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Learning the Blues: Goaltending could be a difference maker

I’ll take the goalie tandem of Talbot and Fleury for 500, Alex.

NHL: APR 29 Avalanche at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listen, I’m not one for dramatics (except I totally am), but there was a time in March this year when the sky felt it was falling around the Minnesota Wild. They had been so good for so long, even through significant adversity and injuries through most of January, but they were in a swoon that felt never-ending. Lots of the boys weren’t doing their jobs at the time – defense felt holey especially, but boy, did it feel like it really came down to the goaltending.

That probably wasn’t fair – as I’ll get into in a minute, Cam Talbot hasn’t actually lost a game in regulation since March 1st – but at the time I was absolutely pointing fingers. We even had a roundtable discussing whether we wanted to ride Kaapo Kahkonen in a potential playoff series, because our confidence was so shaken in Talbot.

If you had told me then that I would think Minnesota’s goaltending was strong enough to be a difference maker in a playoff series against the St. Louis come the beginning of May, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But lots has changed since then, let’s get into it:

Okay, let’s get to know the Blues a bit before we retread over Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot. St. Louis will be bringing netminders, Vile Husso and Jordan Binnington. Unlike with Minnesota, there isn’t at all the same question mark and back and forth about who they’ll ride, Husso has absolutely earned the number one spot this season.

Husso is only in his second year in the NHL, he had a .894 save percentage only last year and his average in the AHL was .908. Really not particularly impressive, and there was fair reason to doubt his effectiveness at the professional level. However, this year has been different. On October 25, the first time they put him in net he recorded a shutout, 34 saves against the Los Angeles Kings. He largely kept proving himself as the team’s starter for the remainder of the season. He won 9 out of his final 11 starts, and lost none in regulation. He finished the season 25-7-6, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average. Binnington – who we’ll give time to in a second – improved some near the end of the season that allowed for Husso be one of the more rested starters in the league, so Minnesota won’t be facing a goalie that had been rode too hard over an 82 game stretch.

However, perhaps we saw a few cracks over the final game? He gave up six goals on 44 shots in the Blues loss against Vegas on Friday.

Another thing to consider with Husso is that, well, no one has any idea of his ability to withstand the pressures of the playoffs. Jordan Binnington, however…

Minnesota fans should be acutely familiar with Binnington’s ability to come from nowhere and take a team to the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has not shown himself to be that goalie this season. He ended the season at 18-14-4 with a 3.13 GAA and .901 SV% and 9-8-1 with a 3.45 GAA and .891 save percentage since January 1. Not great.

That being said, he began to turn it around near the end of the season. He had a five-game winning streak before a loss to Colorado, Tuesday. If Husso shows the playoffs are stakes he isn’t quite ready for, Binnington isn’t the worst backup goalie in the league to turn to, and this season notwithstanding he has certainly shown his playoff preparedness in the past.

Now let’s talk Wild. Bill Guerin, in the trade deadline Big Move of all Moves, acquired Marc-Andre Fleury in March and shipped off Minnesota’s own rookie goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to San Jose. This began a goalie rotation between Fleury and Talbot for fifteen consecutive games. I imagine the choice to start with Fleury was not an easy one.

While we were pearl clutching about our goaltending falling apart at the beginning of March, Talbot had quietly righted his game and continued about his business. I’ll repeat, he hasn’t had a regulation loss since the beginning of March, several weeks before the Fleury acquisition, that being said he got even better with the Flower smiling at him in his rearview. He was 13-0-3 with a 2.35 GAA, .917 SV% since March 3 and 8-0-3 with a 2.25 GAA, .925 SV% and two shutouts since the March 21 trade deadline. Over the course of the whole season he was 32-12-4 with a 2.76 GAA, .911 SV%. That being said, he allowed 17.23 more goals than expected. That’s a pretty large range of games where certainly some were won despite Cam Talbot, and a few won because he held them in the game.

The strength of Talbot’s end of season performance aside, likely Dean Evason, Guerin, and co. ultimately decided they didn’t acquire reigning Vezina winning goaltender with cup credentials to not play him. Although this particular season is a weird one for Fleury, he’s got a record of 28-23-5 with a 2.90 GAA, .908 SV%. We gotta remember he did start the season with a very bad Chicago team. He’s gone 9-2-0 with a 2.74 GAA and a .910 SV% since donning a Wild jersey.

Who Has the Advantage?

Starters

I’ll give you that Fleury doesn’t have the best record against the Blues this season, he lost all three he played with Chicago with a 3.37 GAA and a .903 SV%. However, he hasn’t yet played them with Minnesota’s defense in front of him. His career shows 9-12-2 with a 2.76 GAA and a .912 SV% against the Blues. He has played the Blues only one time in the playoffs and won that game despite letting in 4 goals.

Husso has beaten Minnesota twice this season, but both were in OT and he allowed eight goals on 74 total shots with an .892 SV%. He might have made the saves at the end when it mattered, but those weren’t knockout games.

Ultimately, I’m giving the edge to Fleury because he has the playoff pedigree. This is only Husso’s second season with the NHL and Fleury is a playoff tested goalie. It’s not a no-brainer per say, but I think it doesn’t take much brain to say I’d rather have Fleury.

Backups

I’d wager the only other reason we’re not seeing Talbot start this series despite some folks probably feeling as though he’s proven his mettle is his record against the Blues specifically. He’s 0-1-2. His GAA is 5.93, and he’s got a .814 SV%. That is not good. Perhaps the powers that be have decided the Blues have his number a little too much.

That being said, I think it is safe to say we’ll see Cam in net at some point, it won’t be a true rotation, but he’s been so so so solid down the stretch and the team trusts him. I imagine switching up the goaltending will give the team a reinvigorating refresh when they need it, and I won’t feel any amount of “oh, god, we’re going with the backup” anxiety I’m sure lots of teams in the league may feel.

Binnington only faced the Wild once this season and that was at the Winter Classic, and though we lost, it was not a great outing for him. He almost single-handedly made that a game Minnesota could have come back from with his poor showing in the third.

Despite his experience with the Blues this season, I think I’d still rather have Talbot in my net than Binnington. Binnington overall has had a rough go of it, and until this morning I genuinely thought Talbot was going to be Minnesota’s Day 1 starter. Having a backup you trust that much is an absolute luxury.

If the Wild wins this series, it’s more than possible we’ll owe several games to both of these goalies. Go Wild!