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Hochman: Earning more starts could earn Blues backup goalie Husso a new contract

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The St. Louis Blues, already short on forwards, find themselves even shorter. Coach Craig Berube and players Jake Walman and Logan Brown discuss the situation. Video courtesy of Blue Note Productions.

Tuesday should inspire a new chapter to the adventures of “Puck Finn.”

Ville Husso, the Blues’ Finnish goaltender, is expected to start his third consecutive game for the first time in his NHL career. The plan, no, wasn’t to have Husso ever start three straight for St. Louis. But starter Jordan Binnington is out in COVID protocol, so Husso’s your huckleberry.

And while I don’t expect this to be a “Wally Pipp situation” of a starter losing his job — perhaps a more-modern reference would be to a “Jordan Binnington situation” — Husso has filled in admirably, if not acrobatically. Husso is earning trust ... and earning chances to play more games when Binnington is back ... and, possibly, earning himself a new contract for next season.

He’s playing like a guy you want, well, not playing — meaning, of course, that he’s playing like a guy you want as your backup goalie. But he’s starting these days, and at least one staunch advocate has been proven right.

“I’ve always told you we have great goalies,” Vladimir Tarasenko said recently when asked about Husso.

In his six games this year, Husso posted a 92.9 save percentage and allowed a 2.33 goals against average. Small sample size, to be sure, but those numbers would rank sixth and 11th among starters who have played 10 or more games. “Puck Finn” is playing so well, word might have spread up the Mississippi all the way to Hannibal.

Backup goalies can prepare and prepare and prepare, but there’s no way of knowing how they’ll do during a stretch of games until they play a stretch of games. And Husso is getting this rare backup’s opportunity.

Husso got the win when the Blues beat the jackets off Columbus, but he returned to the bench as Binnington topped Tampa. The next game was against Tampa, too. By then, Binnington was out and Ville was in. Husso fared OK in the loss — and then played much better in the overtime loss at the Panthers. He stopped 48 shots. That’s an absurd number. Three went in. Blues defenseman Jake Walman said he even made a point to tell Husso how impressed he was.

“It's fun watching him play when he’s confident like that,” Walman said of his 26-year-old teammate. “I saw it the AHL, too. So seeing him do it up here is great — it helps our team.”

The overwhelming storm from Florida, moving toward the Midwest, is set to hit St. Louis on Tuesday night around 7. The Blues host those same Panthers at Enterprise Center. It might be the toughest game to win this season. The besieged Blues likely won’t have assist stud Robert Thomas (upper-body injury). Numerous other Blues are in protocol. And some of the key guys who are actually healthy are underachieving.

But the silver lining is that Husso is getting a whole bunch of work. He’s getting an education you can’t get from game film or hockey talk.

“I think he's played really well,” said Blues coach Craig Berube, whose Blues are 12-8-4 after starting the season 5-0-0. “Obviously there are always goals that you want back — he even said that the last one (against the Panthers) was a heck of a shot. But he's played really well. Looked real confident in net.”

Finland is the native land of netminders, its greatest exports including refined petroleum, sawn wood and goaltenders. Some of the top goalies of recent generations are Finns, including Pekka Rinne, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backstrom and Tuukka Rask, the Boston Bruin who the Blues bested in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Every summer, Husso heads home to Helsinki to work with fellow goalies.

This past summer, Berube sent Husso home with a task.

“I didn’t think he was conditioned well enough, so that was first and foremost with my conversations with Ville after the season,” Berube said. “So I thought that he did a good job of getting himself in better shape. And he's continued to work on it. For me, he's working harder in practice. He's here early all the time doing extra in the weight room and things like that. So that was, from me, what I wanted really to accomplish this summer.

“And then (Blues goalie coach) David Alexander works with a guy over there that Ville works with, so they communicated on some things that Ville needed to work on and get better at.”

Husso will likely start the next few games. The Blues host Florida on Tuesday, Detroit on Thursday and Montreal on Saturday. Sunday is a back-to-back against Anaheim — goalies seldom play both games of a back-to-back, but Sunday is also the day Binnington should be available, once again.

Then again, Husso was out for two weeks when he was on the COVID list.

So maybe Saturday or Sunday we’ll see Husso and ... who?

The backup’s backup, Charlie Lindgren.

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