Seattle Kraken goaltender Joey Daccord (35) makes a save on a breakaway by Chicago Blackhawks center Ryan Donato during the third period of a game Wednesday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

Seattle Kraken goaltender Joey Daccord (35) makes a save on a breakaway by Chicago Blackhawks center Ryan Donato during the third period of a game Wednesday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

Daccord shouldering the load in net for Kraken

Philipp Grubauer is back from injury, but Joey Daccord remained Seattle’s starter Wednesday.

  • Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times
  • Thursday, January 25, 2024 4:41pm
  • SportsKraken

There was no immediate change on the Kraken netminding front Wednesday night despite it being the first time in nearly seven weeks Philipp Grubauer returned to a game in uniform.

Grubauer wound up wearing his Kraken uniform on the bench, taking a back seat to goalie Joey Daccord in his 34-save performance in a 6-2 home win over the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the 17th start for Daccord in the Kraken’s last 19 games, a workload of 89% that’s unheard of and likely unsustainable within a modern NHL in which goalie tandems are an increasing trend borne out of physical necessity.

“Joey’s carried the load for us, and he’s played extremely well,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “So, we want him to continue the things that he’s been doing. Grubauer will be available as of today; he’s been activated. So, that will be our tandem going forward.”

What remains to be seen is how much of a workload Daccord can withstand and whether the Kraken will allow him to continue his throwback ways.

Hakstol and the Kraken have pledged more evenly balanced goalie tandems before, only to see Grubauer assume the bulk of the workload when healthy alongside backups Chris Driedger two years ago and Martin Jones last season.

But even Grubauer, who has said he feels he plays better when handling more games, never navigated a stretch quite like Daccord while putting up numbers as strong as he has the past two months. In the 16 starts in Grubauer’s absence, Daccord went 10-4-2 with a 1.80 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.

For context, the best save percentage in NHL history by a goalie appearing in at least 25 games was .944 over 40 contests by Hall of Famer Jacques Plante in 1970-71, a season in which his goals against average was 1.89. So, no, those recent Daccord numbers aren’t likely to hold up the rest of the way.

Linus Ulmark of the Boston Bruins won the Vezina Trophy a season ago as the NHL’s top goalie with a 1.89 goals against average and a save percentage of .938. Now, it’s worth noting that Ulmark sustained his numbers over 48 starts, while the stellar ones Daccord posted with Grubauer gone covered only a third of that total.

Daccord had made 28 starts entering Wednesday while posting a goals-against average of 2.33 and a save percentage of .922. So, an optimist could argue Daccord has gotten better with a heavier workload, while pessimists will suggest his numbers will quickly decline if that heftiness continues.

After all, following a span of eight consecutive victories, Daccord had dropped his last three outings entering Wednesday — though in fairness, the Kraken only scored three combined goals in those defeats.

Nonetheless, after allowing two goals or fewer in seven straight starts, Daccord had given up four goals in two of his last four outings. That’s bound to raise the antennae of anyone worried about a fatigue factor creeping in, though his stopping 34 of 36 shots against Chicago likely mitigated some concerns.

On that note: Ulmark’s 48 starts represented just 58% of the Bruins’ workload a season ago in an era when a 60-40 split in goalie tandems is fast becoming the accepted NHL norm. Only seven of the league’s goalies started more than 60 games last season, with Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets leading the pack with 64 starts for 82% of that team’s workload.

“It’s a taxing schedule,” Hakstol said of modern goalie usage. “And as you see the number of goalies that have played more than 60, or even 50-plus, it’s a smaller number over the years. It’s the pace of the game, how busy the schedule is and how challenging it is playing night in and night out.”

Only 13 goalies last season had 50 starts or more.

Should Daccord continue at his recent 89% workload, he’d finish with 59 starts. That’s one more than Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames and Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers managed a season ago, and only one fewer than noted ironman Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But those netminders compiled starts more gradually than Daccord, who split games evenly with Grubauer to start the season before assuming the overwhelming bulk of outings as of Dec. 9.

“I’ve talked a lot about us being a two-goaltender team, and there’s a reason for that,” Hakstol said. “I believe the challenge out west is even greater with the travel schedule. So, that is also a piece of it for us.”

Of the seven goalies with 60-plus starts a season ago, all were on teams based in the mountain time zone or further east. The only goalie with a team based in the western time zone to start 50 or more games was John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks at 52.

Still, Daccord has demonstrated in consecutive professional seasons that he can play night-in, night-out over a sustained period while putting up stellar numbers. This season, he’s doing it in the NHL, while last spring it was in the AHL when he started 26 consecutive playoff games and came within an overtime goal of leading the Coachella Valley Firebirds to the Calder Cup championship.

“Physically and mentally, he takes very good care of himself,” Hakstol said. “He’s a routine guy, and he stays within his regimen on an ongoing basis.”

And ultimately, it isn’t about how many starts a goalie makes. Moreover, especially for a Kraken team desperate for wins to stay in the playoff hunt, it’s about the number of pucks a goalie can stop.

And as long as Daccord shows he can keep pucks out of his net at the elite level managed most of the past two months, the need to slow his workload might not be that pressing after all.

“So, we’ll gauge that as we go forward,” Hakstol added. “He’s handled the workload very well through to this point and he’s appeared to thrive on it.”

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