Cooling The Fires of Hellberg

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)
Magnus Hellberg has factored into seven of the Milwaukee Admirals last nineteen games. Considering how great he was in January. Why is that the case? (Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

It wasn’t all that long ago when Magnus Hellberg was sitting in the upper echelon of pretty much all major goaltending categories in the AHL. Along with the current funk for the Milwaukee Admirals has come a spurt of goaltending results that haven’t gone to script.

In the past eighteen games the Admirals have gone 6-9-3-0 (15 points). That’s an important number of games because it is the current length of the Grand Rapids Griffins point streak that has seen them vault to the top of the Midwest Division and Western Conference standings. The Griffins are 14-0-3-1 (32 points) during that stretch. In that amount of games the Admirals have been outscored 62-48. Compared to the Griffins during that same number of games, minus the shootout marker, and Grand Rapids are outscoring teams 67-34.

While there is certainly a case of no offense or no defense there is a major case that goaltending can help mask problems. It’s happened in the past. It isn’t happening at all right now.

I must say though, of all the odd things happening during this stretch, is the questionable choice from the Admirals to limit the playing role of Hellberg since February. Marek Mazanec has been without question the first choice goaltender during that time as he has played twice the amount of games as Hellberg has. What makes it questionable is that his results in net have been equal to worse than that of Hellberg who remains on the bench during this span.

In February, Mazanec made seven starts and recorded a 2.87 goals against average and 0.905 save percentage. He won his first two starts that month and then proceeded to lose his next five games. Hellberg’s numbers weren’t exactly that much better, mind you. The big Swede posted a 3.07 goals against average and a 0.898 save percentage in February. The difference? Hellberg earned a point for the Admirals in each of his four starts that month.

This month, Mazanec has quite possibly been worked into the ground. We’re halfway through the month of March and Mazanec has already made six starts and seven appearances. From his six starts he has logged a 3.62 goals against average and a 0.842 save percentage. Like February, he won his first two starts. In fact he kicked off the month with a shutout in his first start of March. Since? He has ground to a halt and lost his last four games while surrendering seventeen goals. It wasn’t until last night’s third period that he was pulled in net for his troubles.

Hellberg’s March has also been spotty. He has appeared three times without a win with a 4.56 goals against average and 0.870 save percentage. Here’s the counter to Mazanec’s numerical struggles though. The time between appearances.

Hellberg’s first appearance in March was a road start against the Chicago Wolves. He allowed four goals from twenty-one shots before getting pulled ahead of the third period. It was his first taste of game action in eight days. His next appearance would come ten days later. He allowed four goals from forty shots against the Oklahoma City Barons. Then, fresh off the bench last night, he allowed the first shot he saw before stopping the next seven he faced in a relief appearance of Mazanec after sitting on the out for four days.

Now consider the month that Hellberg had in January prior to all these breaks in his stride. He won five out of seven starts and recorded a 1.80 goals against average, 0.933 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts.

The question becomes a pretty simple one. Why ride a goalie into the ground only too cool the other one off so much so that when he’s given the chance to substitute in he’s lacking the sharpness needed to perform? This goalie 1-A and 1-B formula doesn’t exactly work when equal opportunity doesn’t actually occur. At the moment it is a clear cut one-two in net and both are trending downward for different reasons: Mazanec being worn down. Hellberg being frozen.

It’s this rambling from me that reminds me to a question I posed to Admirals head coach Dean Evason back in November about the difficulty of selecting either Mazanec or Hellberg in net. His response:

“It’s always tough,” said Evason. “Everybody thinks it is so wonderful to have two guys playing well – make a decision – and everybody always says, “it’s a good thing,” but sometimes it’s not a good thing. Sometimes it’s one guy going and another guy gets hot.”

Right now, this decision should be a simple one. Mazanec isn’t going. And the only reason Hellberg isn’t is because he’s been on the bench. The Admirals need some serious energy right now as they’re battling their fourth losing streak of four or more games this season. An outlet could well be the man who did the job for the Admirals around this time two-seasons ago in Hellberg. The question is if he’ll be afforded the chance to do so.

Thoughts on the current state of the Milwaukee Admirals goaltending duo? Should Hellberg be given more chances in net or is this just a rough patch for the team and not for Mazanec?

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2 thoughts on “Cooling The Fires of Hellberg”

  1. It’s definitely a rough patch for the whole team, not just offense, not just defense and not just goaltending.

    The entire backup goalie argument is difficult because the point is they are supposed to be able to come in after not playing for awhile and not surrender tons of goals. So you can’t necessarily use that argument for Hellberg coming in (or Maz if it was the other way round) and not playing well.

    The piece I don’t understand more is two-fold:
    1) Why leave Maz in the games so long when it’s obvious he’s not playing well. The length of time he was left in the two games against Texas (when to me he should not even have started the Sunday game) was crazy. Basically by the time he was pulled it didn’t matter, the game was over.

    2) Why does Maz keep getting the start when he plays poorly so many games in a row? This isn’t the NHL where you almost always clearly have a starter and backup. But heck, even at the NHL level, if the starter was playing this poorly this many games in a row I’m pretty sure the backup would get some starts. With the way he played on Saturday against Texas I cannot think of any reason why Hellberg didn’t get a shot on Sunday.

  2. Somehow this seems to be an issue in the whole Predators/Admirals system. The Preds are basically doing the same with Pekka Rinne, though the gap between Rinne and his backup Carter Hutton is quite big. Still, the Preds are giving a huge majority of starts to Rinne, even when he is struggling (which luckily doesnt happen too often). But they’re even doing so in back-to-backs, when there are enough stats available outlining that starting a goalie in both games of a back-to-back is far from ideal.
    For the Admirals, this topic looks even weirder. Personally I’m a big fan of Mazanec. Dunno why, maybe because he has that underdog flair, resulting from his draft position and his start as a pro in the 2nd and partially even 3rd Czech league. But this season Hellberg is pretty much his equal. At least that’s what both stats and eye-test have been saying (not that I’ve seen much other than the game summaries, but still). Maybe they want to see how far they can go with Mazanec. Maybe they see something about Hellberg in practice which we wouldnt know. But it’s still hard to comprehend that one goalie gets overworked, while the other goes cold due to lack of game time.

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