The two-blockered monster in net this season for the Chicago Blackhawks is certainly an atypical, if not, in this case, unexpected, strategy, but Joel Quenneville may be able to take another uncommon path in net later in the year.
In this very space this morning, John said that folks rumbling for more Nikolai Khabibulin net time are “just uncomfortable about a situation like this”; that fans just aren’t used to a two-goalie system. As John says, “Most seasons, a team has one goalie they lean on, and then, there’s the back-up.” And, while I don’t disagree, John implies in the same breath that Q should pick one goalie come playoff time, and only go to the other if necessary, ala last season’s Detroit Red Wings, who started Dominic Hasek but switched to Chris Osgood during the opening round against the Nashville Predators.
Why, though? Consider this: if your favorite Major League Baseball team had two “ace” starting pitchers, and it was physically possible for either to start each and every playoff game, would you want him to? In other words, if one “ace” was capable of starting every playoff game, would you sit the other “ace” permanently in favor of the first, and only call on the second “ace,” if necessary? I say not. I think many of you – as well as your favorite team’s manager – would prefer to rotate the pitchers and give the opposition “different looks” during different games, so that the opposition couldn’t make adjustments as easily.
Now, I know there are basic differences between hockey and baseball. The relationship between pitcher and hitter is perhaps more fundamental than that of skaters and goalies. But, I think the same argument applies; playing the same goalie every game could allow the opposition to make adjustments more easily.
I know the practice of playing one goaltender during playoff series is almost gospel in the NHL, but so long as both ‘tenders play well down the stretch – and that’s a big “if” – and neither goalie stands on his head come April, I see no reason to break recent convention just because it’s customary to do so.
Bottom line: while most of us are used to having a “starting” goalie and a “back-up” ‘tender – Ed Belfour played at least 70 games for the ‘Hawks three out of four seasons in the early ’90s – forty-nine games into this season, Khabibulin has played 25 games, and Cristobal Huet has played 24. In so doing, this season’s goaltending tandem has stretched our imagination when it comes to NHL goalie rotations.
So, why stop in March?