Tag: myth busting

Joe Thornton

Another choking label erased? Joe Thornton, Sharks take series with dramatic OT win


Indulge me for one moment and picture the laziest heckler in the world. This person doesn’t get to watch every game, but knows enough about final results to christen players as “chokers” or “heroes.”

That person must be awfully unhappy right now. In the span of one round, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks – two teams who are choke joke staples – didn’t just win their series, they showed serious guts in the process.

Nothing could be more symbolic than Joe Thornton (perhaps the most scrutinized player in the NHL) scoring the overtime game-winner that sent the Sharks to the second round.

San Jose 4, Los Angeles 3 (OT); Sharks win series 4-2

While the Sharks frequently dominated the play from a scoring chances standpoint in this series, the Kings deserve a lot of credit for making it a tough grind for San Jose. This series went to overtime three different times (all wins by San Jose), including the Sharks’ historic comeback. In other words, this series was much closer than I predicted.

Before we get into the impact for both squads, let’s take a look at the game itself.

The first and second periods:

Jonathan Quick was brilliant in the first period, keeping the score 0-0 despite the fact that the Sharks out-shot the Kings 16-5.

Kyle Wellwood defied all the Internet’s fat jokes by putting in a rebound to make it 1-0 for the Sharks early in the second period. Justin Williams was able to tie the game up on the back end of a double-minor power play that probably shouldn’t have happened because it wasn’t Joe Thornton’s stick that ended up knocking out Brad Richardson’s teeth. (Yes, you read that last bit correctly.)

Jason Demers scored his second goal of the playoffs by roofing it past Quick to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.

The third period and overtime:

The Kings just wouldn’t die in this game, which makes it a microcosm of their hearty work in the series. Ryan Smyth scored a rebound goal just 18 seconds into the third thanks to a nice setup by Jarret Stoll.

Dany Heatley hasn’t exactly been a major factor in this series, but he did give the Sharks a 3-2 lead thanks to a wicked wrist shot. Los Angeles didn’t roll over after that one, either, as Trevor Lewis scored his first career playoff goal to make it 3-3.

The remaining moments were dominated by a couple boneheaded penalties. The first one involved a Drew Doughty high-stick/cross-check to the face of Devin Setoguchi, a hit that might draw some league attention.

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The outcome of this game lessened the impact of the second call, but it was still a huge moment when referees handed Jamie McGinn a five minute major penalty and game misconduct for charging. There’s little doubt that it was a charge, but many hockey fans wondered if it was an extreme call considering the fact that it was made late in a big game. The Sharks were able to kill that penalty, with 3:23 of the shorthanded time in regulation and 1:37 in overtime.

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Ultimately, the Sharks killed the penalty and Thornton put home that series-winning rebound goal 2:22 into overtime and then delighted the hockey world with his victory slide.

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What it means for San Jose, Los Angeles

The Sharks continue to look like a “different” team, a point underscored by their comeback win and three away wins in the series. They should feel great about their offense, with Antti Niemi and their occasional lapses in discipline being their biggest concerns.

The Kings still haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, but it’s still safe to describe them as up-and-comers. The team is strong on defense, promising in net and just an asset or two away from being dangerous on offense. This loss will hurt for some time, but they have something to build on after giving a great team a run for their money.

The wisdom of the Philadelphia Flyers’ stubborn goalie philosophy

Michael Leighton, Matt Carle

As a hockey fan, if you had to choose between consistent (but less brilliant) success or a mixture of dynamic highs and depressing lows, what would you prefer? This might be a generalization, but I’d bet many casual fans would prefer choice B while most hardcore fans would be happier with the first option.

Ultimately, if you believe that a team can have a great season even if they don’t win it all, then the Philadelphia Flyers rank as one of the most well-run franchises in sports, let alone hockey.

Year after year, people casually bury the team’s front office for failing to put an elite goalie between the pipes. Yet if you take a sober look at their near-constant track record of success, you’d come to a humbling conclusion.

Maybe these guys know what they are doing, after all.

Just take a look at the team’s accomplishments since they last won a Stanley Cup during the 1974-75 season.

  • Sure, they didn’t end up winning it all, but the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals on six different occasions since 75, including 2010.
  • They’ve come close plenty of other times, too. They made the Eastern Conference finals five more times and made two losing semifinals appearances in the era when that was the final round before the SCF.
  • They’ve made the playoffs in all but six seasons since 1975. The Flyers missed the playoffs five straight times from 1989-90 to 1993-94 and one other time in that anomaly season in 2006-07. In other words, Philadelphia’s been irrelevant for one half-decade and one weird season since ’75. There aren’t many (if any) teams in sports that can match their consistency.

At least one “reason to believe” per decade

You can’t just claim that the Flyers’ highest moments were Broad Street Bullies overflow, even if the franchise leans toward physical players. In fact, Philly fans have had a reason to think that their team might win a Cup in every decade since the ’70s Bullies.

Ron Hextall in the 1980s: Anyone who says the Flyers ignored the Bernie Parent element to their success probably slept through Hextall’s innovative, angry days. He won a Conn Smythe in defeat and changed the way goalies move the puck. Hextall even fit in with the team’s rough-and-tumble motif as he was the meanest goalie this side of Billy Smith.

The Legion of Doom line in the mid/late 90’s: Concussions issues leave some “What if?” questions about Eric Lindros, but he still spearheaded a line that received the last great nickname. He also won a Hart Trophy and helped them make the Cup finals, even though they were handled easily by the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeremy Roenick/Keith Primeau in the early ’00s: They didn’t have a long run of excellence, but came within a Game 7 loss of reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. The team also showed some promise with Peter Forsberg, but not to the same level.

Current era: They made the conference finals in 2008 (losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins) and obviously lost to the Blackhawks in the finals last year.


Now, I’m not saying that goaltending hasn’t been a problem in Philadelphia. Instead, I’m hypothesizing that the Flyers recognize that the position is among the most unpredictable in sports, preferring to surround them with great draft picks and strong free agent acquisitions.

It’s not like throwing a bunch of money at a goalie guarantees playoff success, either. The Minnesota Wild spent $7 million on two goalies in 2010-11 and didn’t even make the postseason. The Red Wings moved from paying goalies big money to saving in that area once the salary cap was instituted and they haven’t missed a beat.

Deep down, the Flyers brass would love to have more stability in that area and there have been some curious decisions here and there (especially in this year’s playoffs). But if you think that this team is poorly managed, then you’re ignoring decades of success.

Why prospective teams shouldn’t give up on Ilya Bryzgalov

Los Angeles Kings v Phoenix Coyotes

When it comes to assessing a player’s performance in the playoffs, many people fixate on the results rather than why something happened.

Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two back-breaking goals to begin the Phoenix Coyotes’ potentially fatal Game 3 loss and both of them made the excellent Russian goalie look pretty bad. Let’s be honest, Bryzgalov hasn’t been able to follow up his great regular season play with outstanding work in the postseason, leading many to wonder if his pending free agent stock is plummeting.

One thing that people seem to overlook when discussing his playoff struggles: he faced the Detroit Red Wings the last two years, aka one of the NHL’s greatest offenses. The Red Wings were the second highest scoring team in the NHL this year, with their 261 goals only trailing the Vancouver Canucks by one.

Yes, there have been goalies who managed to shut down the Red Wings offense over the years, but let’s not forget that Jean-Sebastien Giguere (the guy who once played in front of Breezy in Anaheim) worked his miracles in the clutch-and-grab era.

Bryzgalov’s defense is hanging him out to dry.

As regrettable as Breezy’s series has been, his defense hasn’t exactly been world-class, either. Bryzgalov faced 101 shots in the last three games, meaning that Phoenix allowed an average of 33.6 shots per contest so far. To put that number in perspective, the Carolina Hurricanes allowed 33.2 shots per game during the 2010-11 season, the worst total in the NHL. While it’s true that the ‘Yotes also allowed 32.6 shots per game in the regular season, that tells me that Bryzgalov’s been a life preserver for a team that probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs in the first place.

To expect him to be superman every single game is unrealistic.

In these past two series, Bryzgalov allowed 12 goals in three games against Detroit in 2011 and 24 in seven contests in 2010. Those aren’t gorgeous numbers, but to call him a playoff “choker” is just short-sighted, especially when you consider how well he played behind a competent team in Anaheim.

Breezy actually put up outstanding postseason numbers on a good team.

He was astounding in 11 games played in 2005-06, earning six wins, three shutouts, an all-world 94.4 save percentage and 1.46 GAA. He was almost as good when he subbed for Giguere in the Ducks’ first round series during their 06-07 Cup win, earning three victories, a 92.2 save percentage and 2.25 GAA. Ultimately he gave way to Giguere’s seniority in those two playoff runs, but one could argue that Anaheim would have been A-OK with Breezy in net instead.

So what’s the basic takeaway? He’s actually been just fine in the small sample of playoff games he’s appeared in. Even including his sometimes-ugly numbers against the Red Wings, Bryzgalov has nice career playoff stats: a 91.9 save percentage and 2.45 GAA. The only number that’s mediocre is his 12-12 record, but that’s a stat that has as much to do with the team as it does with the goalie.

Smart GMs will see the big picture with Bryzgalov.

It’s reasonable to say that these last two series hurt Bryzgalov’s ability to make the kind of $5-$6 million salary that franchise goalies acquired before the 2010 correction/meltdown.* There will be many GMs who will totally pass judgment on Breezy, especially if they take the type of stance that Jay Feaster took toward Tomas Vokoun.

A savvy GM will consider the very real possibility that Bryzgalov helped a shaky team overachieve until it ran into the Red Wings buzz saw. That same general manager could save some money at the bargaining table even if he knows that his questionable stats are quite deceptive.

Ultimately, I actually think Bryzgalov should stick with the Coyotes. If he ventures out of that franchise (a more likely possibility if the team moves), then a team like Tampa Bay or Colorado would be wise to scoop him up. It could be a great choice, too, as long as they provide him with more than the threadbare supporting cast offered by Phoenix.

* – Your stance that the 2010 free agent goalie market was an example of self-correction or just a meltdown says a lot about how you think NHL netminders should be paid.