Sergei Bobrovsky

On the importance of goaltending


Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had a good quote recently about the relative struggles of his Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, compared to last season.

“He made me a good coach last year, and that’s what that one position can do,” Richards said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “If a team’s struggling, the coach isn’t very good. All of a sudden the goalie becomes good, and all of a sudden the coach seems to know what he’s doing. That’s the one position where they’re able to do that.”

With that in mind, we thought it could be interesting to list a few teams that have experienced substantial variation in their team save percentage, for bettor or for worse, from last season to this season.

Columbus (from .920 to .907) — Not surprisingly, the Jackets’ record has been negatively affected. They’re currently 5-9-0, tied for 25th in the NHL with just 10 points.

Ottawa (from .933 to .921) — Like the Jackets, the Sens haven’t been able to rely so much on goaltending in 2013-14. A .921 team save percentage is still very good, but Ottawa’s record (5-6-4) is not.

NY Rangers (from .920 to .903) — Henrik Lundqvist had a pretty awful start, but he seems to be back in form lately. And wouldn’t you know it? The Rangers are starting to win some games.

Edmonton (from .917 to .875) — Based on team save percentage, the Oilers have the worst goaltending in the NHL. Question: if Devan Dubnyk had been good to start the season, what are the chances Dallas Eakins would be forced to tell Nail Yakupov to ignore the trade rumors?

Tampa Bay (from .899 to .911) — There are, of course, teams that have seen their goaltending improve. Like the Lightning, who’ve received excellent work from Ben Bishop. At this point, Bishop is looking like a nice addition by general manager Steve Yzerman.

Montreal (from .904 to .934) — The Habs finished October with an 8-5-0 record. Carey Price finished the month with a .939 save percentage. Not a coincidence.

St. Louis (from .902 to .915) — Jaroslav Halak has been healthy and solid for the Blues. Brian Elliott has been much improved as well. And if that’s not scary enough for the rest of the league, St. Louis has found its scoring touch. Only the Sharks (3.73) are scoring more goals per game than the Blues (3.46).

Toronto (from .917 to .935) — Safe to say the Maple Leafs would be in trouble if not for their tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. But credit general manager Dave Nonis for getting two very capable players to solidify the most important position in the game. It’s always a nice luxury to have, even if some like to focus on the “controversy” aspect.

Colorado (from .901 to .955) — Last but not least, the Avalanche currently boast the highest team save percentage in the NHL. They also have the highest points percentage, at .923. Without Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, there’s no chance they’d be 12-1-0 after 13 games. None.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?