For starters, Thrashers, Pens go in different directions
There have been some interesting decisions surrounding promising young goaltenders in the Eastern Conference early on in these playoffs, the kinds of decisions that could have far-reaching ramifications for players and coaches alike.
Atlanta coach Bob Hartley yanked franchise netminder Kari Lehtonen after his first playoff game didn't go as planned and the Thrashers lost 4-3 at home to the New York Rangers. Backup Johan Hedberg was sensational in Game 2, stopping 37 of 39 shots; although he allowed a freaky goal to Sean Avery and the Thrashers lost 2-1 to go down 0-2 in the team's first visit to the postseason.
Hartley, who has never curried favor among the hockey intelligentsia, will no doubt be criticized for having gone to the bullpen too early. Still, some people forget he's been through the playoff wars, and if Hartley thought Lehtonen wasn't ready to go back between the pipes, then he wasn't ready.
And, in Atlanta, the view is short term to be sure.
The Thrashers need to make an impact to foster improved relationships with their fans and corporate sponsors. That means win now at all cost, even if there is a potential long-term impact on Lehtonen's psyche given the Thrashers expect to have him around for years to come. Lehtonen is a confident, mentally strong athlete, but he's still just 23 years old. He's not made of porcelain. If he cracks because he got yanked in his first playoff game, maybe he's not the kid you want to lead you long term, anyway.
Everyone remembers when Patrick Roy, Hartley's netminder in Colorado, burst onto the scene in Montreal in 1986, backstopping the Canadiens to a surprise championship as an untested rookie. Yet, the next spring, it was Brian Hayward between the pipes as the Habs advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia. That didn't seem to scar Roy too much as he went on to win three more Stanley Cups and is generally regarded as the greatest goaltender of all time.
In the end, goaltending's not the bugaboo plaguing the Thrashers, but rather the fact offensive stars Ilya Kovalchuk, Keith Tkachuk, Slava Kozlov and Marian Hossa, who combined for 314 regular-season points, have combined for one goal and two assists through two postseason games.
Over in Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003, also looked a little jittery in his first playoff outing against Ottawa in Game 1, a 6-3 Senators victory.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien went right back to Fleury in Game 2 and he was terrific, making a number of key stops to preserve the Penguins' come-from-behind, 4-3 win that evened the series at 1. He stopped 34 of 37 Ottawa shots.
Therrien could have gone to veteran Jocelyn Thibault, who was surprisingly solid in the last half of the season. But it appears the view in Pittsburgh is that this is Fleury's team, and they will sink or swim with him, at least for now.
Whether these respective decisions ultimately pay off for their respective teams or come back to haunt them will be made clearer in the coming days, but they reflect an interestingly divergent take on how to handle young netminders.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
MORE NHL HEADLINES
- Brodeur retires, to join front office with Blues
- Ducks shut out Canucks, extend streak to 6
- Division-leading Islanders dominate Rangers
- Red Wings edge Panthers for 6th straight win