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Greatest goalie generation? Why this is a special time for American netminding

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If you ask me, this is a golden era of goaltending for hockey. While the “Dead Puck Era” produced better numbers in many cases, it’s hard to imagine a time in which so many teams had so many solid-to-great goalies. Maybe that might make it tougher for individuals to stand out, but there really aren’t a whole lot of teams who are just flat-out “lost” at the position anymore. There aren’t many squads that need to camouflage Dan Cloutier-type liabilities in net.

We could debate the bigger picture merits of goalies all day, but there’s one thing you’ll have a really tough time making me dismiss: this is the highest point for American hockey goaltending ever. One could argue that is true from both a quality and quantity standpoint. With all due respect to the legendary Olympic run of Jim Craig, scattered talents throughout older times and a solid recently past era that included Tom Barrasso, John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter, this is a peak generation for U.S. netminding.

Let’s take a look at a list of the most prominent active American goaltenders to drive the point home.

Tim Thomas

It’s been said over and over again, but it never really gets old: Thomas put together a combined playoff and postseason run for the ages this year. He generated a record-breaking .938 save percentage during the regular season and somehow found a way to top that by reaching the .940 mark in the playoffs. Oh yeah, he also won the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the process. It isn’t outrageous to wonder if Thomas literally put together the best single season and playoff run an NHL goalie ever enjoyed, although it’s tough to be sure because different scoring eras fudge the numbers (we’re looking at you, high-scoring 1980’s).

Thomas might not be a traditional butterfly goalie, but his “redneck style” and resilient journey to the NHL make him the American dream in leg pads.

source: Getty ImagesRyan Miller

If you just flat-out refuse to admit that an unorthodox goalie is the best in the world, then Miller provides another example of an American netminder who is clearly at the top of the form. While Thomas owned just about everything that had to to with 2010-11, Miller was the darling of the 2009-10 season, including the 2010 Olympics. He carried the U.S. to a surprising silver medal after helping them make it within a famous Sidney Crosby overtime goal of the gold and took home the 2010 Vezina Trophy as well.

For those counting at home, the last three Vezina Trophies went to American goalies: Thomas twice and Miller once. The closest example of that happening before was when Barrasso won it in 1984 and Vanbiesbrouck took it in 86.

source: Getty ImagesJimmy Howard

This class of American goalies runs deep. Howard might not roll of your tongue when you’re naming the NHL’s elite, but he’s the present and future of Detroit’s goaltending. The past has been pretty sweet, too; he’s currently riding two consecutive 37-win seasons. After his stats slipped a bit from the 09-10 to 10-11 regular season, Howard responded with a .923 save percentage in the 2011 playoffs.

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Bernier couldn’t win the Jonathan Championship from Quick last season and it’s going to be tough for Bernier to usurp the steady American next season. Quick  won 39 games in 09-10 and 35 last season while improving his individual numbers along the way. The Connecticut product could rise in many peoples’ eyes if he comes through in what looks to be a promising 2011-12 season for the Kings.

source: APCraig Anderson

The jury seems to be out on Anderson, but one cannot deny his potential after he carried the Colorado Avalanche to a surprise playoff berth in 09-10. The Ottawa Senators made a big investment in Anderson and he might just have the tools to make that pay off.

Ben Bishop, Brian Boucher, Jack Campbell, Scott Clemmensen, Ty Conklin, Rick DiPietro, Brent Johnson and Al Montoya

The long list of backups and/or emerging prospects might push this era over the edge. Boucher and Johnson rank among the better journeyman backups in the league while Conklin isn’t far behind. Bishop is an over-sized goalie for St. Louis while Clemmensen signed an over-sized contract with Florida. DiPietro’s health is a problem and his contract is a punchline, but there was a time when he was an All-Star goalie. Campbell and Montoya are former first round draft picks we’ll probably see more of in the future. If nothing else, more American born goalies are getting work than ever before.

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Again, if you ask me, this marks the highest point for American goaltending at both the elite level (three straight Vezina trophies) and from a sheer quantity standpoint. I’m curious to hear counterarguments to this point, though, so feel free to light some logical fireworks in the comments.

One loss from elimination, the Caps say they’re ‘not afraid’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on during the third period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy…

After going into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all…

After all the talk that this could finally be the year…

All of a sudden, the Washington Capitals must win three straight games to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.

One more loss and it’s over until next year.

One more loss and it’s heartbreak, again, in D.C.

Well, well, well, it didn’t take long for the first column about Alex Ovechkin’s legacy to come out. Everyone knows the narrative: lose to Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Great 8 will suffer yet another painful, humiliating loss.

How much responsibility does Ovechkin bear? Why do his teams never win? Is it something about him?

You know those questions are coming. It doesn’t matter if they’re fair. Who says the questions have to be fair? One more loss and they’re coming. One more loss and the finger-pointing starts.

Because it was supposed to be different this time. Not only did the Caps have the world’s greatest goal-scorer, they had depth down the middle, depth on the back end, and a Vezina Trophy finalist in net. They could score. They could defend. They even brought in Mr. Game 7 himself.

On paper, they had it all.

And now?

Three straight wins to stave off elimination. That’s what they need now.

“This group is not afraid of where we’re at,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday. “We know where we’re at. We’re realists. But at the same time, we know that we won a lot of games this year, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

Trotz is right, it didn’t happen by accident. The Caps are a very good team. They proved it during the regular season.

The problem is, so are the Penguins.

And the Penguins are proving it now.

Related: Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives’

Will Sutter take ‘punches in the gut’ and return to coach Kings?

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter listens to a question during a news conference after Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Kings in the second overtime period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals, Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Chicago. The Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup finals. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Darryl Sutter has an offer on the table to return as the Kings’ head coach, and GM Dean Lombardi isn’t concerned about him walking away.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing in Los Angeles.

In Friday’s conference call, Lombardi acknowledged the Kings are in a bit of a tough spot, and need to reevaluate things after missing the playoffs two years ago and getting bounced in five games this season.

“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money,” Lombardi said, per Yahoo. “I think it’s ‘are we ready to do this’ because it’s going to be a lot of work. And just like building it in the past, you stick with some tough times.

“We’re not going back to there, but to get this back on track there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

Sutter, 57, has been with L.A. for the last five seasons and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, winning two Stanley Cups. His direct, no-nonsense approach is admired (even if his players locked him out of the dressing room once) and he’s incredibly tight with Lombardi, dating back from their time together in San Jose.

Sutter — from Viking, Alberta, population 1,041 — also enjoys life in L.A. He says living in Manhattan Beach is “awesome” and “basically a small town.”

But for all the good stuff, the last two years have been tumultuous off the ice — Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge, Jarret Stoll‘s drug arrest, Mike Richards‘ contract termination — and underwhelming on it.

The Kings’ defensive depth has been whittled away, and was exposed in this year’s postseason loss to the Sharks. Veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik — who combine for nearly $11 million in cap space — have struggled, and both are on the wrong side of 30.

The club wants to retain power forward Milan Lucic, and are working towards a contract extension. But with a tight cap situation, it wasn’t surprising to hear Lombardi explain he doesn’t see a deal getting done anytime soon.

Lombardi later admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.”

As for Sutter, he’s yet to speak publicly to reporters about his plans for next year.

Jagr mum on World Cup participation

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) reacts after a play during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Though he wasn’t named to the initial 16-man roster, Jaromir Jagr has an open invitation to join the Czech Republic team for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Now he needs to decide if he’ll take it.

Jagr was non-committal about his participation during a Friday conference call to discuss his new one-year contract with the Panthers. He declined to answer questions, explaining that he needed to speak with Czech GM Martin Rucinsky before reaching any conclusions.

“I think we’re going to make a decision after that,” Jagr said, per NHL.com. “We have a lot of time to go.”

Rucinsky is on record saying Jagr has a spot on the team, if he wants it. That comes as no surprise — Jagr’s a living legend and one of the most productive Czech NHLers this year, leading the Panthers in scoring with 66 points.

The issue, though, is how much stress the 44-year-old wants to put on his body.

Jagr played a ton this year — 79 games — and it showed in the postseason, when a compacted opening-round schedule against the Islanders (they played six games in 10 nights) seemed to hamper him.

Jagr finished the series with no goals and just two assists.

The World Cup runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, and the Czechs will play a minimum of three round-robin preliminary games. They also have three pre-tournament exhibition games.

Rucinsky needs to submit his final roster by June 1.

 

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

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The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not.