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Minor Distractions - Goaltending

Just over the midway point of the season and we have started to see some interesting trends in how the goaltending situation is shaking up down in the minors.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The goaltending situation up in the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins took an unexpected turn at the start of the season, and that caused a trickle down effect for the minor league affiliate AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the ECHL Wheeling Nailers.

The NHL goaltending situation is still not 100% certain, with Marc-Andre Fleury and his playoff history leaving some concerned still despite his excellent regular season performance, Tomas Vokoun slowly working his way back into his workout routine indicating that he could possibly be activated by the end of the season, and Jeff Zatkoff having played his way into a 2-year extension and quite unlikely to be able to clear waivers if they had even considered sending him back to WBS.

But despite the recent predicament, the NHL has been exceptionally steady in the net. Fleury has been the de facto starter on pace to get his normal workload of 62-67 games by the end of the season while Zatkoff falls in the traditional backup role rather than the platoon/co-starter scenario they used during the lockout shortened season.

But down in the minors the goaltending situation has not been quite that consistent. Injuries, call-ups, suspensions, and shifting roles have plagued our minor league affiliates, but they seem to be finally getting back to some semblance of stability.

WBS Baby Pens

Down in the AHL they went into Training Camp with 3 goaltenders: Eric Hartzell a promising young rookie on an NHL contract, Peter Mannino a veteran on an AHL contract, and Jeff Deslauriers a former WBS goaltender signed to a Professional Tryout agreement. Mannino came to AHL Camp injured and was unable to fight for a spot in the lineup, so the starter job fell to Deslauriers by default, with Hartzell serving as his backup and Mannino sent to ECHL Camp. However, Hartzell got injured after the first game and Mannino got recalled to serve as the backup. After getting healthy, Hartzell was sent down to Wheeling for a time, and upon his return to WBS they assigned Mannino to the Nailers. Mannino refused to report and the team suspended him. From that point it was Deslauriers and Hartzell for the remainder of the season.

For the first month Deslauriers was the starter and Mannino just got a handful of games on back-to-back nights. This trend continued through the end of November and Hartzell's return to the lineup. However, after a pretty rough going at the end of the month Hartzell got more starts until they were basically switching out every other night. But a little bit of a setback for Hartzell and a couple hot games for Deslauriers allowed him to once again take the reins as starter by the end of December. Of course the tides turn, and just about two weeks ago as Deslauriers found himself in a bit of a slump, Hartzell came in with a couple of impressive games and seems to have managed to claim the starters position.

Deslauriers has a 16-11-2 record with a 2.39 GAA, .902 Sv%, and 1 shutout in 29 games played. He is tied for #7 in Wins, #14 of 43 in GAA, #32 of 43 in Sv%, and tied for #15 in Shutouts.

He didn't have the greatest start to the year stat-wise, but he still managed to keep up a pretty impressive record, winning his first 5 starts and getting Points in his first 9, going 7-0-2 to start the year. But he started to struggle a bit and was losing more and more often as the season progressed. A 3-game losing streak at the end of November led to Hartzell getting more playing time, while an impressive statistical showing in December through the very beginning of January in which he went 4-2-0 with a 1.37 GAA and .945 Sv% saw him regain his place in the depth chart. However, he struggled again and was pulled from the net in his two most recent starts, and 3 times in the past 5 games. So he appears to have passed the torch to Hartzell for the time being.

Mannino has a 1-1-0 record with a 3.40 GAA and .877 Sv% in 3 games played.

The stats paint a much worse picture of Mannino than he really is. During his first two games he managed a 2.02 GAA and .926 Sv%, but he got pulled after allowing 5 Goals in 2 periods during his 3rd game and hasn't played in WBS since. After the sent him to Wheeling and he refused to report the team suspended him and he was reportedly contemplating retirement. However, he recently decided to honor his contract and did indeed report to the Nailers, where he has served as a backup for the past 2 weeks.

Hartzell has a 9-3-1 record with a 1.72 GAA, .931 Sv%, and 3 shutouts in 17 games played. He is tied for #28 in Wins and #7 amongst rookies, #2 of 43 in GAA and #1 of 14 amongst rookies, #3 of 43 in Sv% and #1 of 14 amongst rookies, and tied for #4 in shutouts and tied for #2 amongst rookies.

Hartzell is just the opposite of Mannino, as his stats make him appear much better than he has actually played. He has shown himself to be a great goaltender, with shades of Brad Thiessen and John Curry at that age in the level of skill he is able to show. However, he hasn't managed to take on as big of a role as either of them did in their rookie seasons, and both were a year younger than Hartzell. That isn't really a negative against Hartzell, he has shown a career progression that is almost identical to those elite WBS goaltenders.

However, I am not pleased with Hartzell's consistency. He tends to have one or two excellent games followed by one or two awful games, he just doesn't seem to possess a middle ground, he is either lights out on fire, standing on his head, or he is a train wreck making careless rookie mistakes. That is something that he will improve on as he gets older, but it is still something to keep in mind for those that look at his numbers and wonder why he isn't playing more.

He had a hot start to his AHL career with a .964 Sv% in November, but then December he had a mere .891 Sv%, however he is now on fire again and currently has a .949 Sv% in January. Game by game the inconsistencies are even more prominent: .935, 1.000, .828, .870, 1.000, .842, .970, .333 pulled after 13 minutes, .958, 1.000 on 5 saves in 28 minutes of relief, .800 in 12 minutes of relief, .931, .971, .889 in 33 minutes of relief, .971, .882, and 1.000. That is an awful lot of ups and downs, but once he finds that middle ground in his game he should be an excellent AHL starter.

Wheeling Nailers

The Nailers have been a mad house in net. They have had 10 different goaltenders so far this season, 2 of which were non-playing Emergency Backups. With recalls to WBS and Hamilton and Mannino's refusal to report for part of the year, they were left with a string of rotating fill-ins.

Alex Westlund made the roster as a backup out of Camp, but a week later he was replaced by former Nailers starter Peter Delmas. Delmas only lasted a week before Hartzell was sent down to be the backup. When Hartzell was sent up and Mannino refused to report, they were forced to dress their Equipment Manager Billy Higgins as an emergency backup. Within the next couple days they got a new backup Mathieu Corbeil on loan from the Utica Comets. However, when starter Michael Condon was called up to the Hamilton Bulldogs they were forced to sign another Emergency Backup in local college Freshman John McFarland. They then got Westlund back for a short time, traded for another backup Brooks Ostegard from the Cincinnati Cyclones, and then released Westlund and sent Corbeil back to Utica when Condon returned. Ostegard was released when Mannino finally decided to report, and just a week ago their received another backup Kieran Millan from the Lake Erie Monsters. Millan has yet to play, and for a week had not even dressed as a backup, but he dressed for their most recent game.

Condon has a 13-10-0-4 record with a 2.55 GAA, a .920 Sv%, and 2 shutouts in 27 games played. He is tied for #6 in Wins and tied for #1 amongst rookies, #12 of 27 in GAA and #5 of 9 amongst rookies, #10 of 27 in Sv% and #4 of 9 amongst rookies, and tied for #6 in shutouts and tied for #2 amongst rookies.

He has been the de facto starter the entire time he was in the lineup, playing most nights, even on back to backs. His backups have changed throughout the year, but other than he time in the AHL he has been the constant go to guy in net. He had a stellar month of November, going 7-1-0-1 with a 1.86 GAA and .943 Sv%. However, he had a rough early December and then continued to struggle upon his return in January. His stats are still passable, but the team has fallen apart and he has had a hard time earning Ws as of late, going 5-7-0-3 since the beginning of December. He has the skill to bounce back, and had an excellent stretch of 4 games starting about 2 weeks ago, but its just a matter of finding consistency on the team around him.

Hartzell has a 2-2-0-1 record with a 2.58 GAA, a .922 Sv%, and 1 shutout in 5 games played.

He was the first backup to play in Wheeling, despite not joining the team until November. Like he has so far in WBS, he showed a bit of inconsistency in Wheeling that is not represented in his excellent overall stats. And like he is in WBS, he had no middle ground, he was either excellent or terrible. Game to game he went: .833, .941, .939, 1.000, and .879. Like WBS, he has more ups than downs which results in an amazing stat block, but when you examine the consistency issues it is still somewhat troubling.

Corbeil has a 3-1-1-0 record with a 2.53 GAA, a .911 Sv%, and 1 shutout in 6 games played.

Westlund has a 0-2-0-0 record with a 2.52 GAA and a .921 Sv% in 2 games played.

Ostergard has a 0-2-0-0 record with a 4.80 GAA and a .855 Sv% in 3 games played.

Mannino has a 1-0-0-0 record with a 1.00 GAA and a .957 Sv% in 1 game played.

Mannino returned as the backup and did just that for a number of games, sitting on the bench watching as Condon had his hot streak in the middle of the month. However, when called on to start in their 3-in-3 last weekend he acquitted himself well and walked away with the W. But by the next game he was not even dressed as a backup as the new acquisition Millan got a chance to ride the pine.