Embracing the two-headed monster

Many NHL coaches are finding that sometimes two goalies are better than one.

Updated: November 6, 2003, 5:02 PM ET
By Darren Pang | Special to ESPN.com

Is it time for NHL coaches to embrace the two-headed monster?

Take a look around the league and you'll find that more teams are leaning toward using two goalies on a regular basis more than ever. Travel in the NHL is tough, and there is reason to believe that in order to be in the playoff race come April, you have to give your top guy some rest. Here are a few teams that are leaning in that direction:

Bruins: Andrew Raycroft and Felix Potvin
Blackhawks: Jocelyn Thibault and Michael Leighton
Wild: Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez
Islanders: Rick DiPietro and Garth Snow
Flyers: Jeff Hackett and Robert Esche
Coyotes: Sean Burke and Zac Bierk

Boston has a terrific thing going with Raycroft and Potvin. Raycroft is the future and will be able to make the transition into a No. 1 goalie without having to watch his back because of the respect he has for Potvin. Potvin is great with him and simply likes Raycroft as a goalie and as a person. Great stuff.

In the Windy City, there was thought (and there still may be) that they would switch Leighton with Craig Anderson at Norfolk of the American Hockey League after 20 games, and at the end of the year, evaluate again as to who will be groomed to take over for Thibault. But as it stands now, Leighton deserves to stay.

In Minny, where the philosophy that no one player -- or goalie -- is bigger than the team is a way of life, Roloson and Fernandez are at it again, winning four of their last five games. They make the same base salary, play roughly the same number of games and the team plays the same way in front of both. Roloson shows more leadership while Fernandez has in-game charisma -- a solid tandem.

On the Island, Garth Snow provides great leadership and insurance -- not to mention support -- for DiPietro, who will be a 65-game goalie in the very near future. Just not this season.

In Philly, Esche earned defensive player of the week honors after going 3-0. Hackett lost and tied his last two starts, but it doesn't matter right now. This partnership is a strong one.

Odds are Phoenix will look at moving all-world goalie Sean Burke near the March 9 trade deadline. But can Bierk, who tied his last two starts and looked solid, take this team and lead them in the future? For now, he is learning from one of the best out there.

Shark bait?
The San Jose Sharks have three solid goalies and could move one of them soon. The goalie that has garnered the most interest is Mikka Kiprusoff, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from Finland. It looks like Vesa Toskala, another Finnish native, will be backing up Nabokov, who is starting to show the form he had two years ago when he let the shooter make the first move and saves looked easy. He's gone 1-0-3 in his last four games.

Let's get to this week's top five:

THIS WEEK'S RANKINGS

5. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

Marc-Andre Fleury
Fleury
4 GP, 2-1-1, 1.94 GAA, .936 save percentage
The kid has flair, moxie, confidence and a will that keeps the puck out of the net. In light of the retirement of Patrick Roy (who played a lot like Fleury when he was in his teens) and Grant Fuhr's induction into the Hall of Fame, you can't help but appreciate the similarities among the three of them. Coach Eddie Olczyk has been terrific at picking his starts and, on most nights, Fleury has made it easy for him. This team has great enthusiasm and is in most games. Fleury was the first star in a 2-1 loss vs. New Jersey, making 32 saves. He sat on the bench as Sebastien Caron played in the 7-2 loss on Long Island. Back in net for three straight, Fleury made 35 saves in a 4-4 tie with the Rangers, had his first career shutout (1-0) against Chicago (20 saves, third star), and beat Raycroft and the Bruins 3-2 in overtime (30 saves, third star).

4. Robert Esche, Philadelphia Flyers


Robert Esche
Esche
3 GP, 3-0-0, 0.67 GAA, .969 save percentage
He only played three games in this five-game segment, but he was impressive going 3-0 with a sparkling 0.67 GAA and stopping almost 97 percent of the shots that came his way. The Flyers aren't giving up many quality shots against, but when they have, Esche has been there. After winning 5-0 vs. Montreal (20 saves), coach Ken Hitchcock went right back to him and he responded with a 5-1 win vs. Florida (21 saves). He was rested in a 3-2 loss at New Jersey before pummeling Toronto 7-1 (21 saves, first star).

3. Michael Leighton and Jocelyn Thibault, Chicago Blackhawks


Michael Leighton
Leighton
Jocelyn Thibault
Thibault
Leighton: 3 GP, 1-1-1, 0.97 GAA, .974 save percentage
Thibault: 2 GP, 1-0-1, 1.92 GAA, .943 save percentage
Both Leighton and Thibault are playing well and the Hawks are back in the race in the Central Division. Their goals allowed per game has been marvelous and they will get more help on the blue line when Bryan Berard joins the lineup -- likely vs. Nashville. Look for the Hawks to acquire another defenseman in the near future. Leighton tied Anaheim 1-1 to start the five-game segment (31 saves), while Thibault followed with 35 saves in the 2-2 tie at Phoenix. The Hawks struggled offensively in the 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh, but Leighton was strong in net. Thibault won a big one in St. Louis, 3-2 (32 saves, first star), and then Leighton followed with a 3-1 win vs. Anaheim (second star, 29 saves).

2. Dan Cloutier, Vancouver Canucks


Dan Cloutier
Cloutier
4 GP, 3-0-1, 1.47 GAA, .943 save percentage
Because the Canucks have been hot, Cloutier has just had to be solid -- although in a 3-1 win at L.A., he made 37 saves and was named the first star. Monday vs. Detroit, the Canucks dominated and won 5-1. He made 22 saves with only a meaningless Brett Hull goal getting by him. He's has gone 3-0-1 in his last four starts, with Johan Hedberg getting the 6-3 win over Columbus. Everyone questions whether or not Cloutier can be a Stanley Cup winner. But the only thing he can do is control his own destiny by playing well now and that is what this battler is doing. He's got to get his team to a big game -- the postseason -- to give himself the chance to show he can or can't do it.

1. Nikolai Khabibulin, Tampa Bay Lightning


Nikolai Khabibulin
Khabibulin
4 GP, 3-0-1, 2.18 GAA, .926 save percentage
He doesn't have to stand on his head every night with this team now. He just has to make the saves he's supposed to make and sprinkle in a few great ones along the way. He got a nice break vs. Columbus, as John Grahame supplied the shutout in the 1-0 win. It's been all Khabby since, as he went 3-0-1 in his last four games and was named a star of the game in two of them. He beat the pesky Thrashers 3-2 (35 saves, third star), beat Minnesota 3-2, tied San Jose 2-2 (25 saves, first star) and won 4-3 vs. Carolina while making 33 saves.

Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.

Darren Pang joined ESPN2 as an NHL game analyst in September 1993. He also works select ESPN National Hockey Night playoff contests and ABC Sports' telecasts. Pang played for the Blackhawks and was named to the All-Rookie team in 1987.