And now we come to the most visible, if not the worst, of last year’s Lightning weaknesses – the goaltending. The Lightning gave up a league worst 278 goals last season. The blame for that doesn’t totally lie with the goaltender, of course, but unfortunately, a lot of it does. Bad defense and poor goaltending (not to mention, again, the special teams play) created a perfect storm last season, resulting in what can only be called a disastrous 10th place finish.
It’s hard not to feel a little bad for Dwayne Roloson. So much of the Lightning’s poor performance last season has been set at his doorstep, while it seems way too many Lightning fans are quickly forgetting that Roloson was the only (I repeat: only) reason the team had so much success in the previous playoffs. And, to be fair, usually when a goalie has a terrible season, he has a defense in front of him that will somewhat blunt the damage, or at least the visibility of his poor play. Roloson, unfortunately, had no such defense, and all his flaws were left hanging on public display for the world to see, generally in highlight reels.
Enter Anders Lindback. The Lightning acquired him in the off season (i.e. forever ago) and have spent the time since (i.e. forever) trying to tone down expectations. Nonetheless, he is constantly referred to as “Yzerman’s gamble” in the sports media. Why? Because regardless of what the team says, Lindback is expected to assume the starting goaltender’s role with the Lightning, and even though everyone agrees he has a lot of potential, he’s only played 38 games in his NHL career – and not all of them starts.
But if Lindback is GM Yzerman’s gamble, it’s important to note that Yzerman has hedged his bet. The team drafted Russian standout Andrei Vasilevsky (or Vasilevski, depending on the outlet) in the first round last year, and has two solid options in the minors. It’s clear that the strategy is to bring in a number of young goalies and hope that one of them, and hopefully more, turns out to be a stud. All the better, of course, if Lindback develops into one such goaltender.
Of course, a large factor in Lindback winding up with the Lightning is the situation currently playing itself out in Vancouver. The Lightning were long rumored to be in the hunt to acquire then-Canucks backup Cory Schneider, but if that was the plan, it fell apart spectacularly and simultaneously with then-Canucks starter, Roberto Luongo. Luongo wound up losing his starting position to Schneider in last year’s playoffs, and is now the Canucks goalie likely to move. If you want some insight into Yzerman’s mind, consider this: The Lightning haven’t so much as sniffed at Luongo, who unquestionably remains an elite goalie, but remains just as unquestionably 33 years old. And that’s a little long in the tooth for the team’s plans.
Instead, the Lightning acquired Lindback from the Predators, and drafted Vasilevsky/i, and continue to develop Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius in Syracuse. The team is obviously looking for a young goaltender to backstop a young nucleus of players that will hopefully contend, not just in the near future, but for years to come.
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s pair of Lightning netminders.
#39 Anders Lindback
2011/2012 Season (Nashville Predators)
(GP)16 (GS)10 (Record)5-8 (GAA)2.48 (S%).912 (SO)0
Don’t believe what you hear – Anders Lindback is expected to start in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning. GM Steve Yzerman and Coach Guy Boucher have been going out of their way since acquiring the lanky Swede to reduce expectations, and thus, pressure. It’s a high pressure job as it is, and it’s made only more stressful by the fact that Tampa Bay’s fortunes largely depend on this particular goalie, that has played just 38 games in his NHL career. That said, the results of those 38 games have been good (considering they’re coming from a backup goalie, sub-25 years old). Lindback has a career record of 16-13-2, with a Goals Against Average of 2.53, and a .914 Save Percentage, and 2 shut outs.
Career Games Played: 38
Career Game Starts: 28
Career Save Percentage: .914%
The gamble is this: Lindback is high on potential, but low on experience. Asking him to lead the Lightning to the playoffs in his first year as a starter might be a bit much. But then again, you have to ask yourself, considering the team missed the playoffs by 8 points last season, is Lindback 8 points better than Dwayne Roloson was last year? It’s hard to imagine he won’t be, so Lightning fans can sleep easy. Even if Lindback doesn’t turn into the next Dominic Hasek, he should be good enough for the job he needs to do.
What to expect…
Lindback should start somewhere in the range of 35 games, more if he gets hot. While it’s unlikely he’ll be the team’s MVP this season, he’ll be working with what should be an improved defense, and won’t be left hanging nearly so often as his predecessor. If he can play solidly, and steal a game or two along the way, it should be enough to get the Lightning into the post season.
And the backup…
2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)
(GP)48 (GS)44 (Record) (GAA) (S%) (SO)
A career backup, Garon found himself assuming starting duties for a good chunk of last season before going down with a groin injury that kept him on the shelf for the final 16 games. Garon’s role with the team is even more important this year – he’s a quality backup, and more importantly, a veteran backup, that could prove key in the development of Anders Lindback. He will provide solid, if unspectacular, goaltending when called upon, while not necessarily competing for the starting job – all of which should take some pressure off Lindback.
Post All Star Game: (Record)9-3-2 (GAA)2.72 (S%).899
These numbers are not great – they’re not even good. What they are is proof that, when the Lightning are playing well, they can get by with average goaltending. Most of the time they weren’t even getting that last season. When they were good, the goaltending let them down, and when they were bad, it was a disaster. This year, at the very least, the netminding should be steady, which will provide the skaters with much-needed confidence.
What to expect…
Garon should play 10 to 15 games, to keep the pressure on Lindback low. His true value is his veteran presence, and the influence that can/should have on his young counterpart. On the off-chance Lindback doesn’t work out, we know what to expect from Garon.
I hope you enjoyed this, and if so, please check out the previous parts: