Shots on Goal: Perpetual Uncertainty
By Peter Maingot, RotoWire Writer
We can think of few exceptions to this general rule that we will posit for the 2010-11 NHL season as it pertains to goalies - the only certainty is uncertainty. One could list perhaps three goalies that began the season as No. 1 goalies - Carey Price, Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak - that have been relatively pain-free for deployment. While Marc-Andre Fleury can now be added to that list, his meager October output put his owners behind the eight ball. It comes back to scoring again (remember that column?). With the reduction in scoring, league-wide, a majority of teams are struggling to score even three goals a game (bring back the 1980's NHL!). In fact only nine teams out of 30 in the NHL are scoring at least three goals a game this season (Dallas and San Jose are each a goal short of reaching that level). With two-thirds of the league's team scoring less than three times per game goalies have zero margin for error.
It's time to get in the blue paint and see what's transpired among the time-share teams.
Ondrej Pavelec is in the zone right now, carrying the Thrashers with his splendid play. Pavelec is 6-0 over his past six starts with two shutouts and only a total of just five goals allowed. Moreover, Pavelec has only allowed three or more goals once in his last eight starts. For the season Pavelec has a ridiculous 1.65 GAA and .950 SV %. Chris Mason had only three starts in November, allowing 11 goals in just 111 minutes.
While Tim Thomas is only 1-1-1 in his last three starts, he's still 11-2-1 for the season while Tuukka Rask is just 1-6-1 on the year. Though the Bruins did not practice Wednesday, Thomas started vs. the Flyers. While the Flyers boast one of the league's best group of forwards Thomas is a tempting start with his 7-2-1 lifetime record against them along with a 2.28 GAA and .934 SV %.
Marty Turco went 1-2 during their recent road trip while Corey Crawford, won back-to-back games to close the trip in Anaheim on Friday and Los Angeles on Saturday. Crawford came back to earth at home on Tuesday, though he and the Hawks still prevailed 7-5 over St. Louis. The five goals allowed Tuesday by Crawford matched the total amount of goals he's allowed in his previous four starts, all wins. Not only is Crawford 5-0 in his last five starts but also his teammate and fellow goalie Marty Turco doesn't seem to mind that he's getting less starts. Turco went on record this week stating that the team came first and that it was all about winning. Commendable words but somewhat worrisome for those Turco owners who don't also own Crawford.
Craig Anderson is injured again, this time likely for just 10-14 days. In fact, he could be back by the weekend. The Avs have made some moves since our last column: they've added top-six left-winger Tomas Fleischmann and defenseman Matt Hunwick. Hunwick is a much more mobile defender than Scott Hannan, who was dispatched to Washington in the Fleischmann trade. Peter Budaj has struggled of late. After winning three straight and four of five, Budaj is 1-2-1 in his last four appearances with 13 goals against in 219 minutes. Budaj has allowed at least three goals in his last seven starts, thereby hurting his peripherals. Budaj now sports a 2.92 GAA and .900 SV % on the season.
Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon continue to exchange starts. Mason was 4-3 in November with a 2.43 GAA while Garon was 4-1 with a 1.20 GAA. It's a testament to how strong the NHL's Central division is that the Jackets are only in third place yet 14-8. Mason is expected to draw his third consecutive start on Wednesday against Nashville. Though Mason has lost his last two starts, they were against the powerhouse Red Wings and Mason did his part in putting the Jackets in a position to win as he allowed only a total of five goals in the two contests.
With Nikolai Khabibulin on IR with a pulled groin, Devan Dubnyk and Martin Gerber are splitting starts. Gerber is worth considering for a short-term add as he's 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .950 SV %. Beware though that this is a very small sample size and the Oilers are a fairly weak team. Dubnyk gets the start Wednesday at Montreal with Gerber likely to face the Leafs in Toronto on Thursday.
New York Islanders:
Amazingly, after allowing 23 goals in his previous five starts, Rick DiPietro posted a shutout in his most recent start, a 3-0 win over New Jersey. Dwayne Roloson has lost his last nine starts, though he allowed three goals or less in six of those games. Rick D. is 2-0-2 at home, so it will be interesting if he can keep that streak of "points in every home start" intact when the hated Rangers arrive on Thursday.
Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott are locked in a time-share and it will take at least a two or three-game modest win streak for one of them to pull ahead of the other. Elliott blew a relatively easy start Monday, losing 4-1 at home to the Oilers. For the season Elliott is 10-8-while Leclaire is just 1-5-1 so Monday's loss was even more disappointing for Elliott owners as his numbers are better across the board (2.94 GAA vs. 3.22 GAA, .910 SV % vs. .900 SV %) yet Leclaire will likely draw the next start Thursday when the Sharks come to town. Expect former Senator Dany Heatley to have an uncomfortable evening.
Sergei Bobrovsky and his owners have another week or so until Michael Leighton is back and contending for starts. Leighton (back) was expected to report Wednesday to AHL Adirondack for a six-day conditioning assignment. Assuming no setbacks Leighton could be starting a game next week, likely Thursday, Dec. 9 at Toronto, after the Flyers host the Sharks on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Marc-Andre Fleury has a record of 8-0-1 in his last nine starts. The month of November was awesome for MAF owners, as he went 8-1-1 after posting just one victory in all of October. Fleury re-asserted his No. 1 status with 11 starts in November to just three starts for backup Brent Johnson.
Anterro Niittymaki had nine starts in November, going 4-3-2. In only two starts did he allow more than three goals. What is of more concern to Niitty's owners is that he's allowed 17 goals over his past five starts - a 3.40 GAA It's not all on him, however, as the team has been missing defensemen all month. Douglas Murray, Niclas Wallin, Jason Demers, and Kent Huskins - all top-six D-men - have all missed a game or more. Tuesday's 5-3 home loss to Detroit saw San Jose forced to play without three of their top six, as Wallin, Demers, and Huskins each missed the game due to injury. Niittymaki owners will have to be patient, watch the matchups and play him cautiously while the defense remains riddled with injury. Meanwhile, backup Antti Niemi was 2-2-1 in November with a 3.60 GAA. This time-share is win-based these days so it wouldn't surprise us to see Niemi face the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday.
Mike Smith will be starting his third straight game Wednesday, as the Bolts play the Rangers. Tampa is playing well of late and the team could be getting Simon Gagne back in their lineups as soon as Wednesday. This goalie situation remains volatile and we don't see a clear-cut favorite emerging whereby they would suddenly receive 70 or 80 percent of the starts in net. Realistically, neither Smith nor Dan Ellis should be considered as anything more than a No. 3 or No. 4 roto goalie.
Jonas Gustavsson will start his seventh straight game on Thursday when the Oilers invade Toronto. Gustavsson has performed admirably over that six-game span with a scintillating 2.33 GAA. However, he's allowed 10 goals in his last three starts: a 3.33 GAA. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (groin) could be back as early as Saturday when the Bruins pay a visit. The main problem with owning a Toronto goalie this season is that the margin for victory is thinner than a runway model, as the Buds have bagged just 51 goals in 23 games - a mere 2.22 goals scored per game. They have scored three goals or more in a game just seven times over their past 20 games played.
Semyon Varlamov is back with a vengeance. Varlamov is 3-0 since his return and he allowed a total of just four goals in that trio of games. Michal Neuvirth owners have to be somewhat nervous, as Varlamov will make his fourth straight start Wednesday at St. Louis. This will revert back to a time-share once Varlamov loses a game (or two).
It's somewhat ironic that we mentioned in last week's column that the Caps needed another top-four defenseman if they were going to truly compete for the Stanley Cup this season, then they went and traded Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for stay-at-home D-man Scott Hannan. Hannan is a solid defender but we're not sure if he's the solution. While the Caps obviously need a healthy Mike Green to win in the playoffs it will also be imperative that Tom Poti is healthy come springtime. Poti has been in and out of the lineup for much of the season. It's not by coincidence that the team will be carrying eight defensemen on the roster for at least the near future.
Pat Burns R.I.P.:
Hockey lost a true character and winner when Pat Burns passed away recently. Not only did Burns coach half of the NHL's Original Six teams (Boston, Montreal, Toronto), he also coached the Devils to a Stanley Cup championship. I can remember him as far back as 1985 when I first saw him coach in the Quebec Major Junior league. He coached the Hull Olympiques (now the Gatineau Olympiques). Playing in the tiny Robert Guertin Arena in Hull, just across the bridge from Ottawa, the Olympiques were a highly entertaining team to watch. They played with passion and skill and they were tough, just like Burns - a former Hull cop. He coached many Olympiques that would later make the NHL including Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille (55 goals/148 points in 64 games for Hull in '85), Benoit Brunet, Martin Gelinas, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Cote, Stephane Matteau (scored two game-winning goals for the Rangers in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey, each goal was scored in double-overtime), Cam Russell and even Andre "Red Light" Racicot.
I lived in Toronto during the 1990's and witnessed perhaps Burns' greatest coaching job. During the 1993 NHL playoffs Burns and the Leafs electrified the city with their run to the semi-finals. I was fortunate enough to attend three of the four home games that Toronto played during that series. That team personified Burns, especially Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. Burns coached with his heart and he was never afraid to speak his mind. One wonders if he could have survived coaching in the overly politically correct world we now live in.