First and foremost, best wishes to Tripp Tracy as he takes some time away from the team. Looking forward to having him back on my TV when the time is right.
Ideal for the playoffs obviously is starting out with the full roster of players and extras. A deep run always involves a few injuries and the need to the next man up to step in and help the team.
At forward and on defense, the Hurricanes will enter the post-season in pretty good shape in this regard, but unfortunately the last couple weeks have offered a bit of goalie chaos.
First, Frederik Andersen left the Colorado Avalanche game with a lower body injury on April 16. Then Antti Raanta left the New York Islanders game a week later on April 24. And theoretical #3 Alex Lyon with the Chicago Wolves is also out with an injury. Enter rookie Pyotr Kochetkov.
With the playoffs scheduled to start next Monday, the current situation shakes out as follows. Andersen has seemingly been tracking toward a return but has yet to be in the lineup. Raanta was healthy enough to serve as a backup on Tuesday which would suggest that he could have been available if absolutely necessary. And Kochetkov has looked capable so far in three NHL games.
If Andersen is cleared to play, he would be hopping straight into playoff action after a two-week layoff. That can be a bit of a dice roll. Raanta has proven capable when called on and is a veteran who would not be affected by the bright lights of the playoffs.
Then there is the rookie Kochetkov. He was good enough in a game and a half of work to collect two wins over the weekend, but I thought the Canes broadcast evaluation of his play in those two games was a bit overdone. In games against non-playoff teams in which the Canes controlled play, he really was not tested over the weekend. He faced only 27 shots in a game and a half of hockey is roughly an 18-shot per game pace. Against the Devils, he saw 19 shots and faced maybe 3-5 tough chances. Against the Islanders, Kochetkov was beaten on the first shot he faced and then faced only seven more shots in 27 minutes of play. Against non-playoff competition, the Canes did a great job of controlling the game and giving Kochetkov a lesser challenge to ease into the NHL. Along the way, he was beaten twice from out including what looked like a harmless shot from outside the face-off circle. On the other shots from distance that beat him and a few others, he seemed to struggle a bit navigating traffic in front of him. And though it was a bit less treacherous in his second game, he has struggled a bit handling the puck including a turnover to the front of the net that was did not become a goal only because it found a Devil on his backhand instead of a forehand which would have led to a quick and easy finish. His win over the Rangers on Tuesday offered a bit more of a test, and he was up to the task making a good number of tougher saves.
For a scouting staff trying to get up to speed on him quickly and identify potential weaknesses, I think they will identify three things. First, he has had a tendency to move off his angle trying to find sight lines with traffic in front versus smaller adjustments to where his head is. But then the book on pretty much any goalie is to get traffic in front. In his three games, he has left a few too many pucks laying around the crease versus receiving/keeping pucks or directing them to the sides. And finally, he has a few times been a bit nonchalant handling the puck.
But on the positive side, he did not seem to be affected by the pressure of making his NHL debut and he has looked fluid and comfortable in net.
In some ways, I think these late-season stints can be favorable for goalies. For a goalie who has found a rhythm at the AHL level, it is just a matter of maintaining it whereas trying to make an NHL roster in training camp occurs at a time when a player is still getting up to speed. And of course Canes lore includes a rookie Cam Ward rising up to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
While I would by no means consider the playoffs a lost cause if Kochetkov is pressed into action, I think the Hurricanes will be better off with one of the two veterans in net. Subtle but significant is the fact that it would allow the team to just keep doing its thing without any odd adjustments to try to over-help a rookie playing on a big stage.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How important do you think it is for the Canes to have #1 netminder Frederik Andersen for the playoffs?
2) Based on strong play in his three games so far, do you think Pyotr Kochetkov has the potential to make a magical rookie run of pressed into action?
3) To what degree to do you view Antti Raanta as a downgrade to Andersen if Raanta is available but Andersen is not?