InGoal Update: Halak back, Bishop demoted by Blues
… Plus rookie Robin Lehner put in a really tough spot in Senators system; Backstrom stunned by Budaj’s scrap challenge; Crazy goalie Bryzgalov tears up in Phoenix; and more in the March 9 Daily Update.
Jaroslav Halak is back with the Blues after missing more than three weeks with a fractured hand.
The St. Louis stopper was expected to start Wednesday in Columbus, his first action since beating Vancouver back on Valentine’s Day, and admitted to the St. Louis Post Dispatch that it has been hard to watch from the sidelines as his team slid out of the tough Western Conference playoff race without him, going 4-7-0 behind rookie Ben Bishop and Ty Conklin.
Halak, who was 19-17-6 with a 2.63 goals against average, .907 save percentage and four shutouts, originally missed a handful of games with what was diagnosed with a bruised blocker hand in late January. But after trying unsuccessfully to play through it the Blues revealed there was a cracked bone, and Halak came out of the lineup after the big Feb. 14 win over the league-leading Canucks.
“It’s always tough to sit out and watch,” Halak said. “I’ve been traveling with the team, and it’s been double tough for me. So I’m really happy to be back, and hopefully I can help us win some games. It still feels a little sore, but good enough to play. It’s a little sore, but nothing like before. Right now I can comfortably focus on hockey and play my game. … I’m a little anxious and happy that I can come back, and hopefully I can help the guys win some games.”
It sounds like he’ll get plenty of chance, with Blues’ bench boss Davis Payne indicating Halak would go back to back and play again Thursday at home against his old Canadiens teammates and the goalie he was traded to make room for in Montreal, Carey Price.
“We don’t feel at this point that conditioning is an issue,” Payne told The Post-Dispatch. “Obviously we want to get him back going. We well know who’s coming in (town) Thursday night and how that storyline plays out.”
Expectation of a heavy workload for Halak down the stretch played a role in the Blues decision to dispatch 6-foot-7 prospect Bishop back to Peoria in the AHL, electing to keep journeyman Conklin with the big club despite putting him on waivers earlier in the month. Bishop went 3-4-0 with a 2.76 goals-against average, .899 save percentage, and his first career shutout during his call up.
“We think Ben did a great job,” Payne said. “We think he took steps in the right direction.”
Lehner put in tough position with Senators farm club
While the demotion of Bishop makes sense heading into the AHL playoffs, a similarly applauded move by the Ottawa Senators with prized prospect Robin Lehner has put the 19-year-old Swede in a tough position with the farm club in Binghamton.
The problem is playing partner Barry Brust’s popularity.
Brust may be the only B-Sens player not also on an NHL contract in Ottawa, but his statistics this season – 24-13-1 with a .927 save percentage behind a team picked apart by call-ups – and status as the unquestioned fan favorite in Binghamton, where the most popular souvenir is a “In Brust We Trust” t-shirt, makes it hard for the coaches to start anyone else.
Lehner, meanwhile, has had some to-be-expected struggles amid all the back-and-forth of countless call ups to the NHL and a trip to the World Junior championships, and his willingness to speak his mind somehow hasn’t endeared him to the Binghamton fans.
All of which leaves coach Kurt Kleinendorst in a tough spot, he told the Ottawa Citizen in an:
“That’s a tough one, but the one thing that we’ve said from Day 1, the American Hockey League is all about development,” said Kleinendorst, who could be in line for a promotion to the NHL next season. “It affects all of us. It affects the big club because, obviously, we all know Robin needs to play because he is that guy, down the road, (who) is going to be the goalie of the future. Having said that, we wouldn’t be where we are if Barry Brust wasn’t the goalie that he has been. They’re both going to play and work very closely with (Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley), and we will find the right goalie for the right night.”
Brust’s play has already left NHL-contracted goalie Mike Brodeur, who recently spent some time with the big club, on the outside for the AHL playoffs, as the B-Sens left him off their clear day roster as he tries to battle back from a season of injuries. And Kleinendorst admitted to The Citizen his decision is tougher because of how much Brust means to the city:
“Binghamton is a blue collar town. Barry is a blue collar person, a blue collar goalie,” he says. “Barry has had a couple moments this year when he’s been able to stand up for teammates, and they just appreciate that. Not to mention he stops the puck and he wins hockey games.”
Part owner Tom Mitchell also compared Binghamton’s infatuation to one with former Senators goalie Ray Emery:
“He’s not bashful out there, and fans like that,” Mitchell told The Citizen. “Maybe since Ray Emery was here, there has not been one goalie that’s been really as steady as Barry’s been. Brian (Elliott) certainly had some great games here and others did too, but they had their stinkers too. But Barry’s been pretty, pretty steady.”
No matter what happens in Ottawa, where the tandem after a trade and waiver claim is not Craig Anderson and Curtis McElhinney, it will be Brust and Lehner in Binghamton. Stuck in AHL limbo, Brodeur will at least be the one called up in case of any injuries.
“Brodeur ended up hurt out of training camp, then he got hurt opening night – not a whole lot has gone his way,” Kleinendorst said. “He’ll just be that insurance policy. If a goalie gets hurt up in Ottawa, Robin needs to stay here. He needs to be a part of this, needs to play and needs to get some experience. And backing up isn’t the best experience for a young goalie.”
The question is whether he ends up doing that in the AHL anyways.
Bryzgalov shows his crazy goalie side in Phoenix
Amid all the speculation about the dimming future of the Coyotes in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic set out to give local fans a better chance to get to know their local NHL players. Not surprisingly they found a crazy goalie to include.
In the case of Ilya Bryzgalov, however, it goes beyond the Slap Shot Denis Lemieux stereotype.
Bryzgalov has long been both a scholar and a prankster, reading Socrates in his spare time when he’s not having fun with teammates and the media. In this case, he simply buried his head in his hands and wept at the thought of the Coyotes leaving the desert.
“First off, I want to say I have no comment on the Goldwater Institute,” Bryzgalov told The Republic of the taxpayer watchdog holding up efforts to save the team. “I throw up every day (thinking about it).”
Bryzgalov, who is married with kids (the side of his mask is adorned with one of their drawings), has been known for some childish behaviour of his own, and ended the interview by burying his head and pretending to weep, none of which surprises his teammates, including infamous imitator Adrian Aucoin, who calls the Russian goaltender his easiest target.
“I just act silly with a Russian accent, and it’s done,” Aucoin said.
One Timers from around the Goaltending World (Wide Web):
~ Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom didn’t know what to make of Colorado counterpart Peter Budaj skating to center ice and dropping his gear in the late stages of a 5-2 win over the Avalanche on Tuesday. The game ended with Colorado putting out tough guys David Koci and Cody McLeod with three and a half seconds left, setting off a predictable scrum that included coaches yelling at each other between the benches and the unlikely challenge from an agitated Budaj, who earlier took a roughing penalty for shoving Minnesota forward Guillaume Latendresse’s face into the ice after a collision for a penalty
“I wasn’t even close to the scrum,” Backstrom told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the game story. “I don’t know what he was doing there. I saw him pushing the ref and going crazy to get at me. What was that?”
~ Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender turned TV commentator and Sports Illustrated website writer, has an excellent article on the plight of prospects Chris Kamal and Patrick Wenzell, a couple Atlanta raised goalies trying to prove they aren’t novelties despite leaving the south to pursue futures in puck-stopping.