InGoal Update: Another defining moment for Wings’ Howard
Plus: Playoff experience elsewhere helps Neuvirth stays cool, calm in the Stanley Cup storm; Maple Leafs sign rap-star Swedish stopper; conflicting styles at work in NHL postseason, and more in the April 30 update
With a second-round rematch against the team that knocked his Detroit Red Wings out of the playoffs last year, Jimmy Howard was asked whether it represented a defining moment in his career.
It’s a question the Red Wings No.1 has evidently heard a lot in his two seasons as the starter.
When you tend twine for a team with Stanley Cup expectations every spring, it’s part of the job description.
If Chris Osgood is any indication, the question don’t stop even when you win.
“When isn’t it a defining moment for me?” Howard responded to the Detroit Free Press with a good laugh. “Whenever I turn around, it’s a defining moment for me.”
Howard then pointed to Chris Osgood’s stall.
“That guy is still proving himself,” he said, “and he’s got three Cups.”
Howard was one of the few Wings that went into Game 1 against San Jose Friday openly talking about revenge, but he did so while also making it clear he couldn’t try any harder to exact it. For Howard, it’s all about maintaining the same game that got him the job and into the second round again – an aggressive, top of the crease style that the Coyotes failed to break down in the first round – and not trying to do too much to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
“(Last year) is in the back of a lot of guys’ heads,” Howard told the Free Press, “And that will be motivation. I’m just going to try and play the same that I did against Phoenix. I’m not trying to be spectacular, but make the saves when called upon. And try to come up with the one or two that you shouldn’t.”
Howard certainly had a few of the latter while making 44 saves in the first one, but might consider the overtime goal in a 2-1 loss one of the former, as he was late establishing his signature well-beyond-the-blue positioning and got caught moving by a deflection that went between his legs before he could get down and sealed:
Calm, experienced Neuvirth lets actions do the talking
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is one boss who doesn’t feel the need to talk much to his goalie, with whom his communication is reportedly limited to saying “Good morning” and nothing more.
Judging by netminder Michal Neuvirth’s playoff performances, Boudreau must be following the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. In reality, things between the pipes are just a tad better then not broken.
In the first-round series against the Rangers, Neuvirth stopped 140 of 148 shots, posted a 1.38 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, put up two wins in overtime, and a shutout in Game 2. The 23-year-old rookie simply was better than New York star Henrik Lundqvist, who by no means failed to perform in the five games.
After disposing of Lundqvist, Neuvirth and the Caps faced the NHL’s most senior netminder, Dwayne Roloson, in the second round, and in Game 1 Friday it was the 41-year-old master who imposed his will on a younger accolyte, with Roloson surviving a somewhat shaky start to win the game 4-2 (with an empty net goal). Going into the second period leading, Neuvirth was rung for two goals, one a rather fluky deflected pass through the crease, the second a power play marker by Steven Stamkos in which he got pulled off his post. A review of the highlights (below) shows that Neuvirth’s play was not lacking; if anything, the game-changing deflected goal was an unlucky one:
The Capitals have good reason to put their faith in Neuvirth bouncing back quickly from the loss. It starts with his calm, collected mannerisms both on and off the ice – he plays with quiet, efficient, but still explosive when needed style reminiscent of a smaller Carey Price – that has a settling influence on those in front of him.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” defenseman Scott Hannan, who tipped the goal in, told the Associated Press on the eve of the second round. “It’s a good thing to have in a goalie. Bad bounces can happen, and good shots, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do. And the way he’s able to leave those in the past and move forward, it’s a great demeanor to have, especially in a goalie.”
For Neuvirth it comes from experience. For all that was made of his lack of NHL playoff pedigree as the Capitals juggled three goalies down the stretch and arguments abounded over whether to use him, Semyon Varlamov or even Braden Holtby, in the postseason, Neuvirth has never lost a series. And he’s played 14 of them.
In 2007, Neuvirth went 14-4 and led the Plymouth Whalers to their first Ontario Hockey League title and a Memorial Cup berth. Two years later, he was named American League playoff MVP after backstopping the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup championship, and last season he won a second straight AHL title.
“It’s not always easy,” Neuvirth, who was 30-10 in the past two AHL playoffs, said of being the No. 1 goalie come springtime. “You have to go through tough times, and you’ve got to handle the pressure in the playoffs.”
So far, so good, though goalie coach Arturs Irbe knows there’s a competitor beneath that calm.
“He’s just as dry as they come,” Irbe told the Associated Press. “No, it’s the surface. And that’s the way we want that surface to be. … He’s a fiery, competitive guy, but you won’t ever see it.”
Luongo, Rinne another great example of contrasting styles
A fair amount of discussion has taken place these playoffs about the contrasting styles of the various goalies, in particular the depth issue. Whereas goalies like Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo have priorized a deeper, inside out style, others like Rinne, Howard and Roloson have a wider range of movement, regularly venturing out into the white ice.
On Thursday night, Rinne’s technique proved effective, as he maintained a high stance and an aggressive positioning in spite of many shots with screens, traffic and low-post rebound options in front. Also of note was his velcro-esque ability to stifle rebounds, as shown in these clips which were only two of a number in his first star performance:
Price’s status unquestioned even with loss to Bruins
While the Canadiens have failed to repeat their heroics of last spring, media and public sentiment in Montreal was distinctly positive for a team that failed to exit the first round, and Carey Price seems to have unequivocally cemented his status as the Canadiens man of confidence between the pipes.
Surprising and inspiring considering that a year ago he was completely lost in the shadow of Jaroslav Halak.
On a technical note, it is worth pointing out how Price brought some changes to his game, both in an obvious mental sense and a more subtle strategic one. Virtually absent this year were the goals where he seemed to stop fighting on a rebound, or where he ended up deep in the goal and down early, playing percentages more than reading the play.
A clear example of this focus is seen in the following clip, where Price makes three saves that require a long lateral push. Of particular interest is how he regains a more erect position between each save, even while in emergency mode, pushing back to his feet with his torso square and high rather than just stretching with his legs.
A year ago he might more likely have played this entire sequence on his knees:
Contrast that with Roberto Luongo’s reaction on the winning goal in Game 6 versus the Blackhawks, where a first save leads to a loss of body balance and a subsequent vulnerable belly spread position on the following shot (it is worth noting that a rather similar circumstance occurred in the first goal the Hawks scored in Game 7 as well):
What up? New Leafs’ prospect knows how to bust a rhyme
Those of us old enough to remember how radical it was when the 1970’s era Leafs signed the first Swedish players to their roster can now delight in the news that Toronto has just come to terms with a new breed of Swede. Forty years after Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom arrived in Toronto comes Mark Owuya, a goalie who not only can bust a move on the ice but can do it on the mike as well. No one has ever accused deadpan GM Brian Burke of being a publicity stuntman, but one look at MC “Mark in da park” on stage might at least raise an eyebrow or two:
Before you ‘diss Owuya outright, consider that he was one of the goalies on Sweden’s 2009 silver medal world junior team. He also posted a 2.18 goals against average and league leading .927 save percentage with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League. Burke signed the 6-foot-2 netminder to a two-year entry level deal despite the fact San Jose had also made a bid for his services.
Should Owuya ever crack the roster, he’ll join the list of Maple Leaf goalies with eclectic monikers like “Optimus Reim”, “Jiggy” and “the Monster.” Hey, maybe they’ll form a band…
Almost every hockey player has been told from the start that it is necessary to have a backup plan should the dream of the big leagues not pan out. Here is one goalie who has obviously taken that advice to heart. For more on Mark in da park, check his website at wwwmarkindapark.com
Visentin bounces back from gold medal loss as OHL Goalie of the Year
Knowing how for millions of Canadians the World Junior Championship occupies a position of importance on par with Christmas turkey, it is clear that goalie Mark Visentin was under the microscope last December, having been the country’s starting goalie. When the Canadian team squandered a 3-0 lead to Russia and lost the game 5-3 it was called the “greatest collapse in the history of WJC”.
While Visentin did not escape criticism after the return home from Buffalo, he clearly put the heartbreaker behind him, this week being named the OHL’s goalie of the year. Moreover, he was the first ever member of the Niagara IceDogs to win a major award. It was the logical outcome to a banner season, with the 18-year-old putting up a 30-9-4-2 record, league-best 0.917 save percentage and twice earning CHL Goaltender of the Week honours.
While the gold medal meltdown caused much debate among fans, it did not prevent the Phoenix Coyotes from signing Visentin to a three-year entry level contract. Although big things seem headed his way, the promising netminder seems well-grounded, as he commented to the St. Catherines Standard:
It’s nice to find out you’re rewarded for hard work, but at the same time, it’s things that you can’t really let affect yourself. I’ve seen a lot of players in the past who have signed a pro contact and put it to waste by just becoming lazy and not working out. The way I look at it, I take my past success and just keep it with me, and that allows me to work harder in the future. The biggest thing for me is to not get too high on myself and realize what the task is for the upcoming summer and next year.
Well said indeed. And as far as the albatross of the WJC “epic fail”, as some put the 5-3 gold medal loss, one need only look at a goalie named Marc André Fleury, who survived scoring into his own net in the gold medal game defeat in 2004 to go on to a rather bright career in the NHL. For a look at Visentin in action, check this save reminsicent of several that we have seen these NHL playoffs: