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Countdown: Which NHL team has the best goaltending tandem?

A solid starting goaltender isn’t everything anymore. NHL teams hoping to play deep into May and June need capable backups during the season.

Scoring is up, save percentages are down, and starting goalies are playing less than ever before. Those are the goaltending trends so far in 2019-20.

Having declared all that, it should also be noted NHL scoring is generally up in the first month or two of every season. Then by December, coaching staffs have gone about working out defensive kinks and/or violators of defensive kinks have been shuffled down the lineup, rookies have shored up their play away from the puck, and goalies have adjusted to the speed of big-league shots. Then league-wide scoring starts trending downward.

One NHL trend that is here
to stay is the increased workload for backup goalies. It’s mostly anecdotal at this point, but teams with backups who can play between 25 and 35 games generally fare better in the long run than teams that push their No. 1 netminder for 60-plus starts. In 2001-02, 16 goalies started 60 or more games. Last season, just eight goaltenders hit the 60-start threshold. The decline was gradual during that timeframe.

Here’s an early-season ranking of the NHL’s 31 goalie tandems. Evaluation is based just 20 percent on this season (due to the small sample size), 50 percent is based on last season, and 30 percent is based on each goalie’s larger body of work over the past several seasons.

1. Boston Bruins
T. Rask & J. Halak
A lighter workload for Rask extended his staying power well into the spring. Halak is the game’s best backup.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning
A. Vasilevskiy & C. McElhinney
Vezina winner got off to a choppy start, but there’s no concern he’ll rebound. ‘Mac’ will give him rest down stretch.

3. Anaheim Ducks
J. Gibson & R. Miller
Shot for shot, Gibson may be the game’s top stopper – and he’s hitting his prime. Vet Miller thrives in spot duty.

4. Dallas Stars
B. Bishop & A. Khudobin
The Boston model. Bishop always in Vezina running and stays healthy when Khudobin spells him every third game.

5. Arizona Coyotes
D. Kuemper & A. Raanta
Kuemper’s ascension as he approaches 30 has pushed designated starter Raanta to backup role. There’s no dropoff.

6. New York Islanders
T. Greiss & S. Varlamov
Greiss was silent partner for the league’s top defensive team last season. Now he’s outshining new toy Varlamov.

7. Vegas Golden Knights
M-A Fleury & M. Subban
Fleury was top-five in Vezina voting past two years. Heavy workload doesn’t slow him down, although he’s turning 35.

8. Chicago Blackhawks
R. Lehner & C. Crawford
Crawford excellent in stretches when healthy. A matter of time before Vezina finalist Lehner takes over the lion’s share.

9. Nashville Predators
P. Rinne & J. Saros
This was supposed to be the year Saros started sharing duties with Rinne. But the 37-year-old is still going strong.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins
M. Murray & T. Jarry
Tales of Murray’s physical breakdown and loss of form have been overblown. Jarry’s backup work is spot-on.

11. Florida Panthers
S. Bobrovsky & S. Montembeault
Two-time Vezina winner placed ninth last year, but the Panthers love their rich investment. ‘Monte’ has been so-so.

12. Montreal Canadiens
C. Price & K. Kinkaid
It’s been a few years since Price has ranked among NHL’s best goalies. His stats are close to league average.

13. Buffalo Sabres
C. Hutton & L. Ullmark
Hutton struggled at times in his first year as a starter, but a deeper ‘D’ is making him and Ullmark look upper-crust so far.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs
F. Andersen & M. Hutchinson
When Andersen plays too much, he becomes suspect. Problem is, there’s so much uncertainty when he doesn’t play.

15. St. Louis Blues
J. Binnington & J. Allen
Binnington has proven last season’s six-month surge wasn’t a blip. As Allen struggles, Binn’s workload gets heavier.

16. Colorado Avalanche
P. Grubauer & P. Francouz
There was no hesitation in letting Varlamov walk. Both the new No. 1 and new backup have been showing us why.

17. Vancouver Canucks
J. Markstrom & T. Demko
Backup Demko has shown great form in early going. And that has contributed to Markstrom ramping up his game.

18. Winnipeg Jets
C. Hellebuyck & L. Brossoit
Hellebuyck is bouncing back to his 2017-18 form when he was a Vezina runner-up. Brossoit needs the same.

19. Washington Capitals
B. Holtby & I. Samsonov
Holtby is three seasons removed from getting a Vezina finalist vote. He’s losing playing time to his heir apparent.

20. Edmonton Oilers
M. Koskinen & M. Smith
The battle is on for who owns the crease in Edmonton. Smith started strong, but it looks like Koskinen has passed him.

21. Carolina Hurricanes
P. Mrazek & J. Reimer
Mrazek rose to the occasion just as his teammates did last spring, and he has found the groove again in 2019-20.

22. Calgary Flames
D. Rittich & C. Talbot
Rittich had a great mid-season run last year and was the team MVP through the first month of this season.

23. New York Rangers
H. Lundqvist & A. Georgiev
At 37, ‘The King’ is seeing tarnish on his crown. He may not start 50 games for just the second time in his career.

24. Minnesota Wild
D. Dubnyk & A. Stalock
Dubnyk has been a reliable workhorse for six years in Minny, but his SP has fallen in each of the past three seasons.

25. Philadelphia Flyers
B. Elliott & C. Hart
Has it been too much, too soon for Hart? Could be. He’s been outplayed by Elliott to the point they’re platooning.

26. Ottawa Senators
C. Anderson & A. Nilsson
Both goalies knew they’d be seeing a lot of pucks and Corsi events on a rebuilding team. They’ve held their own.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets
J. Korpisalo & E. Merzlikins
A lot of Blue Jackets moved on, including ‘Bob.’ Korpisalo has been playing better than his anemic stats indicate.

28. Detroit Red Wings
J. Howard & J. Bernier
The quality of shots Howard and Bernier face behind a rebuilding ‘D’ is of the high-danger variety. It’s been a battle.

29. San Jose Sharks
M. Jones & A. Dell
The Sharks talk about the faith they have in Jones. A second year below the .900 line would surely shake that confidence.

30. Los Angeles Kings
J. Quick & J. Campbell
When Quick struggled last year, Campbell stepped up and was impressive. Both are feeling the hurt this season.

31. New Jersey Devils
M. Blackwood & C. Schneider
Schneider’s game has gone south for the winter. At 22, Blackwood has shown he’s not quite ready for prime time.


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