The Vancouver Canucks have a problem — and it’s a good one. What started out as a murky goaltending situation has turned into a feel-good story for the Vancouver Canucks.
When Ryan Miller left for greener pastures this summer, the Canucks were left with a huge hole to fill in net. Jacob Markstrom was left as the starter even though he had no No. 1 goaltending experience and only 96 starts in 109 NHL games.
The Canucks, seeking some insurance, rolled the dice on another Swedish monster, signing 6-foot-7 Anders Nilsson to a two-year contract. Nilsson didn’t come with any more experience, though, having only 77 games played in the NHL, 67 of which were starts.
With only 163 NHL starts between them, the giant Swedish duo didn’t exactly scream as a safe situation in net.
Fast forward three months and 31 games, the Canucks have gotten off to a start no one expected as they’re in the hunt for a playoff spot. Today the Canucks are comfortably sitting 11th in goals-against average, just behind Winnipeg and Anaheim.
Individually, Nilsson has six wins and a .921 save percentage, while Markstrom is 6-1-1 with a .944 save percentage in games where he’s had at least 30 shots. If not for their goaltending, I’d have to wonder where the Canucks would be right now.
I once had a coach who rewarded starts based on wins: “Win and you’re in” was his philosophy. But the problem was that as much as a goalie thinks he can control the outcome of a game, the reality is you don’t. You can give your team a chance to win and be in the game, but goalies can’t score goals. It was an awful feeling that left me silently hoping for the other goalie to lose so I could play. It was the most awful and selfish I have ever felt as a teammate in my life. I wanted to play and he wanted to play. It was nothing against him personally, but it bred selfishness in both of us and that’s not how a team is supposed to be.
So how should a coach handle a situation where there is no true starter, but two good goalies instead?
I would handle it exactly how Canucks coach Travis Green has so far. The Canucks need to find a No. 1 for the foreseeable future and this entails seeing how both of these goalies handle all situations.
How they respond in a game after a win, or after a bad game. How they handle playing a streak of four games in a row. This is about the future, so give them both the opportunity to show what they can do.
The Canucks have bred a healthy goaltending situation based on “team,” where both goalies know the door of opportunity is open.
That’s all an athlete can ask for.
Here are my personal top five NHL goaltending tandems since 1980:
5. Mike Richter and Glenn Healy, New York Rangers
These two won the Presidents’ Trophy and brought the Rangers their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
4. Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford, Edmonton Oilers
Fuhr was the best goalie in the world at this stage in his career and Ranford went on to win his own Stanley Cup as a starter with Edmonton in 1990.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Fleury, who was in the backup role, carried the team three playoff rounds last year until Murray was healthy enough to play and finished off the job, giving the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cups with this duo.
2. Billy Smith and Rollie Melanson, New York Islanders
The Islanders won three Cups with these two and no one was more competitive than ‘Battling’ Billy Smith.
1. Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, Edmonton Oilers
Three Stanley Cup wins with the Oilers and both went on to be goaltending legends in their own right.