Saturday, January 17, 2015

Unheralded Canadiens still among NHL's elite teams


MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens can be a difficult team to understand. They have been hovering around the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the season, yet the Canadiens are rarely mentioned among the elite teams in the NHL.


But here they are with a 28-13-3 record following a 6-4 win at home Saturday against the New York Islanders, who entered the game having won four in a row, including a big 6-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home a night earlier.


The Islanders were 6-1-0 this season playing the second of back-to-back games and had won their past four under those circumstances before losing to the Canadiens.


Prior to the game, Montreal talked about the opportunity to prove a point against a team that was getting the accolades around the League that the Canadiens felt they deserved but weren't getting.


"You want to earn respect across the League," forward David Desharnais said. "It's by beating those teams that you're going to do that."


The Canadiens had a similar opportunity to do that a week earlier, when the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Penguins came to Bell Centre four days apart. But Montreal took one out of four points in the two games, was outshot 73-50 and went 0-for-7 on the power play.


The game against the Islanders is followed by a visit from the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators on Tuesday, providing a challenge not unlike the one last week. By beating the Islanders, the Canadiens gave themselves a chance to make the statement they failed to make a week earlier.


"We were disappointed with the way things went against Tampa," forward Dale Weise said. "Pittsburgh too; we were in that game and to lose it like that [2-1 in overtime] is obviously frustrating. So we weren't happy with that. We pride ourselves on being one of the best teams in the League at home, and we put a lot of focus on this one tonight. This is the top team in the Eastern Conference [entering Saturday], so we wanted to come out and play well and send a message to everybody."


Whether the Canadiens in fact did that remains to be seen, because their excellent record has a series of question marks attached to it.


The Canadiens have been remarkably spared by injuries this season, and it is difficult to believe that will continue all season. How will they react if it doesn't?


Montreal has consistently been a poor possession team all season. No team in position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs has a lower Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 than the Canadiens.


A big reason Montreal has been able to overcome that is goaltender Carey Price, who has been dominant all season but missed the game Saturday with an upper-body injury. The Canadiens won without him against a top team, which in and of itself proved a point. But how long can they rely so heavily on goaltending for their success?


Price's strong play has also contributed to Montreal's extremely high PDO, a statistic that combines a team's shooting percentage and save percentage in an effort to measure luck. Prior to games Saturday, the Predators were the only team with a higher PDO than the Canadiens, and the general theory is that over the course of a full season a team's luck will even out. Will it in Montreal's case?


The answers to these and other questions will largely determine if the Canadiens can maintain their lofty status in the NHL standings. So will beating teams like the Islanders in the manner in which they did it.


"They're a top team in the League and we consider ourselves to be a top team as well," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "Whenever you play these types of game you want to make sure you have the right effort."


The Canadiens were essentially even on the shot-attempt counter at 5 on 5 against one of the top possession teams in the NHL; they also scored two goals on four power-play opportunities, and for the first time in weeks they had four forward lines that were able to spend time in the offensive zone and generate shots on goal.


Also, unlike many of Montreal's wins this season when Price was far and away the biggest factor, this was a game the entire team could claim as its own.


"That was a huge challenge for us, and we knew it," coach Michel Therrien said. "We needed a contribution from everyone playing their game and [bringing] what they're supposed to bring to the team. To be quite honest, everyone was involved tonight and did what they were supposed to do. That was a team win. That's the only thing a coach can ask of his players. They worked really hard, and they deserved to win."


It was a blueprint for success the Canadiens would be wise to remember.



Blake's Kings legacy hits apex with jersey retirement


LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles was another world to Rob Blake where he grew up about 2,400 miles away. He was a Toronto-area raised farm boy, and his life revolved around machinery and watching Wayne Gretzky.


That changed profoundly within three months in the summer of 1988. Blake was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, and three months later he was a sophomore at Bowling Green when he and then teammate Nelson Emerson were sitting in their dorm room watching television. Gretzky had been traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings.


To look back at it seems just as jarring to Blake.


"The chances of watching an L.A. Kings game, at the time, when I was young, was very slim," Blake said. "Being drafted by L.A. was so far away from where I was. I had never had any communication with them before the draft. Nothing. It was more a little element of surprise and it takes you back. The furthest possible team that I could [go to]. And then all the hype started after that with the Gretzky trade."


Rob Blake's No. 4 will hang from the rafters next to Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Marcel Dionne, Rogie Vachon and Dave Taylor. (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI)

More than 25 years later, Blake is humbled and at peace with his Kings legacy that began that summer and figuratively concludes Saturday when he becomes the first defenseman in franchise history to have his jersey retired at Staples Center. The kid from Simcoe, Ontario, will have his No. 4 hang next to Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Marcel Dionne, Rogie Vachon and Dave Taylor.


"I think [the word] honor is one of the first things that come to mind," Blake said. "The other is fortunate. I think I was fortunate to play with great players from day one. If you look at some of them now: Luc and Dave are both up there; a few Hall of Famers in Larry [Robinson] and Gretzky and all these guys that are also there. So fortunately [I was] able to learn and be surrounded by great players, on and off the ice. It helps shape your career going forward."


It's been a celebratory winter for Blake, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in November. This latest honor speaks to his place in Kings history as the franchise's all-time leading scorer among defensemen, their only Norris Trophy winner and owner of a hip check that reverberates to the current generation.


"He was pretty deadly with that sucker, I've heard," Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said.


It's difficult to detail Blake's Kings career without mentioning his departure in 2001. Blake was set to become an unrestricted free agent and reportedly was pushed to ask for market value. The Kings couldn't afford to keep him, and Blake was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, with whom he won the Stanley Cup. The divorce angered some Kings fans.


"It was the toughest thing I ever had to do in my career," Blake said. "Sometimes decisions are made either way and you live with them whether you like them or not. It wasn't easy by any means. It was never easy coming back in here with another jersey on, for sure."


Blake, who returned to play two seasons for the Kings in 2006-08, acknowledged the ceremony helps bring closure to that chapter.


"It's to the point where I want it to get to," he said. "It definitely wasn't the smoothest road, for sure. But it is where I ended up wanting to get to from an early stage … my idea was to become an NHL player for one team and play the whole time through. Realistically, it's very difficult to do. But now, to have the kind of fulfillment on this weekend, kind of relays what I wanted to do when I got here, even though it was farfetched at the time."


Many fans relate Blake to the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, when they turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was young but he was impacted by Blake.


"I liked that he was good both ways," Doughty said. "He had that big hip check that I kind of do as well. He was good defensively, then he put up a lot of points offensively. He won a Stanley Cup. He won a gold medal. He won a Norris. I still want to win that Norris. That's something I'll have to talk to him about."


Doughty only has to walk upstairs at their practice facility to chat. A lot of his teammates also use Blake as a sounding board because the 45-year-old is the Kings assistant general manager. Blake's door is always open.


"Me and [Doughty] went up earlier this year," Muzzin said. "He had nothing but positive things. It's nice to talk to a guy like that who's been through it and seen it and can kind of judge where we are and understand what we're going through."


Blake is responsible for player contracts, evaluation and the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, but those afternoon talks seem to give him the most enjoyment. Most of the time, it's not about hockey.


"For me, that's the best part of the day is after practice when some of these guys stop by," Blake said.


About 40 former teammates are expected to attend the ceremony, although Gretzky cannot make it, a Kings official said. Blake will have his family: wife, Brandy; sons Jack, 13, Max, 2, and daughter, Brooke, 12. Blake is apprehensive about Max though, after he brought him to the Hall of Fame reception.


"He wanted to just grab the microphone and scream," Blake said. "I heard glasses break."


Blake thinks Max will be fine Saturday.


"I figure it's a big ice surface," he said. "I can just let him go."



Blue Jackets' Foligno ready to show off Columbus


Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno will captain Team Foligno at the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend, to be held Jan. 23-25 in Columbus.


In addition to the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, which will be played Jan. 25 at Nationwide Arena (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), Foligno will be responsible for selecting his team via the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings on Jan. 23 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).


He'll also take part in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 24 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).


Foligno, 27, is having a career season and signed six-year, $33 million contract extension through the 2020-21 season Dec. 31.


The first-time All-Star discusses welcoming the League to Columbus, his family and those hugs with Columbus goaltender and fellow All-Star Sergei Bobrovsky:


Your reaction to being named to the All-Star Game?


"Are you sure it's me?


"No. John Davidson [Blue Jackets president of hockey operations] told me. I was thrilled, humbled, excited; all those things. It's something you dream about as a kid, and to have it happen, I'm thankful. It's a recognition of my teammates, coaches, our owners and the fans here in Columbus. I can't wait to show people what a great hockey town Columbus is."


Who did you call first?


"My wife [Janelle]. I said, 'Honey, don’t make any plans for the All-Star break; we're staying here.'"


Is there added significance that the game is in Columbus?


"For sure. That's makes it even more special that I'm representing the entire city and fans here. It's absolutely an honor. I've never played in the game before but I was playing in Ottawa when the All-Star Game was there (2012). My teammates on the Senators told me how great it was to play in front of the home crowd and the responsibility that goes with it.


I hope I don't mess it up."


Turning away from hockey for bit; how's your daughter Milana doing? (The Folignos' first child was born Oct. 14, 2013 with a congenital heart defect. She underwent corrective surgery in Boston three weeks later.)


"She's doing great. She's up and running around. She's a handful. We're thankful every day that she's healthy."


You missed several games because of her surgery; it must have weighed on you throughout the season?


"I learned as a parent that you're always concerned about your children. Our situation was no different in that regard but it was different in others obviously. I think it helped me appreciate every day more and understand better what's important in life. I love coming home after a game and seeing her face."


You're having your best season, tying your career high with 18 goals at the halfway point. What's been the difference in the Nick Foligno now and the one that joined the Blue Jackets three seasons ago?


"I think maturity for one. Like I said earlier, I've had to grow up and be responsible for others both on and off the ice. I've got great coaches. We sat down after last season and really defined what my roles and responsibilities would be. I have to credit my teammates too. I wouldn't be here without them. I go out, play hard and keep my nose to the grindstone.


You could have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season; why did you decide to remain with the Blue Jackets?


"I believe in what we're doing here and the direction we're headed. I want to win a Stanley Cup and being part of making it happen would be incredible. We have a great group of guys here that make it fun to play with. I wanted to be here for the long haul and my family loves it here."


You seem to be a big advocate for Columbus; what do you want others to know about the city when they come for All-Star Weekend?


"First, that they love hockey here. They're loyal and passionate even though they haven't had a lot to cheer about over the years. We're trying to change that.


"It's a great city. It's got the big-city feel but it's easy to get around. It's a great place to raise a family. You have the [Columbus] zoo, which is one of the best zoos in the country. There's great restaurants and plenty of things to do. It might surprise people."


Your father Mike played 1,018 NHL games and in 1985-86 scored 41 goals for the Buffalo Sabres yet never was an All-Star. Your younger brother Marcus with the Sabres hasn't been an All-Star. Does that give you family bragging rights?


"I don't want go there. We'll see. My dad had a great career and I hope to play as long as he did and have the type of career he had. I'm just happy he's going to be here for the All-Star Game. I'd be really happy for Marcus if he made it someday."


Did you get caught up in the Ohio State football team winning the NCAA championship?


"You've got to. Living here I've become a big fan. It's fantastic what they did. It's a great thing for the school and the city. As an athlete you respect what they did and the adversity they overcame."


You're known for your bear hug of Bobrovsky after every win. If you do that to backup Curtis McElhinney would Bobrovsky get jealous?


"I don't really hug Curtis much. He's not the hugging type."


If Bobrovsky is on Team Toews and gets the win against you in the All-Star Game what will you do?


"I'd probably punch him (laughs)."


You became a legend in Columbus when you predicted scoring an overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins , and then did it to tie the series. Are you predicting any goals in the All-Star Game?


"I don't know. I got lucky once. I just hope I don't fall down and embarrass myself."



Friday, January 16, 2015

Jets prospect Hellebuyck carrying load for St. John's


Winnipeg Jets goaltending prospect Connor Hellebuyck has logged a lot of miles on his road to professional hockey.


A native of the Detroit suburb of Commerce, Mich., Hellebuyck played a year of junior hockey in Odessa, Texas, then set up camp on the goal line at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


"I always wanted to go to college," Hellebuyck said. "[UMass Lowell] were the first people to come down to Odessa and see me. After I talked to their goalie coach, Cam Ellsworth, he kind of sold the school really well to me. I thought it was a perfect fit. If there was anywhere I would choose, I would choose there."


Though Hellebuyck spent only two seasons on campus, his 53 games in a River Hawks uniform were the stuff of legend. He amassed a 38-12-2 record, and his 1.60 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and 12 shutouts rank first all-time in school history.


Hellebuyck's freshman year in 2012-13 concluded with him winning Hockey East Goaltender of the Year among other honors, and as a sophomore he was the inaugural winner of the Mike Richter Award, given to the most outstanding goaltender across NCAA Division I hockey.


With that level of success, it's hard not to be cognizant of your own play, but the 21-year-old was quick to credit his teammates.


Winnipeg Jets goaltending prospect Connor Hellebuyck has impressed many in his first pro season. Hellebuyck is tied for fourth among goalies in wins (16), and his .926 SV% is third among all AHL rookies. (Photo: Jeff Parsons)


"We did have a really good team there. Not only were we playing against some of the best players in the country, we were some of them," Hellebuyck said. "We had two Hockey East championships, and I think we really put the name on the map there."


He signed with the Jets and turned pro last April, and his journey now has him playing in the easternmost city in North America for Winnipeg's American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps. Picked in the fifth round (No. 130) of the 2012 NHL Draft, Hellebuyck watched the draft from his couch.


"I talked to a couple teams, but you never really know. No one told me for sure that they were going to draft me, but just having conversations with [teams] I thought there was a chance," he said. "I was sitting on the couch, watching the draft, and saw my name pop up, and I just had the biggest smile on my face. It's an unbelievable feeling."


His first pro season with the IceCaps hasn't disappointed. Hellebuyck is tied for fourth among all goalies in wins (16), and his .926 save percentage is third among rookies. On top of that, Hellebuyck ranks second in the AHL in minutes played and has faced more shots than any other goalie in the league. He's been a true bright spot in a difficult season for the reigning Eastern Conference champions.


"With the lower amount of games in college, there's always a concern to see if they can carry the workload. But we haven't seen that [he can't]," IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said. "We see a guy that has been our No. 1 guy, that has been running with it and hasn't shown any signs of fatigue. That's been a real strong point that we've been very aware of but haven't seen any red flags pop up."


Though it is still months from conclusion, Hellebuyck's rookie season in the AHL is shaping up to go as smoothly as his rookie season in college. He was selected as the IceCaps' only representative for the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic, set for Jan. 25-26 in Utica, N.Y.


"Coach called me in his office and I wasn't really expecting any of that to be said. But then he told me that I was going to make the All-Star Game," Hellebuyck said. "I really couldn't believe it."


McCambridge's experience behind the bench as an All-Star coach -- he worked the 2012 AHL event -- has proved beneficial once again. Since Hellebuyck's only knowledge of All-Star events comes from watching the NHL All-Star Game on television, McCambridge was able to explain what would happen once Hellebuyck arrives in Utica next weekend.


Also helping Hellebuyck along the way has been teammate Peter Budaj, a veteran of 296 NHL games. The veteran's presence on and off the ice has been integral to a young goaltender finding a way to maintain his game while also adjusting to the mental and physical parts of professional hockey.


"A lot of guys aren't always as nice, and they're just kind of there for the job, but Budaj is the nicest guy I know," Hellebuyck said. "The fact that he's kind of taken me under his wing is something I can only thank him so much for."


Hellebuyck is just four months shy of his 22nd birthday, and if his first half-season in the AHL is any indication, the future is bright.


"The potential on where he could eventually go is what jumps off the page to me. He's a big goaltender, his numbers are strong," McCambridge said. "When I look at Connor, his game is in a good place now, but where can it get to is the real exciting part of Connor Hellebuyck."


For the latest news, scores and stats from around the American Hockey League, visit theahl.com.



Flyers' Voracek excited for All-Star homecoming


Jakub Voracek started his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now the Philadelphia Flyers forward will be going back to Columbus for the biggest moment of his professional career.


Voracek was picked for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, which will be played Jan. 25 at Nationwide Arena (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).


He'll also take part in the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings on Jan. 23 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports), and the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 24 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).


"When I was a kid, every kid dreams [of the All-Star Game]," Voracek said. "I'm very excited about that. It's been a lot of people through my career, especially this season, that helped me to get there. My teammates, the organization. Couldn't do it without them."


Here's more from Voracek on returning to Columbus and some other things you might not know about the 25-year-old first-time All-Star:


Does it mean more because it's Columbus, where you started your career?


"I'm past that. They switched the whole organization from top to bottom. There's only two players left from when I played there. Nothing more personal, doesn't mean anything more because it's in Columbus. It's a little bit special because I know the city and I still have a lot of friends there. So it is exciting."


For someone coming from out of town, where would you suggest they go?


"Easton Town Center is like 15 minutes away from downtown. That's a good shopping center; lots of restaurants, lots of shopping there. It's a good time. I went there a lot. I would just spend my day there at the movies, and there's lots of good restaurants."


Away from the game you're known as someone who enjoys fast cars; has that always been the case?


"Since I was a kid I've loved speed, loved cars. My dream was to buy a Ferrari one day, which I did a couple years ago. Didn't end up very well [he totaled the car in a 2013 accident]. That was one of my dreams. I'm behind right now. I love fast cars, that's not a secret."


So did you have car posters on your bedroom wall growing up?


"I had hockey players. But if there was a nice car on the street I was always interested. Like, how big it was, how fast it could go. Everything."


Was there a certain model Ferrari you always wanted?


"There wasn't a particular model when I was young. Just my dream was a black Ferrari with the black rims."


You're also known as a bit of a fashion guy; do you have something planned for the All-Star Game?


"I don't shop very often but if I go, I go. I go and I just grab stuff. I wouldn't say I'm a fashion guy. Usually just roll out of bed and put a suit on and go to the rink. I'm going to wear the black suit with a tie, keep it simple [for the All-Star Game]. You have to."


Do you do the shopping or do you let your girlfriend do that?


"She does that a lot. I go once or twice a year. Then it's a big shop."


Your girlfriend is from Columbus, so will this be a nice homecoming for both of you?


"Yes, it's nice. She's going to visit her family because I think I'll be very busy."


---



Trotz returns to Nashville, where he instilled culture


ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hockey players, coaches and front-office staffs often speak of instilling cultures. David Poile and Barry Trotz literally built one from scratch.


The Nashville Predators were in their infancy in the late 1990s, and as the franchise's first general manager and coach, Poile and Trotz set out to entrench an identity in a nontraditional market.


"When you have someone that's working alongside you for so many years, you certainly have to be on the same page in terms of your overall strategies and game plans," Poile said. "Our thought process in a nutshell was to make Nashville a hockey city."


As the Predators matured, they inherited the personality of their demanding coach. They were blue-collar, no-nonsense and accountable.


"[It was] the person and the personality, the work ethic," Poile said. "It wasn't just the work ethic for our team. It was his work ethic and commitment to the community, the consistency that he brought on a daily basis, his purpose as the coach of the Predators."


After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the second time in as many years and Trotz's contract up for renewal, Poile sought a new direction after 15 seasons.


Trotz, the longest tenured coach from the start of an NHL franchise, will return to Nashville for the first time as coach of the Washington Capitals on Friday.


"It'll probably be a little emotional," Trotz said. "When I left there, they were nothing but first-class. Not a typical parting of the ways, if you will. Nashville became my home, and it still is to this point, just because my family's there and I've got some of my friends there. It'll be a busy time, but I'm going to try to go low-key as low as I can. I don't blend in there very well, so might be a little more difficult. I'm looking forward to it."


Trotz's transition expectedly took time. In early interviews, he would say "Nashville" instead of "Washington" out of habit. At home, he and his wife, Kim, have attempted to make their new surroundings as comfortable as possible for their son Nolan, who has special needs.


"Originally, it was a little bit difficult," Trotz said. "Big change, a different type of city. … The transition at first was a little bit difficult because you uprooted everything, but it's actually been pretty exciting. Meeting new people, new area, different lifestyle. Being in the Eastern Conference is a little different than the West, all those things. I've actually embraced it. It's been fun. I've got some great people to work with and a team that I think is embracing what we're trying to do here."


Trotz said he thought he might originally be jealous of Nashville's success without him. At 29-9-4, the Predators are off to their best start. Coach Peter Laviolette's more aggressive, attacking style has Nashville among the NHL's highest-scoring teams, and him among Jack Adams Award candidates.


Goaltender Pekka Rinne, prior to sustaining a sprained knee Tuesday that will force him to miss 3-5 weeks, was the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy and received midseason Hart Trophy consideration. Rookie forward Filip Forsberg, drafted by Washington in 2012, has blossomed into a dynamic offensive player and is likely to be a Calder Trophy finalist.


"[Laviolette] has done a fantastic job in Nashville, and it has been refreshing for me," Trotz said. "It was time for a new face in Nashville, and a new challenge for myself as well."


To Trotz's credit, the Capitals have flourished under his guidance, having earned a point in 18 of their past 19 games (14-1-4).


Similar to how he constructed the Predators' foundation, Trotz has renovated the Capitals' mindset. Washington has become a much more structured team, capable of combining its offensive firepower with defensive stinginess.


"It felt like we played against Nashville there for a bit," Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said after a 3-1 loss to the Capitals on Saturday. "They played really tight."


A warm welcome will surely greet Trotz at Bridgestone Arena on Friday. The Predators have something planned to honor him, though Poile was mum on exactly what.


Nashville will continue to operate without Trotz, but he will forever be intertwined with the franchise.


"He got a chance to build culture," said Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who has worked with Trotz throughout Trotz's NHL coaching career. "He got a chance to pick the carpet, put up everything on the wall.


"While there will be other coaches from now until eternity there, when you're the first, someone's always sitting in your chair. And that's cool."



Super 16: East gaining ground in balance of power


For several seasons, the NHL's balance of power has tilted to the left.


The Western Conference has won more games against their brethren in the Eastern Conference for years. The West has been home to six of the past eight Stanley Cup champions, and the two that lost had a Game 7 on home ice in the Final.


That has not changed at this point in the 2014-15 season, but the two conferences might be a little closer to equal than they were a season ago, at least at the top. The East is 112-94-22 against the West through games on Wednesday.


Basically, the Eastern teams are collecting points at an 89-point pace in games against the West. That's a slight uptick from last season, when the East teams were essentially an 86-point team against the West and Western teams were a 102-point team against the East.


Over the course of the 2013-14 regular season, it was pretty clear that five of the top six teams in the NHL were in the West (the three California teams, Chicago and St. Louis). This season, the elite teams appear to be more evenly distributed.


The New York Islanders have played like an elite team during the season's first half. (Photo: Getty Images)


While the whole of the Eastern Conference is performing only slightly better than last season, the teams in the back half of the top eight to 10 could end up significantly better.


There are seven teams in the East currently on pace for at least 105 points. The Boston Bruins are currently in the eighth position and are on pace for 97 points. The Florida Panthers in ninth place are actually on pace for 98 (two back with three games in hand).


Compare that to a season ago when the two wild-card teams ended up with 93 points, and the New York Rangers had home-ice advantage in the opening round with 96 points. The biggest reason for this upswing is four teams that were on the bubble a month or six weeks ago (Florida, Boston, the Washington Capitals and the Rangers) have all been winning a lot of late.


The West remains the deeper conference (despite having two fewer teams), but the middle of the pack in the East looks like it is improving while the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings made significant steps forward in the first half of the season and look like elite teams now.


There is still time for some teams in the West, particularly the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, to round into their 2013-14 form. But for now, the East appears to be improved from a season ago and the battle for the final two or three playoff slots will be waged by good teams, not slightly mediocre ones.


DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.


1. Chicago Blackhawks (28-13-2)


One of the directives in Chicago between now and the NHL Trade Deadline might be to figure out what is wrong with Johnny Oduya. Among defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even-strength ice time, he's last in Corsi-for percentage relative to team average.


His "With Or Without You" (WOWY) numbers are not flattering either. The Blackhawks control 50.3 percent of the shot attempts when Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are on the ice at even strength together. Without Oduya, Hjalmarsson's above 60 percent, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.


MUST READ: Mike Spellman of the Daily Herald writes about the continued improvement of Patrick Kane.


2. St. Louis Blues (27-13-3)


The Blues lead the NHL in goals since Dec. 1, overall (72) and at even strength (49). They do not lead in goal differential (third, behind the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers), but St. Louis has had goaltending issues and a healthy Brian Elliott should take care of that.


MUST READ: Dave Luecking of USA Hockey Magazine writes about the increase in youth hockey talent in St. Louis.


3. New York Islanders (29-13-1)


Speaking of Oduya, it doesn't help him that Nick Leddy has blossomed with the Islanders. He's gone from struggling to earn to coach Joel Quenneville's trust during multiple postseason runs to a puck possession monster on Long Island.


Oduya and Leddy are each slated to become a free agent in July, and given their difference in age (Leddy is nine years younger), Leddy should be more valuable, though being a restricted free agent versus unrestricted could change that.


Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) does fantastic visual work on Twitter with advanced statistics. Check out this tweet, not only to see how great Leddy has been, but also who is distributing it to his followers.


That is Neil Sheey (@ICEHockeyAgent), who happens to be Leddy's agent.


MUST READ: Dave Lozo of Bleacher Report writes about why it is time to stop doubting the Islanders.


4. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-14-4)


Several solid websites dealing with advanced statistics in hockey have risen from the ashes of the (brief) post-Extra Skater apocalypse, and WAR on Ice [war-on-ice.com] has an amazing wealth of data to sift through and sort. One of the newest features on the site is an attempt to quantify scoring chances, and the data says "That Line" is having an incredible season.


Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are first, second and third among forwards with at least 400 minutes of even-strength ice time in on-ice scoring chances per 60 minutes, all averaging more than 36 per 60 minutes. They're all in the top 15 in scoring chances for, each having been on the ice for at least 326. Kucherov and Palat are also in the top 15 in scoring chances for percentage as well.


MUST READ: Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune writes about Steven Stamkos evolving as captain.


5. Nashville Predators (29-9-4)


There is a collection of No. 2 defensemen in the West that could all be No. 1 guys on a different team, and make up an interesting "who is the best No. 2" debate. Those names include Brent Seabrook, TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin, and that group should also include Roman Josi, who is actually fifth in the NHL in average time on ice per game (partner Shea Weber is fourth). Josi is also sixth among defensemen in even-strength points and in the top 15 overall.


MUST READ: Sam Page of Sports Illustrated writes about whether Weber misses his old partner, Ryan Suter.


6. Pittsburgh Penguins (26-10-6)


There was plenty of speculation in the offseason that the Penguins might trade Paul Martin, a pending unrestricted free agent, once they signed Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year contract. The Penguins had several exciting young defense prospects and a logjam at the position. They didn't have several proven top-four defensemen at the NHL level, and not ones beyond Martin that had been healthy recently. Olli Maatta's season-ending shoulder surgery has reinforced that it was a pretty good idea to keep Martin around.


MUST READ: Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes about how the Penguins need to find Evgeni Malkin, who is having a fantastic season, some help.


7. Anaheim Ducks (28-10-6)


One of the criticisms of Bruce Boudreau's aggressive philosophy and system when he was with the Washington Capitals was while it helped his club rally from deficits, it also left the team vulnerable to not holding leads. Regardless of the validity of that hypothesis back then, Boudreau's current team certainly has not had that problem. The Ducks are 74-1-6 when leading after two periods since the start of the 2012-13 season.


MUST READ: Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes about Ilya Bryzgalov being at peace in Anaheim.


8. Detroit Red Wings (23-11-9)


Last season there were several goaltenders who began the season No. 3 on the NHL depth chart but rose to prominence, which illuminated just how deep the position is now compared to say 10 or 15 years ago. Teams haven't needed their No. 3s quite as much to this point, though Calvin Pickard of the Colorado Avalanche and Scott Darling in Chicago have both been really good.


Pickard currently leads all No. 3s with 15 games played and 12 starts, but Petr Mrazek is poised to pass him with Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson out of the lineup because of injuries. Before the season, Mrazek would have featured well on a list of the top No. 3 goalies, and the Red Wings might not miss a beat with him patrolling the crease.


MUST READ: Ansar Khan of MLive.com hands out some midseason grades for the Red Wings.


9. New York Rangers (24-12-4)


A common misconception as advanced statistics evolve is a team needs to be successful in the faceoff circle to be strong in puck possession. "Best way is to start with the puck" is the general refrain. There's been analytics work done to prove that isn't necessarily true, that a team that doesn't win faceoffs well can still control the puck.


The puck possession metrics for the Rangers have been steadily improving, and they're winning a bunch of games right now. They are not winning a whole lot of faceoffs, and remain 29th in the League at 46.1 percent.


MUST READ: Dave Shapiro of Blue Seat Blogs writes about the Rangers and WAR on Ice's scoring chance data.


10. San Jose Sharks (23-16-5)


For all of the attention Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau received in San Jose's wacky offseason, the goaltenders avoided a lot of the action. The Sharks brought back both Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock, and there was an expectation Stalock would earn a larger share of the starts.


That hasn't happened. Stalock was hurt for a few weeks, but he's still only started 10 games this season. He and Niemi have identical .912 save percentages (Niemi has been slightly better at even strength), but despite being pulled twice in 2015 already, Niemi has started 12 of the past 13 games.


MUST READ: Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes about San Jose needing more from the 2013-14 rookie class.


11. Winnipeg Jets (22-14-8)


There are 14 forwards who have played at least 160 games since the start of the 2011-12 season who have averaged exactly 2.2 points per 60 minutes at even strength. Here is the list: Joe Thornton, Patrick Sharp, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, David Krejci, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, John Tavares, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Martin St. Louis, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul.


That's some pretty strong company. Oh wait, that's only 13 names. There's one more name on that list.


It is Mathieu Perreault.


MUST READ: Scott Burnside of ESPN.com writes about the impact Paul Maurice has had on the Jets.


12. Washington Capitals (24-11-8)


A Washington Capitals goaltender has appeared in at least 70 games four times. Once it was with Jim Carey in 1995-96, and the other three were consecutive seasons from 1999-01 for Olie Kolzig.


Having played 38 of the first 43 games, including 20 straight, Braden Holtby could end up challenging Kolzig's season-season mark in Washington (73, in 1999-00). He's currently on pace for just shy of 73. Maybe the time off will have helped backup Justin Peters. This isn't a team record anyone really wants a goaltender to achieve in 2015.


MUST READ: Kevin Klein of Japers' Rink writes about Alex Ovechkin seven years into his $124 million contract.


13. Los Angeles Kings (20-13-10)


The Kings have been steadily improving in puck possession but still finding middling results. Losing Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli isn't going to help their troubles with scoring goals, and puts a big dent in one of their greatest strengths (forward depth).


MUST READ: Andrew Leafman of Jewels From The Crown writes about Drew Doughty's worthiness as a Norris Trophy candidate.


14. Montreal Canadiens (27-12-3)


Max Pacioretty is seventh in goals (105) and fifth in shots on goal (865) in the NHL since the start of the 2011-12 season. He's scored 1.4 goals per 60 minutes, which is tied with a bunch of guys behind Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and James Neal among players with at least 1,000 minutes of ice time.


What might be most impressive is Pacioretty's ability to generate this production despite his team's relative inability to. Among the top 20 players in individual shots on goal in that span, Pacioretty is 18th in on-ice shots on goal (SOGs by the team when he is on the ice).


MUST READ: Andrew Berkshire of Eyes On The Prize writes about whether the Canadiens deserve to be considered Stanley Cup contenders (and here's guessing most of the Quebec natives who have commented on the Super 16 this season will not agree with his conclusion).


15. Boston Bruins (23-15-6)


In Zdeno Chara's first game back from a knee injury, the Bruins lost by a goal to the Blackhawks. Nothing dishonorable about that. Then Boston lost to the Ottawa Senators in a shootout. And then to Nashville in a shootout.


It was around this point that words like mediocre and average were used to describe Boston, and after four straight losses and eight of 11 it seemed pretty accurate. Then David Krejci came back from his groin injury and Chara started to get back into game shape and all of a sudden the Bruins started racking up points.






















































































Standings on 12/16Standings since 12/16
TeamRecordPointsTeamRecordPoints
Tampa Bay20-10-343Boston8-2-319
Montreal20-10-242Montreal7-2-115
Detroit17-7-842Tampa Bay7-4-115
Toronto19-9-341Florida7-4-115
Florida13-8-834Detroit6-4-113
Boston15-13-333Ottawa5-5-212
Ottawa12-12-630Toronto3-10-06
Buffalo13-17-228Buffalo1-10-13

The Bruins are 8-2-3 since Krejci returned, which is a 119-plus point pace over 82 games. They are merely at a pace of 107-plus since Chara returned. The Atlantic Division standings since Krejci returned, which is a span of about one month, show it's probably not quite time to say the aging, salary-cap strapped Bruins are done.


MUST READ: Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe writes about the pending decision the Bruins have to make on rookie David Pastrnak.


16. Florida Panthers (20-12-9)


The Panthers are good at hockey, and if they could find another goal-scorer either internally or through trade, they might be really good. It's still not going to be easy to make playoffs given the pace being set in the back half of the top eight right now.


MUST READ: Jameson Olive of Fox Sports Florida writes about how Willie Mitchell has helped Dmitry Kulikov rebound from a poor 2013-14 season.



Ribeiro leads Predators' revival with own resurgence


NASHVILLE -- When forward Mike Ribeiro signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators last summer, many thought the best days of his career were behind him.


His four-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes was bought out after one season because of behavioral issues, according to Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, and his point production had slipped in each of the past two seasons.


Through the first half of this season, Ribeiro has silenced his critics, finding success on and off the ice. He focused on getting his personal life back in order in the offseason, and that was a big reason he decided to sign with the Predators in the first place. The media scrutiny isn't high here, and it's a good place to raise a family.


"It's been great," Ribeiro said. "It's pretty quiet, but it's more about work than anything else. It's a good fit for me, and the boys in the room have been great with me. I'm just happy to be here."


Ribeiro's on-ice production has been a welcome surprise for the Predators. He has nine goals and 29 assists in 42 games and trails only linemate Filip Forsberg for the team lead in points. Ribeiro has been consistent all season and has 21 points in the past 20 games.


"I knew I was going to have a good season, but obviously playing with good players helps," Ribeiro said. "When you're playing with a good team and good players, you seem to play better and to look better. I knew I was going to have a good year. I don't know if I had in mind the same amount of points I have right now, but I knew I was going to be focused on what I had to do."


Puck possession is a big part of Ribeiro's game. He's been able to hold on to the puck this season and makes patient plays when he has it. Ribeiro doesn't seem to be fazed by tight pressure or areas on the ice where there is not a lot of room.


"He's one of the few players in the League where the puck constantly seems to stick to him," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "When he's around it and in trouble, it's like it's just a magnet to him. He can do a lot of creative things in small spaces with heavy pressure on him. He's been that way his whole career, and he certainly has made a difference on our team. He's an impact player night after night."


Ribeiro spent the first part of the season on a line with Forsberg and James Neal. They were the primary source of offense for Nashville early on, with Ribeiro feeding the puck to two gifted goal-scorers. That pass-first mentality has resulted in Ribeiro being near the top of the NHL in assists.


"It always helps when you play with good players, and I've been lucky enough to play most of the season with Filip and James," Ribeiro said. "Guys who can shoot the puck, and top players in the League. I just have to stay focused on my job and come to the rink ready to play games."


Neal has been moved to the second line and Craig Smith has filled in on Ribeiro's line, but Forsberg has been a constant linemate of Ribeiro's. Forsberg has 15 goals and 24 assists in 42 games and arguably has been the top rookie in the League.


"It's so weird to say rookie, because he doesn't act like one," Ribeiro said. "He looks so much more mature than a 20-year-old kid. It's hard for me to imagine he's a rookie. I feel like he's been in the League for a few years at least."


Forsberg said he believes playing with Ribeiro has been a major reason for his offensive success. Ribeiro's creativity with the puck has allowed Forsberg to get open looks at the net, and he has been able to capitalize. Ribeiro has been a big help away from the rink also.


"He's always going to get you the puck, even when you're not really expecting it," Forsberg said. "You've got to be on your toes ready to get it. Off the ice too, he's been in the League a really long time and he's an experienced guy. I try to pick up as much as I can from him on the ice, and even more probably off the ice."


Deception is a big part of Ribeiro's game. He has a variety of moves with the puck in his repertoire that throw defenders, and sometimes even his teammates, off balance. Ribeiro's linemates know they always have to be ready to receive the puck.


"He's able to hang onto it when he looks like he's almost lost it and guys are on him," Neal said. "They kind of fall off of him because he's so slippery with the puck. You've got to always be ready. He's got great vision. He's a pass-first guy, so he's always looking to give us the open net."


Ribeiro has been a key contributor for arguably the NHL's most surprising team in the first half of the season. Nashville leads the League with a 29-9-4 record after finishing 10th in the Western Conference last season.


New players, a new coaching staff and a new system have given the Predators a makeover, and the results have consistently been there. The Predators have not lost two games in a row all season. Not even Ribeiro knew this type of success would come so quickly.



Mike Ribeiro



Center - NSH


GOALS: 9 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 38

SOG: 50 | +/-: 15



"I thought we were going to be a strong team and be hard to play against," Ribeiro said. "You build teams with goaltending nowadays and your back end, and we have that. It was a matter of just jelling together. A lot of new players, a new coach, a new system, and I think from Day One we believed that we had a good team here and it's been showing on the ice."

Ribeiro will turn 35 on Feb. 10 and he, much like his team, will try to build on the strong start. Nashville is going to rely on Ribeiro to handle big minutes as the first-line center.


"I'm going to try to keep up the pace," Ribeiro said. "I think lately I've been playing average. I need to play better. You don't want to look too far ahead, but the last stretch is usually the hardest. It seems every year you used to say, 'After the All-Star break is when you look for a playoff spot,' but nowadays it's from game one that you have to win every game. We've been preparing every game, and I think it won't be different after the All-Star break."


The ultimate goal for Ribeiro and the Predators this season is to win the Stanley Cup. As the top team in the League through the first half, Ribeiro said he believes the Predators have what it takes to compete for the ultimate prize.


"I think we have put ourselves in a situation where you're able to win a Cup and that's to make the playoffs first," Ribeiro said. "… Obviously, we're really confident in our goaltending. Our defense, that's the second thing in the playoffs. Not a lot of goals. It's a really tight game. It's the teams that can come out on top when it's a really tight game, and I think we believe that we can win one whether we're in the lead or if we're behind. I think we have a good chance."



Predators' Rinne favorite to win Vezina Trophy


With the first half of the 2014-15 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.


Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was NHL.com's choice to win the Vezina Trophy at the quarter pole. He had 14 wins in 18 decisions, a 1.97 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.


Rinne continues to be the top goalie in the League midway through the 2014-15 season, though he is expected to miss the next 3-5 weeks with a sprained knee sustained Tuesday in a win against the Vancouver Canucks.


The 32-year-old leads the NHL with 29 victories, five more than Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen. Rinne is also tops in GAA (1.96) and is tied for second in save percentage (.931) with Michael Hutchinson (Winnipeg Jets) behind Calvin Pickard (Colorado Avalanche). Pickard and Hutchinson have a combined 29 starts between them; Rinne has started 37 games.


Rinne, who missed more than half of last season because of a hip injury, was named to the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game last Saturday. It was Rinne's first All-Star Game selection, and he would have been the first Predators goalie to appear at the event since Tomas Vokoun in 2004, but he was replaced on the roster because of his injury.


"One of the things that has impressed me most is his work ethic," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette told the Predators website. "In practice and in games, he never quits on anything.


"He never quits on the puck in practice. He never stops trying. He almost slows down the drills sometimes, because someone is ready to come in and take the shot, and he's not done with the first one because he won't quit on it. It's such a valuable trait for an athlete, and most certainly for a goaltender, to always fight for the last inch out there, and that's what he does."


FINALISTS


Marc-Andre Fleury , Pittsburgh Penguins -- A finalist at the quarter-pole, Fleury continues to quietly perform for the Penguins in what has become a heated race in the Metropolitan Division. Through 34 starts, the 30-year-old was 22-7-4 with a 2.16 GAA and .926 save percentage. Fleury leads the NHL with six shutouts and was named to the All-Star Game on Thursday as an injury replacement.


"There's been a few guys missing for parts of time, so I just tried to do whatever I could to help out the team," Fleury told the Penguins website. "I'm getting older, so I have a little more experience, a little more calm, I think. So I guess that's been helping."


Carey Price , Montreal Canadiens -- Price was named to the All-Star Game (he'll be the lone representative for Montreal) for a fourth time last weekend, and it's easy to see why; in 35 starts, the 27-year-old is 23-10-2 with a 2.19 GAA and .927 save percentage.


"It's always a fun experience," Price said of his latest All-Star selection, according to The Canadian Press. "It's definitely an honor to go and represent my team. I'm looking forward to it. It should be a really good time."


Also in the mix: Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks; Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals


---



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blues hope Brodeur hasn't closed chapter in St. Louis


ST. LOUIS -- Whatever decision goalie Martin Brodeur makes as he takes a week to ponder his future, the St. Louis Blues hope the veteran comes back.


Brodeur, 42, was granted a leave of absence by the Blues on Wednesday and went back to his hometown of Saint-Leonard, Quebec to spend time with his family and decide what the future holds.


But the Blues, who host the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, hope Brodeur, who has been relegated to being the No. 3 goalie, will remain with the club moving forward. They were surprised by Brodeur's request.


"Yeah, selfishly, yeah," coach Ken Hitchcock said when asked about wanting Brodeur back.


"Kind of caught everybody off guard. We didn't know what was going and still don't know what's going on. I've gotta tell you, him being here, man it was really helpful. It was helpful to every piece of this organization between trainers, coaches, players, management … he was a real helpful guy. He shared information that you just can't buy, you can't pay for. I'm hoping that whatever he decides with him and his family, that he comes back to us and we can help him a little bit maybe in something that he wants to do, but he can help us a bunch. Selfishly, we're hopeful that he does come back."


Brodeur, whose 691 wins are the most in NHL history, has a 3-3-0 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in seven games with the Blues. Brodeur was a healthy scratch the past five games after goalie Brian Elliott returned from a knee sprain. The Blues also have Jake Allen. Brodeur's last game was Jan. 2, a 29-save performance in a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.


The Blues signed Brodeur to a tryout after Elliott was injured Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators. Brodeur signed a one-year, incentive-laden contract Dec. 2.


Elliot returned Dec. 30 and has made five appearances (four starts), allowing 10 goals. He is 11-5-1 and ranked first in the NHL in GAA (1.95) and fourth in save percentage (.928) heading into Thursday.


Brodeur has a record 125 shutouts, and a lifetime 2.24 GAA and .912 save percentage.


The three-time Stanley Cup champion and four-time Vezina Trophy winner spent the first 21 seasons of his career with the New Jersey Devils. He became a free agent after the 2013-14 season.


"I don't want to close the book on that," Backes said of Brodeur's tenure with the Blues. "I think he's going to take a week here and do some searching and get some rest for him. But he's a very capable goalie, I think he's shown that, and a very capable guy in the room. Whatever sorts itself out, hopefully he's still with us and he can provide us with more insight, more veteran know-with-all and be a part of us winning games going forward. Who knows how it sorts out, but we wish him the best and some great soul searching in the next week or so.


"Yeah, he was great to have here. He is great to have here. … Three goalies, I don't know how you figure that all out; that's management and coaching, but he's a character guy in the room, a guy with experience, and he's phenomenal."



Fantasy top 30 goalies: Quality of competition


Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com's Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top-30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.


UPDATED TOP 30 GOALIE RANKINGS

Quality of competition is a concept in hockey mostly applied to skaters.


It's easier to isolate the events of a skater's game every night than a goalie. We can look at what kind of forwards a defenseman is deployed against, and which forwards a coach matches up against their counterparts. Those are discernible segments of the game that we can analyze, and it gives us a glimpse into who is really playing the so-called tough minutes and how they fare in said instances.


For goalies, this kind of observation is a bit trickier.


To qualify the quality of competition a goalie faces there are no segments to draw from, just 60-minute (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter) samples. A goalie faces every skater on the opposing team at one point or another, which makes things like save percentage, goals-against average, and win-loss records, on the surface, the chief way to judge goalies.


And that can be frustrating in terms of fantasy hockey, because knowing how a goalie performs against different competition would go a long way in structuring one's lineup. It's a dilemma most have faced before: You have three goalies scheduled to start one night and can play two. Goalie A may be your best statistical starter of the three but might have the most difficult matchup. While Goalie B and Goalie C aren't as consistent, they are playing teams that you'd expect them to have a chance to win against.


Hockey is a pretty difficult sport to predict. Any team can beat any other team on any given night. And while you almost always can play the odds, it's no consolation to your fantasy team when your top goalie is defeated by one of the League's lesser teams. But below, this chart shows how 22 of the most used goalies this season have performed against different levels of competition.


The chart shows how different goalies have performed against different levels of competition this season. The stats are taken through Jan. 1, and the League was broken down into three tiers based on the standings from that date, based on winning percentage, representing the top, middle and bottom thirds.













































































































































































































































































































































































PLAYER WIN-LOSS RECORD SPECS WIN % VARIANCE SAVE % VARIANCE
Overall vs. top third vs. mid third vs. bottom third Overall vs. top third vs. mid third vs. bottom third Overall vs. top third vs. mid third vs. bottom third
Rinne 24-6-25-3-17-2-112-1-0.774 .611 .750 .923 .934 .919 .924 .953
Crawford 14-6-25-2-03-4-16-0-1.682 .833 .438 .929 .921 .931 .905 .927
Bishop 18-6-24-0-19-4-05-2-1.760 .900 .692 .688 .915 .921 .910 .918
Price 20-9-14-5-19-2-07-2-0.683 .450 .818 .778 .928 .907 .944 .926
Lundqvist 17-8-36-5-15-1-16-2-1.661 .542 .786 .722 .913 .902 .918 .925
Fleury 20-6-35-0-18-2-27-4-0.741 .917 .750 .636 .928 .927 .926 .931
Andersen 20-6-55-1-17-5-28-0-2.726 .786 .517 .900 .916 .944 .862 .935
Quick 15-8-36-4-25-0-04-4-1.596 .583 1.00 .500 .919 .931 .930 .908
Niemi 15-8-47-2-14-4-14-2-2.630 .750 .500 .555 .919 .933 .905 .917
Rask 15-10-44-6-24-4-17-0-1.586 .417 .500 .938 .910 .909 .896 .924
Halak 20-6-06-3-06-3-08-0-0.769 .667 .667 1.00 .917 .916 .894 .952
Howard 15-6-73-2-25-3-37-1-2.661 .571 .591 .800 .918 .902 .923 .935
Luongo 14-7-73-2-44-2-17-3-2.625 .556 .643 .667 .923 .926 .911 .929
Holtby 16-8-65-3-32-2-29-3-1.633 .591 .500 .731 .921 .927 .892 .935
Bernier 15-8-36-4-25-1-04-3-1.635 .583 .833 .563 .921 .926 .918 .914
Anderson 9-9-53-5-42-4-14-0-0.521 .417 .357 1.00 .927 .838 .939 .935
Bobrovsky 14-9-24-4-08-2-22-3-0.520 .500 .643 .333 .921 .919 .923 .917
Lehtonen 16-8-55-2-34-6-17-0-1.638 .650 .409 .938 .908 .916 .899 .909
Schneider 12-7-42-6-15-7-15-4-2.412 .278 .423 .545 .918 .910 .916 .941
Miller 19-7-13-2-16-3-010-2-0.722 .583 .667 .833 .911 .928 .890 .947
Hiller 13-10-24-7-25-1-04-2-0.540 .385 .833 .800 .917 .909 .954 .906
Mason 6-11-60-4-32-5-14-3-2.583 .214 .313 .611 .917 .914 .945 .906
Top third NHL teams as of Jan. 1: ANA, CHI, NSH, NYI, PIT, MTL, TBL, STL, DET, VAN

Middle third NHL teams as of Jan. 1: NYR, WPG, FLA, SJS, WAS, LAK, TOR, CGY, MIN, BOS

Bottom third NHL teams as of Jan. 1: DAL, OTT, CBJ, PHI, COL, NJD, ARI, BUF, CAR, EDM

There are many ways to analyze the above information. For a goalie like Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, his numbers drop off pretty steadily as the competition improves. That's not unexpected, but Price's gap is a bit starker than some of the other goalies. Yet from a fantasy perspective it doesn't make that much difference so long as Price's overall body of work continues to be close to the top of the League. Yet it might give a glimpse into where Montreal finds its success and when it might be wise to choose Goalie B for Goalie C rather than Price.



Marc-Andre Fleury



STATS PRIOR TO JAN. 15 GAMES


RECORD: 22-7-4

GAA: 2.16 | SVP: .926



Then there are goalies like Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have relished playing against the League's top teams. Fleury's .917 win percentage against the top third was the highest among all the goalies looked at, and his .927 save percentage against the top third put him among the best of the group. Those numbers show Fleury, and likely his team, being able to keep up their winning ways no matter who they face.

Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks was another goalie who produced interesting samples. His numbers, while better against the top teams, suffered a bit more than one might expect when the competition got easier, at least in terms of his winning percentage. While he had a .750 winning percentage against top-third teams, it dropped to .555 against bottom-third teams. But again, those trends probably aren't worth reading too much into. Niemi, who has had an up-and-down season, still is a goalie on a Stanley Cup Playoff team (for the time being), and as we've seen to be the case with many goalies, likely will improve against those lower-win teams.


Looking at the variance in how these different goalies perform against different levels of competition is a good starting point in making predictions on a nightly basis, but there's probably still more work left to do.





Roberto Luongo



STATS PRIOR TO JAN. 15 GAMES


RECORD: 17-8-7

GAA: 2.32 | SVP: .924



TRENDING UP

Roberto Luongo , Florida Panthers


Luongo didn't get much help Tuesday in the Panthers' 8-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Excluding that game, and a game he played against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 4 in which he was bowled over by Alex Ovechkin and was removed, Luongo has stopped 126 of the past 130 shots he faced, and is 3-0-1 in that span. Before Tuesday he hadn't lost in regulation since Dec. 20, and appears to be trying to will the Panthers into the postseason.


TRENDING DOWN


Antti Niemi , San Jose Sharks



Antti Niemi



STATS PRIOR TO JAN. 15 GAMES


RECORD: 17-11-4

GAA: 2.59 | SVP: .912



While some reasons were outlined above as to why there should be no immediate concern, contrary to the old saying, objects in Niemi's rear-view mirror may be very close. With the Sharks battling to maintain their playoff footing, Niemi has allowed 17 goals in his last five starts, going 2-3-0 in that span. Niemi's save percentage in his past five is .866, and some are beginning to ask which goalie gives San Jose a better chance to win on a nightly basis, Niemi or backup Alex Stalock.

KEEP AN EYE ON


Tom McCollum , Detroit Red Wings


The 30th pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, McCollum recently was recalled from the American Hockey League following an injury to Jimmy Howard that will keep him out through the All-Star break. Detroit is missing its top two goalies (Jonas Gustavsson has missed extended time with a shoulder injury), and while McCollum is behind Peter Mrazek on the depth chart, he should see regular backup duties for now, or if Mrazek doesn't perform well McCollum could get a shot to win the starting job temporarily.




TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.































































































1Pekka Rinne, NSH - DTD 16Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (+2)
2Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (+3) 17Antti Niemi, SJS (-7)
3Carey Price, MTL (+1) 18Jonathan Bernier, TOR (-2)
4Brian Elliott, STL (+2) 19Semyon Varlamov, COL (+4)
5Corey Crawford, CHI (-3) 20Ryan Miller, VAN (+2)
6Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (+1) 21Kari Lehtonen, DAL (-1)
7Roberto Luongo, FLA (+7) 22Cory Schneider, NJD (-1)
8Frederik Andersen, ANA (SAME)23Devan Dubnyk, MIN (NEW)
9Ben Bishop, TBL (-6) 24Petr Mrazek, DET (NEW)
10Jaroslav Halak, NYI (+2) 25Antti Raanta, CHI (-1)
11Tuukka Rask, BOS (SAME)26Martin Jones, LAK (-1)
12Jonathan Quick, LAK (-3) 27Cam Talbot, NYR (-1)
13Braden Holtby, WSH (+2) 28Alex Stalock, SJS (-1)
14Craig Anderson, OTT (+3) 29Jake Allen, STL (SAME)
15Michael Hutchinson, WPG (+4) 30Jonas Hiller, CGY (-2)

Key injuries: Jimmy Howard, Steve Mason, Jonas Gustavsson, Karri Ramo


Fantasy Spin: Dubnyk worth adding after trade to Wild


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