Will Blackhawks' goaltending hold them back?



Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 7, 2010
Live on NBC

Blackhawks, behind the renewed ownership and team approach of Rocky
Wirtz, have rebuilt their team over the past few seasons and are on the
cusp of contending for the Stanley Cup. They have the best defensive
corps in the NHL, a potent offense and a team predicated on young talent
that are just now entering the prime of their careers. Yet all season long it’s been a comedy of errors in net for the Hawks, as stellar defense has covered up the shortcomings of the Chicago goaltending.

This issue is obvious to everyone but the Blackhawks themselves. They made the choice to stay quiet at the deadline, deciding that the tandem of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet are perfectly fine for the team to rely on for the playoffs.

This does not pass the eyeball test, however. Anyone who has watched the Hawks this season knows that the goaltending is the biggest (and perhaps only) issue with this team. The netminding is a joke and the fact that the team decided not to address the issue at the trade deadline will be what keeps this team from realizing their postseason dreams.

The goals-against doesn’t
tell the story.

When arguing that the Hawks
goaltending situation is far from the dire situation most think it is,
experts call upon the NHL-best 2.36 goals-against average. However, that
number is not a result of great goaltending — in fact, that stat
exists in spite of the goaltending. Cristobal Huet, the Blackhawks
starter this season, has a 2.32 goals-against yet an atrociously low
save percentage of .900 (37th in NHL). His backup, Antti Niemi, fares
just a bit better with a .910 save percentage (27th in NHL), but this is
far from the level of goaltending you’d want or expect from a Stanley
Cup contending team. The save percentage is a much better example of the effectiveness of a team’s goaltenders; when the team in front of you is sacrificing their bodies to block shots and make great defensive plays, it’s embarrassing when the goaltenders can barely stop 90% of the shots that do make it through.

The Hawks may be winning now,
but offense won’t come as easy in the playoffs.

the argument is that the Hawks defense, superb puck possession and
offense will cover up for the goaltending in the playoffs, just as it
has all season long. Yet once a team gets deep in the playoffs, scoring
comes at a premium. Teams that have made it to the conference finals and beyond need, not only stellar defense, but great goaltending as well. It’s the old adage: defense wins championships. Great offense is an incredible tool to have, but what happens when you’re playing the top defensive teams when it matters most. Scoring 4-5 goals a game can no longer be counted upon, especially if you’re facing the San Jose Sharks or the Colorado Avalanche. Speaking of whom, both those teams have goaltenders that are not only not allowing goals — but are stopping the majority of the shots that come their way. It’s not a foreign concept. Well, maybe to the Hawks it is.

What about Detroit last season?

2008-09 Red Wings are a prime example of a team getting to the finals
despite their goaltending. Starter Chris Osgood and backup Ty Conklin
combined for a sub-.900 save percentage on the season — in fact Chris
Osgood had the worst save percentage (.887) of any regular starter in
the NHL. Yet they made it to the finals, and were within one goal in Game 7 of winning a second straight Stanley Cup. When the playoffs
started, however, Osgood was once again able to turn it on and manage a .926 save percentage; an incredible turn around from the regular season. This propelled the Wings to the finals as great goaltending combined with stellar defense is supposed to do in the postseason.

Huet have the ability to turn it on in the postseason?

Chris Osgood has won multiple Stanley Cups and has been
playing in the NHL since 1995. He had the experience necessary to know
how to buckle down once the playoffs started. Does Cristobal Huet have
that same ability? In 2006 with the Canadiens he won just two games in a six-game series, yet had an entirely respectable 2.33 goals-against and
.929 save percentage.

The Hawks allow a NHL-low 24.2
shots per game — that doesn’t mean much when the goaltending is
allowing 2-3 goals per game on limited shots. Huet has allowed five
goals on 29 shots in the past two games combined; the Hawks have won
them both.

Chicago is dead set on the notion that they can win this season and in the playoffs based on scoring
and stellar defense alone.The numbers say otherwise.

The Buzzer: Schwartz the hero, Gibson blanks Flames, Bruins clinch

Getty Images

Players of the Night:

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed a win on Wednesday. They’ll need a few more still if they’re to push for the playoffs, but Schwartz scored a third-period equalizer and then the overtime winner 30 seconds into the extra frame to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks (who won) for the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson posted his third shutout in his past seven starts — and fourth of the season — saving all 29 shots that came his way in a 4-0 triumph of the Calgary Flames.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin continued his pursuit of the Hart Trophy, netting a goal and adding an assist for his 41st goal (three back of Alex Ovechkin) and 91st point (three back of Nikita Kucherov).

Highlights of the Night:

Sidney Crosby did a thing – a very nice thing:

Jaden Schwartz, end-to-end to end the game:


Factoids of the Night:


Penguins 5, Canadiens 3

Coyotes 4, Buffalo 1

Blues 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

Ducks 4, Flames 0

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch


Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

AT&T Sportsnet

Oh, Sidney.

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

And another angle:

Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

Remember this from John Tavares?

It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

Getty Images

Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck