compete.”
Matthews, however, conceded even that could change one day.
“There’s so much with the science that goes into it now,” he added. “There’s so much more information you have on stuff like that than you had in the past, stuff that’s useful and can be used to maybe rest guys up and help them in the long-term goal.”
If it were up to Holtby he’d be in the crease every single night.
“I’d rather play all 82 if I could,” he said. “That’s not realistic nowadays, (but) it’s boring not playing.
“It’s a lot more fun being on the ice.”
PETERS WITH ONE FINAL WIN FOR FLAMES
Even though Bill Peters wasn’t behind the bench last Wednesday as the Flames investigated allegations of past racism and physical abuse against their head coach, he got credit for Calgary’s overtime victory against Buffalo.
Associate coach Geoff Ward called the shots behind the bench that night, but it was technically Peters’ final game in charge before he resigned Friday. The 53-year-old finished with a record of 62-37-11 with Calgary, including a 12-12-4 mark this season.
PASTRNAK EYEING ROCKET RICHARD TROPHY
Boston winger David Pastrnak has 25 goals in 28 games and could become the first player not named Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby to win the Rocket Richard Trophy since 2012-13. The 23-year-old is currently on pace to score 73 times, which would be the most since Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne both put up 76 in 1992-93.
But Ovechkin, who’s won the award six of the last seven seasons, and eight times overall, won’t give up the crown without a fight. Washington’s captain sits second in goals behind Pastrnak with 20 in 29 games heading into Wednesday.
HABS STOP THE BLEEDING
Montreal snapped an eight-game winless streak (0-5-3) on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders. Price made 21 stops after giving up 26 goals on a 163 shots for an ugly .840 save percentage in his previous six starts (0-5-1). The Canadiens will look to make it two in a row Thursday at home against Colorado.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press