They say the “great eraser” in hockey is a good goaltender. If a team is allowing too many chances in the defensive zone, a good goaltender will erase those mistakes. If a team is struggling to convert on their opportunities in the offensive zone, a good goaltender will keep them in the game while they rely on the law of averages to yield a goal. Sometimes the difference between playoff hockey and a long summer off is a game that a goaltender stole.
The Detroit Red Wings entered this season with a familiar face atop the depth chart in goal: Ville Husso. Behind him on the depth chart are James Reimer and Alex Lyon, both of which occupy a spot on the roster. While much has been made about which guys have played and which ones haven’t, the Red Wings have struggled to keep the puck out of their net regardless of who is in the crease.
It’s not a new problem. The Red Wings have struggled to stabilize their goaltending position since before Steve Yzerman took over as general manager in the spring of 2019. But if the Red Wings are going to be where they want to be when the spring of 2024 arrives, they need one of their goalies to step up and take control of the situation.
Husso Continues to Be So-So
When Husso was acquired from the St. Louis Blues during the second day of the 2022 draft, he was coming off of a breakout year that saw him briefly wrestle away the starting role from Jordan Binnington. With 25 wins in 40 games and a .919 save-percentage (SV%), all signs suggested that the Finnish netminder had arrived as a legitimate “1A” goaltender that can provide stable goaltending more often than not. That’s why the cost of a third round pick seemed more than reasonable when Yzerman and the Red Wings made the trade.
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Here we are today, however, and Husso has struggled to remain statistically relevant league-wide since joining the Red Wings. Through 10 starts this season, he has a .885 SV% and a quality-start percentage (QS%) of .300. His record may be 6-3-1, but that is more of a testament to the Red Wings’ offense than anything else. More often than not, it seems Detroit is winning games despite Husso’s efforts, not because of them.
That is a trend that seems to have carried over from last season. Despite a strong start that had him in Vezina talks early on, Husso struggled with consistency once the calendar flipped to 2023. He finished the season with a .896 SV% and a QS% of .464, making him the first Red Wings starting goaltender to finish with a SV% below .900 since Chris Osgood posted a .887 SV% during the 2008-09 season. That’s right, Husso’s numbers are the worst of the Red Wings’ ongoing rebuild, and the worst since they were still considered a powerhouse in the Western Conference.
When the Red Wings acquired Husso, they promptly signed him to a three-year deal. While no one would ever call a three-year deal “long-term”, that remaining year on his contract is going to look pretty daunting unless the 28-year-old can turn things around.
Reimer’s Numbers Are Deceiving
Of the two goaltenders that have played games for the Red Wings this season, Reimer has been the best from a statistical standpoint. Through five games, he sports a .933 SV% and a QS% of .600. The 35-year-old veteran was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason to provide some stability and experience in an area where the Red Wings lacked both last season.
It’s easy to pull up the Red Wings’ stat page on NHL.com and draw conclusions about their goaltenders. Based on numbers alone, Reimer should probably assume the starting role in Detroit right now while Husso rounds into form. You can probably make the same argument based on merit as well. But, as is the case throughout all of sports, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
When watching the Red Wings play, it is remarkable how differently they seem to play depending on who is in net. Husso hasn’t played at the level they need him to be at, but the defense in front of him often does him no favors. On the other hand, Detroit seems to limit chances more effectively with Reimer in net. Based on how they play, the Red Wings expect Reimer to be solid and Husso to be a savior.
Reimer is making the saves right now, but he hasn’t always looked sound while making them. It is more than fair to wonder how things would look if the Red Wings’ defensive play was the same in front of Reimer as it is in front of Husso.
Then there’s the incident that happened on Nov. 9 against the Montreal Canadiens. With 1:33 left in the overtime period, Reimer moved the puck while Canadiens forward Cole Caufield was on his doorstep. After moving the puck, the veteran goaltender with almost 500 games of NHL experience grabbed onto Caufield’s stick and prevented the winger from joining the play heading the other way. Reimer received a holding penalty, and Montreal made him pay, scoring the game-winner with under a minute to go.
It was a puzzling penalty to take for any goaltender, let alone one that has been in the NHL for almost 15 years. When people talk about veteran players and the value they provide for their team, their experience and knowledge is always brought up. “They don’t make the mistakes that young players make. Young guys can learn from them” is usually a main talking point. So to see Reimer take a penalty like that is inexcusable; that’s the type of penalty that 8-year-olds that are still learning the position take – not 35-year-olds that have made millions of dollars while playing in the top hockey league in the world for over a decade.
Reimer’s numbers may look pretty good, but he singlehandedly lost the Red Wings that game, and there are a few others he could have lost if not for the solid defensive efforts in front of him. As much as the Red Wings improved over the offseason, they still cannot overcome goalies that don’t give them a chance to win.
Alex Lyon is Still Lying Around
Perhaps the most mindboggling thing about this whole situation is that Detroit isn’t exactly handcuffed to Husso and Reimer. The Red Wings began the season by making the unorthodox choice to carry three goaltenders on their roster, with Lyon being designated as the “spare” of the three.
Under normal circumstances, Lyon would have been sent to the American Hockey League at the start of the season where he would serve as the veteran partner and mentor to prospect Sebastian Cossa. Instead the Red Wings have opted to keep Lyon on their roster because of the looming threat a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, who could use an extra goaltender, would claim him off of waivers. The Red Wings aren’t the only team doing this, but they might be the only team that should consider using their third goaltender instead of waiving him or, worse, having him sit around and provide absolutely no value to the organization.
To be clear, Lyon isn’t some ace goaltender that the club is just refusing to play. He has played in just 39 regular season games at the NHL level and holds a career SV% of .903. The 30-year-old has made a career out of being a third-string guy that provides solid depth, and that is exactly what the Red Wings signed him to be. However, considering he was a big reason why the Florida Panthers made the playoffs last season (he had a 4-1-1 record and a .946 SV% in the month of April, which led to him being named the starter for the first game of the Panthers’ playoff run) it is a bit surprising that the Red Wings’ coaching staff hasn’t given him one game of action.
With how inconsistent Husso and Reimer have been to start this season, it seems outright wasteful for the Red Wings to use a roster spot on a third goaltender that they apparently have no interest in using.
Red Wings Need Consistency
After a roaring start that put the league on notice, the Red Wings have meandered their way through November while managing to maintain their spot in the upper half of the Atlantic Division. With 15 goals in 5 games this month, the offense isn’t exactly as explosive as it was to start the season, but they have still been able to score fairly consistently. This is likely the level of production they can expect moving forward, with the occasional hot and cold streaks equaling each other out.
All the Red Wings need to stay competitive on a nightly basis is to not have to worry about their goaltending. They don’t need an elite goaltender, they just need one that can make those extra stops and steal a game every now and then. Instead, their current goaltending duo is actively putting them at a disadvantage.
Last month there was a lot of chatter about the Red Wings ending their playoff drought this season. If that chatter is going to continue on into the next calendar year, their goaltending needs to be a lot more reliable, regardless of who is in the crease.