The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to soar, and on Saturday, they got stellar goaltending from an unexpected source. Meanwhile, an unexpected Canadian netminder is dominating at the World Junior Championship (WJC).
Hutchinson Perfect in Toronto
As unbelievable as it may seem, until Dec. 21, the Maple Leafs had not won a single game this season with their backup goaltender in net. But everything is now looking up in Toronto under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. Even Michael Hutchinson, the backup goaltender who had struggled so mightily under Mike Babcock, has now won three in a row since that first win before Christmas. And on Saturday against the struggling New York Islanders, he pitched his first shutout of the season.
Entering the game, his numbers still looked horrid on paper. He was 2-5-1 with an .883 save percentage (SV%) and a 4.03 goals-against average (GAA). Just one of his eight starts was deemed “quality,” meaning his save percentage in the contest surpassed the league-average save percentage on the season. Enter the Islanders, a team that had scored just once in its previous game against the New Jersey Devils.
Hutchinson looked stellar, stopping all 33 shots aimed his direction, including six from Islanders’ team-leader Jordan Eberle. The Islanders generated seven high danger chances and just 1.67 expected goals (xG), which are not impressive numbers. But a shutout is still a shutout, and for Hutchinson, it’s a much-needed relief in a difficult season.
The job of Maple Leafs’ backup is an unenviable one. Not only are you given limited opportunities behind the stellar Frederik Andersen, but you are subjected to the intense media scrutiny of the Toronto market. Now, Hutchinson has proved that he’s up to the task, and everyone, including Maple Leafs’ fans, should be able to breathe a little more easily.
Hofer Impresses with Canada
Joel Hofer is far from a household name in the hockey world. In fact, the St. Louis Blues’ fourth-round draft pick in 2018 and current Portland Winterhawks goalie was not even invited to Team Canada summer camp this past offseason. But now, he’s the Canadians’ best hope of winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championship (WJC).
The WJC is a condensed pressure cooker where things happen at a breakneck pace. And Hofer got his first opportunity in Canada’s lone embarrassing game against the Russians (in the group stage), a 6-0 loss where he entered in a mop-up capacity. But he did enough in that role to warrant a start, and since then, he’s been electric.
Hofer now has the best numbers of any goalie in the tournament, with a .945 SV% and a 1.30 GAA in 277 minutes. He’s been the steady backstop Canada has needed to allow its high-powered offense, led by future first-overall draft pick Alexis Lafrenière, to steal the show.
Canada will now meet Russia again on Sunday, hoping for a different result. If they get one, they’ll capture a gold medal, and Hofer will be a big part of the reason why. Not bad for a 19-year-old kid from Winnipeg who barely made the team.
This Date in History: Barrasso’s Record Breaker
Goalie points are treated as more of an anomaly or a joke than a skill. But holding an NHL record is nothing to sneeze at, and on this day in 1999, Tom Barrasso, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, broke the record for most career points by an NHL goalie.
Barrasso recorded two assists that night in a 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, the second being his 48th career point. It’s that number that stands as the record, surpassing Grant Fuhr and Martin Brodeur, who are tied at 47. It may not be the same as shutouts or wins, but it’s still Barrasso’s record, and it’s likely to remain his for a long time.
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.