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Riding the Hot Hand is No Longer a Good Goalie Strategy

For as long as we’ve been watching hockey most coaches have employed the strategy of riding the hot hands in regard to their teams goaltending. Sometimes the team will make the playoffs but is this the best way to help your franchise long term? I’d have to say no. I think this strategy is changing. Gone are the days of goalies like Nikolai Khabibulin playing 72 of 82 games.

This article can’t give you hardened data to say that if a team follows a strict tandem that injuries will definitely go down, but one can make the case when you play goalies nine games in a row, as the Flyers did with Anthony Stolarz, coming off offseason double meniscus surgery, you do increase the chances for issues to arise.

Florida’s Roberto Luongo is playing a ton. From December 4th – January 3rd, he played 11 out of a possible 14 games. In his last two games, he gave up a combined seven goals. He was pulled in one of those games. Fatigue? Probably. At 39, even if his team is trying to make up ground, he’s going to have physical limitations. In those 11 games, he got 4 wins. Was it worth it?

I spoke to goaltending whiz, Kevin Woodley. He writes for and he’s the managing partner for InGoal Magazine. I asked him how the successful tandems are handled, and he responded, “I always hated win and you’re in for teams with a tandem, creates a totally unnecessary extra layer of pressure and judges based on results versus performance.”

The Devils went and played the hot hand with Keith Kinkaid last year. He got them into the playoffs and no further. This season he was the #1 and then after he and the oft-injured Corey Schneider were a tandem for a while, neither was successful and Mackenzie Blackwood got the job at the age of 22. As expected, the early results were good, so they played him seven times, five as a starter. He got three wins. He’s 6-4 and strong, but he’s not used to the NHL and the speed and strength of the players. Twice he faced 40 or more shots. He appeared in six straight games and in that sixth game he got hurt and left the game.

Woodley covers the Vancouver Canucks. Before he was traded, he explained how Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson split their time.

“The Canucks have it with Markstrom, who is making changes to his game that are still not innate. When they see it slipping, they started Nilsson to give Markstrom more time with goalie coach rather than riding him as the hot hand, even amid his torrid December in games with rest before, because they anticipated diminishing returns most of time those are head coach calls to ride hot hand or “win and you’re in” stuff … The Canucks lean on goalie coach for theirs.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs have potentially overused Frederik Andersen the past few seasons. The past two seasons he’s averaged 66 starts and this season he stopped at 30 until he got injured. Now the Leafs have a goalie carousel going. It will be interesting to see how they handle that. Andersen admitted he tweaked his groin in December. His wins were really good, but his losses included multiple games of four goals allowed and one with six.

The goalie game has changed. Teams that don’t adjust could see their seasons slip away and the smart ones will look at every possible angle to come up with the right situation for veterans and young goalies like Carter Hart in Philadelphia.

Photo by Drew King

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