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InGoal Update: Luongo saved by a fresh skate blade

InGoal Update: Luongo saved by a fresh skate blade

Plus: Emery back between pipes to foil Rinne after Predators pick apart ex-Nashville puck-stopper Ellis; Price’s inspired play perhaps a product of Pat Burns’ message; Miller playing it cool as he burns Philly in shutout win; this and more in the InGoal Update for April 15.

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luungo skate

A lot was made of Roberto Luungo's size 13 skate after a big Game 1 toe save, but fresh steel also helped. (InGoal file photo)

There was a lot made of Roberto Luongo’s shutout victory Wednesday night.  Not only did it exorcise, at least in part, some old demons about him not being able to play his best when the stakes are highest, the 2-0 win also came against arch-nemesis Chicago, the team that has had the Canucks’ playoff  number for two years running. There was much banter, some of it light-hearted, about an in extremis toe save that Luongo made on Brian Campbell, who even had his arms raised in celebration before realizing that the goalie’s size 13 skate (not a size 15 foot as Alex Burrows teased after the game) had booted a seemingly sure goal away from the goal line.

Last November InGoal talked to Luongo about a number of technical points, among them his skate blades.  At the time assistant equipment manager Jamie Hendricks mentioned how particular the star goalie is, not just about his 3/8 cut, but also about the height of the blades, replacing them once every six weeks or 4 times a year in order to maintain a blade that is as tall as possible.  Regarding the aforementioned save, one might conclude that Luongo’s pickiness about a couple of millimetres made the difference, since a slow-motion replay seems to show it literally being stopped by the tip of the goalie’s skate blade.

Given that even at 6’3” Luongo tries to gain every possible fraction of height and reach, it would be interesting to find out why he doesn’t use a product like X-blades or Step Blades, a taller (and legal) blade that effectively allows the goalie to pick and push sooner because it has a mechanical advantage by being at a lesser angle to the ice.

Anaheim needs a bigger gun in goal to counter Rinne

While it is normal for teams to keep close tabs on the injury status of their players, especially during playoffs, whatever caused Ray Emery to leave the ice partway through a game on April 6th has not impeded him from starting game two tonight.  No knock against game one starter Dan Ellis, who was pulled after two periods and four goals allowed, but with so much star power in the net these playoffs, Anaheim simply needs to find the guy who will be able to battle toe to toe with Preds standout puckstopper Pekka Rinne (who was the game’s second star).

Similar to the strategies that have given success to goalies like Miller and Price, Rinne has relied on his mates strong defensive play to allow him to see pucks and make saves more easily.  In fact, it was the Ducks Dan Ellis who claimed after game one that “on three of the goals they (Nashville) used their own guys or our guys as screens or deflections.”  This was to have been one of the ways that the offensively minded Ducks were supposed to solve the Pekka puzzle.  Here’s what E!’s news correspondent Ken Baker had to say about Rinne’s skills:

He snaps his butterflies down to the ice like a more compact keeper, his torso posture is straighter than an Alberta highway, and he sucks pucks into his body so well that rebounds are about as common as a snowy day in Southern California.

Rinne, 28, under the guidance of legendary Preds goalie coach Mitch Korn (he coached Dominik Hasek to four Vezinas with the Sabres and helped turn Tomas Vokoun from good to great), has perfected a highly aggressive, challenging style in which he spends so little time deep in his crease you’d think he was allergic to blue.

But what has made Rinne a Vezina-worthy goalie is what he does when things go bad:
• When screened he finds and tracks the puck like he’s got the rubber on a GPS tracker
• When he’s caught down in a scramble, his Hasek-like arms and legs desperately find a way to stop da puck
• When he lets in a stinker (hardly ever) he plays the next shot with amnesia.

Sound intimidating?  One would be pretty certan that fight enthusiast Ray Emery’s reply would be “Bring it on”…

Price shows he can carry the load- perhaps with some help from above

Carey PriceCarey Price’s flawless performance in another shutout win last night (besides Roberto Luongo, both Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Fleury also pulled zeroes in their series openers) without doubt sent a strong statement that the 23-year old goalie has made some changes in his game since losing four straight to the same Bruins in 2009, then warming the bench while Jaroslav Halak worked miracles in last year’s amazing run to the conference finals. Most of us can only imagine what the pressure must be like for the Canadiens’ goalie, having to lead a team plagued by major injuries all year long, in a city where the public is nothing less than relentlessly obsessed about hockey matters (imagine that the CBC, Canada’s publically funded national broadcaster, ran their afternoon show as a phone-in just to ask people how they were feeling about the Canadiens’ game 1 victory).

Listening in on the commentary, a noteworthy anecdote came back into focus, one which dates back to last fall and the death of former Habs’ and Bruins’ coach Pat Burns (who also coached the Leafs and Devils, as well as many of the players on the ice last night).  Despite being in the midst of a long battle with cancer, during the pre-season Burns went out of his way to send a message to the Canadiens’ young star, via assistant coach Kirk Muller.  The contents of that message, though confidential, seemed to have more than just a passing impact. Said Price:

“He sent me a message before the season and it really touched me. I was surprised it came out of the blue, he’s a special person. He did a lot of great things for both these teams and he was definitely in our hearts… It was just something out of the blue. Kirkie passed it on to me and it means a lot.”

Without knowing the actual content of the message, one could probably guess at its tone.  Burns, an ex-cop turned coach, was known as an uncompromising and emotional taskmaster who could motivate his charges by “opening up a can of whip-ass” in the dressing room between periods.  Nevertheless, he was admired and revered by many.  Add Price to that list.

While the old Montreal Forum was said to have ghosts that were responsible for the Canadiens many playoff victories and its 24 Stanley Cups, perhaps it could be said that Carey Price has a little help from above as he carries his team into the post-season.

“Calm, cool, contained”: Miller’s mental game- and everything else- is back to top form

The Philadelphia Flyers did just about everything the way they were supposed to in their first round matchup against the Buffalo Sabres, the Johnny-come-lately squad that only qualified for the playoffs in their 81st game of the regular season.  Nevertheless, what they had to show for their well-executed game plan was a goose egg last night.

Dare we say that Ryan Miller’s head- plus his legs and arms- are back to their old Vezina trophy form?  Check this highlight for an example of the goalie’s grace under pressure, as he resisted a Flyers attack that pulled out all the stops but failed to score on 35 tries.

Before the playoffs began there was major concern (and controversy) about Miller’s status after being hit up high repeatedly in a short span of time, and whether possible concussion symptoms might prevent him from starting in the post-season.  The brief rest and whatever treatment he received must have done the trick, because he was the kingpin in the Sabres stealing last night’s game.  Of particular note was Miller’s post-game comment on how the solid play of his defenders allowed him to focus more on the puck carrier and not worry so much about the back door play:

I knew I was going to get help around me. The last couple of months we’ve been doing a good job of collapsing down, helping and covering backside plays. So I could make my reads… I could really commit to the shot lane and squaring up.

The teamwork theme was echoed by Sabres defensive forward Mike Grier, who, without wanting to downplay Miller’s contribution, underlined that it was not up to the goalie to win the game by himself:

“I don’t think we need him (Miller) to be the best player on the ice; we need him to be what he’s been for us all year, which is solid back there,” Grier told NHL.com. “He gives us confidence, but I think we feel like we can play better and we can be better with the puck, better offensively. If we do that, then we won’t need Millsy to stand on his head every night.”

Maybe not Mike, but it sure as heck doesn’t hurt knowing that he can do it when called upon.

 

 

 

 

 

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