It’s a tough life as a backup goalie. When you only get to play 20-30 games a season, the margin for error is extremely low.
However some of the goalies on this list have kept that margin of error right around zero. They now find themselves in starting roles, for teams who are very much in the playoff race.
It never hurts to have depth in the crease, but these five goalies have all pleasantly surprised their teams with their performances this year. While these five goalies didn’t begin their seasons as NHL starters, it’s highly likely that at least some of these goalies will be the go-to guy in the crease somewhere next season.
Here are five goalies who have stepped up their game when thrust into the starting role.
5. Eddie Lack
After hanging around the Canucks organization throughout the goalie soap opera, Lack got his shot in the NHL last season and ran with it. That was until Luongo was traded, and he was the starting goalie as a rookie.
It didn’t pan out so well last time for Lack. He watched his stock decrease while the team fell towards the bottom of the standings.
This season, he’s been given a second chance as a starter, and it’s safe to say it has gone much better than the last starting gig. Lack played in fourteen straight games for the Canucks, with a 7-4-1 record to show for his efforts. He has kept the Canucks alive in the playoff races, and they haven’t missed a beat since Miller left the line-up.
There have been games where Lack has absolutely stood on his head for the victory. In a February matchup against Boston, Lack stopped 33 shots in the final two frames without giving up a goal, and was the biggest reason the Canucks came away with a victory in that matchup.
If Lack continues his success in the Vancouver crease, the Canucks could have a tough decision to make when Miller is healthy.
4. Michael Hutchinson
Hutchinson was a bit of an unknown entity coming into the season, but many people weren’t banking on the Pavelec, Hutchinson duo to be very successful.
On the contrary, Hutchinson has been very successful guarding the Winnipeg crease this season. His first game of the year didn’t go so smoothly, as let in three goals on 13 shots against the Kings. However over his next 20 games he solidified himself as a viable option going forward.
Hutchinson went 14-3-2 after that initial loss to Los Angeles, and posted a .939 save percentage in that time period.
Since the All-Star break, Hutchinson has gone a bit cold, and Pavelec has resumed starting the majority of Winnipeg’s games. It will be interesting to see who will start in the playoffs if Winnipeg makes it to the final 16. Many are vouching for Hutchinson despite his recent struggles.
Heading into the playoffs with Pavelec as the starter scares the bejeebus out of me.
Get in however you can, but start Hutch in the playoffs
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) March 21, 2015
3. Cam Talbot
When Henrik Lundqvist originally went down with a neck injury, many thought the Rangers would be a weaker team. However all backup goalie Cam Talbot has done is post better numbers than the King himself and vault the Rangers into the top spot of the Metropolitan division.
Talbot was posting wins for the Rangers when he first took over the crease, but with subpar numbers. Over his first nine games, he went on a 5-1-2 run, but allowed 25 goals while posting an average .905 save percentage.
As his tenure as a starter has progressed, Talbot has been nothing short of sensational.
In his last twelve starts, he has really started to elevate his game. His record remains equally as impressive, as he has gone 9-2-1 in his last 12 starts, but his numbers are glowing. He has posted a .955 save percentage in that time period, and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his last nine starts.
2. Devan Dubnyk
It has been an incredible turnaround for Devan Dubnyk. He went from floating around in the minors at the end of last season, to being one of the best goalies in the league this season. He has started an incredible 30 straight games for the Wild, and has played himself into the Vezina conversation.
He began the season in Arizona, where he worked with goalie coach Sean Burke. The Coyotes organization has seen many successful goalies boost their reputation in recent years, such as Ilya Bryzgalov and Thomas Greiss, only to watch them falter with other teams. That hasn’t happened with Dubnyk.
Many credit Burke with revitalizing goalies in Arizona, but Burke didn’t get Dubnyk to change his playing style. He helped him out with his technique, but mainly just gave him confidence in the crease.
He put up decent numbers for the floundering Coyotes, but his stellar season started soaring to new heights with Minnesota. He carries a 1.76 goals-against average as well as a .935 save percentage while playing in a Wild uniform. If those were his numbers for the entire season, he would have the best goalies against average, and would only trail Carey Price for the best save percentage.
Thanks in large part to his stellar play, it looks like Dubnyk will finally get a chance to play in some playoff hockey. He hasn’t ever played in and NHL or even and AHL playoff game. The last time he tasted some playoff action was back in 2007 with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.
1. Andrew Hammond
The Hamburglar has been stealing headlines and setting fashion trends since he made his first NHL start last month against the Montreal Canadiens. In that game he made 42 saves en route to a 4-2 Senators win, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Hammond’s saviour-like surge is the feel-good story in the NHL right now. The 27-year-old native of White Rock, B.C. nearly quit hockey during his junior days, but he stuck with it and is finally making the most of his opportunity right now.
His success has really come out of nowhere, considering his AHL numbers over the past two seasons don’t look too flattering.
However with his 13-0-1 run since he took over the Senators crease, he has put Ottawa right back into the playoff race. They now only trail the Boston Bruins by one point with two games in hand.
He is bound to have some recession at some point, and even over the last two games he looks a little bit more human (seven goals-against in the last two games). If he can keep up his hot run of play for just a little bit longer, the Senators should find themselves in a playoff position. That seemed improbable a couple of months ago, but it is now a very realistic possibility.
KPU Journalism Graduate. Trevor has been writing for The Hockey Writers since October 2014. He has contributed articles related to the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, and other issues/stories regarding the game of hockey. Trevor currently lives in White Rock, B.C.