Will Blackhawks' goaltending hold them back?

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Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 7, 2010
Live on NBC

The
Blackhawks, behind the renewed ownership and team approach of Rocky
Wirtz, have rebuilt their team over the past few seasons and are on the
cusp of contending for the Stanley Cup. They have the best defensive
corps in the NHL, a potent offense and a team predicated on young talent
that are just now entering the prime of their careers. Yet all season long it’s been a comedy of errors in net for the Hawks, as stellar defense has covered up the shortcomings of the Chicago goaltending.

This issue is obvious to everyone but the Blackhawks themselves. They made the choice to stay quiet at the deadline, deciding that the tandem of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet are perfectly fine for the team to rely on for the playoffs.

This does not pass the eyeball test, however. Anyone who has watched the Hawks this season knows that the goaltending is the biggest (and perhaps only) issue with this team. The netminding is a joke and the fact that the team decided not to address the issue at the trade deadline will be what keeps this team from realizing their postseason dreams.

The goals-against doesn’t
tell the story.

When arguing that the Hawks
goaltending situation is far from the dire situation most think it is,
experts call upon the NHL-best 2.36 goals-against average. However, that
number is not a result of great goaltending — in fact, that stat
exists in spite of the goaltending. Cristobal Huet, the Blackhawks
starter this season, has a 2.32 goals-against yet an atrociously low
save percentage of .900 (37th in NHL). His backup, Antti Niemi, fares
just a bit better with a .910 save percentage (27th in NHL), but this is
far from the level of goaltending you’d want or expect from a Stanley
Cup contending team. The save percentage is a much better example of the effectiveness of a team’s goaltenders; when the team in front of you is sacrificing their bodies to block shots and make great defensive plays, it’s embarrassing when the goaltenders can barely stop 90% of the shots that do make it through.

The Hawks may be winning now,
but offense won’t come as easy in the playoffs.

So
the argument is that the Hawks defense, superb puck possession and
offense will cover up for the goaltending in the playoffs, just as it
has all season long. Yet once a team gets deep in the playoffs, scoring
comes at a premium. Teams that have made it to the conference finals and beyond need, not only stellar defense, but great goaltending as well. It’s the old adage: defense wins championships. Great offense is an incredible tool to have, but what happens when you’re playing the top defensive teams when it matters most. Scoring 4-5 goals a game can no longer be counted upon, especially if you’re facing the San Jose Sharks or the Colorado Avalanche. Speaking of whom, both those teams have goaltenders that are not only not allowing goals — but are stopping the majority of the shots that come their way. It’s not a foreign concept. Well, maybe to the Hawks it is.

What about Detroit last season?

The
2008-09 Red Wings are a prime example of a team getting to the finals
despite their goaltending. Starter Chris Osgood and backup Ty Conklin
combined for a sub-.900 save percentage on the season — in fact Chris
Osgood had the worst save percentage (.887) of any regular starter in
the NHL. Yet they made it to the finals, and were within one goal in Game 7 of winning a second straight Stanley Cup. When the playoffs
started, however, Osgood was once again able to turn it on and manage a .926 save percentage; an incredible turn around from the regular season. This propelled the Wings to the finals as great goaltending combined with stellar defense is supposed to do in the postseason.

Does
Huet have the ability to turn it on in the postseason?

Chris Osgood has won multiple Stanley Cups and has been
playing in the NHL since 1995. He had the experience necessary to know
how to buckle down once the playoffs started. Does Cristobal Huet have
that same ability? In 2006 with the Canadiens he won just two games in a six-game series, yet had an entirely respectable 2.33 goals-against and
.929 save percentage.

The Hawks allow a NHL-low 24.2
shots per game — that doesn’t mean much when the goaltending is
allowing 2-3 goals per game on limited shots. Huet has allowed five
goals on 29 shots in the past two games combined; the Hawks have won
them both.

Chicago is dead set on the notion that they can win this season and in the playoffs based on scoring
and stellar defense alone.The numbers say otherwise.

Brooks Orpik leaves Game 7 after Paquette’s hit from behind

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While the Washington Capitals built up a lead in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, they lost two players before the end of the second period.

First, Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a Ryan McDonagh shot with the back of his neck in the first period. After returning to the game, he would leave the Capitals’ bench late in the second period.

Joining him would be Orpik, who took a big hit from behind along the boards from Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. As Orpik was being tended to, the officials got together and determined that there would no penalty on the play, which is an odd decision.

As Orpik goes to get the puck in the corner, he does peek over his shoulder and sees Paquette a ways away, but he doesn’t change his body position as Paquette drills him. He’s probably not expecting to get hit even with the Lightning forward in the area. That would have easily been at least a major, maybe even a game misconduct (Remember Steve Bernier?).

The Capitals would respond to the hit two minutes later. On the scoreboard. Andre Burakovsky potted his second goal of the night to give Washington a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the third period.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goal, fight, ripped jersey highlight wild first period in Game 7

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So, Alex Ovechkin isn’t a big game player, you say?

What say you, then, about Ovi’s goal 62 seconds into Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday?

Ovechkin called Game 7 the biggest game for himself, the team and the Capitals organization on Tuesday and he wasted no time putting an early stamp on it.

His shot was vintage Ovi, just slightly higher in his “office” than usual. But the result was the same: a seeing-eye clapper that sailed past Andrei Vasilevkiy for a 1-0 lead.

Ovi’s goal kicked off a wild first period.

Game 6 was a brilliant hockey game, and if we got even half that energy in Game 7, it was always going to be a doozy.

Devante Smith-Pelly, who was the hero in Game 6, made quite the sacrifice after getting drilled in the head with slapshot off the stick of Ryan McDonagh. Smith-Pelly remained down before getting helped off the ice and down the tunnel to the room.

He returned a short time later.

The period also featured a spirited scrap between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn. The two exchanged pleasantries earlier in the period in a scuffle after the whistle, where Coburn ripped off Wilson’s helmet and both were handed penalties.

When their time in the sin bin ran out, each exited the penalty box and immediately tried to knock each other’s head off.

Wilson and Coburn were involved in much of the fun in the first.

Wilson’s hit on Chris Kunitz helped set up the rush that led to Ovechkin’s goal.

Coburn, meanwhile, was trying to collect all the Capitals gear he could in the period. After ripping off Wilson’s helmet, he then stole Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s jersey right off his back in the same scuffle.

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
• Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Lightning meet in Game 7

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Game 7: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Braden Holtby dominated when the Capitals needed him most
Lightning don’t expect Kucherov to be ‘invisible’ in Game 7
Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
Barry Trotz takes his turn at the Capitals’ hot lap ahead of Game 7
Ovechkin, Capitals prepare for ‘biggest game of life’
Game 7 history for Ovechkin’s Capitals, Stamkos’ Lightning
•  What the Capitals mean to the D.C. community

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Ovechkin, Capitals prepare for ‘biggest game of life’

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is closer than ever to playing for the Stanley Cup, and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.

”I’ve never been in this position before,” he said Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The winner Wednesday night earns a berth in the Stanley Cup Final opposite the Vegas Golden Knights, who will try for hockey’s biggest prize in their inaugural season.

Ovechkin and the Caps are hoping to shed a label as playoff underachievers, a franchise that dazzles during the regular season only to disappoint at the most important time of the year.

”I’m excited. We’re all excited. … We all want to be in this position and move forward,” said Ovechkin, who is playing in the conference final for the first time during his prolific 13-year career.

”(Wednesday night) is probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably. … We still haven’t reached our goal. Tomorrow is going to be a huge step forward.”

Not if the Lightning have their way.

Tampa Bay is playing Game 7 in the conference final for the third time in four years. It beat the New York Rangers on the road to advance to the 2015 Cup Final, but fell short the following year against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

”Experience is always a good thing, but it’s nothing I’m going to sit and lean on,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-1 in Game 7s during his career. ”It’s about doing your job at the highest level you possibly can.”

Washington forced Wednesday’s winner-take-all matchup with a dominating 3-0 victory in Game 6.

In a series where home ice has not been a clear advantage, the Lightning are hoping it provides an edge in Game 7.

Washington won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, then dropped the next two at home. The Capitals are 7-2 on the road this postseason.

”When you get this deep into a series, everyone knows each other by heart. Now it really comes down to a little bit of will. You have to will yourself for this moment,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

”I do like the fact there will be 19,000 people helping us, to will us to victory. I want the guys to enjoy the game. It will be a phenomenal experience. … You just have to remember, don’t let the game get bigger than it really is. Go out there, execute, leave everything out there and we’ll see what happens.”

This will be Washington’s 11th Game 7 since the start of the 2008 playoffs, most among all NHL teams in that span. None of them, however, have been for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after Monday night’s win in Washington that there’s no other team he has coached that he would rather lead into a seventh game.

”We just keep taking whatever challenge is thrown at us and build off it. This group doesn’t waver. It has a spirit about it, a strong spirit,” he said.

”This team has done a lot of special things this year, it’s grown, it continues to do that,” Trotz added. ”What an opportunity going into Tampa. … We’ll see if we can earn the right to keep playing.”

And while that undoubtedly would be a major breakthrough for Ovechkin, Trotz reiterated the Capitals all have a lot invested.

”The opportunity is not only for Alex, but for everybody,” he said. ”Everybody that gets a chance to be in a Game 7, which will allow you to go to the finals. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey