The trickiest aspect of managing an NHL goaltender is finding the sweet spot between maximizing his potential and overworking him to the point of weariness. Detroit Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde is determined to make sure he plays Ville Husso the perfect number of games.
The plan coming into the dad’s trip was to give Magnus Hellberg one of the two games. Husso played against Montreal, meaning Hellberg should play tonight against the New York Islanders. If that happens, Husso will be at 34 starts in 48 Detroit games. That’s 70.3% of starting assignments and a pace for 58 starts.
An incredible save by Ville Husso on one end sets the stage for Robby Fabbri to bury the OT winner! The @DetroitRedWings pick up the valuable second point! #LGRW I @ThinkFordFirst pic.twitter.com/abQiLT0G9G
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) January 27, 2023
“Which is not awful,” Lalonde said. “That would probably be in that 10, 11, 12 range within the league but those nine or 10 guys ahead of him have experienced that before. This is uncharted territory. We have been talking and thinking a lot about it. I do think we rolled out a tired Ville Husso in some games and he has not been the sharpest, especially in what you saw of some of his play early on.”
Husso has never played more than 42 games in a season at any level. He had 40 appearances for the St. Louis Blues last season. Last season, eight played 58 or more, including Detroit’s Alex Nedeljkovic.
“If we get a little less, in the mid-50s, it would be a good target,” Lalonde said. “We do know he’s our best chance to win on a lot of given nights, too, so it’s just that balance of where it’s going to end up and how we use him.”
It’s a complicated situation because Lalonde also tries to factor in the volume of work that Husso has in every start. Did he face too many shots? Too many high danger scoring chances? How much traffic did he face? Did he have an easy night? Which opponent are they facing?
Sometimes Goalies Lie
Detroit coaches also talk to Husso about how he is feeling. But that step didn’t turn out to be worthwhile earlier this season. He didn’t tell coaches he was ailing.
“I think there’s some maturity in that,” Lalonde said. “He couldn’t wait to play after the break vs. Pittsburgh and was as sick can be. He never let that on to anyone on our staff, so it was probably a lack of maturity. (Husso) was unavailable for a week. I think that’s just some trust and maturing for him, where it’s important to communicate that.”
Lalonde has to consider that the team plays with added confidence when Husso is in net.
“He’s one of those guys that we feed off him. When he’s going, we’re going,” Detroit forward Robby Fabbri said.
Even though Lalonde is in his first-season as an NHL head coach, he worked with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy as a Tampa Bay assistant coach.
“We had to reel him back in. Vasilevskiy would practice for two hours if he could,” Lalonde said. “He wanted extra
ice before, he wanted extra ice after. We played him 65 games. There were times we had to reel him back in, talk to him about the importance of taking a morning skate off when it was optional, sitting out a practice. Not taking a hundred pucks 15 minutes before a game. That was maturing for him. I think we’re in a growth with Ville in his development also.”
But as much as Lalonde thinks about Husso’s game, it is never an easy decision about how much to play him.