By Steven McGoey
Before the beginning of the NHL season, The Hockey News took a look at the top five backup goalies in the league.
Now roughly halfway through the season, COVID has changed the availability of many goaltenders and forced keepers into more games than they may have expected.
Coming into the season goalie’s roles continue to evolve as many teams have decided to adopt the platoon strategy to goaltending, enlisting a 1A and 1B tandem rather than the traditional starter and backup.
All of that said, teams need a reliable second goalie, and here are five backup goalies that have been essential to their team this season:
Kaapo Kahkonen - Minnesota Wild
A fourth-round draft pick of the Wild in 2014, Kahkonen played in Finland until coming over to Minnesota’s AHL squad in 2018-19.
After a five-game trial in 2019-20 where he went 3-1-1, Kahkonen’s role increased last season, he started 23 games, won 16 of them and helped propel Minnesota to the playoffs.
The 25-year-old has had a stellar performance this season, posting a 7-2-2 record with 2.58 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
With good size and movement at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Kahkonen’s play and Cam Talbot’s injury history have him poised to earn more and more playing time behind a solid Minnesota D-core.
The Helsinki native is a bargain this season at $725,000 but is setting himself up for a nice raise when his contract expires on July 1st.
Ville Husso - St. Louis Blues
Husso stepped into the backup role adequately behind Jordan Binnington last season and has put up phenomenal numbers in his follow-up this season.
The Helsinki, FIN native has a 6-2-1-1 record with a 2.22 GAA and .933 save percentage. That is the seventh-best goals against and second highest save percentage in the league among goalies who have started at least five games.
A Blues fourth-rounder in 2014, Husso had good numbers in the AHL while he was stuck behind more established goalies on the NHL depth chart but has made the most of his starts since being given the chance.
Husso and the Blues sit second in their Conference and have allowed the third least number of goals in the West.
Binnington is locked up through 2026-27 so it may not be in St. Louis, but Husso’s performance has him in line to earn more starts.
Anthony Stolarz - Anaheim Ducks
A name the casual fan may not be too familiar with, Stolarz has played quality minutes with the Ducks, helping them keep pace with the top teams in the Pacific Division.
The 27-year-old is on his third NHL team, and 41 games into the Ducks’ season he has already started more games this season than he had any other season in his career.
A second-round pick in 2012, Stolarz has a 6-6 record on the season with a solid .919 save percentage, the 11th best in the NHL among goalies with at least ten starts.
At 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds, Stolarz possesses the physical attributes that are often sought after in modern goalies, and the Ducks hope it continues to translate to saves on the ice.
The Ducks allow the most shots per game of any team that is currently in a playoff spot and will need their goaltending to remain at this level to stay in the playoff race.
Cal Petersen - Los Angeles Kings
Sticking in California, the heir apparent to Jonathan Quick has been an important part of the Kings' surprising performance halfway through the season.
A fifth-round selection in 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres, Petersen ended up signing with the Kings as a free agent in 2017 after three seasons at the University of Notre Dame.
The right-handed catching Iowa native was hung out to dry last year in his first full season, finishing with a 9-18-5 record despite posting an above league average save percentage and a goals against average under three.
The 27-year-old has followed it up nicely with an 8-6-1 record, and that stat line could get even better if his .899 save percentage climbs towards his career average of .912.
Despite having only made 65 career starts Petersen signed a three-year, $15 million dollar contract extension in September that kicks in after this season, a commitment like that shows the Kings believe he can step into the full-time starters role when the time comes.
Alexandar Georgiev - New York Rangers
Often the subject of trade rumors when a team is looking for goaltending help, Georgiev has gone from undrafted free agent signing to a reliable backup option with starters potential.
Now in his fifth NHL season, Georgiev has twice started more than 30 games, and started 18 last year during the shortened season. The 25-year-old has been consistent with a 7-5-2 record and .908 save percentage this season, just below his career average of .911.
With Rangers starter Igor Shesterkin in the Vezina conversation and signed through 2024-25, it will be interesting to see if Georgiev stays in New York after his contract expires this summer – although we've seen his name in the rumor mills for years, now, so who knows.