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.

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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.

Preds hire new assistant coach in wake of Housley departure

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The Nashville Predators have hired Dan Muse as an assistant coach.

Muse, who spent the last two years as head coach of the USHL’s Chicago Steel, will be in charge of the Preds’ forwards as well as the penalty kill, while associate head coach Kevin McCarthy  — in the wake of Phil Housley’s departure — will now have responsibility for the defense and the power play.

Muse led the Steel to a championship in May. He also won an NCAA title in 2013 as an assistant coach for Yale.

“Dan comes to us as a successful young coach that brings great energy and passion to the game,” said Preds head coach Peter Laviolette in a statement. “He has worked his way up through the coaching ranks, first winning an NCAA title at Yale in 2013, and then taking a Chicago team that had missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and turned them into the Clark Cup champions in just two seasons. We are excited to welcome him to the organization and look forward to his contributions to the coaching staff.”

Sens avoid arbitration with Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel

 

Palat feels ‘pretty good’ about the Lightning’s chances of bouncing back next season

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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman accomplished quite a bit this offseason.

Not only did he acquire Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but he also managed to lose Jason Garrison‘s contract before re-signing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They also signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency.

Even though fitting everyone under the cap couldn’t have been easy, Yzerman managed to get it done, and it has at least some of his players excited about the prospect of next season.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Palat, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension last week, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I like all the new guys. They’re in the league for a while. Great veteran guys, experienced guys. That’s what you need to have on your team if you want to win a Cup.”

Going into last season, many people pegged Tampa Bay as one of the teams that would compete for the East Division crown. Not only did they not win the East, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with injuries, but there’s no denying that the 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Bolts.

Despite not playing hockey in the spring last season, there seems to be a good amount of optimism surrounding the team’s chances of making a run this year (a healthy Steven Stamkos would help in a big way).

Sure, keeping guys on the ice and off medical tables would increase the odds of the team having a bounce back season, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of a handful of players (mainly Nikita Kucherov), the Lightning didn’t get consistent efforts from a lot of their key players that were healthy.

“It was an experience for us last year because we came from two good (playoff) runs and we thought we were going to make the playoffs just like that, and it didn’t happen,” added Palat. “In the NHL we have to play good from the beginning of the season, and we have to be good all season long.”

PHT Morning Skate: 3 coaches that are on the hot seat going into 2017-18

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–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series with the Boston Bruins. Thanks to a number of good drafts over the last few years, Boston’s future looks pretty good. They have a number of quality defensemen in their system, which should help get them back into the postseason sooner than later. (The Hockey News)

–It was five years ago this week that Shea Weber signed that huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Puck Daddy Blog looks at the fallout from that signing five years later. If Nashville doesn’t match the offer, there’s probably no P.K. Subban in Smashville, maybe Peter Laviolette keeps his job in Philadelphia, and maybe the Flyers don’t miss the playoffs as often. (Puck Daddy)

–TSN’s Scott Cullen breaks down NHL goalies in his latest “Statistically Speaking” article. The way he ranks them is by finding out what their expected goals against will be minus the goals they actually give up. No surprise, Carey Price finds himself at the top of the list (minimum 50 games played). Matt Murray, Philipp Grubauer and Andrew Hammond also find themselves in Cullen’s top 10. (TSN.ca)

–Every year, there’s at least a few coaches who get fired during the season. Last season, names like Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant and Michel Therrien found themselves on the unemployment line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets their walking papers in 2017-18. The Score believes that Winnipeg’s Paul Marice is one of three coaches that will go into next season on the hot seat. (The Score)

–Ryan Poehling was Montreal’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, and he couldn’t have been more excited to land there. The St. Cloud State product was in awe as soon as he stepped foot in Montreal for the first time. The fact that he’s playing in such a passionate hockey city isn’t bad either. “(The fans) all just go crazy and I haven’t even played here, so it’s special. I just got drafted by them and they’re just crazy about me, so I think that’s pretty cool, how I haven’t even proven anything and they still love me.” (NHL.com)

Dominic Moore hosted the sixth annual Smashfest, which is a ping-pong tournament where fans and NHLers come together for all the bragging rights. For the third time in the tournament’s existence, Ducks forward Patrick Eaves came away the winner: