The year of the backup goalie in the NHL | Hockey | CBC Sports

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Inside the GameThe year of the backup goalie in the NHL

Posted: Friday, December 13, 2013 | 11:52 AM

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Josh Harding (37) is 16-5-3 with a 1.52 goals-against average in 25 appearances, including 22 starts, for the Minnesota Wild. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Josh Harding (37) is 16-5-3 with a 1.52 goals-against average in 25 appearances, including 22 starts, for the Minnesota Wild. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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From Ben Scrivens to Martin Jones to Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Frederik Andersen, there have been a bevy of backup goalies who have thrived in the NHL this season.

Josh Harding is a trendsetter.

A career backup goalie for his first full six seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he was thrust into a regular role in the third game of the season when batterymate Niklas Backstrom suffered a knee injury.

Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last fall, has been brilliant and has made it difficult for Backstrom to gain back his No. 1 status.

Harding, too, suffered a minor setback when he suffered leg spasms in a warmup last month. Still, he's become the Wild's new go-to goalie with a 16-5-3 record and a .938 save percentage.

But the 29-year-old native of Regina has not been the only NHL backup to thrive this season:

  • When all-world goalie Jonathan Quick was struck down by a serious groin injury on Nov. 12, Ben Scrivens was called upon to keep adding to the Los Angeles Kings win column. Rookie Martin Jones also has come in and played extremely well. Jones and Scrivens have combined for a 10-1-4 run in Quick's absence.
  • With injuries to Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, Denmark's Frederik Andersen has skated into the Anaheim Ducks crease to reel off an impressive 8-1-0 record with a .938 save percentage.
  • Jonas Gustavsson has provided the Detroit Red Wings with some stable backup goaltending at 8-1-2 and a .933 save percentage, a key development with starter Jimmy Howard's struggles this season.
  • Another one of the best in the business, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, also has not been up to his usual standards this fall. In comes rookie Cam Talbot, who has gone 6-2-0 with a .934 save percentage.
  • Jean-Sebastien Giguere won a Stanley Cup in 2006-07, but at age 36 has been relegated to a backup role with the Colorado Avalanche. He has gone 7-1-0 with a .940 save percentage.
  • Peter Budaj has been a road warrior for the Montreal Canadiens at 6-1-0 and a .929 save percentage.
  • Boston Bruins Chad Johnson has been a strong consistent replacement when Tuukka Rask needs a night off. Johnson has built up a 6-1-0 record with a .928 save percentage.

So why have been backup goalies been so dependable?

First of all, more teams rely on backup goaltenders not only give the starter a rest, but to win. There used to be more teams that played the No. 1 goalie 65 to 70 times a season and the backup would get in only against weaker clubs.

Some teams like New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames have even gone to a 1A-1B goalie system.

There no longer are easy games in the NHL. The standings are so tight that the backup goalie better be good and produce W's.

Teams also have done a better job developing more goalies into quality players. Most clubs now have a goalie coach with the NHL team and another to work with the organization's goalie prospects. These goalies are better prepared to step up and step in, and they stay sharp because of the drills they are put through in practice and morning skates.

Who has been the most reliable backup this season in the year of the backup and who has the best future as a No. 1 down the road? We convened a panel of five pro scouts and asked them for their top three choices under each category. Here were their consensus picks:

Most reliable this season

  1. J.S. Giguere, Colorado
  2. Ben Scrivens, Los Angeles
  3. Robin Lehner, Ottawa

Best bets to be a No. 1

  1. Robin Lehner, Ottawa
  2. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim
  3. Eddie Lack, Vancouver

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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