'Tis the season for riding goaltenders.
With the playoffs near and opportunities to pick up points dwindling, more coaches are choosing to go with the hot hand in goal rather than opting for rest.
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter started Jonathan Quick on Monday night versus the New Jersey Devils and was expected to go back to him Tuesday against the NHL-leading New York Rangers. With Henrik Lundqvist eyeing a weekend return but not yet ready, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault tabbed Cam Talbot in back-to-back games over the weekend and came away with two victories.
As the Minnesota Wild have shown by starting Devan Dubnyk in 31 straight times to get back into playoff contention, putting trust in one goaltender can be a successful strategy, especially this time of year.
"I think at this point in the season no team has a luxury of playing a goalie that hasn't played consistently," analyst Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild said. "You have to go with your best lineup, regardless of the rigours or bumps and bruises or how tired they are."
That means tossing aside concerns about overworking starters and the statistics that show it's not beneficial to play the same goaltender on consecutive nights. Points are simply too valuable, and it's a major roll of the dice to change things up.
Ottawa coach Dave Cameron learned that lesson the hard way when the Boston Bruins beat Craig Anderson on March 10. Rookie Andrew Hammond is 14-0-1 in 15 starts this season and has anchored the Senators' improbable run to secure a playoff position.
"He's been a warrior," Cameron told reporters at Canadian Tire Centre Monday night after beating the San Jose Sharks. "He's been playing probably too much hockey here, but another terrific win for him."
Dubnyk, poised to make a 32nd consecutive start Tuesday night against the New York Islanders, is 23-6-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts since being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14. Coach Mike Yeo told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he worries about not starting Dubnyk.
The same could be said of Washington's Braden Holtby (16 straight starts), Nashville's Pekka Rinne (21 of 24), Montreal's Carey Price (16 of 21), Talbot (22 of 24) and Quick (29 of 30).
Goldman said Sutter's call to start Quick on Monday night shouldn't be taken as a slight towards backup and potential future NHL starter Martin Jones, who has just two appearances since the all-star break. It's more about Quick, who can handle the workload.
"He never shows that wear and tear that goalies who may not be in the elite echelon show," Goldman said. "He needs these games to get into a rhythm and fine-tune for the post-season."
That post-season is far from guaranteed for the defending Stanley Cup-champions, who visit the New York Islanders, Wild and Chicago Blackhawks to finish off their road trip.
"Look who we're playing," Sutter said Monday night in Newark, N.J. "We've got our work cut out (for us).
So, like other contenders with their starters, expect the Kings to continue playing and trusting Quick until the games run out.