It’s time for another Screen Shots column, in which we’ll examine a few hockey topics and analyze them in mini-columns. Today’s piece is all about goaltending. Let’s get right to it.
– It is a measure of the Vegas Golden Knights’ impressive initial seasons of operating that their current extended losing skid feels utterly foreign to the franchise. But the malaise that has crept into their game is very real, and it could be the difference between them making the playoffs, or missing out on the post-season for the first time in their five-year history.
Since the first week of February, Vegas has gone 4-9-1, and they’re currently occupying the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference. But the surging Dallas Stars are just one point behind the Golden Knights, and the Stars have four games in hand on Vegas.
More disturbing is Vegas’ situation in net. No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner hasn’t played since a March 8 loss to Philadelphia, and Lehner was placed on Injured Reserve Tuesday. Backup Laurent Brossoit isn’t going to be the guy who carries a bigger load now that Lehner is in street clothes, so it will be intriguing to see if Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon makes a move to bolster his team’s goaltending before the March 21 trade deadline.
McCrimmon will only have $1.2 million in salary-cap space to facilitate a deal that will help their netminding, and unless Lehner comes back soon and with confidence, it’s going to be difficult for Vegas to improve between the pipes. They’re not the only team that needs goaltending help – hello, Toronto! – but they cannot accept the status quo and expect to be a frontline Stanley Cup contender.
– It’s partly because his Florida Panthers teammates are playing so well, but veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is quietly chugging along and having his best season since joining Florida in 2019: the 33-year-old has been a workhorse for the Panthers, posting a 30-6-3 record, a 2.57 goals-against average, and a .917 save percentage.
With those numbers, he's not going to be nominated for a Vezina, but so long as he keeps putting up wins, Bobrovsky knows Panthers management doesn't care about individual awards. The important thing is giving his teammates a chance to win every game, and Bobrovsky has done that. You can zero in on his team-high $10-million-per-season salary and argue he’s overpaid, but ask teams that presently have goalie woes how valuable an above-average netminder is. They’ll likely all tell you Bobrovsky is doing his job very well right now, and they’d be happy to employ him. That’s all that counts.
– Speaking of teams that may be looking for an improvement in goal, the Washington Capitals are facing a conundrum between the pipes: youngster Vitek Vanecek has played well (14-7-5, 2.35 G.A.A., .918 SP), but the Caps have no more room for error – they have just $155,000 in cap space, and they’re now a full five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division – and they don’t have big-time NHL playoff performers in net.
Assuming Carolina and the New York Rangers stay at the top of the Metro, the Capitals are almost certainly going to stay where they are right now, battling it out to get the first wild-card berth. Do they improve their playoff chances by acquiring a proven goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury? If that’s the choice they make, it’s going to cost them in terms of draft picks and prospects. That’s fine, as they’re nearing the end of the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom competitive window.
That said, Washington also could use some help on defense. It’s up to GM Brian MacLellan to make it all work under the cap, but doing nothing doesn’t seem like a good option for him. The Capitals have to change something, and they already generate more than enough offense to win. Now it’s about tightening the screws and defeating teams with solid play in their own end.