Darcy Kuemper wasn’t on the ice for the Colorado Avalanche at morning skate according to Gene Principe of Sportsnet, as Pavel Francouz and Justus Annunen occupied the nets instead. The veteran netminder was pulled from game one with an upper-body injury, and head coach Jared Bednar wouldn’t comment on the specifics yesterday, other than to say “we’ll see” if he would be ready for game two. Bednar confirmed following the skate that Kuemper is indeed out for tonight’s match.
Kuemper, 32, has dealt with injury issues his entire career and already had a bad-luck incident in the playoffs that took him out for a few games. Against the Nashville Predators in the first round, a stick came through Kuemper’s mask and hit him in the eye, forcing Francouz into the net for a game and a half. While the Avalanche had no trouble finishing that series, they’re in tough against an Edmonton Oilers team that has had no trouble scoring goals.
If it is Francouz, it’s another chance for him to prove not only that he can handle an NHL playoff game, but that he can be part of a tandem for next season. Kuemper is a pending unrestricted free agent, while the 31-year-old Francouz is signed through 2023-24. To this point in his short NHL career, and despite strong regular season numbers, the Czech netminder has been completely unreliable in the postseason, recording an .891 save percentage in nine appearances. Six of those came in the 2020 bubble playoffs when the team ultimately went with Michael Hutchinson in the deciding game seven against the Dallas Stars.
The Oilers meanwhile had their own goaltending issues in game one, which saw Mike Smith pulled from the net after allowing six goals on 25 shots. Darren Dreger of TSN tweets that there is a “strong indication” that the team will go back to Smith for game two, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given how much faith they have shown in the veteran netminder thus far.
Through 13 games this postseason, Smith has a solid .917 save percentage and even leads the playoffs with two shutouts. While he can be a bit of an adventure at times, there’s little doubt at this point that he gives them the best chance to win.