A net dilemma for Turin?
It seems like only yesterday that the Canadian goaltending brigade was enjoying its summer orientation camp in picturesque Kelowna, British Columbia. Every day during the weeklong workouts, Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore, Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco wowed players and fans alike with their stellar play.
But with a little more than six weeks remaining until Olympic rosters have to be announced, Canada's goaltending picture is more than a little out of focus, leaving Wayne Gretzky, the executive director of the defending gold medalists, and his coaching/scouting staff with what could be a huge dilemma.
Let's start with Brodeur, who was arguably the best goaltender in the world coming into this season and certainly the top dog in the Canadian nets. Brodeur remains sidelined with a knee sprain that has seen him miss four straight games. More worrisome, perhaps, is that when he's been in net, Brodeur has been, well, very un-Brodeur-like.
Luongo, the No. 2 man on the Canadian depth chart, began the season with back-to-back shutouts and leads the league in saves with 421, but he's given up three or more goals in six of the last eight games for the 6-7-2 Panthers.
Theodore and the Canadiens have enjoyed a terrific first month of the season, but the former Hart Trophy winner is a notoriously slow starter and there have been moments where he has looked un-Olympian while turning in a 2.98 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in 13 games.
Turco, the fourth seed who might have seized the moment and moved back into contention for a spot on the Olympic roster, has been ordinary at best and awful at worst with a 3.19 GAA and .883 save percentage in 11 games.
What are the options if Brodeur's health remains an issue?
Well, the best Canadian goaltenders thus far didn't make Canada's massive 81-player list submitted to Olympic officials, so Manny Legace won't be getting the call even though he set an NHL record for wins in October with 10. Neither will Manny Fernandez of the Wild, whose .943 save percentage leads the league as does his 1.70 GAA. Nor will Fernandez's teammate Dwayne Roloson, whose .938 save percentage is third in the league.
Looking for a dark horse to work his way into the goaltending picture? How about Gretzky's No. 1 man in Phoenix, Curtis Joseph, who has a 2.14 GAA and a .924 save percentage and has been a major factor in the Coyotes' recent resurgence.
Team Canada assistant coach Marc Habscheid insisted no one is panicking yet. "We'll just let things sort themselves out. I don't think we want to get ahead of ourselves," he said.
Regardless, the Canadian goaltending prospects are certainly brighter than those facing U.S. GM Don Waddell and coach Peter Laviolette. The Americans looked to head into Turin with some combination of Robert Esche, Rick DiPietro, Ty Conklin and Ryan Miller.
DiPietro, based on his World Championship play last spring, had an early psychological edge, but his play for the Islanders has been so-so with a 3.68 GAA and a .889 save percentage. Conklin has been a washout in Edmonton and was shipped to Hamilton of the AHL for conditioning.
Esche, the starter in the World Cup of Hockey, wasn't invited to the World Championships last spring, while the best of the lot has been Miller, the Sabres' netminder of the future who boasts a 2.77 GAA and .910 save percentage. Unfortunately for Waddell et al, Miller is out six to eight weeks with a broken thumb.
-- Scott Burnside
|GLASS HALF FULL||'D' IS FOR DALLAS||BETTER IN BEANTOWN?|
|We'll preface this by saying we don't expect any miracles, but the Capitals could be a .500 team by the end of the week. Despite losses to the Flyers and Lightning, the Caps posted a big win over Toronto on Sunday to reach 6-8-0. With another matchup vs. Toronto and a home-and-home vs. New Jersey, who knows?||Remember Mike Modano? The star center has quietly jumped out to lead the Stars in scoring with six goals and eight assists in 14 games as Dallas sits in a three-way tie with San Jose and Anaheim (17 points) behind Pacific-leading L.A. (20 points). The Stars are still trying to find consistency after posting back-to-back wins this past weekend, the first time they've done that since Oct. 14.||The Bruins don't have Brian Leetch or Andrew Raycroft on the ice, but they still haven't lost a game in its last eight (4-0-4). G Hannu Toivonen is holding his own and young D-men Andrew Alberts (?), Kevin Dallman (??) and Milan Jurcina (???) are giving the B's some stability. The test comes this week vs. the Flyers and Sens.|
I've been really impressed with the Panthers' Jay Bouwmeester, who is going to be a part of the wave of next great defensemen in the game. His big presence (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) has given the Panthers' defense some strength and he is averaging 23:22 in ice time. Look for him to make Team Canada's final roster for the Winter Olympics in February.
Who figured the Hurricanes would rip through the first month of the season? Not me. After 13 games, the 'Canes are 10-2-1. And who thought 21-year-old Eric Staal would be among the league's leading scorers? Again, not I. Not that I didn't think Staal was a player, but I didn't realize he was ready to dominate (he's averaging two points per game). Entering the week, the Hurricanes carry a five-point division lead over the Lightning. The question is this: Can they keep it up? This week, they travel to Buffalo and Florida before finishing on home ice vs. Atlanta. I think it's time we keep a closer eye on these Hurricanes.
Watch Buffalo at Ottawa on Saturday night. Last time these two teams met, the Senators filled the Sabres' net with 10 goals. Without sensational rookie netminder Ryan Miller (broken thumb), this promises to be a crucial stretch for the playoff-hopeful Sabres. The tilt against the Sens will be the third game in four nights after earlier matches with red-hot Carolina and Toronto.
Who to pick up: Jarret Stoll has quickly turned into the top center for the Edmonton Oilers. He has four goals and nine assists in 15 games, and he is slightly better on the road.
Who to drop: The Predators' Kimmo Timonen has yet to put up the power-play points he had in 2003-04 as the defenseman has just two overall points in the last nine games.
So, we're going with a little dance ditty this week from DJ Shadow called "High Noon." If you haven't heard it, check it out off the album "Preemptive Strike." The first 45 seconds of the song would pump up any player -- or fan -- as the teams take the ice right before that opening faceoff.
"People have to realize it's not the same Rangers we've known. Everyone put these guys down, saying they would only win 10 games. Right now, they're showing everyone."
-- The Devils' Scott Gomez on the New York Rangers
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