Today, we celebrate the career of a lesser-known Hall of Fame member and take a look at Connor Hellebuyck, who gave one of the more impressive goaltending performances of the young season. Let’s start there.
Hellebuyck Bails Out Winnipeg
Times are tough for the Winnipeg Jets. In advance of today’s matchup, much was made of the lack of experience on the Jets’ starting defense, with Dustin Byfuglien weighing retirement, Josh Morrissey injured, and Dmitry Kulikov on personal leave. As Dimitri Filipovic put it before the game: “the Winnipeg Jets won’t have a single defenseman that was in their top 8 on a minutes basis last season in tonight’s lineup.” In these situations, the goalie becomes a man on an island, and tonight, that man was Connor Hellebuyck.
The game started about as poorly as anyone could have feared, with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scoring in 32 seconds. But that would be the last puck to get past Hellebuyck all evening. The Commerce, Michigan native stopped the next 37 Penguins shots and led the team to a 4-1 win, its second victory of the season.
Hellebuyck will need to recover from a paltry 2018-19 season if the Jets want to be a contender this year. They made the playoffs last season before the eventual champions, the St. Louis Blues, knocked them out in the first round. But if their goaltender keeps providing support like this, they may be able to recover from the loss of Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. Hellebuyck also provided one of the best chirps of the day, teasing his former teammate Brandon Tanev.
Well, I mean I stopped him all of last year, so I don’t see why one game would change anything.Connor Hellebuyck on squaring of with former teammate Brandon Tanev
Stick taps all around to Hellebuyck on an extraordinary performance. Tanev was held scoreless and was a minus-one in just over 16 minutes on Tuesday, but he did deliver nine hits to his former team. The Jets’ next matchup will be at home against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday; one can only assume Hellebuyck will get the call again, but hopefully, Morrissey will be healthy by then.
Remembering a Hall of Famer
The hockey world tragically and prematurely lost Hall of Fame goaltender George Hainsworth on this date in 1950. But despite being a prolific goaltender in his day, Hainsworth is far too overlooked by the hockey world.
Not only did Hainsworth replace the legendary Georges Vezina for the Montreal Canadiens in 1926, but he also won the trophy named in his predecessor’s honor each of the first three seasons the league awarded it (1926-27, 1927-28, and 1928-29).
In the 1928-29 season, Hainsworth posted unbelievable numbers: he collected 22 shutouts (a record to this day, leading the closest competitor by seven) and posted an absurd 0.92 goals-against average (GAA). That isn’t a typo: Hainsworth actually allowed fewer than one goal per game on average. That’s still an NHL record, and he broke his own record (still number two all-time) of 1.05 from the season prior.
Hainsworth built on that success by steering the team to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1930 and 1931. In 1930, he set yet another record, going just over 270 minutes in the postseason without allowing a goal. Yes, hockey has changed and goaltending is a different animal now. But there’s no denying that Hainsworth is one of the all-time greats, and today is an appropriate day to remember the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs legend.
Jones Continues to Struggle
A goalie like Hainsworth can lift a team to unbelievable heights. On the other end of the spectrum, a struggling goaltender can bring an otherwise great team down into the dumps. Many believed the San Jose Sharks were a top NHL contender this year, but Martin Jones has failed to recover from a putrid 2018-19 season, and Tuesday was not an improvement.
The Sharks needed more from Jones this season, but they haven’t gotten it yet. On Tuesday, he allowed four goals on 24 shots against the Nashville Predators in what became a 5-2 loss on an empty-net goal. The Sharks have not yet recorded a victory on the season.
Right now, it simply isn’t good enough. But the Sharks are thin on options with Jones owed a salary cap hit of $5.75 million each of the next five seasons and Aaron Dell struggling behind him. It’s too early in the season to write the Sharks off entirely, but Jones is a case study in how poor goaltending can cloud an otherwise sunny picture.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.