InGoal Update: Goalies getting pulled at Keenan-like rate
Plus: Islanders get Evgeni Nabokov’s contract extended to next season; Blackhawks defend Canucks’ goalie amid startling playoff numbers; Crawford and Luongo have history, and lots more in the Easter Update.
Rookie backup Cory Schneider has finished the last two playoff games for the Canucks and is being touted in many parts of Vancouver, including some media outlets, as the should-be starter for Game 6 in Chicago.
Antero Niittymaki, who only played one game since mid-January, has done the same thing for San Jose after reigning Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi only made one save in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Los Angeles in Game 5.
Brent Johnson got mop-up duty for the previously stellar Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
And Michael Leighton, who spent all but one game this season in the American Hockey League and stated the playoffs watching from the press box, was the overtime goalie of record for the Philadelphia Flyers.
With all the attention on the number of times goaltenders have gotten the hook in the first round of these playoffs, you’d think Mike Keenan was back behind multiple benches, not a microphone as a studio analyst.
Sometimes, though, maybe the best moves are the ones coaches don’t make.
Cases in point: American Olympic teammates Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick.
Thomas, a soon to be two-time Vezina Trophy winner let in admitted softies as the Bruins lost the first two games at home, and two more odorous goals before they rallied for a Game 3 win in Montreal. So when Boston got behind 3-1 in a must-win Game 4 on the road, the television cameras were quick to search out backup Tuukka Rask, especially after days of premature speculation about whether or not the impressive Finnish backup should already be playing.
Instead Bruins coach Claude Julien stuck with Thomas and now, after a beauty of a 2-on-1 save in double-overtime of Game 5 on Saturday (video below), Boston is now just one win from moving on to the second round.
There were similar calls for Kings’ No.1 Quick to take a seat and watch impressive rookie backup Jonathan Bernier after getting shelled in two-straight games, including the 6-5 overtime loss in which he (with a lot of help from the guys in front of him) surrendered an early 4-0 lead. Some of those arguments made sense amid the collapses early in the series, and there was a report on ESPN.com that the only reason the Kings’ didn’t pull the trigger on a goalie change was fear how it might affect Quick next season. Quick responded with a franchise record 51 saves, including a Thomas-esque scramble (video below), to extend the series to a Game 6 back in Los Angeles, and suddenly it’s the Sharks who have goaltending questions to answer instead of the Kings.
“It doesn’t matter how many goals they score in one game,” Quick told The Associated Press after the game. “The next game is a clean slate and you start over. Not too many emotions going in, just trying to be even keel and make the saves that help your team win.”
The Bruins new No.3 goalie may be a forward
Thomas wasn’t the only Bruin making highlight reel saves against the Canadiens. Caught on the other side of the net trying to deny Mike Cammalleri, Thomas could only watch as the pass went across to a wide-open Tomas Plekanec at the other side of the net. That’s when Boston forward Michael Ryder channeled his inner goalie:
After watching that glove save it should come as no surprise to learn Ryder was once a ball-hockey goalie, which is perfect in Boston since that’s also a description often used to describe Thomas and his acrobatic stops.
“That was a great save,” Thomas told the Boston Globe. “He probably knows what it’s like to be one of the old goalies without a mask more than I do.”
Islanders will ‘toll’ Nabokov contract, but may not keep him long
It looks like everyone that piled on Islanders’ Garth Snow for claiming and exiling Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov off waivers from Detroit this season may owe the New York General Manager something of an apology (consider this InGoal’s mea culpa). With the decision to toll Nabokov’s bargain $570,000 contract, as first reported by New York Newsday, after Nabokov refused to report to the Islanders, Snow will have the deal extended to next season, giving himself a nice bargaining chip.
Unable to trade Nabokov the season he was claimed without first waiving him through the league (and clearly any team interested would have just claimed him rather than trade for him), Snow now has the ability to trade Nabokov after the season ends. And with that price tag (all the Red Wings could afford under the salary cap after Nabokov left Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League mid-season), it’s hard to imagine he won’t find a fair bit of interest.
“He was signed by Detroit and put on waivers,” Snow told Newsday. “We claimed him and he didn’t report. Therefore, we had to suspend him, and it’s within our right to toll the contract. … If we were to entertain something like (a trade), it would be after the playoffs. The phase we’re in right now is that we just finished up our exit meetings and we have to go through scouts meeting and look at any avenue to make the team better.”
The Islanders already have Rick Dipietro on a long-term deal, recently re-signed highly successful waiver-wire pick up Al Montoya, and also have promising prospects in Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen. Nabokov, meanwhile, can improve his stock with a strong showing at the upcoming World Championships in Slovakia, as Snow has reportedly consented to allow him to play after initially balking at requests from Russia to grant permission.
Nabokov originally inked a deal to return to the NHL with Detroit, but because he began the season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, he had to pass through re-entry waivers first. When the Islanders claimed him, he refused to report and subsequently was suspended.
Luongo’s startling playoff numbers against the Blackhawks
The manner in which Chicago is picking apart Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks overall was dissected in full by InGoal already, but even if the goalie isn’t alone in the blame game, it’s hard to ignore some of his statistics against the Blackhawks amidst the numerous calls for Schneider to start Game 6 Sunday.
Luongo’s playoff numbers against every other team are: an 8-2 record, a 2.17 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Against Chicago he is 7-10, with a 3.56 goals against and an .887 save percentage, has given up five or more goals six times in 17 post-season starts, been pulled from his past two, and lost the last two series.
As the Canucks skate into Game 6 behind Luongo with their 3-0 series lead now down to 3-2, however, even the Blackhawks are pointing out it’s not all on the goaltender. In a great story in the Vancouver Province that explored many of the same things talked about here at InGoal, including how Chicago goalie coach Stephane Waite is behind the annual dissection of the Canucks, several Hawks came to Luongo’s defense:
“I actually have empathy for him, unravelling or whatever you want to call it,” backup Marty Turco told the Province. “There is so much pressure on him. People say he’s unravelled but I think he’s handled it pretty friggin’ good. It’s not easy and it’s because he’s such a competitor. If he didn’t give two rats, maybe it would be easier. People love to see others fall down, whether it’s his fault or not, they just don’t care. Those are just some really good goals beating him. There’s not much a guy is going to do. He stopped breakaways, and he made great saves. But pucks are going to go in when you have great shooters.”
Of course given those numbers above, maybe the Blackhawks just want to be sure Luongo stays in goal.
Crawford also enjoying showdown with old goalie school teammate
Lost somewhat amid all the Luongo talk is the fact he’s up against an old goalie school mate in Corey Crawford, who has so far outplayed his Canucks counterpart (though he too is quick to point out it has something to do with what is going on in front of them). Luongo and Crawford are both represented by agent Gilles Lupien, who organizes an annual late summer goalie school with Francois Allaire for his clients in Montreal.
The list of NHL goalies past, present and future that attend is a long one, so it’s not unusual for two to meet without many noticing. Still, given the age difference Crawford told The Province their past adds some extra motivation for future bragging rights:
“It’s weird because I was practising with him when I was 15 or 16 on the ice in the summer with him at goalie school, so now to be competing against him in the playoffs is kind of cool. I want to beat him really bad and I’m sure he does, too.”