We are still so very early into this hockey season. Much can still manifest itself and there are plenty of stories yet to be told. Though, one particular storyline that has become more of a theme to the 2016-17 season so far has been the goaltending rodeo that the Nashville Predators seem to want to have with Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros. Their lack of confidence in their own decision at back-up to Pekka Rinne has been a bit of a circus. It’s a three-ring circus: Rinne front and center with the other lads sitting down on the far side rings watching him perform his magic.
Lost in all of that his a 24-year old Swedish goaltender by the name of Jonas Gunnarsson who has been with the Milwaukee Admirals this entire season and has only played four times throughout the Nashville juggling act. By this time a year ago he had already played in 25 games for the Malmö Redhawks in the SHL. In his first splash to the North American scene he has basically taken a backseat to Nashville’s back-up instability while in Milwaukee.
I’ve always had the belief, especially at the goaltending spot, that inconsistent playing time leads to inconsistent playing form. The time that’s given needs to be earned, so there is a give and take there – I get that, but with how Mazanec and Saros have been thrown around early this season the time given to Gunnarsson is about as rare as a steak with a cowbell still attached to it.
In looking purely at what Gunnarsson has done in the time the Admirals have been able to play him you’d assume he has deserved all the time away from the responsibilities of a goaltending net. Yet, that just isn’t true.
Gunnarsson holds a 1-2-1-0 record from his four starts. He has a 4.21 goals against average and a 0.850 save percentage. Numbers don’t lie but they don’t always tell the full story. The very first North American pro start for Gunnarsson saw him left for dead on a night when the Admirals put together what has held up as their worst game of the season by losing 6-1 on the road to the Iowa Wild. That’s not exactly confidence building – nor is having to wait the next seventeen days to get a shot at redemption. Gunnarsson would stop 20/22 in an overtime win for the Admirals over the Charlotte Checkers to record his first North American pro, AHL, and Admirals victory in net.
You’d think then that a small consultation game would be back in order after having held the fort to help provide a foundation for the Cardiac Kids to rally down from a 2-0 deficit – but you’d be wrong. He waited out the next four-games until getting the next chance to play. He then stopped 26/30 in what would be a 4-3 overtime loss at home against the Manitoba Moose. That was an Admirals team at the end of a white hot run of five straight wins but also one getting depleted with recalls by the Predators to the forward and defensive group.
And so it would happen, Mazanec starts here and there and then the goaltenders flip again. Saros returns, does his thing, and that meant Gunnarson lucking into a game only four-games later. Not only that, but it came on the back of a four-game road trip where the Admirals already played exhausted the night before and looked to have come up completely flat – again, like in Iowa. After a good first period surge nonstop penalty issues for the Admirals in the second period meant needing to take down five penalty kills. The group was exhausted going in. They were exhausted heading out of that second period. And Gunnarsson’s fourth start of the season ended with him looking fantastic at times but still wearing a very bad night for the team on his chin: stopping 25/30 shots on goal in a 5-2 loss against the Chicago Wolves.
With Mazanec now back with the Admirals you simply assume Gunnarsson gets left in the cold once more. It’s possible that Mazanec takes a seat this weekend and splits a two-in-two against the Texas Stars, Gunnarsson has made such a start with similar circumstances with Mazanec around, but it doesn’t feel likely. The talk is to maximize minutes and activity for two goaltenders in the organization right now. Gunnarsson isn’t one of them but he does have a front row seat.
It’s a shame that more can’t be done for Gunnarsson. That the lack of either faith or confidence in who gets the NHL back-up role is such a mess. It works well short term for both Mazanec and Saros, perhaps the Predators and Admirals as well, but it already genuinely is a process that forgets about the other guy.
What are your feelings regarding the Nashville Predators back-up goaltending conundrum? Do you get the impression they don’t have confidence in Mazanec, don’t want to promote Saros so soon, yet are dawdling between both lines anyways? How should Gunnarsson be maximizing his efforts to get an AHL start here and there to show what he can do?
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