As far as importance on an NHL roster goes, backup goaltender is not very high on the list. His job is to travel with the team, chart face-offs on the bench and get into a game only when it is a blowout or the back-end of a back-to-back at the end of a seven-game road trip — in other words, a game that the team isn’t expecting to win anyways.
But unless you have Ironman in between the pipes as your No. 1 starter, every good team has a strong Plan B, a guy they can turn to for a spot start and know he will give them a chance to win the game.
For the San Jose Sharks, who have been looking to improve their goaltending depth, they have finally found their man in James Reimer.
A substantial upgrade
Acquired from the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline, Reimer has been in a Sharks uniform for just nine games, and he’s already started three of them. Compare that to the 10 starts that Alex Stalock received in 60 games before being traded and it shows the lack of confidence the Sharks had in their former backup.
Stalock, who was shipped to Toronto along with Ben Smith and a fourth-round pick in the deal for Reimer, was essentially the lone option for the No. 2 position heading into the season. Once considered a top prospect and the organization’s goalie of the future, Stalock fared well as a backup to Antti Niemi in 2013-2014, stockpiling a 1.87 Goals Against Average, but his numbers fell off a cliff last season.
The struggles continued to begin the 2015-2016 campaign, as Stalock’s save-percentage dipped to 88.4 percent in nine starts.
Less pressure on Jones
Stalock’s inconsistency led to an increased burden on Martin Jones, who is starting for the first time in the league. Jones entered Tuesday tied with Pekka Rinne and Corey Crawford to lead the league with 57 starts on the season, and his 3,310 minutes played ranks third behind only Rinne and Jonathan Quick.
Sure, Jones may be able to handle the workload, but the other top goaltenders in terms of games and minutes played are all veterans who have been through the grit and grind of an NHL season. Jones has not, yet the Sharks had been forced to stick with him for longer stretches than they would like because they had little confidence in Stalock.
Case in point: prior to Reimer’s first start with the Sharks on Mar. 5 against the Canucks, Jones had started the Sharks’ last 10 games and 18 of their last 19, a hefty workload for any goaltender, let alone a rookie starter.
Now, they have a bona fide No. 2 goaltender in Reimer, who is 2-1 with the Sharks and was strong in net against the Bruins on Tuesday, making several huge stops including a glove save at the buzzer off Torey Krug to preserve the one-goal win.
Reimer’s 2.83 GAA over six seasons in the league means the Sharks don’t have to go into full panic mode if Jones goes down. And as solid as Jones has been this season, it is his first go-round as a starting goaltender in the NHL, and he will need all the rest he can get.
The Sharks shouldn’t treat Jones like Niemi or Evgeni Nabokov, workhorses whom they relied on heavily during the regular season. Jones will benefit greatly from a veteran, capable backup, and the Sharks will reap the upside of a fresh No. 1 starter during the postseason, where a hot goaltender can single-handedly win a series.
“The whole idea when we brought Reims in here was to lighten the load on Jones over the last month here,” head coach Pete DeBoer told the Gackle Report. “We’ve asked a lot of him, and also to make sure we have two legitimate options, and that means both guys have to play.”
Don’t be surprised to see Reimer in between the pipes again this week as the Sharks enter a stretch where they will play three games in four days. And as the Sharks lock down a playoff spot, sitting comfortably in the third spot in the Pacific Division, DeBoer should be re-assured that he can rest their No. 1 man for the postseason more often while making sure the team doesn’t miss a beat with the backup in net.