Theo, Huet, Bulin: contract year goalies?

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I couldn’t help but snicker when I read that Chicago GM Stan Bowman decided not to trade Cristobal Huet because he “believes in the Detroit model” of protecting an average goalie with great defense and goal support. That’s a cute concept, Stan, except for the fact that Detroit didn’t wildly overpay a goalie who hadn’t shown that he could consistently produce results over the long haul.

The affliction might not be limited to these three goalies, but I’ve always had a suspicion that Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin mysteriously play a whole lot better when they need to earn a new paycheck. It’s human nature, after all, but NHL teams need to be weary of these anomaly seasons.

Let me say that these guys aren’t the only possible culprits and this isn’t a universal issue. Really, though, you have to hand it to Marty Turco – the guy’s just too honest to pretend to be an NHL goalie anymore. I’m also sure that some of this comes from my own weird grudges toward the goalies (Khabibulin’s facial tics, Huet’s smarmy demeanor and Theo’s … existence).

But there’s a little fire to back up all the smoke.


While the Bulin Wall was fairly steady in his Lightning days, he won a Cup in his contract year there. That encouraged Chicago to give him a big contract that he didn’t live up to until (wait for it) his contract year in 08-09. Khabibulin’s save percentage went from about 91% to about 92% (more significant than you think), he won 25 of 42 GP and had his lowest GAA in Chicago. This prompted Edmonton to sign the aging goalie to a sizable deal; he’s had a disastrous season ravaged by injury and his DUI charges. Yikes.

Theodore’s career features “convenient” improvements too. There’s some evidence this year in Washington, but his Avs’ run was particularly comical. Suddenly, a goalie who had a GAA above 3 and a save percentage below 90% became a solid NHL goalie again.

Huet is a master of the contract year hot streak. He burst onto the scene with Montreal that way, but really swindled Chicago with the run he had after being traded to the Capitals. Huet had an otherworldly run of 11-2-0 with a 93.6% save percentage and a 1.63 GAA. Now he’s back to being mediocre.

The lesson of this rant is that NHL teams need to be weary of atypical years for goalies. Before you give a guy $5.6 million per year, make sure he can actually do that for more than one season. Or, I guess, you can go with the Caps and Blackhawks models (the blindfolded dart throw).

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.