Chicago Blackhawks: Olympics
Special to ESPNChicago.com
The news was disappointing.
"Yeah (it's disappointing)," Saad said prior to Thursday night's game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. "You want to make that team. It's a tough team to make, but it was out of my control. I had a good first half. Now, I'm putting that aside and looking to play another."
According to ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, who followed the selection process for months, Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler and St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie narrowly edged out Saad for the final spots up front.
"It doesn't matter if you're the last cut or one of the first cuts," Saad said. "Either way, it's the same result: You didn't make the team. Hopefully, I will next time."
Saad, 21, has amassed 14 goals and 16 assists for the Blackhawks this season.
"There's always some disappointments that fuel the fire a bit and want to make you a better player," Saad said. "You gotta keep working at things."
Saad hadn't heard anything about possibly being brought onto the team if an injury were to occur.
"I'm not sure how that works," he said. "But you obviously don't want anyone to get injured."
"I think he was one of those guys that was on the bubble there," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I'm sure he got consideration. He's still a young guy. In the future, I think he'll get a chance to play on that team."
Although Saad said he appreciates that he is getting some time to rest, Quenneville would've liked to see the young forward make the team and get to face some of the top competition in the world.
"I think that's a good experience for players, getting to play against the top guys," Quenneville said. "I think it can make you a better player going forward."
Forward Patrick Kane will be Chicago's lone representative on the U.S. team. Defenseman Nick Leddy was also not selected.
"That just speaks to the depth of American hockey these days," Kane said. "For me personally, I'm not worried about who they pick or who they don't pick, I'm just trying to do my job when the time comes around for the team."
Kane has won two Stanley Cup championships since he captured a silver medal with the U.S. team in 2010. Kane feels like his "all-around game" has improved since then. He does not expect to have a leadership role on the team.
"Last time around obviously we had a tough break there in the finals, but we were able to come away with the sliver medal, and I don't think anyone even expected us to get that far," Kane said. "This year, there's more expectations probably on our country and our group as a whole, so hopefully we can produce and come up big when the time rolls around."
The Blackhawks' home opener and Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony will be against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 1. The Blackhawks lost their home opener in the 2010-2011 season to the Detroit Red Wings after winning the Stanley Cup the previous season. Four of the past five Stanley Cup champions have lost their home opener the following season. Just last season, the Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 in the Kings' season opener after they won the Stanley Cup.
With the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference this season, the Blackhawks will now face them just twice in the regular season. They'll play in Detroit on Jan. 22 and in Chicago on March 16. They will also play two preseason games.
Each player was called to center ice after a video tribute of the Olympic tournament. As Patrick Kane skated to his spot wearing his silver medal chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” overtook the United Center. He and Jonathan Toews had the loudest applause from the sell-out crowd. Toews was voted best forward of the tournament.
Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook wore their gold medals while Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa, from Team Slovakia, were honored as well.
Video coach for Team USA and the Blackhawks, Brad Aldrich was also recognized, as was NBC and Hawks analyst, Eddie Olczyk.
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- With their six Olympians in tow, the Blackhawks will get back to action against the New York Islanders on Tuesday evening.
Of the six who were around after the Hawks' morning practice at the Nassau Coliseum, none said he was too tired to play.
"I don't feel bad," Duncan Keith said. "I got a good sleep last night, and I'll be ready to go tonight."
"I'm ready to go," Brent Seabrook added. "Ready to get back at it. We didn't play as much [in Vancouver] as we do during the season, so it was good. I think we took care of our bodies over there, in Vancouver, and I think going down the home stretch will be good ... It's good to be back with the guys."
"I'm still running on fumes a little bit from the other night," Jonathan Toews said. "There was a lot of adrenaline. The excitement that you feel after winning a game like that, it's great. I'm still enjoying it, but again, that feeling is great and I want to keep playing hockey. When you're on a high like this, you want to keep it going and hopefully it lasts as long as possible."
Joel Quenneville said he will "monitor" playing time for his Olympic participants, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We're going to see how they are going to fare and see how they are doing," Quenneville said after practice. "We'll see how much energy they have. That was kind of the concern going into today or tomorrow's game ... Just judging or gauging them this morning, it looked like there was a lot of energy ... so we'll give them an opportunity to play and sort of gauge as we go along here."
Quenneville said John Madden, Ben Eager, and Brent Sopel will all play against New York. They missed time before the Olympic break with various ailments. Colin Fraser and Jordan Hendry will be healthy scratches as the Hawks are just one man -- Adam Burish -- short of full strength.
Antti Niemi starts in goal.
What will this incredibly dramatic and wonderfully played hockey tournament do for the sport and the NHL?
I could go on the radio and elicit callers for their opinions or ask people to e-mail me their thoughts and I would probably get many different answers. Instead, I turned to my own family to learn what it might mean.
My 7-year-old son wants to play hockey. Before the Olympics, he had very little interest. In fact, he hardly liked to skate. Now, he wants in. That’s a tangible effect the tournament had right there. That’s not to say millions and millions of kids are going to feel the same way. He’s at an impressionable age and his dad does watch (and love) hockey for a living. But the point still stands. A kid not interested in hockey now is. Mission accomplished.
As for the NHL question, now that’s another story.
“Don’t you want to see if Hossa and his brother get a bronze or that jerk [Finnish goaltender Miikka] Kiprusoff is going to get it?” she asked.
I ignored that question and wondered instead, “Who is this person and what did she do with my wife?”
She didn’t even know why she got hooked but, of course, the rest of us do. That’s what great, championship caliber hockey will do. The only problem is, when I mentioned the Hawks-Islanders game on Tuesday, her response was, “Are you kidding? The ‘Good Wife’ is on TV.”
I think you get the point, but how can we expect people to go from USA-Canada for gold, to Predators-Panthers for nothing? We can’t. That’s not a realistic effect of the Olympics. The key is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. My wife should return for that, right?
Wrong. Unless it’s the seventh game of the conference championship series or maybe even just the Stanley Cup finals, she isn’t interested. And I’m guessing the nation, as a whole, won’t be either. Herein lies the problem.
The Olympics, with a little round robin to whet the appetite, is basically an elimination tournament. You lose and you’re out. Like the NCAA tournament. And how is that tournament working out, by the way? The casual fan simply doesn’t have the attention span for two months. Take the devoted fan out of your soul for a minute and imagine if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were always an elimination tournament since the invention of the sport. We wouldn’t think twice about it. Actually, I think we’d think it’s even better than it is now. I know, you love the multiple best-of-seven series that go on for eight weeks, but that’s only because you’re used to it.
I’m not going to go over every detail on how it would work but what if the playoffs were more like the Olympics. Maybe the division winners get a bye and there’s a little round robin so a loss, early, isn’t devastating, and then we move into the elimination round. You want the final round, for the Cup, two out of three? I can live with that. Think about the excitement it would generate, say, over three weeks, maybe a month at most. Every game would be a seventh game. I realize the “best” team, whatever that means, wouldn’t always win -- but so what? That basically happens now. You do have to reward regular season play and that’s where some of those byes come in. We can work out the details later, like where the games are played, etc. I know one thing -- my wife would watch.
I realize none of this will happen, but you should understand why the Olympics won’t have a lasting affect on the NHL. They are two different animals. One thing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his people could do is shorten the playoffs by allowing fewer teams to qualify for the postseason. That’s an age- old argument which still applies. I’m guessing I’m not going out on a limb, but hockey in mid-June might not get the attention it deserves. Of course, baseball in November isn’t much better. Unfortunately, no one, from the players to the owners is willing to make less money for the good of the sport. It’s the only way shortening anything would work.
As Barry Melrose said on ESPN Radio, Monday, if this Olympics doesn’t give an uptick to the NHL, nothing will.
Sadly, I don’t think it will.
With the Olympics over, we can get back to the business of a little something called the Stanley Cup. Four Chicago Blackhawks have their Olympic medals. Hawk fans want their championship. Twenty one games remain in the regular season and at 41-15-5, the Blackhawks are sitting pretty. Here are some things to focus on as we re-start the season:
Trade Deadline: Who knows, by the time you read this, the Hawks may have pulled off a blockbuster deal for a goaltender or even another defenseman. Or, they may be just fine as they are. That’s the beauty of their situation. No major needs come to mind. The Hawks, under John McDonough and Stan Bowman, are very good at keeping the lid on behind-the-scenes maneuvers -- I don’t recall Kim Johnsson’s name ever coming up in rumors, despite the deal taking a couple weeks to complete.
Publicly, other than a Joel Quenneville “he has to play better here or there” quote, the Hawks have stated they are happy with their goaltenders. League sources say they’ve looked into the availability of several netminders, including Olympian Tomas Vokoun of the Panthers, but whether they pull the trigger remains to be seen. And don’t count out the possibility of one more blueliner being added for more insurance. The deadline is Wednesday at 2 p.m. CT.
Goaltending: Barring a trade, the month of March could very well determine who gets the nod for the playoffs. When last seen, Antti Niemi started the final four games before the Olympic break and won all of them. He seems to have the edge as we hit the stretch run, but don’t count Cristobal Huet completely out. He says he’s ready to earn playing time back. Niemi may have won those four games -- which is still the most important factor -- but his goals against average has climbed while his save percentage has dropped. As written in this blog previously, though, Niemi bails out his defense when there’s a mistake in front of him more often than Huet. That’s no small thing. If that trend continues, it could just be the reason Niemi keeps the job.
Playing Time: Just like the regular season up until the Olympic break, nobody played more hockey the last two weeks than Duncan Keith. He led all Olympians in icetime and, barring a Hawk meltdown, is on schedule to play more minutes and games than in any one year of his career. The addition of Kim Johnsson will give both he and Brent Seabrook a breather when needed. In the last few days, Quenneville said the Hawks will “monitor” the players that were in Vancouver and deal with their playing time accordingly. Don’t expect much to change for the forwards, but it would be a surprise if those defensemen came back playing the same amount.
Health and Chemistry: The break gave some of the walking wounded time to heal. Ben Eager and John Madden should be ready to go this week and Adam Burish is expected to return on Sunday. The dents and nicks that Brent Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson have absorbed are also in the past. It’s possible that by next week, the Hawks will have their entire lineup available for the first time this season. It means line combinations can finally find some cohesion while the battle for playing time will be fierce. Remember, what happens in March and early April will be Quenneville’s lasting memory as he makes out his playoff lineup. You think Colin Fraser wants to miss out on most of the playoffs again? I don’t, and neither does anyone else. Of course, the team has to stay healthy, which not the easiest thing to do.
Seeds: Spring may be a time to plant them, but it’s also a time to determine them. As in, will the Hawks overtake the San Jose Sharks for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference? If they do, they get home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. Currently, they are two points behind San Jose but have played one less game. With a healthy, 11-point lead on the third seed, even if the Hawks don’t catch the Sharks, they’re not exactly in bad position. Only if they met San Jose in the conference finals would they have to possibly play four on the road.
Post-Olympics history: If you’ve wondered how the Olympic break affects teams when they return to NHL action, we have some numbers for you. After the three previous Olympic breaks, 15 of 16 teams that were leading their division at the time of the break went on to win it. At least one team in each previous post-Olympics that has sent multiple players to the games has a drop off when they return. For example, in 1998, Colorado (9 Olympians) was 29-13-16 before the break and just 10-13-1 after. In 2002, the Red Wings (11 Olympians) were 41-11-8 before and 10-6-6 after. That last one resembles the Hawks’ record the closest, and while the Wings weren’t horrendous after the Olympics, they certainly didn’t keep up the pre-Salt Lake Games pace.
The gold medal game in the men’s Olympic hockey tournament spoke for itself -- a wonderfully dramatic game played by the best players in the world. If there is one thing Chicago Blackhawks fans should take away from it all, it’s that the Hawk stars are as good as any players on the planet.
No NHL team that sent players to Vancouver showed itself better than the Hawks. The gold medal game is a pointed example of what a big part they played in this two-week hockey festival.
Jonathan Toews scored the game’s first goal while playing 17 important minutes, having been on the ice in crucial times both in regulation and in overtime. Duncan Keith had an assist, was plus two, and once again played more than 20 minutes. And the world got to see what Hawk fans see every day in Patrick Kane: domination with the puck. He had two assists -- one on the dramatic tying goal -- and was plus two while racking up a team-high four shots. All of his shots were seemingly good scoring chances. Yes, I’d say it was a good gold medal game for the Blackhawks.
Brent Seabrook was the odd man out in terms of playing time, but didn’t do anything to disgrace himself or the sweater he wears for his day job.
As for Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, they nearly led upstart Slovakia to their first medal in hockey. Playing on the same line, they were also on the ice at crucial moments and Hossa was arguably the Slovaks’ best player. In their bronze medal game, he had a goal and a shorthanded assist. In total, he had nine points in Slovakia’s seven games.
Having said all that, it would be hard to find someone to argue that Toews wasn’t the best of the bunch. He made the tournament All-Star team and his numbers over Canada’s seven games jump off the page. Eight points with a plus nine rating. No other Canadian was better than plus six. If the puck was to be had, Toews was the one to have it. Behind the net, in his own zone and along the boards, he was as good as any player in the entire tournament.
The other winner, besides fans that watched the tournament, was USA hockey. It made a statement that its players are every bit as good as their northerly neighbors. And an overtime loss in the gold medal game didn’t do anything to change that. In fact, it only enhanced that feeling. Canada and the U.S. went toe-to-toe twice and the total tally was six goals (non-empty netters) apiece. They each had one win; Canada’s was just a bit more timely.
The U.S. came up short in the final game of the tournament but came up big in showcasing its homegrown talent. And the Hawks came up big showing the world and rest of the NHL what they may have in store for them come time for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Here are the tournament totals for the six Hawk players:
Let the trash talking commence.
It’s not only the four Blackhawk participants who have a vested interest in the outcome of the gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada on Sunday. There’s a dressing room full of Canadians and a couple of Americans in the Hawks locker room that would like to have bragging rights as well. No one has been more vocal about his desire to see his country win gold than forward Adam Burish.
“If the U.S. wins, I’m going to have this place [locker room] decorated red, white, and blue,” Burish said after practice on Saturday. “I’m going to have balloons. I’m going to have streamers and flags. I’ll decorate this place pretty good and rub it in everyone’s face.”
Burish isn’t the only one chirping, though. His roommate on the road is Canadian Patrick Sharp and he’s hopeful the two can put a friendly wager on Sunday’s proceedings.
“I’d like to make the bet if Canada wins, he has to shave his head and get rid of that long hair that he cares about so much,” Sharp said. “Of course, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so we’ll work something out.”
“I think he’s still sour he didn’t get picked for that team, so he might have a little U.S. cheer in him,” Burish responded with a sly smile.
Kris Versteeg couldn’t help but jump in to “assist” Sharp in some harsh talk for a couple of the Hawk Americans. He’s hopeful, as well, that the U.S. doesn’t bring home the gold.
“No one likes Burish and no one likes [Patrick] Kane, so when you get trash talking from both those little dweebs, it hurts,” joked Versteeg.
Leave it to a Swede to show a level head in the face of all this.
“I’m happy for them all,” Niklas Hjarmalsson said. ““I have to cheer my colleagues, my D-men. I’m for Canada.”
There’s also a debate on who will get the most emotional—win or lose—of the four Hawks playing for gold.
“I think Toews will be the one you see tears from,” Sharp said.
“Kane will cry for sure, he cries all the time. Seabrook might cry too. He’s had a tough upbringing. He’s been through a lot,” Versteeg said sarcastically.
“[Brent] Seabrook will cry. Kane won’t cry,” Burish said. “His dad will cry for sure. But if I was going to root for Canada to win, it would be to see Seabrook cry so I can make fun of him.”
“I hope there is no crying. I think Canada will win the game, not because I’m from Toronto or anything like that,” John Madden declared.
“It’s tough in my household right now,” Madden went on. “My wife is American so she wants the U.S. to win. My son thinks Canada is going to win, and my daughter says she has friends on both teams, for some reason, so its pretty funny back home.”
Leave it to the roommates to have the last word on this -- until Monday that is.
“All these Canadians know I’m already a loudmouth but if they [U.S.] win I’m really going to be a loudmouth to these arrogant Canadians,” Burish stated.
“I’m praying that Canada pulls it out so I don’t have to hear it from him,” Sharp said. “After the [first] U.S. win he kept quiet because he knew there would be another crack at it. God help us all if the U.S. wins.”
Monday should be a fun day inside the Hawks’ dressing room, no matter who wins.
If you’ve ever wondered what a day is like for a professional hockey player, I may have some answers for you.
With some time before the Hawks' schedule heats up again, I was able to get a glimpse into the routine of Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien.
I arrived at his house in Chicago, just before 9 a.m. on Friday, and a groggy Byfuglien answered the door declining an offer of coffee.
“I’ve never needed that stuff,” Byfuglien said.
Byfuglien lives in a non-descript, but nice, neighborhood in the city. He could be your neighbor. He says he likes where he lives and it's just close enough to work that he doesn’t have to worry about being late. He’s about 15 minutes from the United Center, depending on his daily route.
As we jumped into his Escalade, a few minutes after 9 a.m., he told me he was ready to get back to work, but did enjoy his week in Aruba. Like his teammates, he admitted to needing to “shake off the rust” after little activity for nine or 10 days.
On the ride over, Byfuglien touched on the upcoming playoffs, the Olympics, trade talk, and his good natured “distaste” of all things Canadian. He says he got over not making the U.S. Olympic team pretty quick and is hopeful they can bring home gold, if for no other reason than to have bragging rights over most of his teammates. He and Adam Burish are relishing the thought.
We arrived at the United Center at about 9:20 a.m. The Hawks have to change into their hockey gear there and then head to their new practice facility down the street. The dressing room isn’t quite finished.
After an hour or so practice, there’s some weight lifting and by 1 p.m., their day is over.
On this day, Byfuglien grabbed lunch and then it was to his couch for the U.S./Finland Semi-final contest. They’ll be a nap and then a nice dinner before it all starts again tomorrow. He admits "it’s not a bad life."
Not bad at all.
Click on the video above to watch my ride with Byfuglien to practice.
Watch out television ratings, here comes a potential record breaker.
Two countries got what they asked for when Canada held up its end of the deal, barely, beating Slovakia 3-2 and advancing to the gold medal game Sunday against the United States.
It may not have been the dominant performance the world saw two nights earlier against Russia, but it got the job done. Canada had a 2-0 lead after the first period, improved to 3-0 after two and held on for the win after Slovakia finally scored twice in the third to make for a dramatic ending.
Slovakia, behind Blackhawks Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, spent the final minute in the Canadian zone, with an extra attacker on the ice, but couldn’t find the equalizer, despite a furious attack. Hossa and Kopecky were both in the middle of it all after a quiet 40 minutes by the Slovaks. Hossa and Kopecky had two shots a piece, all four coming in the final 20 minutes. Duncan Keith played a team high 21:39, for Canada, including that final minute as he helped stop his Hawk teammates from tying it.
Jonathan Toews arguably had his quietest game of the tournament, finishing with three shots in 16:30 of ice time, while once again Brent Seabrook was used as the seventh defenseman, playing a tournament low for him, with 5:58 of playing time.
For the second game in a row, Canada’s defense helped out on offense, assisting on all three goals. Two shots from the point directly resulted in Canada’s first two tallies, but they played on their heels in the third, getting outshot and outchanced badly in the final 20 minutes.
No matter, the dream rematch is set. The gold medal game will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and a country that reveres the game will take on one that wants to make its mark on the international stage. Canada has an entire nation behind its team in Vancouver, while the Americans have the confidence of beating them once and will, assuredly, hold the underdog label again.
No script could have been written for a better finish with Keith, Seabrook, and Toews taking on Patrick Kane for bragging rights and a little something called a gold medal.
Ok, Canada. We see your Russian routing and raise you a Finnish filleting.
In advancing to the gold medal game on Sunday, the U.S. team put on a first-period show reminiscent of what their arch-rivals did a couple nights earlier against Russia. In fact, the Americans did it even better.
When the first 20 minutes was over, Patrick Kane had two goals and the U.S. team led 6-0, while Finnish starting goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff was sent to the proverbial showers after giving up the first four. The rest of the game was academic. The Americans won 6-1.
It might seem like a day ago to the Finns, but they actually started the game in good fashion. Led by former Hawk Tuomo Ruutu, Team Finland spent the first two minutes in the U.S. zone and looked to be a tough competitor, but then came Kiprusoff’s biggest mistake. He came out to play a puck in front of him on an easy dump-in, but he misplayed it onto Ryan Malone’s stick, who had a near empty-net goal with Kiprusoff way out of position. The momentum changed for the next 18 minutes.
Kane got into the action with the U.S. already up 3-0. He created a turnover near his own blueline with a nifty poke check, and took the puck into the offensive zone. As the sequence developed, Kiprusoff went down, Kane picked up the rebound of his own shot, and then hammered a backhander home put the Americans up 4-0. That would be it for the Calgary Flames' starting goaltender. Nicklas Backstrom took over but with little improvement.
Kane scored the American’s fifth goal of the first period after yet another Finnish turnover. He came down on Backstrom on a two-on-one and dented the back of the net with his patent snap shot. Kane played his best game of the tournament, finishing with those two goals on five shots in 17:04 of ice time. He was simply more noticeable on the ice, and with the puck, then in previous contests.
Turnovers were the name of the game in that dominant first period. Finland kept handing the puck over and the Americans kept taking advantage. They’ll need one more game with some of that thievery on Sunday to bring home the gold.
One half of the dream rematch in is place. Now it's Canada’s turn to try and raise the stakes for the ultimate Winter Olympics men’s hockey tournament finale.
While the Chicago Blackhawks scattered to all parts of the globe for the Olympic break, one eye was kept on their teammates playing in Vancouver.
Already, American-born forward Adam Burish is having fun with the Team USA's victory over Canada but says he won’t get too cocky knowing there could be a rematch this weekend.
Here’s his prediction if Canada wins the tournament: “If they win the gold medal, [Brent] Seabrook will be tearing up for sure. He’ll cry and then Duncan [Keith] will go over and rub his back. [Jonathan] Toews won't smile and then if Seabrook is crying, Patrick Kane will just go over to him and laugh and make fun of him. I’m sure Seabrook will cry, though.”
Burish says he has kept in touch with Kane and is rooting for him to bring home the gold.
Troy Brouwer, and several of his teammates and significant others, were in Jamaica for a week during the break but did their best to keep up with the Games. The only problem was the U.S.-Canada game last Sunday was on cable, and they couldn’t get it at their resort.
“One of the employees that worked for the resort ran home and got his cable box and hooked it up to the TV in the game room there so he really accommodated us well.”
Brouwer said there were some Americans in the room watching the game and enjoying themselves while he and his Canadian teammates could only watch in disappointment.
Joel Quenneville has enjoyed the Olympic games as well, especially the drama the last couple of days.
He knows people are concerned with the extra minutes and games his six Olympians are receiving and will monitor things when they return.
“We’ll see how they handle [it] later, if it’s a problem or not,” Quennville said. “I don’t think anyone is playing the same minutes they were accustomed to. At the same time there is a lot of stress and [it's] an intense time. We’ll see how they handle it.”
While some playing for medals, in past Olympics, have been given a game off after their done playing for their country, Quennville doesn’t see that happening with his players and expects them to be in New York come Tuesday.
“That wasn’t on our radar screen. We’re going to need them,” Quenneville said.
Finally, Brouwer couldn’t decide who had the best tan after a week in the sun. According to him, it certainly wasn’t Colin Fraser.
“Fraser is either white or red, there is no in between with him,” Brouwer joked. “Andrew Ladd was hitting the tanning bed before we left so he was cheating. I don’t tan that great so I had a lot of sun screen on so I tried not to get burnt.”
The Chicago Blackhawks, minus their six Olympians still playing in Vancouver, got back to work on Thursday in preparation for the final 21 games of the regular season. They will have five practices, in Chicago, before flying to New York to take on the Islanders on Tuesday.
Joel Quenneville raised eyebrows before the break when he started Antti Niemi in goal for the final four games -- including a back-to-back weekend set -- just before the Olympics. On Thursday he clarified his reasoning for playing Niemi over Cristobal Huet.
“I think that we are close to the [end] of the season and somebody is going to get the net, and he got the opportunity to keep it,” Quenneville said after practice. “That was the chance, and he took it, and he’s got it. Based on him winning it's tough to change the goalie in that situation. We’ll announce our goalie going into the Islander game and go from there. We won some games, and I don’t like, usually, bucking that trend.”
Huet started the season as the No. 1 goalie. That has slowly slipped away from him. He said he was a little surprised he didn’t get in a game that final weekend before the break, but is hopeful he can have a strong finish.
“They didn’t say much to me,” Huet said about not playing. “It’s never fun sitting on the bench. It’s not something I want to do. Going into the last 21 games I’m really focused and ready to take the challenge. I’m going to work hard to get some playing time again.”
Quenneville also said he wouldn’t forecast how the final 21 games will go in terms of his goaltending.
Safe to say barring a trade, Niemi is more than in the mix to be the playoff netminder.
“There was definitely some rust out there,” Troy Brouwer said. “Guys legs felt a little heavy. Hands were a little bit off, the timing was a little bit off. It's easy to lose it but it's real easy to get it back. We’ve got some practices here before we get back at it.”
“Yeah, the timing was off,” Patrick Sharp said. “The passing was difficult, shooting the puck was hard but the legs felt strong, and I felt healthy and in good shape. That’s the main thing. The timing will come as we practice along here.”
“That was a bummer practicing on regulation ice,” Sharp joked. “We liked skating on that smaller rink, but they did a great job building it.”