Against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, on the first game of a crucial three-game eastern road trip, Winnipeg Jets’ backup goaltender Eric Comrie made just his 10th start of the season.
He stole the show — again — and needs to be rewarded with more starts going forward.
“Calm-Ree” Comes Up Large in New Jersey
The 26-year-old was the biggest reason the Jets were able to snag a 2-1 victory against the Devils. He stopped 33 of 34 shots that came his way and loomed large throughout the contest, especially during the second period. In a frame in which the Jets were mostly under siege, he made 15 saves and kept the game knotted at 1-1 until Kyle Connor scored what turned out to be the game winner.
He was referred to by TSN Jets colour commentator Kevin Sawyer as “Eric Calm-ree” due to his anticipation, level-headedness, and poise in the crease. Indeed, he looked locked in — a testament to the earnest effort he puts in day in, day out.
“I just kind of play it one puck at a time, and kind of just go out there and really focus on the process,” Comrie said postgame. “As soon as I start going ‘oh, I’m feeling it,’ that’s almost a result thing and I’m kind of getting out of my present moment and my game plan for playing my game. I want to make sure I don’t deviate too far and just stay (focused on) next shot, next shot, next shot…”
“He’s been great, he’s such a hard worker,” Kyle Connor said. “He has a good, quiet confidence about him and you could see it tonight for sure.”
Comrie’s Been Underused in 2021-22, But Has Been Sharp When Called Upon
Interim head coach Dave Lowry obviously has — and the departed Paul Maurice before him obviously had — very little faith in the number-two goaltender. This was perhaps warranted early into the campaign: even this author noted during the offseason that going with Comrie as Connor Hellebuyck’s back up was a big risk given Comrie’s inexperience and lack of success at the NHL level.
But Comrie has done everything asked of him and more on the rare occasions he’s been allowed to patrol the pipes. He is now 7-2-1 with a 2.34 GAA, .920 SV%, and six Quality Starts.
He has won four-straight starts, and his SV% is a sparkling .930 in those starts. Lowry should have no qualms with playing him against any team.
Hellebuyck has been run ragged this season, having made 48 starts already and facing more rubber than any other goaltender in the NHL. His play since the New Year has been subpar, and signs of fatigue have been obvious. He has given up three-plus goals in eight of his past 10 starts, and four-plus goals in each of his past five; his GAA has ballooned to 2.97 and his SV% has dropped to .908.
This author wrote in late January that Hellebuyck was being overused. At the time, he had started 13 straight games, and the author pointed to the Jets’ need to better manage his workload to keep him fresh for the stretch run.
Related: Jets Paying the Price for Mishandling Hellebuyck’s Workload
They have not managed his workload — which was already untenable then — better since. In the 17 games the Jets have played since the start of February (Thursday included) Comrie has started only started three of them.
A Bigger Role for Comrie Could Benefit Everybody
If the Jets believe themselves to still be in the playoff hunt — they are five points back of the second Western Conference Wild Card spot, and MoneyPuck pegs their playoff odds at just five per cent — it shouldn’t matter that Hellebuyck makes more than $6 million and Comrie just $750 grand. They should go with the goaltender who gives them the best chance to win.
That’s looking more and more like Comrie, who could be a true stealth asset down the stretch if given the opportunity to play in tandem with Hellebuyck, instead of mostly sitting around in a ball cap.
A tandem would give Hellebuyck more chance to rest, and hopefully lead to his being sharper in late March and April games that may matter most if the Jets can get on a bit of a roll. All teams that make the postseason gain a ticket to the dance by having two viable goaltenders.