Tag:Tim Thomas
Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 5:11 pm
 

Right now it's Boston, and then everybody else

thomas1

By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- When discussing the best goalies in the NHL, Boston's Tim Thomas has to be at the top of the list, head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. With two Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup on his resume over the past three years, it's hard to argue otherwise. He's once again near the top of the NHL in every category among netminders this season, and he's playing at the top of his game for a Bruins team that continues to play at a level above every other team in the league over the past month.

Thanks to their 3-1 win in Pittsburgh on Monday night, the Bruins won for the 14th time in their past 15 games going back to Nov. 1. The only loss over that stretch came in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings the day after Thanksgiving, and it was a game that Boston arguably had the upper hand in for much of the day.

Over the past five weeks, they have recorded a point in the standings every time they have stepped on the ice. Right now it's their league, and everybody else just happens to be playing in it.

What's been incredible to watch during this recent run by the defending Stanley Cup champs is that for as well as Thomas has played this season -- and he's been great -- they haven't had to rely on him to carry the load or win games for them on his own. For the season, the Bruins are currently the second-highest scoring team in the NHL -- behind only Philadelphia -- averaging over 3.40 goals per game, nearly a full-goal above the league average. During their 14-0-1 run they've been averaging over four goals per game, and have scored five or more seven times.

That sort of goal support makes life easier for any player in the crease, even one like Thomas that's put up numbers like few others have in the post-lockout NHL.

"It's been easier mentally because you have confidence that your team is going to find a way to come through," said Thomas on Monday night.

"If the team isn't playing well, sometimes the goalie can make the mistake of trying put all the pressure on himself and try to win a game all by himself. But with the team playing the way it has over the past five weeks, you don't have to go into a game feeling like that."

The Bruins' current run came after a sluggish start that was easily attributed to a "Stanley Cup hangover." After the first month of the season they were 3-7 and riding a four-game losing streak that included back-to-back losses to their long-time rivals from Montreal on Oct. 27 and 29.

They haven't lost in regulation since.

"I felt like in the first four weeks, we just weren't ready mentally," said head coach Claude Julien. "Our guys, although they wanted to, that switch hadn't been turned on yet for the season."

"What's been good about it is that we've found our game again, and we seem like we're a group that's excited to play that way every night. It seems like we've gotten up, i guess that good feeling again, and we're willing to do it night after night. That's the difference. We kind of knew what was going on, it wasn't just games, it was practice, it was hard to get ourselves going again. We were slow out of the gate, and the fact that we rebounded that way is pretty impressive for those guys."

The way they're playing is old-school Bruins hockey -- big and bad, tough and physical. They don't back down from anything, and if you punch them in the mouth they're going to come right back at you. And they also have plenty of skill. For as much talk as there is about their two-headed monster in goal with Thomas and Tuukka Rask, or their massive defensemen Zdeno Chara, they're also incredibly deep up front, rolling four lines, all of which can score, and they can play any type of game they need in order to win.

A skilled finese game. Physical. A 6-5 track meet or a 1-0 slug-fest. Whatever they need to do, they can, and will, do it.

Their leading scorer is still a teenager, second-year sensation Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron has the look of an early-season favorite to take home the Selke Trophy (he finished in the top-five in voting each of the past two seasons), playing the tough minutes and shutting down the oppositions top-players, opening up scoring opportunities for Seguin and the team's other top-scorers. It's difficult to find a weakness right now.

"We've done a good job just coming to play, coming to find a way to win," said Thomas. "We don't know how we're going to win every night, but we're going to do it different ways, with different guys, but all of us together at the same time. It's been pretty nice to be a part of this team over the past month."

"There's been times were we've fell out of exactly how we wanted to play a couple of times during this streak," Thomas later added. "But then at the same time other guys came through with big nights and bailed us out. That's what makes a good team; not everybody is going to be their best every night, but as long as everybody doesn't feel their best on the same night you're going to find a way to come out on top."

And that's all the Bruins are doing right now: coming out on top.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:52 pm
 

Hiller says bye to Movember, gets Wild Wing mask

By Brian Stubits

Is there anybody in hockey happier to be done with the terrific month that is Movember than Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller?

Despite having an awesome mask that was rivaled only by the one worn by Tim Thomas, Hiller was dreadful in November. Really, he was no different than his teammates in Anaheim. But Hiller's struggles were particularly strong, so a new month brings about a new chance with a new coach.

And a new mask.

His mustache mask is gone through a charity auction, so a new mask has to come. In its place is not his old mat black cage but instead the new Wild Wing design. Next to having a Darkwing Duck motif, this is pretty much one of the better designs he could have produced.

Here is a description of the mask from The Goalie Guild. I highly suggest reading the entire story, it's a fun description that does the mask complete justice.

With the power to create a new superstition on [designer Alec] Voggel’s fingertips, he knew the moment was just right. It was time to reverse and transform Hiller’s famine into fortune by unleashing the latest mask in a line of legendary Anaheim Ducks designs: Wild Wing.

Instead of paying homage to his teammates, Hiller is now honoring the official Ducks mascot. As you can see, he’s striking quite the intimidating pose on either side of the mask, breaking out from underneath the shards and remnants of Hiller’s old “Batman” black-matted mask.

With the moonlight now splashing over the mask, it reveals another job performed to perfection. It is complete. It has been revealed. Off to sleep, just one last task to complete before the moonlight wanes and the fresh sunlight of a new day spills out from behind the distant mountains.

It's even 3-D from afar.

What's your opinion?

Photo: Airxess.ch, courtesy of The Goalie Guild

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 23, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:30 pm
 

Are the Wild, Rangers for real?

wild1

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the fast starts of the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers and whether or not they are for real.

By: Adam Gretz

The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers enter their games on Wednesday night as two of the hottest teams in the NHL, with the Rangers winning seven of their past eight games and the Wild riding a four-game winning streak that has helped propel them to the top of the NHL standings with 27 points.

The Rangers were expected by many to be a playoff team this year, coming off a season that saw them take the No. 8 seed in the East and add the top free agent on the market, center Brad Richards. But Minnesota's meteoric rise to the top under the leadership of first-year coach Mike Yeo has been quite a surprise to say the least.

Are these two teams as good as their early season (and most recent) records would suggest? Or are they both setting themselves up for a sudden fall?

If you're a believer in PDO  (or familiar with it) you're probably placing your bets on the latter.

Along with their recent hot streaks, these teams have three things in common.

1) Both teams are getting crushed during 5-on-5 play in terms of shots for and shots allowed. The Wild currently own the third-worst shot differential per game during even-strength play at minus-6, while the Rangers are currently the worst at minus-7. Neither team scores a lot of goals, mostly because...

2) ... Neither team is particularly dominant on special teams, especially when on the power play.

3) As a result, both teams are relying almost entirely on their goaltending, which is good in the short-term, but could be very, very bad in the long-term. In the case of the Rangers, it's Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron, while in Minnesota it's the tag-team duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.

All four of the aforementioned keepers are near the top of the league in terms of even-strength save percentage (they're all in the top-12, actually) with Backstrom pacing the league with a mark of .953. Which is unbelievable.

(Harding, for what it's worth, isn't far behind at .946, while Biron and Lundqvist are currently checking in at .944 and .939 respectively.)

Now, Backstrom is a fine goaltender. Probably one of the better ones in the NHL. But unless he's suddenly become the best goalie in NHL history he (along with the other three -- at least Harding and Biron) probably aren't going to maintain their current save percentages all season, especially given the amount of rubber they face every night. Just as an example, in the post-lockout NHL there have only been seven instances in which a goaltender finished a full season with an even-strength save percentage north of .940, and two of them belong to Boston's Tim Thomas.

Only once (Thomas last season) did a goalie finish over .943. In other words, this probably isn't going to continue all season.

And that brings us to PDO, a relatively simple but often times telling statistic about hot teams that could soon fizzle out and cold teams that could suddenly catch fire.

Originally the brainchild of Brian King (you can check out a recent interview he did talking about the subject by clicking right here) PDO is simply the sum of a team's shooting percentage and save percentage. For individual players, you take the sum of the shooting percentage and save percentage only when that player is on the ice.

On a league-wide level, this number will equal always 1000, but will vary from team-to-team and player-to-player. Teams (and players) with a PDO above or below that will, over time, see it start to regress back closer toward 1000.

Over the past four seasons the PDO range, from low-to-high, for individual players that have played at least 50 games in a single season have been as follows:

2007-08: 937-1056
2008-09: 944-1068
2009-10: 932-1069
2010-11: 934-1062

And let's take a look at the current ratings for the Wild and Rangers players. In an effort to avoid what is an even smaller sample size than we're already dealing with this early in the season, I've limited it to players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season:

Wild And Rangers -- PDO
Team Player PDO Team Player PDO
Wild Guillaume Latendresse 1087 Rangers Michael Sauer 1100
Wild Justin Falk 1060 Rangers Michael Del Zotto 1079
Wild Clayton Stoner 1045 Rangers Ruslan Fedotenko 1058
Wild Pierre-Marc Bouchard 1042 Rangers Erik Christensen 1056
Wild Mikko Koivu 1041 Rangers Derek Stepan 1050
Wild Dany Heatley 1039 Rangers Ryan McDonagh 1046
Wild Marek Zidlicky 1039 Rangers Dan Boyle 1046
Wild Matt Cullen 1035 Rangers Dan Girardi 1028
Wild Nick Schultz 1032 Rangers Brandon Dubinsky 1028
Wild Nick Johnson 1031 Rangers Jeff Woywitka 1027
Wild Jared Spurgeon 1028 Rangers Ryan Callahan 1026
Wild Nate Prosser 1028 Rangers Marian Gaborik 1022
Wild Devin Setoguchi 1025 Rangers Artem Anisimov 1017
Wild Kyle Brodziak 1024 Rangers Brad Richards 1010
Wild Cal Clutterbuck 1014 Rangers Brandon Prust 996
Wild Brad Staubitz 1011 Rangers Steve Eminger 993
Wild Marco Scandella 1010      
Wild Colton Gillies 1009      

The only two regulars on either team with a PDO currently under 1000 are Brandon Prust and Steve Eminger, both of the Rangers. Many of the others are well above their career norms, mainly due to what are almost assuredly unsustainably high on-ice save percentages.

There are currently 551 skaters that have appeared in at least 10 games this season, and out of the top-100 in PDO, an incredible 15 of them play for either the Rangers or Wild. There's a very fine line between winning and losing in the NHL, and right now these are two teams that are probably getting their fair share of breaks and bounces, while also being led by what are probably unsustainable levels of goaltending.

We've seen teams in the past get out-shot, out-chanced, and ultimately, out-scored at 5-on-5 the way the Wild and Rangers currently are and not seen a regression in the win-loss column. Last year's Anaheim Ducks are one such example. The biggest difference between that team, and these two teams, is that while Anaheim also had stellar goaltending, it also had a power play that scored almost at will. This season, Anaheim is once again getting consistently beat during 5-on-5 play, and now that its power play isn't scoring the same way it did last season, it finds itself near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

It should again be pointed out that in the case of the Wild and Rangers, these are currently two of the worst power plays in the NHL, in terms of not only scoring goals, but also generating shots.

So how long can we expect the wins to keep coming at this pace for New York and Minnesota? Probably as long as their goaltenders continue to stand on their heads.

(PDO and shot data via BehindTheNet)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 13, 2011 8:17 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 7:08 pm
 

Ryan Miller suffered concussion on hit from Lucic

By Brian Stubits

The weekend got worse for the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday when GM Darcy Regier told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News that his top goaltender, Ryan Miller, suffered a concussion in the team's 6-2 loss to the Bruins on Saturday night.

The play has already been discussed plenty. Miller went to the open ice to play a puck and took a big hit from Milan Lucic.

Miller remained in the game but was removed after the second period. Harrington reports Miller is feeling better the day after the hit.

The next question in this equation is if Lucic will be suspended. That's what the Sabres are looking for. There has been a lot of discussion on this call, whether or not Lucic even did anything wrong. But according to the letter of the law, goaltenders are not "fair game" when outside of the crease. Lucic was not in the right to hit Miller.

UPDATE: Lucic will have a hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Monday at 1 ET according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

Again, here is what Rule 69.4 has to say specifically.

69.4 Contact Outside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

When a goalkeeper has played the puck outside of his crease and is then prevented from returning to his crease area due to the deliberate actions of an attacking player, such player may be penalized for goalkeeper interference. Similarly, the goalkeeper may be penalized, if by his actions outside of his crease he deliberately interferes with an attacking player who is attempting to play the puck or an opponent.

"If this hit and other types of hits like this are not suspended, we are opening up the possibility of losing goaltenders to injury," Regier said sternly to Harrington. "And not just injury, but concussion. ... When I look at the position of goaltending. in a lot of ways it's not unlike quarterback in football. I feel very strongly the protection has to be provided and players committing these types of action should be punished.

"The last thing we need to do in the NHL is to be losing our Stars to concussions on plays like this."

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas gave his opinion on the matter on Sunday, from Jimmy Murphy at ESPN Boston:

"Basically from my perspective, I was just trying to, after that happened, make sure that I was on my toes. I didn’t know if there would be a kind of retribution hit. That’s kind of the old school way. That’s really all I’ve got to say about it. I will say that as a goalie, you’re not even prepared for people to hit you in a situation like that. You’ve been trained over the course of your whole career that you’re not going to get hit in situations like that. So it must have taken him by surprise."

That sounds about as sympathetic as Thomas can be for his fellow goalie while still toeing the party, or in this case team, line.

I wouldn't be surprised if Lucic does face some discipline for the hit. Whether you like the rule or not, that's what it says, that a goalie is not fair game and the fact that Lucic followed through high increases the chances of further penalty. And you know Shanahan will consider the fact that Miller was concussed on the play too.

It's worth noting that another goalie this season have already sustained concussions. Rick DiPietro was out for a very short time before returning to his place in the three-headed goalie monster for the Islanders. James Reimer of the Ducks was also hit high to the head by an opponent and has been out since mid-October with what the team is calling "concussion-like symptoms" but refuses to call a concussion.

The Sabres will recall Drew MacIntyre to fill in while Miller is out. Luckily for Buffalo, Jhonas Enroth has played very well this season as Miller's backup, getting a lot of action with Miller's recent struggles.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 2:10 pm
 

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?

kl1By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL over the first month of the season, and as my Eye On Hockey partner Brian Stubits pointed out earlier this week, a lot of that success has been the result of some strong play by their top lines.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has also been a big factor and is currently playing some of the best hockey of his career. Given the volume of shots he's faced, the Stars have needed him to play at a high level.

Entering their game on Saturday in Detroit, only two teams (Nashville and Florida) are allowing more shots per game (and by a minimal margin) than the Stars. It doesn't help that Dallas has been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL and spend a great deal of time shorthanded, but in 10 of their 15 games this season the Stars have been out-shot by their opponents. Seven times they've been out-shot by at least 10 shots, which is a rather large deficit.

I asked Stars coach Glen Gulutzan following Friday's game, a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh in which the Stars were out-shot by a 32-20 margin, if there was any concern that maybe the Stars are relying on Lehtonen a bit too much, and if he would like to see those shot totals change more in their favor.

"Well obviously you want to keep your shots down," said Gulutzan. "But it depends where those shots are coming from. If they're just slap shots from the outside we're more than comfortable that he can take those. He takes 32 a night and probably 180 in practice a day, so as long as they're not quality chances we're not going to concern ourselves too much about them."

In other words, in Gulutzan's view it's not the quantity, it's the quality.

There's been a debate taking place in the hockey analytical community as to what impact, if any, "shot quality" has on a team, and whether or not it all evens out throughout the season. While a slap shot from the outside obviously has a lesser chance of resulting in a goal than a breakaway, or a wide open one-timer from between the circles, it still has a greater chance of resulting in a goal than not allowing a shot at all. You run the risk of deflections, a puck hitting your own player and changing direction, or resulting in a second or third chance opportunity on a rebound. Since the 2005-06 season, teams that have finished in the bottom 10 in the league in shots allowed have qualified for the playoffs just 20 times (out of 60 teams).

The question isn't whether or not Lehtonen can physically handle that many shots (regarding Gulutzan's comment on facing 180 shots in practice every day), it's whether or not he can continue to stop them at this rate, and what happens to the Stars if (or when) he starts to play closer to his career norms.

Lehtonen's even strength save percentage currently sits at .952, which is tied for the best mark in the league among goaltenders that have started at least 10 games this season. That's not likely to last, no matter how far out the Stars are allowing shots from. (Just as an example, Tim Thomas led the league in even strength save percentage last season, a year where he was clearly the best goalie in the NHL, with a mark of .947, which was significantly higher than the rest of the league).

For his career, Lehtonen's even strength save percentage comes in at .926, and looks like this on a year-by-year basis: .928, .921, .923, .925, .926, .927. That's pretty consistent, and while it is possible for goaltenders to play a little better under certain coaches and systems, I have to think that eventually he's going to regress back closer to the level he's played at throughout his career. And that could be a problem if the Stars continue to allow over 32 shots every game.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 3, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 7:18 pm
 

Was Rinne the right choice for Nashville?

RinneBy: Adam Gretz

There are few positions in professional sports that get as much attention and face as much scrutiny as  starting goaltenders in the NHL. There are also few positions that are as unpredictable, uncertain, maddening and completely random.

Tim Thomas, the winner of two of the past three Vezina Trophies, is probably the best one in the league right now, and he didn't become a full-time starter until he was 32 years old after being a ninth-round draft pick and bounced around Europe and the minor leagues for nearly a decade.

Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators goaltender who just signed a contract that gives him the highest average annual salary in the league at the position (seven years, $49 million), is another example as to just how unpredictable the position can be. During an interview back in 2006, former Predators assistant and current Penguins general manager Ray Shero told the story of how the team initially scouted Rinne prior to making him an eighth-round draft pick in 2004 -- they watched him during warmups in Finland because he rarely played in games for Karpat Oulu, a team in the Finnish Elite League. Actually, he appeared in 10 games, winning eight, during the 2004-05 season, but the first night Shero joined a scout, Janne Kekalainen, to watch him was during warmups. Said Shero in the interview: "I watch him and he's taking shots and I turned to Janne after warmup and said, 'It's your call, buddy.' I can barely draft a goalie during the game let alone warmup. "

Needless to say their decision to draft him has paid off, Rinne has become their starting goaltender, a key member of their core, along with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and now, one of the highest-paid players in the NHL.

But was it the right move to give him such a large contract?

I'm not going to deny that Rinne is an excellent goaltender, and based on the way the team around him has played so far this season he's probably their first month MVP. It's also encouraging that the Predators were able to secure one of their home-grown players, and perhaps it's a sign that they will maybe, hopefully be able to keep one -- or both -- of their other soon-to-be top free agents (Weber and Suter). But I'm just not sold on giving out such huge contracts to goalies because, again, the position is just full of so much uncertainty, and one that can be heavily influenced by the team in front of the crease.

Over the past eight years the Predators have had no trouble finding goaltenders that are able to play at a high level, and in almost every season have managed to post a similar save percentage and finish well above (or close to) the league average no matter what their primary goaltending duo has looked like -- whether it was Rinne and Anders Lindback, Rinne and Dan Ellis, Ellis and Chris Mason, or Mason and Tomas Vokoun.

(League average in parenthesis)

2010-11: Pekka Rinne/Anders Lindback -- .926 (.913)
2009-10: Pekka Rinne/Dan Ellis -- .910 (.911)
2008-09: Pekka Rinne/Dan Ellis -- .910 (.908)
2007-08: Dan Ellis/Chris Mason -- .911 (.909)
2006-07: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .922 (.905)
2005-06: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .916 (.901)
2003-04: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .912 (.911)
2002-03: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .911 (.909)
2001-02: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .903 (.908)
2000-01: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .917 (.903)

I'm not sure Rinne can consistently duplicate the .930 save percentage he recorded last season when he finished as a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, and if he's back around the .915-920 area that is his career average, how much worse would they have been with a combination of Lindback and a free agent signing at a fraction of the price next season?

Like the situation in Phoenix with Mike Smith replacing Ilya Bryzgalov, there would have been a drop, but probably not as large as most would expect, or as large as the gap in salary would indicate, especially given the amount of success players like Mason and Ellis have been able to experience in Nashville (and how how much they've struggled away from Nashville). Keep in mind, Ellis, Mason and Rinne all experienced seasons with the Predators where they finished in the top-10 in the NHL in save percentage. They've consistently been able to find productive goaltenders without breaking the bank, why couldn't they continue to do it?

In the salary cap NHL every dollar counts and the wrong contract can have a large negative impact on a franchise, especially when it's a team that may or may not have an endless supply of money to keep other core players. I guess, in the end, it just goes back to my dislike of such large contracts for a position that is so unpredictable, even with seemingly established players, combined with the belief that players like Weber and Suter are simply more valuable to what they do for the long-term.

As E.J. Hradek pointed out on Twitter earlier in the day, it's a lot easier (and cheaper) to find quality goaltenders than it is to find franchise defensemen.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 3:23 pm
 

Tim Thomas, Patrick Kane star in credit card ads

By Brian Stubits

When you think of running commercial ad campaigns, it's a painful process to think of good ones. Think of how awful that Taco Bell dog was. In my mind, none are worse than the Progressive Insurance ones featuring Flo that inexplicably are still being played. I've never known of anybody who likes those ads.

But one campaign I haven't found bothersome at all, and in fact still sort of funny? The Discover Card ads with Peggy from USA Prime Credit. Apparently they were so in love with their ad featuring Keeper of the Cup Phil Pritchard that Discover made a pair of new hockey-personality ads.

The first also features a Stanley Cup tie in, meaning it Stars Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.

Quality commercial, certainly good for a laugh. But I'm left with one question -- well OK, there are more such as why do these people only carry one card, but just one I want to bring up -- what kind of stalker doesn't recognize her obsession when he's right there?

On to the next ...

The second commercial stars Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. He is not in a taxi cab (fill in the joke here) but instead in a hotel trying to pay the bill.

Kane. Patrick. I love the James Bond name delivery. And the face on the stick hockey players? Good touch.

Not bad, Thomas and Kane. Now to hockey fans with NHL Center Ice at home, be prepared to be sick of these commercials by Thanksgiving. Then hopefully they will begin planning for future shoots. Who should be next?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com