Shots on Goal: Eight Days Later
By Peter Maingot, RotoWire Writer
The time-shares evolve daily and it's been eight days and too many holiday parties since our last look at the NHL scene. We were going to
call this the hangover edition but enough time has elapsed and enough oxygen has returned to the brain whereby we feel confident that any
lingering effects from earlier this week will not negatively affect the kaleidoscopic creation of Shots on Goal. Here's wishing you and yours
a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.
Ondrej Pavelec is 5-2-1 in December with a 2.12 GAA. Atlanta now sits sixth overall in the NHL's Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile
backup Chris Mason has had just three starts in December, going 1-1-1 with a 3.32 GAA. The Thrashers began the season as a work in progess
adding nine new players in the offseason. Pavelec had an early-season scare that saw him pass out and lay unconscious on the ice during his
first start. The team has overcome all of its initial obstacles and it now resembles the team that many had predicted during September could
be a surprise team in the league this year. They are rolling four lines and getting good production from everyone not named Niklas Bergfors
(in the doghouse, on the trading block). Defensively they have been stronger than expected and their third pairing of Ron Hainsey and Brent
Sopel has been a combined plus-12 in December with seven points. If they can stay healthy on the blue line and in goal this will be a playoff
team come spring.
Tim Thomas has vastly outplayed Tuukka Rask this season. Overall Thomas has started 23 games and won 15 while Rask has started nine games
and won but two. Moreover. Thomas' 1.70 GAA is an excellent achievement. The dark cloud in this picture for Thomas owners is the defense.
With Mark Stuart out another month as he waits for the ring finger on his right hand to mend itself, the defense is rolling two green D-men
in Adam McQuaid and Steve Kampfer. Combined the two defensemen have 45 games of NHL experience. Before this season they had but 19 games of
NHL experience and that was all McQuaid. The last three games have shown that the concerns are valid as Thomas is just 1-1-1 with a 3.33 GAA.
Thursday's tilt with Atlanta will be a stern test, as Thomas owner have to be more concerned about the blue line than Rask these days.
Corey Crawford's rookie season started meekly but after a 5-1 November he's kept uop his excellent play throughout December, winning five
of seven starts. The Hawks have earned points in all but one of Crawford's seven starts in December. It should also be noted that Crawford
has been very stingy in allowing three goals or more in only three of his last 13 starts.
With Detroit now missing top center Pavel Datsyuk for a month Chicago has a real chance to make up some ground. The fact that they've been
winning without both Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa speaks to their depth up front. After the post-Cup purging of the roster due to salary cap
constraints it was thought that the Hawks' vaunted depth was no more. This season's injuries to two of their top-three scorers has proven
otherwise, as players such as Bryan Bickell and Jack Skille have picked up the slack. With Kane and Hossa expected back in a week-to-10 days
the Hawks should be poised to cut into Detroit's lead.
Mathieu Garon is 2-3-1 in six December starts with a 2.66 GAA. Garon has also appeared in three other games, where Steve Mason was pulled
in each contest. Mason hasn't played since Dec. 16 when he was pulled against Edmonton after allowing six goals in 40 minutes. Mason has
posted these GAA's per game over his last four starts: 9.00, 27.17, 1.00, 15.17. That explains why Mason has been pulled in three of his
last four starts. Bottom line: Garon will see the majority of starts in the near futire as mason tries to get his game back. Mason owners
will have to keep him on the bench until he can prove that he's out of his current malaise.
Nikolai Khabibulin is 4-2-1 in seven December starts with a 2.14 GAA. These number are all the more impressive when one factors in the
absences of No. 1 center Shawn Horcoff (MCL, six weeks) and No. 1 right wing Ales Hemsky (groin, two weeks). The kids have helped fill the
void, as 20-year-old Jordan Eberle has four goals in his last four games and 19-year-oldTaylor Hall has five points in is last five games.
Then there's 21-year-old Sam Gagner, who has responded well to his heightened responsibilities as the defacto No. 1 with Horcoff out. Gagner
has three goals and eight points in nine games in December. Recent callup Linus Omark, 23-years-old but a rookie nonetheless, has four
points in five games. However, despite the recent signs of encouragement the Oilers remain last in the Western Conference with 29 points in
32 games. Khabby is still a No. 3 fantasy goalie, at best.
Anders Lindback will take a seat on Thursday as the Predators' No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne returns to the lineup from his most recent injury.
Despite two injuries to Pekka Rinne this season and the almost season-long absence of top center matthew Lombardi the Preds sit seventh in
the Western Conference thanks in large part to Lindback, who has gone 9-3-2 in this his rookie season in the NHL. Lindback and Rinne's goals
-against average are virtually identical: Rinne has a 2.37 GAA while Lindback has a 2.39 GAA. Going forward we expect Rinne to assume a 70
percent share of the starts in goal, as Rinne is far more experienced and Lindback's game has regressed lately with seven goals allowed in
his last 70 minutes of play.
Martin Brodeur has lost seven of his last eight games and the Devils have fired first-year coach John MacLean. One has to feel sorry for
MacLean, who has always been a class act. Is it his fault that Ilya Kovalchuk started the season so poorly or that Zach Parise blew out his
knee or that Brodeur has only won five of his 22 starts sporting his worst GAA since 1991-92? Maclean was a victim of each of those
unforeseen disasters and their resulting/revolting combination, in addition to being a victim of President Lou Lamoriello's egregious free-
agent contracts (Brian Rolston: $5 million, Jason Arnott: $4.5 million, Dainus Zubrus: $3.4 million). With Jacques Lemaire back as coach the
team will be even more painfully dull to watch. The good news for Brodeur owners is that they should win a few more games but the reality is
that they probably won't approach playing .500 hockey until Parise gets back in February.
The Islanders are 2-0-1 in their last three games after a serious dry spell that saw them lose 20 of 21 games. The five points achieved in
three games was truly a team effort as three different Islander goalies played in the three games. First Rick DiPietro beat Anaheim 3-2 on
Dec. 16 then Nathan Lawson was called up to stat in their 4-3 OT-loss to Phoenix on Dec. 18. While DiPietro was unavailable for the game for
health reasons no reason was given for why Dwayne Roloson did not start vs. Phoenix. Thus began the Roloson is getting traded rumors. Roloson
then started the next game, a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay. Despite the Isles' recent surge we cannot in good faith recommend any Isles goalie,
unless Roloson gets traded to a playoff contender.
Brian Elliott, though 10-10-3 on the season, has lost his last six starts. His last win was Nov. 27 vs. Toronto. He's 1-6-3 in his past 10
starts. Okay, message delivered. What about that other goalie, the one who gets hurt a lot? That would be Pascal Leclaire and guess what?
He's currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury, which is a downer for both Sens fans and Leclaire owners as he's 3-1 in his last four
starts with a 1.75 GAA. The Sens are suffering from some poor play on defense from two men who should both know better and thus play better.
Sergei Gonchar (minus-19 on the season, minus-6 with only two points in 10 December games) and Filip Kuba (minus-5 with just 2 points and a
pathetic seven shots on goal in 10 December games).
The Philly goalie carousel continues as Sergei Bobrovsky (aka Bob) is losing starts to Brian Boucher. Bob has allowed three goals or more in
four of his past five starts, including 11 goals in his last 158 minutes) while Boucher has won six of his last seven and allowed more than
two goals in just one of those starts. The Flyers are quickly discovering that life without Chris Pronger (sidelined for up to 6 weeks after
Dec. 17 foot surgery) is more challenging. Pronger was averaging about 24:00 before the injury and it was always against the opponents first
or second line. Add the PP (over 4:00 per game) and PK work game and his loss is significant. Michael Leighton is back with the team but has
yet to see a start. With Pronger's injury, the situation in nets gets even more frustrating if you're an owner of either Bob or Leighton.
Boucher may be the guy to own over the next few weeks as the team tries to adjust to life without Pronger.
The Antti Niemi vs. Antero Niittymaki battle for depth chart supremacy has been waged all year. It began with Niemi doing a proverbial
face plant to start the season while his elder statesman Niittymaki came out strong. Niemi pulled himself up and improved his play and began
to see more starts than Niittymaki. Part Three of this drama has seen Niittymaki go 4-0 in December with a 2.25 GAA. Niemi is 3-3-1 in
December with a 2.28 GAA. Things are evening out and we see Niittymaki with a slight edge in the distribution of starts over the final 48
games of the season.
Dan Ellis has performed better lately in going 3-1-2 over his last six starts. That's the good news. The bad news is that he allowed 19
goals in the six contests (3.17 GAA), his save percentage was .870 or worse in four of the six starts, and he allowed four or more goals in
three of the six games). Playing Ellis on your fantasy team is a risky proposition even with the team playing better now whilst stronger with
the return of Vincent Lecavalier.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (groin) is out for two weeks and the Leafs are suffering the consequences. Jonas Gustavsson has a record of 1-6-1
over his last eight starts with a GAA hovering around 4.00. Worse, he's been pulled in two of his last five starts. With Dion Phaneuf back in
the lineup there are no excuses for anyone in Toronto and none for an overrated goalie who came into the NHL with the nickname “Monster”. He
may be a monster in the Swedish Elite league but this is another Brian Burke signing of an over hyped-up player.
The Capitals have been riding Michal Neuvirth to victory in the past two games. Coach Bruce Boudreau likes how the team plays in front of
Neuvirth and the cnfidence they have in him when adversity strikes, wghich it did often in their recent six-game losing streak. Neuvirth is
2-1 in his last three starts with a 1.99 GAA. Semyon Varlamov, who is 0-3-1 in his last four starts with a total of 15 goals allowed, will
have to wait for his next start as Neuvirth is currently in the driver's seat.
World Juniors Thoughts:
The latest World Junior tournament will take place in Buffalo, New York. Team USA is not only the host country, they are also the favorite
to win as they are bringing back eight players from last year's gold-medal winning team. These are key players including the winning goalie
Jack Campbell (first-round pick of Dallas) and budding NHL power-forward Jeremy Morin (a sleeper for Chicago's playoff push).
This is the World Under-20 championship but not every player in the world that's under the age of 20 is playing. The biggest loss for Team
USA is 19-year-old phenom Cam Fowler playing a regular shift this season for Anaheim of the NHL instead of Windsor of the OHL. While several
teams are missing a player, none more than Team Canada. Amazingly, several under-20 Canadians are already in the NHL (including Matt Duchene,
Evander kane, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin) and likely would have made the team. As a side story this year's tournament features the sons of
several former NHLers including Ray Bourque (Team USA's Chris Bourque), Rob Ramage (Team USA's John Ramage), Scott Bjugstad (Team USA's Nick
Bjugstad), Mike Foligno (Team Canada's Marcus Foligno), and Brent Ashton (Team Canada's Carter Ashton).
Team USA and Team Canada have met in the final twice in the last seven years with Team USA winning both games. In between Canada won the
tourney five straight years. I expect this to be the third final between the two countries in the last eight years. Though Team USA is loaded
with talent the last time they were the favorites was in Vancouver back in 2006 and they didn't medal. The pressure of playing on home ice
may exact its toll but it won't be enough to keep them out of the medal round and their talent will carry them to the final where I expect to
see an incredible display of skill mixed with immense size and physical play. While Canada lacks a star player like a Steven Stamkos or
Jonathan Tavares from recent teams, there is tremendous depth and size up front with Canadian coach Dave Cameron stating that they have four
No. 2 lines. It should be a beauty, eh?