Will Blackhawks' goaltending hold them back?

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

The
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.

So
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?

The
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.

Does
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.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.