Backup plan: The case to play goalies on consecutive nights

If NHL coaches want to provide goalies quality downtime during a constricted schedule, Martin Biron believes he has an ideal backup plan.

Rather than split starts as teams often do when playing on consecutive days, the former netminder suggests it might be more beneficial to have the starter play both and then sit out the next game.

''If your goalie is going to play Friday, have Saturday off and play the Tuesday game, there's never a time to check out in that time off,'' said Biron, who spent 16 NHL seasons as a starter and backup. ''I'm of the school that thinks it's almost better to play your starter on Friday-Saturday and then not play him until next Friday, and then he has six days of preparation and rest.''

It's not as if goalies aren't accustomed to playing twice in two days.

''Most of the guys that are young played three (games) in three (days) in the American League. They can handle that,'' Biron said. ''I can't speak for (skaters), but as a goalie, once you get your mindset into a game, if you have to extend it for another 24 hours that's fine.''

The goalie balancing act is never simple.

And how much increased playing time backups get will be a pressing issue for a league squeezing in an 82-game schedule in a shortened calendar. The season began a week later than usual because of the World Cup of Hockey and the schedule, for the first time, features each team enjoying a five-day bye week.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby tends to agree with Biron, saying there's too much concern placed on goalies playing on consecutive nights when, in actuality, the entire team is tired.

''Historically, teams aren't as good on back to backs in general, and goalies go hand in hand,'' Holtby said. ''Goalie stats are a lot to do with how your team performs. That's just the way it is. It's a little bit harder, but it's a little harder for everyone.''

And, Holtby added, it's also hard on a backup goalie being thrust into action with negligible on-ice time because teams don't normally practice the morning before playing their second game.

Holtby's production bears him out.

Over the previous two seasons, Holtby is 12-5-2 when playing both nights, including a 6-2-1 mark on Day 2. He's given up a combined 23 goals on each night.

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick's record is even more impressive. In the 14 times he's played back to backs over the past two years, Quick has allowed 20 goals the first game and just 12 the next with a 5-1-1 record.

The only straggler of the 10 goalies' records analyzed by The Associated Press is Tuukka Rask. The Boston starter is 7-1-3 (plus one no decision) and allowed 18 goals in the first game. He is 2-8-2 with 29 goals allowed the following night.

What's never been up for debate is how critical the backup's role is during a busy stretch or when the starter is sidelined.

Last year, the Montreal Canadiens unraveled once Carey Price went down with a season-ending knee injury in late November. After opening 19-4-3, Montreal finished 38-38-6. The Canadiens addressed their backup spot this offseason by signing veteran Al Montoya in free agency.

The move has already paid off. The eighth-year player is 2-0-2 after Price opened the season sidelined by the flu.

On the other hand, minor leaguer Matt Murray led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship after being called up in March once starter Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined by a concussion.

This year, the Los Angeles Kings are banged-up in net with Quick and backup Jeff Zatkoff both sidelined by groin injuries. They're now leaning on 11-year journeyman Peter Budaj, who won his first two starts.

Biron said it's not uncommon for minor league call-ups to find their groove because they're already accustomed to a starter's workload as opposed to the primary backup who's had less game action.

BY THE NUMBERS

Last season, 85 goalies appeared in at least one game. There have already been 60 goalies who have made an appearance through the first 92 games this year.

Since 2006, only two goalies have led their team to win a Stanley Cup when playing 60 or more regular-season games.

Quick played 69 times when the Kings won title in 2012, and Fleury played 62 for the 2009 Cup-champion Penguins. On the low-end of the scale, Murray played only 13 regular-season games for Pittsburgh last year. Cam Ward played just 28 during his rookie year in leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the championship in `06.

Of the 10 netminders who played 60 or more games last year, two missed the playoffs: Rask and Ottawa's Craig Anderson. And only two reached the conference finals: Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop and Martin Jones, whose Sharks lost the Cup Final to Pittsburgh.

SLUMPING

The Chicago Blackhawks penalty killers. In allowing two goals on five power-play chances in a 3-2 shootout loss to Calgary on Monday, Chicago has allowed 14 power-play goals on 24 opportunities.

STREAKING

A year after opening 9-0, the Canadiens are 5-0-1 and the NHL's only team yet to lose in regulation.

LEADERS

Goals, Auston Matthews (Toronto) and Richard Panik (Chicago), 6; Points, Matthews, 10; Time on ice, Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg), 29:30; Wins, Cam Talbot (Edmonton), 5.

GAME OF THE WEEK

A showdown of the past two No. 1 draft picks takes place at Toronto on Tuesday, when Edmonton's Connor McDavid faces Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews.

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Arlington, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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