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.

Patrick Kane’s scoring streak > Sharks’ winning run on Wednesday

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Patrick Kane had two assists to extend his career-best scoring streak to 17 games, leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Kane set up Brent Seabrook on Chicago’s first goal and also got a helper on Duncan Keith‘s second-period goal to give him 28 points during the streak.

Jonathan Toews and former Shark Andrew Desjardins also scored for Chicago. Andrew Shaw added an empty-netter for the Blackhawks, who improved to 2-1-1 on their annual circus road trip. The six-game swing concludes this weekend with games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Corey Crawford made 27 saves.

Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who returned home from a 6-0 road trip to lose once again at the Shark Tank. San Jose fell to 3-6 at home this season after dropping 22 games here last season – their most since 1996-97. The Sharks had earned the most points at home in the NHL over the previous nine seasons.

Martin Jones made 21 saves.

After a slow start in their first game back from the perfect road trip, the Sharks found their legs late in the first period and tied the game at 1 when Burns scored on a one-timer from Joe Pavelski on the power play. It was San Jose’s first goal at home with the man advantage all season after 21 failed chances.

But the tie lasted just 88 seconds before Ryan Garbutt sprung Toews on a 2-on-1 and the Chicago captain beat Jones with a shot high to the glove side.

The Blackhawks added to the lead midway through the second period when Keith sent what looked like an innocent shot in from the boards only to see it elude Jones to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.

The Blackhawks then killed off two power plays early in the third before Marleau made it a one-goal game when he beat Crawford with a wrist shot off a faceoff win in the offensive zone with 8:40 to play.

Desjardins restored the two-goal lead 1:07 later when he scored his first of the season on a rebound.

Fresh off their annual stop in Las Vegas during their November road trip when the circus is in town, the Blackhawks started fast. They got the first eight shots on goal and took a 1-0 lead midway through the period when Kane set up Seabrook with a one-timer that beat Jones.

San Jose took more than 13 minutes before getting its first shot on goal.

NOTES: The Blackhawks have one regulation loss in their past 10 games against the Sharks. … Dainius Zubrus made his debut with San Jose on the fourth line after signing a contract Tuesday. … Sharks D Justin Braun was scratched with an upper-body injury.

Same story, different location? Isles foil flat Flyers

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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders distaste for the Philadelphia Flyers clearly came with them during their move to Brooklyn. Seeing their nemesis Wednesday night brought out some needed emotion.

“We needed a good, hard, physical game like that,” Casey Cizikas said after the Islanders beat the Flyers 3-1 in a rough-and-tumble affair.

“Those games are fun. When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that, that’s what makes the game of hockey so much fun. I think we thrived off of that.”

Jaroslav Halak made 17 saves and Kyle Okposo put the Islanders ahead early in the second period. Cizikas and Frans Nielsen also scored and the Islanders improved to 11-8-3 by snapping a two-game losing streak.

Steve Mason made 33 saves and Claude Giroux scored the Flyers’ lone goal.

Philadelphia has lost four of five and fell to 7-10-5.

“We’re just inconsistent. It’s the same story every game. We need to find a way to be consistent the whole game,” Giroux said. “I’m not too sure what to say. It’s the same story every game.”

The first of five meetings this season between Philadelphia and New York was a chippy one. There were post-whistle scrums seemingly after every whistle, and tempers boiled over in the second period when Nick Leddy fought Giroux.

Leddy had earned the Flyers’ ire in the first period after boarding Michael Raffl face first into the boards, but Giroux said his rationale for fighting was only partially inspired by wanting to get even for his teammate.

“The second period we were flat,” Giroux said. “Anytime you have a chance to change the momentum, you do it.”

Seven minutes after the Leddy-Giroux fight, Matt Martin squared off with Wayne Simmonds.

According to hockeyfights.com, New York had three fights this season prior to Wednesday night, and the Flyers had eight.

“It was two teams battling hard,” John Tavares said. “We’re going to have a lot of those games coming up.”

New York took a 2-1 lead 5:14 into the second period on Okposo’s fifth of the season. Tavares won an offensive-zone faceoff to begin the sequence, and Okposo gained possession of the puck along the wall, then curled toward the net before flipping a harmless-looking shot that appeared to ricochet off Nick Schultz and over Mason.

“There’s no room for error,” said Mason, adding that the puck “bounced off the side of the net” for the game-winning goal.

The teams traded goals in the first period and the long-time rivals went into the first intermission tied 1-1. Giroux opened the scoring with a power-play goal from the left circle 3:59 into the game, but Cizikas tied it with a short-handed goal with 58 seconds left in the period. It New York’s third short-handed tally this season.

New York’s penalty kill came into the game ranked 11th in the NHL, while Philadelphia’s power play was 24th.

“We have to look at everything,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when asked if his team’s scheme needed to be modified in order to generate more offense. “(We) try to do that every day. So we have to look at everything.”

The Islanders outshot Philadelphia 36-18. New York had a 65-48 advantage in total shots.

“It was one of our better games defensively,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We didn’t give them too much.”

NOTES: This game marked Colin McDonald’s season debut. The Flyers called up the ex-Islander from AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. He had played in four games this season with the Phantoms, where he had two assists. … Philadelphia scratched Vincent Lecavalier, Evgeny Medvedev and Sam Gagner. Lecavalier has been scratched the last six games. The 35-year-old is in the third year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract. He has one assist in seven games this season. … New York scratched Adam Pelech and Taylor Beck. … The teams came into the match having split the last 16 matches. The Islanders were 8-8-0 while the Flyers were 8-3-5. … The announced attendance was 13,027.

Vatrano presence: Bruins edge Red Wings in overtime

Frank Vatrano David Krejci

The Boston Bruins keep flipping the script.

In Wednesday’s case, it swerved to a “Cinderella” story, as little-known forward Frank Vatrano scored two of Boston’s three goals – including the overtime clincher – as the B’s beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 (OT).

Here’s his first goal of the night:

While this is his overtime game-winner:

It wasn’t a perfect night for the 21-year-old, yet it may have been a convincing one.

The Bruins continue to begin a month on a sour note before ending up with impressive sprees.

October: 0-3-0 start, finished month with four straight wins and victories in six of seven contests.

November: 0-3-0 start, losses in four of five; currently on a four-game winning strek with victories in five of six.

Boston faces a challenge in closing this month out against the Rangers on Friday, and it’s possible that this trend may continue, as they begin December with a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

More than anything else, the safest bet with the Bruins is for ups and downs.

Crosby roars, Malkin scores in OT for Penguins win

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Controversy just seems to find the Pittsburgh Penguins. Credit Sidney Crosby & Co. for responding with a win on Wednesday.

Crosby generated two pretty goals, including this slam-dunk slapper:

… While Evgeni Malkin‘s overtime-winner stood as the Penguins managed a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues tonight.

(You can see Malkin’s OT-clincher in the video above this post.)

Will this win and strong performance from Crosby silence murmurs about his relationship with Mario Lemieux? Probably not, yet it likely turns the volume down in some ways, including killing the “Is he struggling because of distractions” storyline.

You know, at least for a little while. Maybe.