Young goalies, not veterans, getting job done
With another week in the books, we are starting to see some teams come to life.
Who else is on a roll?
Are the Carolina Hurricanes ever going to let up from this fantastic start? They are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, haven't lost a game at home and lead the Southeast Division. Obviously, the hockey world has discovered Eric Staal, but how about goaltenders Cam Ward and Martin Gerber? Both are 5-1 and both have been solid in net.
Speaking of solid netminders, if you haven't watched (or read about) the Kings' Jason Labarbera, do it now. He's tied for third in the league in wins (8-2), and has a consistent goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.921).
Labarbera has a good team in front of him in Los Angeles. He played in the American Hockey League, so he's ready mentally and physically for the NHL. He's big (6-foot-3, 224 pounds), so he takes up a lot of the net and he controls his rebounds well. Labarbera has earned this job and he could lead the Kings right into the playoffs.
Another good thing this week was the return of Mats Sundin. The Toronto Maple Leafs need him badly and his return came at the right time. Sundin gives his team a shot in the arm, he instantly makes an offensive situation better. Sundin can win the draw, he can control the puck as well as anyone in the league. And his return gives the Maple Leafs added depth at center along with big teammates Eric Lindros and Jason Allison.
The whole team is in a funk. But look at Atlanta's lineup? They really should be better than this. On paper, their lineup is better than Carolina's. Holik, Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Bondra. I thought they could make a playoff run.
The team is undisciplined. If the Thrashers are going to turn things around, they have to crack the whip. You have to tell them that certain mental penalties like slashes are not going to be accepted. If you do that, you take away a lot of the Thrashers' problems.
Hot goalie prospect Kari Lehtonen is getting closer to a return after suffering a groin injury in the season opener. Maybe that will be a small catalyst for the Thrashers.
They are three of the best goaltenders in the NHL, but I don't think the trio is enjoying the new NHL. All three netminders are under .500, all are over 3.00 in GAA and all are under .900 in save percentage. Compare these three goalies, and money they make, to someone like Labarbera. Look at those numbers.
I never thought I'd see the day when this would happen, especially with Brodeur. I know he's been hurt, but before that, he was pulled from games. How often does that happen? The Blackhawks went after Khabibulin for the specific reason that he could win games and that they'd never go into a slump with him in the lineup. DiPietro has played as best as he can without a strong defense in front of him.
These three veterans are having trouble with the new style of play. If your team takes a lot of penalties, it puts more pressure on your netminder.
Given that environment, and the league's promise to make the calls through the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how these goalies evolve over the rest of the season.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.
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