All three of the games I targeted as “the best games of the night” ended up in some hard-fought shutouts. Two of them came from Finnish goalies and all of them came from guys who may have been expected to be backups (but are looking likely to usurp their “superiors”) this season.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the shutout showed that the Western Conference may indeed have a true favorite. They pulled a point ahead of San Jose (who finally broke their dry spell against Minnesota tonight) and temporarily deflated Phoenix’s Cinderella run. Antti Niemi hasn’t put up amazing stats (at least from a save percentage standpoint) but it’s hard to argue with his 19-5-3 mark in Chicago. Could Niemi be the Blackhawks’ answer in net right now?
If you ask me, the other Finnish once-expected backup (Tuukka Rask in Boston) is the answer for the Bruins. He earned a goose egg for the team as they dominated ninth-seed Atlanta 4-0 tonight. The Bruins have won two huge games against the two most likely threats to their playoff lives and Rask has allowed one goal on 51 shots in the last two games. Might want to wait until next year to revive your career, Tim Thomas.
Ottawa affirmed their status as a rugged playoff team after a contentious game against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. It was a brutal bout at times, with Anton Volcenkov figuring into much of the violence. Brian Elliott was supposed to backup the more expensive (but free-falling) Pascal Leclaire, but he’s often been the more stable goalie of the two.
The Bruins and Senators lack the breathing room to “test the water” to see which goalie they prefer but it might be true that the Blackhawks should also go with the “hot hand” in net. Either way, all three teams won some big games while keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. We’ll have more on the playoff implications of these wins tomorrow.
PHT Morning Skate: Shea Weber’s shot has injured a lot of people
–Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Shaw took a risk by leaving the Blues organization after 10 years, but it appears to have paid off. He and the rest of the staff have found a way to make the Jackets a competitive team in 2016-17.(Ottawa Citizen)
–The San Jose Sharks are giving away “Chia Jumbo Joe Thornton” on Saturday, and they made a pretty cheesy/funny commercial to promote the occasion. (Top)
–Canadiens goalie Al Montoya is the first player of Cuban heritage to play in an NHL game. He’s hoping that his journey to the NHL will inspire others like him to make the leap to the pro ranks. “To play this game from where I came from and my background, it’s who I am and what I’m made of,” said Montoya. “Without the sacrifices my family made to get to the United States and put me in hockey, I wouldn’t be here. The Cuban background is a huge part of what I am.” (NHL.com)
—Ryan O'Reilly sat down for a Q&A with ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. They discussed his new beard, what it was like to play with one of his favorite players, Joe Thornton and why he thinks the Sabres haven’t been very good this season. With Buffalo currently in last place in the East, O’Reilly admits that he could do a better job as one of the leaders on the team. (ESPN)
—Shea Weber has one of the heaviest slap shots in the NHL and as you’d imagine, he’s caused a few injuries over the years. According to this list, Weber’s shot has injured 11 people since 2009, including his former GM David Poile and current teammate Max Pacioretty (twice). (BarDown)
–Sportsnet has a “ref cam” on some of their hockey broadcasts. It gives fans a different view of the game, which is pretty cool. Here’s a look at some of the best “ref cam” moments from Wednesday’s game between the Habs and Penguins.
Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.
“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”
Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”
Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.
From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.
Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.
With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.
Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes
It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.
Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:
Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49
Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.
Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.
Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.
Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.
Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.
Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win
Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.
The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”
Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.
Lundqvist: "We didn’t give up as much, and it shows how committed we need to be in our own end.”
Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.
Mike Babcock: The back end was in lots of trouble tonight.
The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.