While you were away: Backup goalies trying to make impact
Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking players stories you may have missed and players who are trending up or down. We’ll fill you in on roster transactions, a few predictions and generally keep you updated on all things NHL beyond your favorite team.
There were three backup goalies on display in Thursday night’s action in the NHL. Today we’re looking at who figures to become a more regular fixture between the pipes for their respective teams.
1. Linus Ullmark, Sabres
Ullmark is playing his first season not just in the NHL but in any North American league. He’s spent his entire career in his native Sweden and has impressed (most notably, coach Dan Bylsma) so far in the six games he’s played this season. He has a 4-2 record with a 2.45 GAA and very respectable .924 save percentage.
On Thursday night Ullmark looked especially strong, stopping 36 of 38 shots in a 3–2 win over the Florida Panthers and continuing his streak of not allowing more than two goals in each of his wins.
He’s an intriguing name to keep an eye on but his upstart play likely won’t win over the Sabres throughout the entire season. The Sabres starter, Robin Lehner, was acquired in the off-season for a 2015 first round pick and it’s doubtful they’ll give up on him once he returns from an ankle injury. He went down in the first week of the season and is reportedly doing well in off-ice workouts but the Sabres still seem to be sticking to the original six-to-10 week injury timetable.
Could Ullmark wrestle the backup position away from Chad Johnson, himself a veteran No. 2 who is has been seeing the majority of action for the Sabres? That’s another question. Johnson, now on his fourth NHL team in four seasons, has never looked entirely comfortable with the Sabres and through 11 games this season sports a lowly 2.75 GAA and .896 save pct. For a team that is still looking to the future after a middling 8-8 start, it’s good for the Sabres to know that they have options in the 22-year old Ullmark.
2. Jhonas Enroth, Kings
Speaking of the Sabres, Jhonas Enroth was Buffalo’s backup for much of 2014-15 but eventually found a home with the Kings after the Los Angeles dealt away backup Martin Jones in the off-season.
We’re not sure how they do it, but the Kings have had a very solid string of back-up goalies behind Jonathan Quick during the past few seasons. Jonathan Bernier then Martin Jones looked good enough to spark the interest of other teams and through three games this season, Enroth is following suit. He’s allowed only two goals on 96 shots, including one in Thursday night’s 2–1 win over the New York Islanders. His 0.67 GAA and .979 save pct. clearly aren’t sustainable during the course of a season but they are impressive nonetheless.
Last season Quick played an astonishing 72 games for the Kings and they will surely want to lighten that workload, especially with a return to the playoffs likely. In Enroth, the Kings have yet another capable back-up keeper who, through 134 career NHL games has a .911 save pct. But is L.A. a short-term stop for the 27-year old Swede before he follows the path of Bernier and Jones and lands a full-time job elsewhere? He’ll likely have every opportunity to prove his worth for the surging Kings this season.
3. Anders Nilsson, Oilers
Like the Sabres, during the off-season the Oilers went after a goalie who had shone in limited play with his previous team. Former Ranger Cam Talbot is indisputably the number one in Oiltown, but Edmonton rolled the dice with Anders Nilsson by giving him his second start in two days on Thursday night against Arizona.
The results weren’t so favorable in the desert as Nilsson was shelled for four goals on 21 shots in a 4-1 loss. Not all of them were his fault however, as the Oilers defense has hardly been reliable.
Nilsson, a former Islander, spent last season with AK Bars Kazan in the KHL and returned with a 1.71 GAA. This season, his 3-4 record, 3.21 GAA and .902 save pct. stat line isn’t overwhelming, but Oilers Coach Todd McLellan seems to be in favor of rolling with a hot hand if the opportunity arises—Talbot has seen action in 11 games to Nilsson’s 7—so don’t be surprised to see a bit more of the 25-year-old Swede in net. Whether or not he can consistently perform well is another matter altogether, especially with that defense in front of him.