Monday, January 14, 2013
Seven goalies worth watching
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
At ages 40 and 39, respectively, Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg don't lack for experience.
We were talking to former NHL netminder Kevin Weekes, now a national -- dare we say ubiquitous -- broadcast analyst, about the pressures on the goaltending fraternity coming out of the lockout and directly into a 48-game sprint to the playoffs and beyond.
It's simple, Weekes said.
"A 48-game season is going to be very unforgiving," Weekes told ESPN.com. "You're not going to have that much time to really find a groove."
With that in mind, trying to handicap which goaltenders or goaltending tandems might be poised for a quick start is a bit difficult. First of all, it's not just who played during the lockout, but perhaps where they played and what their routines were like, how old they are and what the expectations are of them.
For goaltenders who weren't involved in game action, it's a question of being able to quickly adjust to reading game action as well as regaining their timing in much the same way that a hitter needs to see a lot of pitches in spring training to get his timing down, Weekes said.
For those who played elsewhere, it's about getting back into a routine that matches their team, their teammates and their systems.
Here is a look at seven goaltenders/goaltending tandems worth watching.
The Devils have cornered the market on goaltending experience, as they will return the game's winningest goaltender in 40-year-old Brodeur and perhaps the most popular backup in NHL history in 39-year-old Hedberg. There is a hand-and-glove element to the two netminders, and people forget that Hedberg turned in a tidy 17-7-2 record last year for the Devils. Brodeur, after a couple of hiccups in the first round of the playoffs against Florida, was sensational. He posted a 2.12 GAA in leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals. That said, neither has played any meaningful hockey since the finals. For a team that will be looking to replace offense since Zach Parise signed in Minnesota and Rookie of the Year nominee Adam Henrique suffered an injury, both will have to be on their game when the curtain rises this weekend. Is that too much to ask of two men in the twilight of their respective careers? The answer to that question will speak volumes about the Devils' chances of returning to the playoffs.
The assumption is that having played somewhere during the lockout is better than having played nowhere. Maybe. Maybe not. "Did Pekka Rinne develop some bad habits playing in the KHL? Probably," Weekes said. Indeed, noted Nashville netminding coach Mitch Korn might be spending a little extra time with the Vezina Trophy nominee helping him to unlearn some of his KHL experience. Rinne managed a rather pedestrian 3.08 GAA with an .897 save percentage in 22 games for Minsk. Few teams are as reliant on their No. 1 guy as the Predators, and without Ryan Suter in the Predators lineup, there will be some changes to the team's makeup, and Rinne will be counted on to be stellar from the get-go.
Quick had offseason back surgery to correct a herniated disc. Had the season started on time, he would not have been ready to play. But he's been cleared for action and is expected to be on the ice in Los Angeles when the season begins Saturday and the Kings' Stanley Cup banner is raised to the rafters at the Staples Center. Clearly the lockout took pressure off Quick to rush his recovery, but the yin to that yang is that he has not played meaningful hockey since Game 6 of the finals, including the standard shinny workouts that virtually all healthy players who stayed in North America took part in during the lockout. It shouldn't be an issue for the Vezina Trophy nominee and playoff MVP. "Shouldn't" being the operative word. If there are issues, the pressure will fall squarely on the shoulders of Jonathan Bernier, who at one point was viewed as the Kings' goaltender of the future. It might not be a bad thing for Bernier to get some playing time early on, especially if GM Dean Lombardi plans to dangle the young netminder as trade bait later in the season.
So, what do you do if you've got two goaltenders who haven't played (or maybe played but not well) and you've got an AHL guy who's been stellar? Do you give him a shot early on? This is the question facing Columbus GM Scott Howson, whose NHL netminding tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason might give him pause to consider McElhinney, who was outstanding for the Blue Jackets' AHL team in Springfield. McElhinney leads the AHL with six shutouts and was 17-5-2 with a .930 save percentage. "If Curtis McElhinney can come in and outperform [the incumbents], why not?" Weekes said. "I would leave all options on the table." Apparently the Blue Jackets, last in the NHL a season ago, don't see it that way as McElhinney remains with the Falcons, but that's not to say things won't change if Mason and/or Bobrovsky falters.
Weekes has high praise for all involved in this ongoing goalie soap opera. Luongo, of course, wants to be traded, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis wants his former No. 1 netminder to be traded and, presumably, new starter Cory Schneider does also. But Gillis isn't going to give Luongo away, so if there's a period where the two have to co-exist, Weekes thinks things could work out well for everyone given the maturity and personalities of all concerned. Regardless of how long the dynamic exists, the Canucks could do a heck of a lot worse than a Schneider/Luongo tandem.
We were talking to GM Doug Armstrong the other day and he noted that lots of teams like to talk about having a goaltending tandem that is really a 1 and 1a. But in how many cities is that really the case? In St. Louis, there is no doubt as to the answer. Halak and Elliott combined to win the William Jennings Trophy last season, allowing just 165 goals. The two combined for 15 shutouts, tying a modern NHL record set by Chicago in 1969-70. And Elliott, who was signed by the Blues to challenge for a backup spot a year ago, ended up leading the NHL in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940). Assuming the two stay healthy, they should once again represent the standard against which all other goaltending tandems are compared in this shortened season.
Everyone knows the pressure that Tuukka Rask will be under in Boston with two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas still under his self-imposed exile. But Rask should be in a good spot heading into the season, as he played in the Czech elite league with Plzen from the end of September until mid-December and posted good numbers without incurring a heavy workload. What is interesting is that Khudobin, who will act as Rask's backup, should be in a groove having played 26 games for a poor Moscow Oblast Atlant team, turning in a respectable 2.96 GAA and a .912 save percentage.