In the game between the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks on March 16, Hunter Miska was Colorado’s starting goalie, yet was not the finishing goalie. He only played one period of the game in goal before Avalanche Head Coach Jared Bednar put in the Avalanche’s No. 1 goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.
Watching the game, it was clear that Miska was struggling in goal, but why?
Miska’s AHL career
Hunter began his AHL career in 2017–18 playing for the Tucson Roadrunners before joining the Colorado Eagles for the 2019–20 season.
The standard AHL season is 68 games in total for the Pacific Division teams, of which the Colorado Eagles are one. Last season, Miska suited up for less than half of the games played and ended with a .924 save percentage and a 2.48 goals against average—impressive stats for a goalie.
This is why the Avalanche had flagged him as an additional goalie for the 2020–21 season as a back-up should anything happen to either Grubauer or Pavel Francouz.
Interestingly, In his first AHL season with the Eagles in 2018–19, Francouz played 49 of the 68 games and had a 2.68 goals against average with a .918 save percentage.
Considering Miska played far fewer games than Francouz, his stats were better.
Miska’s NHL career
Miska did not get any time playing up for the Colorado Avalanche during the 2019–20 season. But, with the long-term injury to Francouz, he got his chance to play back-up to Grubauer in this 2020–21 season.
Prior to starting the season, Miska’s last AHL game was played on March 11, 2020, and 10 months later, he started his first Avalanche game on Jan. 21, 2021. He then played in goal 10 days later on Jan. 31 before being sent back to the Eagles for one game on Feb. 24.
His next start for the Avalanche was on Feb. 26, nearly one month later, and has since played on March 6 and March 16.
Grubauer, on the other hand, has started 23 games in net.
The team’s response
Do you remember back to when Semyon Varlamov was still the Avalanche’s No. 1 goalie and they picked up Grubauer? The team responded by not trusting Grubauer and leaving the defense wide open at the front of the net. The Avalanche continued to do that game after game until Grubauer kept standing on his head to make those big saves that then had the team trust him.
Now, the team sings Grubauer’s praises and talk about trust with regards to him being in net.
When Francouz was bought up from the AHL, it took a few games for the team to settle into trusting him in goal, too. For Francouz, he was getting regular game time due to injury concerns with Grubauer.
So, what about what is happening now with Miska? Bednar said in his March 16 presser, not for the first time, that the team had hung Miska out to dry. Yes, Bednar also stated that Miska could have made a couple of saves, and that would have made the difference, but he pointed out how the defensive play overall made a difference.
Miska has played five games so far this season. Five. Grubauer, on the other hand, has played 24.
The Avalanche want to win the Cup
Since the Avalanche finished and left the bubble in Canada during last year’s playoff run, the team has been stronger than ever in their message that this will be the year they win the Stanley Cup.
With COVID-19, the entire NHL season has been rearranged and the teams now play far fewer games in order to claim their place in the playoffs.
Has this had an impact on the ability to give Miska the starts that he needs to prove if he is an NHL-calibre goalie? I think it has.
A goalie needs time on the ice. A new goalie needs time playing in games with the team in order to find the chemistry to work with and for them. Miska has not had that opportunity, only playing five very spread out games.
It is fine for fans to say, “But the goalie needs to be ready to go.” But, look at it this way: You change jobs and are thrown into a new team and expected to deliver. No one trusts you because they do not know what you can do. Therefore, they do not give you things to do. You are sitting there with abilities and knowledge that you cannot use. And, when you are given something to do, they do not explain “how it is done here,” so you do it and it is not right. More reason for the team to not like you and wish you had not been put in the job.
That is what Miska is facing right now. He has been put into a team that knows itself. There is chemistry between the players, processes that they follow for plays, etc. Miska has been thrown into that environment at random times and expected to deliver 100, no, 110% every time.
No matter what you say, that is unrealistic.
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) March 17, 2021
Is Miska an NHL-level goalie? You cannot honestly answer that question without first letting him experience fitting into the team and showing what he can do. This season is not the season for that to happen.