Brian Leetch

Tim Thomas looks to become first American Conn Smythe winner since Brian Leetch


Tim Thomas is compiling quite the list of accolades between his Vezina Trophy-worthy 2010-11 regular season and his Conn Smythe-worthy postseason.

Beyond drawing abstract comparisons to all-time great goalie performances made by legends such as Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, Thomas is putting his own stamp on the NHL record books. He broke Hasek’s single season save percentage record, seems primed to win the Conn Smythe regardless of how Game 7 turns out and is one save away from breaking Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single playoff year.

While Thomas is breaking records for goalies of any nationality, some people might take added pride in the fact that he is putting together possibly the greatest playoff run by an American netminder. To hammer the point home, he would also be the only U.S. born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy aside from New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch.

In a cruel twist, Leetch also managed that feat against the Vancouver Canucks as the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

A golden era for American goalies?

This pending honor is quite the accomplishment for Thomas, no doubt, but it must also be a promising sign for U.S. Hockey. For the second year in a row, an American-born netminder had the best run of any goalie in the world. Last year, it was Ryan Miller’s outstanding work in the Olympics and Vezina Trophy victory for the 2009-10 season that made him the goalie of the year. Now it’s Flint, Michigan-born Thomas whose combined regular season and playoff outputs make him the most successful goalie of 2010-11.

While other elite goalies (perhaps most notably Henrik Lundqvist?) would certainly get their fair share of votes, it’s not crazy to think that Thomas and Miller could be considered the best goalies in the world at this moment. With all due respect to the work done by Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso and “Miracle on Ice” goalie Jim Craig, it’s tough to think of higher point for American goaltending.

Miller and Thomas are at the top of the heap, but there are a few other American goalies who could approach All-Star level performances if things work out. Jonathan Quick was excellent at times for the Los Angeles Kings and might just hold off Jonathan Bernier as the team’s goalie of the present and future. Craig Anderson has struggled here and ther but currently ranks as the Ottawa Senators’ savior in net. Jimmy Howard might be overshadowed by the veteran talent in Detroit, but he is the Red Wings’ franchise goalie.

Thomas’ style and journey make him a truly American success story

In a way, Thomas might be the “American dream” in goaltending form. His free-form style is as democratic as netminding technique comes, although it’s probably most accurate to call his sprawls “anarchic.” His oddball career path almost looks like an immigrant’s dream, too: he was barely drafted and spent his formative years bouncing around the world but just would not be denied. Thomas fought for every opportunity he’s been granted and now finds himself at the top of his profession.

It probably seems silly to root for the Canadian-heavy Boston Bruins for patriotic reasons, especially since the Vancouver Canucks employ one of America’s best players in Ryan Kesler. Yet when you look at Thomas, it’s tough to see a more American goalie, which makes his probable Conn Smythe victory (and previously improbable shot at a Stanley Cup) even more satisfying for hockey fans in the United States.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.