InGoal Daily Update: Eastern Conference All Star Game
… Plus what’s next for James Reimer, Backstrom’s hip health, Lundqvist’s assist streak, premature use of VH in New York, Corey Crawford’s slow rise in Chicago and more in Jan 12 Daily Update.
Boston’s Tim Thomas celebrated Tuesday’s selection to this year’s All Star Game by making 31 saves to post his league-leading sixth shutout of the season over the free-falling Ottawa Senators later that night.
Thanks to a surgically repaired hip, Thomas is well on his way to a second Vezina Trophy in the three seasons, and a no-brainer for selection by the league after fans voted Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury into the annual shinny showcase. Thomas, who was the winning goaltender at the last two All Star Games (there wasn’t one with the Olympics last season) now also leads the league 1.77 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.
Thomas and Fleury will be joined between the pipes in Raleigh, North Carolina on Jan. 30 by Carolina’s Cam Ward, Montreal’s Carey Price, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller, who was the only Western Conference goalie chosen among six spots. If that seems curious, it’s hard to argue with any of the goalies selected, and there were really only two west-based goalies that warranted consideration.
Tops among them is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who has allowed one goal in each of a five-game win streak and currently sits fifth in the NHL with a .928 save percentage. But the big Finn has only played 27 games due to injuries, including a three-week absence in December after knee surgery that may have hurt his chances.
Beyond that, however, the only other real Western Conference oversight might be Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, who after his usual slow start to the season has posted a 13-1-2 record, a .937 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average since the Canucks started a franchise-record streak in late November. (Los Angeles Kings No.1 Jonathan Quick also would have been a good pick a month ago, but has struggled since). Luongo denied reports he begged out of the contest, which he skipped three years ago, after the recent birth of his second child, but didn’t deny the time off would make it easier to bring his family back to Vancouver from Florida.
As for any perceived slight, Luongo wasn’t worried. Besides, it’s hard to argue any eastern bias when Atlanta’s Ondrej Pavelec, who is second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage after recovering from his season opening fainting spell and the resulting concussion, was somehow left out of the game.
Among the All-Star selections, Ward’s name might stand out as a surprise for some who haven’t been paying close enough attention to the Carolina Hurricanes’ unlikely playoff push being led largely by the low-key goaltender. Some may even dismiss it as a hometown selection for the Game’s hosts, but as ESPN.com writer Scott Burnside detailed in a good story, Ward deserves to be in a spotlight he’d probably prefer to avoid. Ward is sixth in the NHL with a .925 save percentage, but third among goalies who have played 30 or more games, and trails only Hiller in saves.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner as Stanley Cup playoff MVP in his rookie season, Ward has endured more than his share of injuries in a young career, highlighted by back problems last season that cost him a shot at the Canadian Olympic team and dropped him off most people’s radar. But as he told InGoal at the start of the season, he is healthy again and looking forward to challenging for a job at the 2014 Games, thanks in part to discovering Pilates in the offseason, something he told ESPN.com he still takes heat for in the locker room, but something InGoal readers will already know is becoming common practice (along with Yoga) for NHL goalies.
Backstrom’s sore hip not nearly as bad as feared
Good news out of Minnesota, where the Star Tribune is reporting that goalie Niklas Backstrom’s visit to renowned hip surgeon Dr. Marc Philippon has resulted in a diagnosis of a strained left hip flexor, and that the Wild goalie only needs rest and could be back next week. That’s welcome news for Backstrom, who blamed thinner knee stacks mandated by the NHL for surgery to repair a torn labrum in the same hip two years ago, as presented in InGoal’s feature on the links between butterfly goalies and hip problems.
Lundqvist lends a helping hand, but laments winner
Lundqvist followed up his All Star announcement by showing he can help offensively too, dishing out an assist for a third-straight game to help open the scoring Tuesday against Montreal. While there is some debate about whether or not Lundqvist actually has a three-game point streak because he dressed for one game in between as the backup to Martin Biron, there is no question he leads NHL goalies with three assists.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he also becomes just the third goalie ever to record assists in three straight starts, joining Tom Barrasso, who did it twice (first in 1984-85 and again in 1988-89) and Ed Belfour (2001-02) after helping set up Brandon Dubinsky’s partial breakaway goal just 4:15 into the game.
Lundqvist finished with 36 saves and is now 11-5-2 with a 1.79 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and three shutouts in his last 18 games, but lamented not stopping Benoit Pouliot’s late winner, which much like opening goal against Alex Auld was a product of premature use of VH, or one-pad down technique that can leave goalies stuck in a blocking position and unable to react to shots like this one:
“I should have it,” Lundqvist said. “He took a real good shot, but it doesn’t matter from that angle. I should have it. I always play like that from the angle down there, but I should keep my chest up a little bit more. It probably would’ve hit my shoulder. I got a little surprised by how hard he shot it. But I should make the save.”
Speaking of VH saves and Auld, the seldom-used Montreal Canadiens backup overcame a slightly premature activation of the blocking technique on the first goal (video below) to make 25 saves and beat his one-time former team. He is now 3-2-0 on the season with a .941 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average this season, all of which fits well with the Ask A Pro segment that InGoal conducted with Auld earlier this season, a Q-and-A session that included insights into dealing with sporadic starts and the evolution of VH.
As for how well he’s handled the down time behind Price, Auld appears to be earning more time in the future, with head coach Jacques Martin saying he planned to play his backup more in the second half.
“I know if I want to play, I have to win,” Auldin New York. “I want to get (wins) so they know they can put me back in there. It’s nice to get in there so soon.”
Reimer wins back to back after hearing he’s headed to AHL
So how does Toronto’s Ron Wilson follow up on his statements about sending James Reimer back to the AHL when Jean-Sebastien Giguere is healthy again later this week after the rookie goaltender was primarily responsible for getting his head coach win No. 600 on Tuesday night?
One night after a win in Los Angeles, Reimer made 40 saves to beat the San Jose Sharks, giving Wilson the historic win in a building he spent so long coaching. His best decision of late has been playing Reimer ahead of Jonas Gustavsson, but the latter’s need to clear waivers makes it impossible to send him down instead.
“We got great goaltending from Reimer – he was unbelievable when we needed him,” Wilson said.
Crawford’s doubted he’d rise to NHL, let alone No.1 in Chicago
Corey Crawford is having a good season in Chicago, but is far from an overnight success story. Crawford was drafted in the second round, 53rd overall, by the Blackhawks back in 2003, but had to wait patiently in the American League while watching the likes of Patrick Lalime, Cristobal Huet, Antii Niemi and, this year, Marty Turco, were brought into the organization ahead of him. He shared his thoughts on the long road to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks website, including an interesting quote about his mindset:
“My thought process was if I wasn’t here then I wasn’t good enough,” said Crawford. “Sometimes you have doubts in your mind about making it. … There are guys that I’ve seen that haven’t made the next step that had the skill, but weren’t strong enough mentally to make it to the next level.”
One-timers from around the world of goaltending
Minnesota Wild puck-stopping prospect Matt Hackett made a gutsy decision over the weekend by going to his head coach with the Houston Aeros and asking to play again two nights after recording a shutout. Not the kind of thing most rookie pros get away with, but as the Houston Press reports in its blog, it paid off for Hackett, who has endured an inconsistent season but seems to be reaping the rewards of a weekend with well regarded Wild goalie coach Bob Mason.
Sticking with the AHL, Leland Irving is having a strong season with the Calgary Flames top farm club, the Abbotsford Heat, but getting pulled after two goals on nine shots over the weekend probably won’t make the highlight reels for the former first-round draft pick. His response and mindset afterwards, as detailed in the Langley Advance, however, should stand as an example to goalies everywhere about how to deal with the ups and downs that inevitably come in any season.