When Mike Babcock was the coach and the goalies consisted of starter Frederik Andersen and backup Michael Hutchinson, Babcock always started Andersen on the first game of a back-to-back – ALWAYS.
Andersen did well. On the other hand, Hutchinson always started the second game of a back-to-back. He did, to put it kindly, less-well.
For whatever reason Babcock had, Andersen always was offered the much easier task of playing in the first game. Babcock made no bones about it, saying that,
“Obviously there’s a reason why teams aren’t as good in the second game. But they’re on your schedule, so what are you going to do about it? We just happen to be unfortunate because we’ve had four in October.”
Mike Babcock Had a Plan
Like him or not, you have to admit that Babcock was a thoughtful coach. He considered his choices and he made the choices he believed were right for his team even if it seemed obvious to others (at least they said so) that these choices were wrong. It didn’t take fans and hockey commentators long to learn Babcock was stubborn that way.
His choice to start Hutchinson every second game of back-to-backs made it obvious that he was protecting his starter and utilizing Hutchinson more or less as fodder to be “chewed on” during the more difficult tasks of trying to win those tougher second games.
Babcock had to know that the second goalie had a smaller chance of winning the second game of a back-to-back than the goalie of the first back-to-back game. Think of it: between night one and night two, there was always travel that, when added to the physical exhaustion of the team after a tiring game, put the team at a disadvantage.
Babcock always protected Andersen in this way. And, by doing so, he “sacrificed” his backup goalie’s record so that his number one goalie (and his team) could have a better chance of success.
Sheldon Keefe Thinks Differently About His Goalies
I point this fact out because, when compared to Babcock, new head coach Sheldon Keefe thinks differently. That fact was in evidence just today when the goalie starters were announced for this weekend’s back-to-back games against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and then against the Buffalo Sabres in Sunday’s game.
Jack Campbell, who has been the Maple Leafs’ new backup goalie since general manager Kyle Dubas made a trade just over a week ago, will be in net for the Saturday game and starter Frederik Andersen will be in net for the Sunday game. Campbell has come in and delivered – not perfect, but darn good. Keefe is giving him the easier task.
I might have it wrong about Keefe, and he might just want Andersen to have an extra day off; still, Babcock never made that same choice – did I say NEVER? Andersen would have started against Ottawa.
Even if I’m wrong about how Keefe is thinking, there’s some logic in his goaltending choices. Andersen’s first game back from a neck injury that happened when the Florida Panthers’ Frank Vatrano slid into him on a 2-on-1 rush on February 3, played on Thursday night. But, he wasn’t strong in his return, giving up three goals on only 19 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. Maple Leafs fans are used to better from the Dane.
Obviously Keefe believes Campbell offers his team its best chance of winning the game. Or, another explanation is that Keefe is trying to treat both goalies more-or-less equally, which means offering each a good chance to win games and (as it translated to the team) giving the team its best chance to win.
Is One Goalie Strategy Better than Another?
Really, it’s hard to say if one goalie-deployment strategy is better than another. The proof is in the winning or losing. So far this season, as I reviewed the Maple Leafs schedule and counted the team’s success – or lack thereof – on back-to-backs, by my count the Maple Leafs have played 11 back-to-back games. Their record in the second games of those back-to-backs was two wins and nine losses.
That’s not a good record by a long shot. Before the end of the season, the team has three more sets of back-to-back games. It would be nice to win at least two of them. I’m hoping Keefe’s strategy works out well for both the goalies and for the team. I would really like to see the Maple Leafs in the postseason.
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