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InGoal Update: Holtby tops podium as NHL star of the week

InGoal Update: Holtby tops podium as NHL star of the week

… Plus Quick hits the record book in Los Angeles, Osgood hits the ice in Detroit; concussions hit home throughout the NHL; Reimer hits a wall in Toronto, and more in the March 15 Update

Braden Holtby, pictured here with the Hershey Bears, is having an immediate impact in Washington

On Saturday the InGoal Magazine update featured a story about Braden Holtby, Washington’s latest man of the hour in goal, and how his puckhandling gave him an advantage over incumbents Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov.

Turns out the 21-year-old is pretty good at stopping the puck too.

Washington’s latest rookie netminder was named the NHL’s first star of the week after a perfect 4-0-0 run that included victories over Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Carolina and a nail-biting 4-3 overtime win against Chicago on Sunday.

It’s hard to find fault in a performance that featured a .965 save percentage and a stingy 1.05 goals-against average.

Holtby is just one of a number of fresh faces in the NHL net this season; goalies who are maybe too young to fully grasp the amplitude of their exploits on the big stage. To get a glimpse of where the fleet-footed Holtby was just one short year ago, here is an impressive clip of him during the rapid fire contest at the 2010 ECHL – that’s right, the ECHL – All-Star game:

Now, thanks to his stellar work of late, the rejuvenated Caps have passed the 90-point mark and moved into second place in the NHL – just one point behind Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference – with the regular season reaching its final stretch.

The question is where Holtby will be come playoffs.

He got his latest chance this season with Varlamov once again hurt (a knee injury this time) and Neuvirth briefly out after a piece of his mask ended up in his eye from a hard slap shot. But Neuvirth, who had won four straight before getting hit, is on the bench waiting to get back in, and there are reports Varlamov will be ready to return by the end of the week, leaving the streaking Capitals, who are about to start a six-game, 12-day road trip, with a tough decision.

The other two have more experience, but at just 22 years old themselves, not a lot.

Neuvirth, though, did carry the Hershey Bears to back-to-back Calder Cup championships in the AHL the last two season, both while playing ahead of Holtby in Hershey. And with just 12 games left there’s something to be said for getting him in a rhythm.

Based on his comments in The Washington Post, Neuvirth feels the same way:

“I definitely want to get back in the net and do good,” he said. “Playing every game is more comfortable for every goalie. Your confidence is there all the time. Your focus is there all the time. As a goalie, I would like to play every game.”

Holtby, meanwhile, told The Post in a separate story that not knowing all the NHL shooters is a lot like playing in the AHL, and forces him to rely more on instincts and reacting:

“Especially in the AHL, because you maybe know of four or five guys and you’ve maybe played against two of them on a team,” Holtby said. “So you’re facing a lot of guys that you’ve never seen before. You’ve just got to go and do it, and react a bit more. It helps you in the long run because you’re not cheating towards anything or getting away with things that you can do because you know people’s tendencies. You have to play everything honestly.”

Quick leaves his mark in Kings record book

Goalie Jonathan Quick

King's Goalie Jonathan Quick has some of the fastest feet in the game. Photo by Scott Slingsby

Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick passed the 30 win mark for the second time in as many years this weekend (he won 39 last year), becoming the first Kings’ stopper to do so more than once in team history, let alone in consecutive seasons.

It seems hard to believe for a franchise that has been around 43 years, but check the tale of the the tape: 62 goalies have played for the Kings, and even the great Rogie Vachon was never able to win 30 games more than once (though he did come close, in an era when there were no shootouts):

Mathieu Garon made it once (31 victories in 2005-06)

Felix Potvin posted 31 wins in 2001-02

Kelly Hrudey never managed to do it (best was 28 wins in 88-89)

Rogie Vachon had 33 wins in 1976-77 and 29 in 1977-78

Goalies get concussions too

With all the controversy and continuing debate about Zdeno’s Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty, it’s easy to forget goalies get concussions too. Tampa Bay’s Mike Smith missed significant time with two head injuries, including one from a shot off the mask. San Jose prospect Tyson Sexsmith recently missed the start of a good AHL opportunity after getting dinged on the lid during a practice shortly after being called up from the ECHL. And most famously New York Rangers’ star Mike Richter’s career was cut short by concussions.

The there is Brad Madigan, a 19-year-old goalie from Aurora, Ontario, who two years after a series of concussion incidents at the Midget AA level, continues to struggle to get back to a normal life. The interview in question comes from a February edition of CBC Radio’s documentary program The Current. For this particular special on head injuries in sports, the guest host was none other than former NHL player Theo Fleury. Try not to feel a lump in your throat as you hear Madigan’s emotional account (his interview begins 5 minutes into segment 2 of the program; just click on the interview icon). His testimony is all the more significant today, with the NHL trying to address the concussion epidemic at its General Manager meetings in Florida this week.

Osgood in, MacDonald out

Joey MacDonald’s latest taste of life in the major leagues in Detroit has been cut short at just 10 games, as he was sent back to Grand Rapids of the AHL when Chris Osgood was taken off the Red Wings’ injured reserve list and activated today.

Osgood’s return, a little more than two months after a sports hernia injury, proves that his 17-year NHL career still has a few more miles – or at least another month – to run. With only 11 games under his belt this season (and a 5-3-2 record, 2.77 goals against average and .903 save percentage), it is expected that his reinsertion into the lineup will mean a bit of rest for workhorse Jimmy Howard (who has played 53 games and 3000+ minutes) at a crucial juncture before the playoff marathon begins.

The Wings play back to back matches Wednesday and Thursday, but Coach Mike Babcock was playing his cards close to his sleeve when he spoke to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press about whether Osgood would get the call for the second game in Columbus:

“I want to win games” Babcock said. “Whatever gives us the best chance to win, that’s what we’re going to do.”

If Joey MacDonald is feeling a bit down due to his demotion to Grand Rapids, there is no way of predicting when injury or a change in plans will see his return (photo by Scott Slingsby)

As an aside, sports hernia injuries are most frequently associated with soccer and hockey players, for the twisting motion they make when kicking a ball or taking a slapshot. Obviously Osgood does not fit that bill, but the injury for players and goalies is a problematic one that is often very hard to diagnose. In recent years a new, less invasive surgical technique called laparoscopic surgery has allowed the recovery time to be cut in half (imagine that they can staple a piece of mesh to the abdominal wall to reinforce it!).  

Osgood corresponds to that description, having returned to duty in just over six weeks. For more on what is sometimes called “slapshot gut”, check this article by

Parting shot: what’s in a name?

Optimus Reim t-shirts are available for fans of James Reimer. (Image courtesy of Pucking Hilarious)

Today’s update began with news about Capitals’ rookie phenom Braden Holtby. If you are a Leafs’ fan, Holtby’s early accolades still can’t match the quick-start mojo of their own first-year sensation James Reimer, who had a bit of the air let out of his balloon after getting pulled in a playoff-hope crushing 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

As is the case in Montreal, everything that happens with what some like to call “Canada’s team” in Toronto (I know there will be scores of Canuck fans screaming bloody murder at this one) tends to be amplified to fever pitch. Is that the reason there is so much banter on the web about the guy they have taken to calling Optimus Reim? In the best tradition of classic monikers like “The Chicoutimi Cucumber” (Georges Vezina), “Mr. Zero” (Frank Brimsek) or “Jake the Snake” (Jacques Plante), Reimer seems to have developed a real name for himself. Not that the debate is over. Here are some of the other names in circulation for the guy who may yet lead the Leafs in the post-season:

The Reim Minister of Canada

The Reim Example

The Reim Directive (from Star Trek fame)

The Reim is the reason

James “Primetime” Reimer

And my personal favourite: “Roll up the Reim to win” (from the Tim Horton’s “Roll up the Rim To Win” coffee cup contest)

Some of these seem a bit silly, and all may be long forgotten if Reimer continues to fade. Fatigue appeared to be an issue as he struggled to track pucks and control rebounds before being pulled after five goals on 29 shots with 11 minutes left.

“He looked tired,” coach Ron Wilson told reporters after the loss left Toronto six points out of the playoffs with 12 games remaining.

Reimer was making his 12th consecutive start, but won’t play 12 more in a row (unless it’s in the postseason) as Wilson indicated Jean-Sebastien Giguere would start Wednesday in Carolina, a crucial game against a team just ahead of them in the standings.

As for Reimer, who turns 23 Tuesday, he was predictably hard on himself and didn’t blame fatigue.

“I could probably use it as an excuse but even if it was the case, I’m a professional athlete. I have to find ways to stay focused, keep my head in the game and keep my body at a competitive level. I think I’ve been doing that,” Reimer told the Toronto Star

“At the end of the day, I didn’t get the job done.”

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