James Reimer is something of a rarity in the NHL this season.
The 28-year-old is among the few backup goaltenders who can play regularly at around the same level as the starter. In fact, in his first season with Florida, Reimer has almost identical numbers to Panthers No. 1 Roberto Luongo.
Luongo: 2.53 goals-against average, .919 save percentage in 33 starts
Reimer: 2.50 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 19 starts
The reliable backup goaltender is an especially valuable commodity in the NHL this season given the compressed schedule that sees most teams now playing every other night until mid-April. Employing one goaltender under such strain risks not only poor performance, but injury.
Bruins No. 1 Tuukka Rask, for instance, has started 44 of 55 games this year and he's not only stumbled with increasing use (.891 save percentage since Dec. 1), but had to leave a game last week with a groin issue.
Cam Talbot has been remarkably consistent for Edmonton despite starting an NHL-leading 49 games, but can he hold up down the stretch? The Oilers, chasing their first playoff berth since 2006, have to hope so with his expected backup, Jonas Gustavsson, now playing in the minors.
Other backups delivering above-average performance beyond Reimer this year include: Buffalo's Anders Nilsson (.923 save percentage in 17 starts); Chicago's Scott Darling (.925 in 19 starts); Washington's Philipp Grubauer (.931 in 13 starts); New Jersey's Keith Kinkaid (.920 in 14 starts); and New York's Antti Raanta (.918 in 15 starts).
Beyond that group are backups ascending into the No. 1 role either because of injury or poor performance. The Kings' Peter Budaj (more on him below), Senators' Mike Condon and Islanders' Thomas Greiss the best examples of that.
The Panthers pay a premium to carry both Reimer and Luongo — almost US$8 million on the cap — but it may just get them into the post-season while other teams come up short.
What has Guy Boucher brought to the Ottawa Senators in his first season behind the bench?
"Defensive structure is by far the biggest impact," Pierre Dorion, the team's general manager, said in a recent interview.
A defensive disaster under Dave Cameron last year, Ottawa has indeed made substantive leaps this season under Boucher.
Goals-against rank last season: 26th (2.94 per-game)
This season: 14th (2.68)
Shots against rank last season: 30th (32.8 per-game)
This season: 14th (30.1)
The penalty kill has made a big leap too, jumping from 29th at a lowly 75.8 per cent to 10th at 83.1 per cent.
Ottawa remains a poor puck possession team (23rd), but they've cut down the quality of chances against under Boucher while playing with what those around the team describe as improved "structure".
"(Boucher) was definitely hired for that," Dorion said of defensive improvements. "But he was also hired because he's a great hockey guy (and) he's a great communicator."
KEEPING L.A. AFLOAT
Goalie A: .918 save percentage/2.22 goals-against average/5 shutouts
Goalie B: .920 save percentage/2.02 goals-against average/7 shutouts
The numbers for Goalie A belong to Jonathan Quick last season. The numbers for Goalie B? That would be Budaj this season who's been sensational for the Kings in Quick's absence. The 34-year-old posted three shutouts in a span of four starts recently, including back-to-back blankings of the Flyers and Avalanche.
It's worth recalling that Budaj, who actually leads the NHL with seven shutouts, spent last year with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League and was ultimately named the league's top goaltender.
Patrick Marleau became the 45th player in NHL history to join the 500-goal club last week. A one-time assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks, Tim Hunter offered his thoughts on the 37-year-old's career:
"Well the No. 1 thing with Patty is I've never coached a player that practises as hard and played in practice at 100 per cent, at full speed," said Hunter, a Sharks assistant for five seasons. "That was the most impressive thing with him. And a complete package of a big guy with a great physique, great hands, great speed, just a very impressive complete package."
Hunter added of Marleau: "He could play as long as he wants. He's another guy like (Jaromir) Jagr ... I wouldn't doubt if he played past 40."
Outside of Alex Ovechkin, there's no better guarantee for 20 goals in today's NHL than Los Angeles Kings centre Jeff Carter. Carter has cracked the 20-goal mark in 11 of his 12 NHL seasons — second only to Ovechkin, who's 12 for 12 — including this year, the 32-year-old trailing only Sidney Crosby with 27 goals.
Carter potted three goals last week, including his league-leading ninth game-winning goal this season, which also matched a franchise record. He also leads the NHL with four overtime winners.
The Kings, to that point, are easily the NHL's best in OT, now 10-1 this season and an NHL-leading 22-4 since the three-on-three format was introduced at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press