Even though “Who’s in net?” isn’t an Abbott and Costello comedy routine, the question makes a few NHL coaches laugh, or at least crack a smirk.
Goaltending intrigue is already in full swing, with half the teams opening the playoffs Sunday not revealing who’s starting between the pipes. Watch warmups, as they say, to find out.
The drama begins early with Game 1 of the best-of-five qualifying round series between the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes (11 a.m. MST, USA Network) in Edmonton, Alberta. Nashville coach John Hynes wouldn’t say if he’d call on veteran Pekka Rinne to make his 90th consecutive playoff start Sunday or go to Juuse Saros, who was the hot hand before the season was halted in March.
“The way that they compete against each other and support each other, it’s helpful,” Hynes said. “When one guy is playing real well or doing well, the other guy really supports him but doesn’t concede. He doesn’t concede the net or concede the starting position. So I think that’s a real unique situation for us goaltending-wise.”
The Coyotes have scouting reports on each goalie, though there’s a sizable difference between facing 6-foot-5 Rinne and 5-foot-11 Saros.
“There’s a few differences when you shoot on a goalie,” said Arizona coach Rick Tocchet, who also wouldn’t announce whether Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta would start for his team. “I always feel that the quicker you get the shot off, the better chance you have to score on any goalie, so that’s our approach.”
The first game of the day in Toronto — round-robin play between Boston and Philadelphia (3 p.m. EST, NBC) — got a little more interesting when Bruins starter Tuukka Rask missed practice. Rask, who earlier in the week said he had no problems or pain from a broken finger, “wasn’t feeling well,” according to coach Bruce Cassidy.
“Will he start? I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later, see where he’s at,” Cassidy said. “If not, (backup Jaroslav Halak) will be ready to go.”
Colorado goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz are ready to go several months after both were sidelined by injury. One will start against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in their round-robin game (6:30 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network), and the other is likely to get the call in the Avalanche’s second game.
“We’re not 100 percent sure on our schedule moving forward, and we feel like we’re going to need both guys,” coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s a luxury to have two guys that you trust and you count on, and our team has played well in front of both guys all season long.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets got hot goaltending for big portions of the season, making who starts in Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs (8 p.m. EST, NHL Network) quite the decision for coach John Tortorella. He knows whether it’ll be Joonas Korpisalo or rookie Elvis Merzlinkins but in trademark fashion isn’t telling.
“I’m not going to talk to you about it right now,” Tortorella told a longtime Columbus reporter. “You know better than that.”
Minnesota coach Dean Evason may have tipped his hand by starting Alex Stalock over Devan Dubnyk in the Wild’s exhibition game. If it’s indeed Stalock in net in Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks (10:30 p.m., NBC Sports), the leash could be short given how little time there is to recover in best-of-five series.
“We don’t look any further than the drop of the puck,” Evason said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen in the game. We will adjust and make decisions as we go. But I have no perception of what’s going to happen or guess what’s going to happen. We’ll just take it game by game and period by period.”
Goalie question marks stretch beyond the action Sunday.
Edmonton could turn to Mikko Koskinen after pulling former Coyotes goalie Mike Smith for allowing five goals on 23 shots in a 6-4 loss to Chicago in Game 1 Saturday. And the New York Rangers don’t know yet if they’ll stick with Henrik Lundqvist for Game 2 against Carolina on Monday.
The Rangers didn’t find out until Friday night that rookie Igor Shesterkin wouldn’t be available to play in their playoff opener. Lundqvist was sharp in making 34 saves on 37 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes.
“Things like that happen,” Lundqvist said. “I feel for Igor, and we’ll see what happens here in the next couple days.”