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.

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.