Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Two

Roberto Luongo has a slight edge on Tim Thomas through two games

It might be a bit of a stretch to hype a “matchup” between goalies Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo in these Stanley Cup finals. After all, the two netminders are really dueling with Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks shooters, not pucks sent off each others’ sticks. Technically, it’s not really about Thomas vs. Luongo; it’s Thomas vs. the Canucks against Luongo vs. the Bruins.

Then again, looking at the situation is entirely less fun, isn’t it? Ultimately, most writers and fans will perceive each goalie’s performance in association with the opposition output.

Thomas receives the most attention because the Bruins are viewed as the lesser team (and because his acrobatic, almost anarchic style tends to steal the spotlight, too). Fair or not, Luongo’s successes seem to be obscured because of the superior cast around him, letting the pitfalls and triumphs of his counterpart’s aggressiveness snatch the headlines.

Yet through two skin-tight games, these two very different goalies have given us the performances we expected.

Luongo’s path from passivity

During the off-season, I wondered if the Canucks were messing with a good thing by asking Luongo to play deeper in his crease after years of using his size further out of his net. Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild disagreed with my gut reaction and it looks like his instincts were dead-on.

Goldman shared three keys to Luongo’s success in a column for NHL.com. After explaining that decision making is the first major factor that distinguishes goalies on the elite level, Goldman discusses two other reasons Luongo is on top of his game.

2. Because Luongo plays a patient butterfly style deeper in his crease, he’s forced to make better decisions on when to employ a positional blocking save and when to make a reaction save. As a result, he has essentially gone from being a more “passive” goalie to having more “active” save selections in his game.

3. This reveals the fact that Luongo has the ability to balance his skill-set with an equal number of blocking and reacting skills. This balance, which could be considered like having an ambidextrous mind, is crucial to the read-and-react butterfly style that continues to be incorporated in today’s successful and elite NHL goaltender.

The danger of doubting Thomas

On Boston’s end, Thomas sprawls and flails, leaving us gasping for air as he stops pucks that seem predestined for twine. We cringe at his rare – but occasionally fatal – lapses, perhaps ignoring the fact that his style is the clearest “live by the sword, die by the sword” paradigm in the increasingly homogenous profession that is NHL netminding.

Those two last minute goals may end up crushing the Bruins, but this team – and more precisely, this goalie – rolls with punches without taking much time to flinch. Thomas didn’t get to the NHL by giving up easily, an attitude that is revealed every time he makes another downright irrational stop.

Goldman points out some of the high points of his Game 2.

Thomas’ absorption rate was through the roof in Game 2. This ability to collapse and condense his upper body in order to “soak up” shots above the waist was very impressive. It was a visible sign that he was focused and relaxed for Game 2. It also proved just how well he mentally prepared from the end of Game 1 to the start of Saturday night’s showdown. Aside from Alex Burrows’ first goal, no pucks got through Thomas — not even deflections or tipped shots.

Decision making has been the difference so far

Ultimately, Luongo’s more economical game meant less highlight reel saves through the first two contests, but also less back-breaking goals allowed. I think it’s wrong to badmouth Thomas for being who he is – especially since it works most of the time – but those little mistakes have been the difference so far. Goldman agrees on that point.

… I feel that Luongo has a slight edge on Thomas in regards to their decision-making in the Stanley Cup Final. Luongo has made the more conservative decisions so far, and that has proved to be more successful, especially in light of Thomas’ decision in overtime of Game 2.

***

Of course, two games is a small sample and Thomas seems to get better as the games get bigger. We’ll see which goalie wins Round 3 tonight.

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.