Ingoal Update: Schneider getting props and mocking in Vancouver
… Plus Holtby stopping pucks, but how he handles them may give leg up in Washington, McElhinney has a strong Senators debut; Hedberg content to watch Brodeur; Price getting Hart Trophy buzz, and more in the March 12-13 Update
Cory Schneider is making quite an impression in his first full NHL season.
In just 20 appearances this season, the 24-year-old has earned the respect of his puck-stopping peers, a few trade requests from opposing NHL teams, and more starts that any other Canucks backup since No.1 Roberto Luongo arrived in a trade from Florida five seasons ago. Schneider has even matched or slightly bettered Luongo’s statistics this season, going 13-3-2 with a .927 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average, and even creating some minor “goalie controversy” buzz back in Vancouver after a 44-save 5-4 shootout victory in San Jose on Thursday night, his second win in four games.
Schneider is still a rookie, though, and as the video below shows, teammate Ryan Kesler wasn’t above a little good-natured hazing to remind him of that, donning Luongo’s mask during a post-game interview following Thursday’s 44-save win over the Sharks:
Luongo was back in goal for Saturday’s 4-3 win in Calgary, is now top-5 in the NHL in wins (third with 32), goals-against average (fourth at 2.24), and save percentage (tied fourth at .924), and has another 11 seasons after this one left on a 12-year contract worth $64 million, all of which has led to plenty of speculation Schneider will soon be dealt. Asthat couple have helped the Canucks win now.
Gillis, though, isn’t rushing into any deals, even if giant Swedish rookie Eddie Lack looks closer to NHL ready than anyone expected in his first pro season in North America. With Schneider under contract another season at a bargain $900,000 before becoming a restricted free agent two summers from now, the Canucks see a lot of value in finally being able to follow through on five years of promises to play Luongo less, a plan that has Vancouver contending for its first Jennings Trophy for the lowest goals against.
“I think it’s working out, don’t you?” Luongo told the Vancouver Sun of the job share with Schneider. “I feel great. A lot of it has to do with my game right now and where it’s at, how it has evolved in the last few months. But I do feel more energized now. I don’t know if I can attribute it to playing less, but it’s great.”
While they won’t say it publicly, the Canucks must also be aware of the post-lockout trend towards needed two goalies to get to the Stanley Cup Finals, and know that Schneider is a pretty good option should Luongo suddenly falter again after April.
Another new puck-stopping – and moving – saviour in Washington?
With the merry go round in the Capitals’ crease this season, another new name has appeared on the list of candidates to lead the team into the playoffs this spring. With 11 games under his belt in place of the injured plagued tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, 21-year-old Saskatchewan native Braden Holtby has 7-2 record and stellar .934 save percentage after making 40 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and Cam Ward, another goalie whose play has been beyond reproach, on Friday.
After stopping 173 of 177 shots in his last six games, Holtby earned this approval from Caps coach Bruce Boudreau:
“He’s making it tough,” Boudreau said. “There are three really good goalies and he obviously doesn’t want to leave the net. He’s obviously doing a good job.”
If there’s one thing the athletic Holtby does better than the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s handle the puck. There were some close calls and suggestions he tried to do too much after a couple of close calls against Carolina. But as Boudreau told beat writer Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, he prefers a puck handling goalie to one that never comes out of their crease to help out:
“Being here I’ve had to get used to it, but on the same token if you’ve got a goaltender that can play the puck well, what an added bonus,” Boudreau told The Post. “That forces teams to not be able to dump pucks in. When [Rick] DiPietro was at his best there was one game we played them we only had 13 shots on goal because every time we shot it in he got it out – and on the tape. It’s a real big help if you can get a goalie that can play the puck.”
Holtby told The Post it took a little while for coaches in AHL Hershey to get used to how much he liked to play the puck, but hasn’t met a defenseman yet that doesn’t prefer a goaltender who will venture out of the crease to help them out:
“I think sometimes (coaches are) a little scared to jump out of the box because if you do get scored on that way it looks bad,” Holtby said, “But when you look at and all the shots it saves you it’s a pretty big difference and injuries for defensemen it’s huge.”
Another new Senators goalie can do no wrong
After acquiring Craig Anderson from Colorado and watching him post a 6-3 record in the nation’s capital, Ottawa finally started Curtis McElhinney Friday against the Tampa Bay team they claimed him off waivers from (shortly after being traded there from Anaheim).
McElhinney responded with an amazing first star performance in a 2-1 victory, saving his best for the third period, when the Lightning peppered him with 20 shots in a failed attempt to tie the game. It was a vindication of sorts for the soft-spoken McElhinney, who spent one day as a member of the Lightning before being placed on waivers and claimed by Ottawa, but insisted he held no grudge.
“It was such a short stay here, and I was on a plane right away after one skate,” he said. “Those things happen, but it was a great thing that happened. (Anderson has) being playing phenomenal for a while, but for me to get a chance to jump in there and contribute felt great. To go out and put up a good performance and the guys score a few goals, it felt good.”
No Whitehouse but no poorhouse either for Niemi
Is Antti Niemi having his revenge on the Blackhawks’ team that refused to sign the Stanley Cup winning goalie once he helped them win their first championship in 49 years? After spending the early part of the year tinkering with his style he went on a tear, securing the number one job, going 17-3-1 and signing a four-year ,$15.2 million contract.
His former Blackhawk team, meanwhile, spent Friday at the Whitehouse, and while it is hard to see from the press photos, several reports indicated former starter Cristobal Huet was part of the celebration. Could the 35-year-old French-born stopper, who was loaned to Fribourg in the Swiss League this season after losing the starting job last season to Niemi, eventually be headed back to the NHL? Not until his current contractwith Chicago, worth $5.6-million a season and being paid by the Blackhawks in its entirety while he is playing in Europe, expires after next season.
Hedberg’s life as a backup: ‘It’s just the world I’m living in’
Only someone who has played goal could truly imagine what it’s like to fill the role of backup, especially to an ironman like Marty Brodeur, he of the 1100-plus regular season games played in his illustrious 16 year career.
With those kinds of stats, few would find it unusual that Johan Hedberg failed to get the call against his former team, the Atlanta Thrashers, for their Friday night matchup (which ended in a 3-2 OT win for the resurrected Devils). The reality, in fact, is that Hedberg’s numbers this year are better than his future hall of famer counterpart’s (Hedberg’s record is 13-11-2 with a .913 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average while Brodeur is 17-20-2 with a .902 save percentage and 2.55 GAA.).
When asked about whether he was surprised by Coach Jacques Lemaire’s decision to reverse an earlier pledge to continue playing the guy who won the last game (Brodeur was coming off a loss), Hedberg politely and prosaically replied:
“No I’m not; Marty’s been playing great” but then added “It’s just the world I’m living in…”
No one could accuse a guy like Hedberg of abusing his seemingly comfortable position as backup to someone who is arguably the world’s steadiest goalie. For the record, during the middle two weeks of February, Hedberg won seven straight, with a stunning 1.00 GAA and two shutouts. Here’s what Hedberg had to say to NHL.com’s John Manasso about the unique and somewhat schizophrenic existence of the backup:
If you would have told me earlier in the year that that (one goalie would start until he lost) would be the case with me and Marty, I wouldn’t have believed you any way,” he said. “I’m very happy I’ve gotten the chance to play and contribute to the team and things are going well for the team and Marty’s track record you can’t really question, so I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team out with this decision and whenever I get called upon, I’ll be ready. I’ve been in this situation before where I’ve been the backup on teams and I’ve been counted on to play. … When I walk into a season, I don’t make any expectations. Something can happen during the year that will turn everything around any way. It’s a marathon. There’s so many things that happen. You might be sitting on the bench for 15 games and then play the next 20. It was fun to get an opportunity to play and fun to get in the groove.”
It’s interesting to note that while the prevailing mentality is that successful goalies are always people with type-A personalities who want the net, it takes a special kind of person who can accept riding in the back seat, yet still maintain a keen level of intensity when called upon. A recent interview with Habs’ duo Crey Price and Alex Auld clearly illustrates this contrast.
Should Canadiens’ Carey Price get consideration for the Hart Trophy as MVP?
Speaking of Price, in spite of his recent 4-1 loss to former partner and 2010 playoff hero Jaroslav Halak (Halak’s Blues easily defeated a visiting Montreal squad seemingly still preoccupied by the aftermath of the Max Pacioretty injury), talk has begun about putting his name up for the Hart trophy, especially since Sidney Crosby’s season seems close to being officially over due to a concussion.
Some might chalk up such banter simply to the rabid Montreal media (ever watch the media scrum after a regular season game in Montreal, where journalists in the dressing room are as numerous as the players?), but you can take a look at the numbers compiled by Stephane Laberge of French language RDS and decide for yourself: As of March 10th, Price had been in goal for 86.5 per cent of his team’s victories (32 of 37 wins). That is only fourth best (behind Carolina’s Cam Ward, Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller), but those three teams are sixth, eighth and 10th in NHL scoring. The Habs are 21st.
So Price doesn’t have many guns blazing for him should he turn in a less than perfect performance on any given night. Meanwhile, he is leads the league in games (61) and minutes (3,620) played, is tied (with Detroit’s Jimmy Howard) for victories with 33, and trails only Henrik Lundqvist with eight shutouts after a 26-save blanking of Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.
Only Ward has seen more rubber (1,822) and made more saves (1,684) this year.
So maybe Price should be a Hart candidate.