The goaltending landscape this season will look different than it ever has before.
With 56 games jammed between January and May, teams have a number of back-to-backs and no real breaks in a sprint to get the 2020-21 season in the books. The prospect of a condensed season motivated some clubs to secure two or more viable starting goaltenders. Let's rank the five best duos.
Sorokin has yet to play a game on North American ice, so being thrust into the NHL could go a number of ways. But what he's done in the KHL over the past eight years can't be ignored: He simply just does not let in a lot of goals. He's compiled a 134-64-22 record in the Russian league with a minuscule 1.70 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. The 25-year-old has been incredible, and playing in a backup role to Varlamov in his debut season with the Islanders should allow him to learn the ropes quickly.
Sorokin's lack of experience puts Varlamov in line to get a healthy amount of starts for the Islanders, at least at the beginning of the season. He was one of the league's best goalies in last summer's return to play, nearly helping lead the Isles past the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. The Islanders' strong puck possession and defensive play help make their goalies' lives easier, but the duo will have to carry a lot of the weight, too.
Demko caught the attention of hockey fans everywhere with his jaw-dropping performances against the Vegas Golden Knights during the postseason. He put up a ridiculous .989 save percentage at five-on-five in his four appearances and nearly single-handedly led the Canucks past high-flying Vegas. The 25-year-old has long been seen as the goalie of the future in Vancouver, and while the Canucks' brass could have just passed the reins to him this year, they brought in veteran Holtby to help bolster the position.
Though the 31-year-old is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, he still has a Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy to his name. Holtby has been one of the league's top goaltenders over the last decade - one poor season isn't anything to worry about too much. The two should split starts rather evenly, and having a fresh goalie ready to take the crease every night will go a long way for Vancouver.
After Sergei Bobrovsky left Columbus, many wondered how the team would fare without him. In came Korpisalo and Merzlikins, and the Blue Jackets didn't miss a beat in the absence of the former Vezina Trophy winner. Neither goalie has a ton of NHL experience, but they both proved last season that they have what it takes to be among the league's best.
Though Korpisalo had a solid start to 2019-20, an injury opened the door for Merzlikins. He didn't waste the opportunity and rattled off an impressive sequence of 23 games in which he posted a .935 save percentage, including an eight-game winning streak with five shutouts. Korpisalo earned the starting job in the postseason, helped defeat the Maple Leafs in the preliminary round, and made history with his 85-save performance against the Lightning. With two legitimate No. 1 options, head coach John Tortorella will have a tough decision every game about who to start - which isn't a bad thing.
Halak and Rask have formed one of the NHL's best goaltending duos since Halak's arrival in Boston in summer 2018. After Rask's exit from the playoff bubble, he seems ready to resume his role as the Bruins' official starter. While both goalies are getting deeper into their 30s, there is no reason to believe they won't remain among the league's best tandems this season.
Despite Rask's star status and perceived role, the two have split games quite evenly - Halak has started 66 to Rask's 86 - and the partnership clearly worked; they won the 2020 William M. Jennings Trophy recognizing the goaltender(s) for the team that allowed the fewest goals. Across the last two seasons, the Bruins have allowed the second-fewest goals against in the league (379).
It wasn't clear what the Golden Knights' plan was when they acquired Lehner at last season's trade deadline, but it became evident in the playoffs: He's their starter. After stringing together some truly impressive campaigns with the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks, Lehner was finally rewarded this offseason with a five-year deal from Vegas.
While the arrangement comes with cap-related drawbacks, having Marc-Andre Fleury - a Hall of Fame-worthy goalie - as a backup is one of the biggest advantages in the league. Though Fleury only appeared in four games during Vegas' postseason run, the split should be much more even during the regular season. The 36-year-old certainly has some gas left in the tank, and after the heavy workload he's carried over the last three years, sharing duties with Lehner can only work in Fleury's favor. Two top-notch goalies ready to take the net every night paired with an elite team in front of them should prove to be a lethal combination in Vegas.
Honorable mentions: Corey Crawford and Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils; Ben Bishop (injured) and Anton Khudobin, Stars; Jacob Markstrom and David Rittich, Flames