Whether by necessity or simply the excitement akin to a kid on Christmas morning, a good number of NHL teams have trotted out their goalies of the future early on this season.
And while the short-term results have been positive, putting any sort of pressure on a rookie tender is sure to lead to folly if a competent No. 1 isn’t waiting fatherly in the wings.
To wit; last night Karri Ramo got the nod in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning and put in a stellar performance against Toronto. Ramo gave up just one goal in a 2-1 Bolts victory and made crucial saves at timely moments. The young Finn (aren’t they all?) was making his first NHL start, though he had played in two games last season.
Ramo was pressed into action not by injury, but simply because of the way Tampa’s usual tandem of Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist injure the team’s chances of winning on a regular basis. Now, the Bolts have made it known they are high on their youngster, but riding Ramo this year would be folly.
The two best examples of raising a keeper right come from two of the best goalie factories in the league, Minnesota and Dallas. Even with Manny Fernandez and Niklas Backstrom on the roster last season, the Wild made sure Josh Harding got his feet wet and were rewarded with solid play. Harding appeared in seven games and posted a sparkling 1.16 goals-against average for his troubles.
Similarly, Dallas brought along Mike Smith in much the same manner last year. Nestled safely behind No. 1 man Marty Turco, Smith dazzled in 23 games for the Stars, notching three shutouts and a 2.23 GAA.
Montreal knows Carey Price is rounding into form as an NHL goaltender. Boston also has a gem in Tuukka Rask. Ondrej Pavelec’s early play nearly caused a goalie controversy when Kari Lehtonen returned to Atlanta, but Pavelec has let in five goals in each of his past two games (both losses) to quell the storm.
All three, plus Ramo and L.A.’s Jonathan Bernier, will be tough NHL netminders in the future. Let’s just hope they aren’t leaned on too much too soon.
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