Shutouts are popping up at a record pace and the conversation around the NHL2night studio is simple: What changes can we make to get more scoring in the game?
I LOVE shutouts. I started 81 games in the NHL and NEVER had one.
Maybe we need better offensive players. Maybe we need smaller ones who don't take up so much space in front of the net and around the slot with their long sticks and perfect positioning. After all, you really shouldn't score from behind that silly goal line that was moved up years ago to improve goal scoring chances, should you?
When there are great scoring chances, the positioning of these goalies is as systematic as Jacques Lemaire's positioning schemes in the neutral zone when the opposition has the puck. These goalies are just so darn sound, it looks robotic ... and I AM JEALOUS.
Let's get to some goalie news around the NHL:
Detroit has sent Curtis Joseph to Grand Rapids (Mich.) of the American Hockey League for him to work his way into game shape. My understanding is once he plays two games (expect them to be Friday and Saturday), he'll be recalled to Detroit for a start. It's always difficult when you're sent to the minors, but it's the only route for Cujo. He has to be ready to play if he's going to be moved. If he were to step right into an NHL game and show some rust, it would prolong a trade, as teams would want to make sure he is in top form, or close to it, when dealing.
I'd expect him to start on the road, not at Joe Louis. It also will be imperative for Cujo to show his strengths as a battler and a motivated athlete who wants to prove everyone wrong, as he has done for his entire career. Teams don't want guys who feel sorry for themselves. For a while, it was natural for him to wonder what went wrong, but not any more. His character has always come to the forefront and now is his greatest test.
How about Marc-Andre Fleury's play so far? Great stuff. He is resilient and that's the best quality to have in the player between the pipes. He gave up a goal on the first shot he faced in the Penguins opener, but he regrouped and earned the game's first star with 46 saves in a 3-0 loss. In my first NHL game, at Minnesota in 1985, Curt Giles scored against me on a 3-on-1 break. I made 18 saves in a 4-1 loss. I started my next NHL game two years later, while Fleury came back eight days later and beat the Wings and Dominik Hasek, 4-3, while making 31 saves. I love his moxie in the net, and I know he will gain more patience around the crease as his promising career rolls on.
Rick DiPietro has been named the NHL's defensive player of the week after putting up some sparkling numbers. He replaced Garth Snow in the opener, and then posted his first shutout by making 13 saves at Buffalo. His stats: a 2-0-1 record, a mini-me-ish 0.83 GAA, and a .956 save percentage. Holy jumpin! This will be his breakout year, and he could very well compete for the top job representing Team USA in next September's World Cup of Hockey.
Flyers' Jeff Hackett has been stopping pucks under the radar. He was good in back-to-back shutouts (2-0 vs. Buffalo and 0-0 at San Jose), before beating Phoenix, 5-4.
Let's move forward to our first rankings of the 2003-04 season.
Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.