The SuperSkills Competition during All-Star Weekend is one of the most enjoyable times I have as a broadcaster.
The players are relaxed, they have their families around the locker rooms, especially their children who live and breathe the game of hockey. The kids always have a cut-down stick in their hands and are shooting a tape ball around the room. Martin Brodeur's boys are always running around the room, just having a blast.
Players never pay much attention to the competition format until they are actually on the ice and it's their event. Then, nervousness sets in because now they have to perform in a very individual way in front of a lot of people and their peers.
During the regular season, players are very thorough in their game day preparation. When the time comes to go on the ice for the warm up, they are in that mental mind set and focus that gives them the best chance at success. But could you imagine a player with a game face on during the skills competition? You can see the guys want to act like they are loose and not nervous, but trust me, they really are.
Which brings us to the peculiar position goalies find themselves in during the skills competition. During the event, there is plenty of standing around and waiting before they don their masks and get in the net. The goalies have to find a little time off to the side and get themselves prepared.
There are two categories where the goalies are able to accumulate points: the In the Zone and Breakaway Relay competitions.
"In the Zone" is new this year and replaces "Pass and Score." Three players will be placed in pre-determined positions in the offensive zone so the goalie will face a shot from either his right, left or the middle of the ice. Any one of the three players can shoot the puck, one puck at a time. There will be six pucks per heat. If there is a bad pass that can't be controlled, that counts as a shot, so the players will be overly cautious and slower than normal, which would be an advantage to the goalie.
Here's each goalie's strength in the competition:
Tomas Vokoun: He catches with his right hand, which is off-setting for the shooter for the first few shots. A right-handed shot will often lean towards shooting high to the glove side, but against Vokoun, that would be his blocker.
Dwayne Roloson: He stays low and tight in his crouch, giving the shooter the impression there is plenty of room up high in the net. He is very disciplined in terms of his patience; he won't make the first move nor will he overreact. He is great down low.
Marty Turco: He is extremely athletic and has very quick reflexes. He has improved his patience in the net and has tremendous feet down low to go along with a quick glove.
Martin Brodeur: He is unflappable and has been here before so he knows how to prepare for this situation. He can lean, butterfly and kick out a skate, making it unpredictable for the shooter.
Roberto Luongo: He leaves no room for the shooter. He looks huge in the net, so all he has to do is not overplay a shot and he will stop everything. He is very fundamentally sound.
Jose Theodore: Like Vokoun, he catches with his right hand. But Theodore is a quicker goalie. He will give the shooter an area and take it away quickly. He's also extremely quick laterally.
The Breakaway Relay accounts for 50 percent of the goaltending competition and will consist six shooters taking penalty shots. He can shoot or deke, but can't score on a rebound. The last goalie to shutout all six shooters was Dominik Hasek back in 1998 and 1996. Last year, Patrick Roy won, giving up just one goal.
The goalie has certain strategies on breakaways.
Some like the shooter to deke, so they push out on top of the crease, then move back toward the goal line. When the goalie is far out, the shooter sees very little net, so their first choice is to deke and then the goalie gets what he was looking for.
Some like the player to shoot the puck. In most of these situations, the goalie is on the quicker side and relies more on his reflexes, or their ability to read the puck off the shooter's stick. If a goalie has a quick glove and a right-handed shooter is coming in on him, he may "give" the glove side and then quickly take it away.
The goalies I like to watch on breakaways in this All-Star game are:
Marty Turco: He is a great poke-checker, so he will surprise more than a few shooters when they have their head down and are thinking of a quick deke from in close.
Dwayne Roloson: His legs and lateral movement are exceptional. Players will think they have a move to the backhand all locked up, but Roli will get the pad down and leave nothing to shoot at.
Martin Brodeur: He has a plethora of options, which keep shooters guessing. He is also good with the stick, so he can poke-check, too. He can stack the pads and often will lean against the shot, giving the impression there is room on the far side, but there seldom is.
Great job by Boston Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft, who posted a 1.30 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in 10 games and was named rookie of the month. His play led the Bruins out of their December swoon and back into contention in the East.
The Flyers will have some decisions to make now that Robert Esche will be out almost a month with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Jeff Hackett seems close to playing as he stopped pucks yesterday and looked sharp, but "positional vertigo" is difficult to gauge.
When I spoke to a few players about Finnish goalie Antero Niittymaki, they had some real positive things to say about his ability to stop pucks in tight. He is very quick in close but needs some work on reading plays from the top of the circles on out. Still, he turned in two good back-to-back performances in 5-1 wins over Washington and Atlanta. I would love to see Neil Little get another start. He replaced Esche on Monday night, giving up two goals on two shots in 1:42 as Tampa won 2-1. He has only started one other game and lost it 4-1.
Keep in mind the relationship between Sean Burke and Esche. They played together in Phoenix and remain close friends. Of all the rumors that are out there, the one that would not bother Esche in the least would be for the Flyers to obtain Burke. He would not feel like he's been thrown under the bus, instead it would be a great partnership, if indeed Hackett can't come back.
Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.