Tag: goaltending

Mike Smith

Phoenix adds new wrinkle to the NHL goaltending debate

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Tonight in Toronto, it’s the tale of two vastly different goaltending situations.

The Leafs will start rookie Ben Scrivens in goal. He’ll get the nod over third-year pro Jonas Gustavsson, who was originally tabbed to be the starting netminder after sophomore sensation James Reimer got hurt.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, will counter with Mike Smith, a six-year veteran on his third NHL club. He’ll be backed up by Jason LaBarbera, a 31-year-old journeyman.

The two teams are at opposite ends of the goaltending spectrum stylistically…and statistically.

Toronto has the fourth-worst GAA (3.41). Both Scrivens and Gustavsson have save percentages below .900.

Phoenix has the NHL’s 10th-lowest GAA (2.47). Both goalies have solid save percentages — Smith: .931, LaBarbera: .900.

“[Nobody’s] been more important to the club so far this season than Smith,” writes CBC.ca. “Since allowing six goals in the season opener, the netminder’s goals-against average is 1.88.”

Smith’s ascension to a top-flight, No. 1 netminder is the latest in the ongoing debate of how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position. There’s no shortage of opinion on how to do it. Some say find a proven veteran and lock him up long-term. Others suggest grooming a less-expensive (and less-proven) youngster. Some say spend big while others preach frugality. Some say declare a clear-cut No. 1, others opt for the platoon system.

Thing is, Smith’s situation in Phoenix doesn’t really fit into any of those. When the Coyotes signed him to a two-year, $4-million deal back in July he was a run-of-the-mill 29-year-old goalie with marginal starting experience. (At $2 million per, he was being paid exactly like that — either a cheap starter, or a pricey backup.)

The thought was at best he’s a decent 1b to someone else’s 1a; at worst he’s one of the league’s better backups. Many assumed he’d be Phoenix’s starter, but they also assumed Phoenix would have the worst goaltending duo in the league.


Now granted, some of Smith’s success this year is due to Phoenix’s defensive style of play. But looking around the NHL right now — yes, Toronto included — there are more than a few clubs that could probably use Smith at $2 million per:

— The team he left, Tampa Bay, had to yank Dwayne Roloson again last night.

— Columbus’s goaltending woes are well documented.

— New Jersey is still on the lookout for 39-year-old Martin Brodeur’s heir apparent. (And if Smith wasn’t the heir apparent, he could’ve been a useful stopgap considering Brodeur’s backup, Johan Hedberg, is 38.)

It’s still early in the year and hey, Smith’s never played more than 42 games in a single season — this could still go pear-shaped. But for now, Phoenix has added yet another viable option as to how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position.

I’m just not sure how to describe it.

Niemi won’t be ready for Sharks opening night

Thomas Greiss

We knew that San Jose Sharks backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki wouldn’t be ready for opening night. He’ll be lucky if he’s ready by Christmas. We also knew that starting netminder Antti Niemi was questionable for opening night after recently having a cyst removed from his leg. Reports out of San Jose state that Niemi is close to being ready for game action, but he won’t be ready for the Sharks first game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.

Enter Thomas Greiss. You may remember Greiss from the 16 games he played while backing-up Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose during the 2009-10 season. After the Sharks completely overhauled their goaltending situations last offseason, Greiss found himself in the Swedish Elite League for a season before returning to the San Jose organization this year. Greiss talked about the possibility of playing against Phoenix on Saturday:

“It would be great. It would be the first home opener for me, so it would be fun.”


“I’ll be happy with whatever ice time I get, will try and do my best and prove myself.”

Since Greiss’s comments to the media, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has confirmed that the German born netminder will get the start on opening night in San Jose. After his play in the preseason, he’s certainly earned the chance to show what he can do. He posted a 4-1-0 record with a 1.71 goals against average. McLellan explained that not only is Greiss starting to believe that he belongs, but his teammates are believing it as well:

“I think he feels like he belongs here and expects to be here. His teammates are more comfortable with him. His teammates have been around him more and know what to expect from him in certain situations. Because of circumstances, it wasn’t a pleasant season for him (last year). But now he’s back in the NHL, starting on Opening Night and it’s another life for him.”

For the Sharks to get where they want to go this season, they’re going to need Greiss to be an adequate backup. There’s a very good chance that Niemi will only miss a single start because the Sharks won’t play their second game until next Friday in Anaheim. But McLellan wants to go with a balanced goaltending rotation at the beginning of the season to help preserve Niemi for the end of the season. If the Sharks coaching staff wants to go with a rotation at the beginning of the season and Niittymaki isn’t set to return until December, Greiss will be appear in more games than your average third-stringer.

There’s not that much pressure on Greiss though. The Sharks are only challenging for another Pacific Division crown, another spot in the Western Conference final, and perhaps more this season. It’s Niemi’s job for the long-haul, but games in October and November count just as much as those in February and March. Keep that in mind when the Sharks are battling for home ice advantage later in the year.

Claude Julien responds to Luongo’s comments about Tim Thomas’ goaltending

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One of the stories that filtered out of Rogers Arena in the aftermath of Vancouver’s 1-0 Game 5 victory was Roberto Luongo’s comments regarding the game-winning goal. It was a little surprising to hear the Canucks’ goaltender say anything controversial after he’d given up 12 goals in the 5+ periods he played in Boston—yet there he was walking the line with reporters after his shutout victory.  After the Canucks escaped with a thrilling 1-0 victory to put Vancouver on the edge of their first championship, Luongo rubbed salt in Boston’s wound by commenting: “the save would have been easy for me.”

In a series where both teams have been talking more than usual, Claude Julien was asked if he was surprised with Luongo’s comments. More importantly, he was asked if the Bruins would use the perceived slight directed towards their goaltender as a rallying cry for Game 6.

“To be honest with you, this series has been a lot about that, and I know you guys are probably loving it, but we’re down to the wire here and have to focus on our game and what it means, a lot more than what is being said.” Julien continued: “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Anybody can say what they want. Right now my focus is on getting this team back in this series. The last time we came back here we were down two games and we got ourselves back into it and I see no reason at all why we can’t do that with just the one game.”

Bruins’ agitator Shawn Thornton had comments of his own:

“Whatever, man — people go about things one way and we go about it another. It is unfortunate, because I think Timmy has been our best player definitely throughout the whole and through the playoffs. I love the way he plays. I think he’s only allowed [six] goals this whole series. He’s been unbelievable for us. Comments are comments — some people make them but we choose to go the other route.”

All things being equal, Claude Julien must love any focus on goaltending this series. Despite trailing the series 3-2, Tim Thomas has only given up 6 goals in 5 games.  In fact, there are those in the media who think Tim Thomas may win the Conn Smythe Trophy even if the Bruins fall in the Stanley Cup Final.  Goaltending certainly hasn’t been the problem in this series. No, losing a pair of 1-0 games and a miserable power play have been the Bruins problems throughout the Final.

There have been a ton of intriguing story lines and psychological games between the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final, but everything can be distilled to one fact: when Roberto Luongo has played well in the Finals, the Canucks have won. When he’s struggled, they’ve lost. He has only given up two goals in the Canucks three victories against the Bruins—yet his goals against average looks like the gross national product of Belize in his two loses. Twice he’s outdueled Thomas, earned shutouts, and led his team to victory.  Today he stood behind his post-game comments when he said, “I’ve been pumping his tires ever since the series started. I haven’t heard any one nice thing he’s had to say about me, so that’s the way it is.”

If he shutdown the Bruins again in Game 6, the comments to the media won’t mean anything while he’s raising the Stanley Cup. But if he struggles in Boston again, I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about it.