Greetings hockey addicts!
I've got another brief break in baby planning/preparation so I thought I'd poke my head in to offer a few thoughts on the playoffs.
The first thing that I notice when looking at the two conference finals that are going on, is an incredible lack of proven goaltending.
Now before you jump down my throat on that one, allow me to explain.
I'm Not Buying It
Excluding the recent insertion of Mike Smith into the Tampa Bay cage—he is also unproven—the four netminders left are Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo, Dwayne Roloson and Antti Niemi.
I'm sure the first thing people will say to me is that Luongo has an Olympic Gold Medal, Antti Niemi has a Stanley Cup, and Tim Thomas won the Vezina a few seasons ago.
As for Roloson, he has had a respectable, if undecorated, career.
So let's start with the Luongo argument.
Yes, he has an Olympic Gold and was the starter for the gold medal game, but Luongo got the job by default when Martin Brodeur faltered early. Moreover, Luongo didn't play tremendous hockey for Team Canada, and the team won despite his average performance.
So far in the playoffs, Luongo has a middling .917 save percentage and a pedestrian 2.37 GAA. That the Canucks are one win away from the Stanley Cup final—they are also my pick to win the Cup—is due more to the tremendous skill and depth in front of him.
Antti Niemi is kind of in the same boat as Luongo, having won the cup with Chicago last year in the worst demonstration of Stanley Cup Final goaltending in NHL history. Philly also had horrible goaltending, and both teams won the games they did despite their netminders.
So I don't give Niemi much clout in that argument. Plus, as well as he played during the season for San Jose, he is sitting on a .895 save percentage and a 3.33 GAA through 17 playoff games.
Tim Thomas, with a .931 save percentage and a 2.27 GAA, is a bit of a different story, having won the Vezina trophy in 2009 and being in line to win it again this season. That being said, I just don't buy it.
I watch this guy play and he lets in far too many bad goals for my comfort.
In addition, he came out of nowhere to win the 2009 Vezina and is suddenly supposed to be a goaltending phenom in his thirties? This with no previous record of greatness and with no prior pedigree?
That dog won't hunt.
That being said, every time I think he and the Bruins will get bounced from the playoffs, Thomas comes up with a game saving performance. As such, in my books, he is the closest thing to being an established goaltender out of the remaining four.
Dwayne Roloson, who was pulled in his last start and sat as the backup to Mike Smith last night against Boston, is an aged journeyman goaltender. At 41 years of age, he played an excellent season to get the Bolts into the playoffs and all the way to the conference finals.
Yet when the chips were down, Roloson failed, and his team is on the brink of elimination as such. Hardly Conn Smythe candidate performances.
The game has changed
So if none of the four remaining teams have exceptional goaltending, then why are they in the conference finals over other teams?
It is because the game has changed.
Philadelphia and Chicago demonstrated in last year's playoffs, that you no longer need to have lights-out goaltending to contend for or win the Stanley Cup. No longer are the virtuoso performances of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur needed to win a championship.
Nowadays, depth, an ability to remain relatively healthy and a little luck are usually all that is needed.
If you look at some of the players that are helping their teams win and scoring goals at opportune moments, it is not usually the top-line players. Players like Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Dominic Moore, Devin Stoguchi, Logan Couture, Brad Marchard, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, Logan and others are the ones that help a team contend for the Cup.
Oh sure, you still need top line scoring, but without four lines of depth, it is impossible to win. In the past, you were perhaps able to win or make it to the final on the back of spectacular goaltending.
While all-star goaltending can still take you all the way, you generally need much more than just that to win in today's NHL.
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Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 to 9 a.m. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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