We’re about a quarter of the way through this truncated NHL season, and that seems like a good time to have a look at some of the players who are putting up impressive numbers so far.
But while it’s not exactly a shock to see names like Stamkos, Crosby, and Rinne near the top of various categories, some of this year’s other leaders are less predictable. Granted, we’re dealing with a dozen games or so in most cases, so your “small sample size” warning light should be blinking rapidly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to recognize some early season surprises.
When you look around the NHL, you find several teams with unquestioned no. 1 goaltenders. Barring injury, players such as Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, and Pekka Rinne will be starting every big game for their teams all year long, with an occasional break when the schedule serves up an also-ran.
But not every team’s situation is quite so settled. In some cases, the starter’s hold on the job is shaky. In others, two guys are splitting time equally.
Let’s take a look at some of the teams where the title of no. 1 goalie is still up for grabs.
It’s probably foolish to try to read anything into two days’ worth of games, especially when half the players in the NHL are still trying to get back to pre-lockout form. But that’s no reason not to try, so here are 10 random observations from the NHL’s opening weekend:
The Blues made a statement
The St. Louis Blues entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. They looked the part Saturday, pummeling the Detroit Red Wings, 6-0, and outshooting them, 17-2, in a first-period display that played out as a near-perfect depiction of Ken Hitchcock hockey.
The game also featured the breakout performance of opening weekend, with Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scoring a pair of goals, including a filthy individual effort in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old 2010 first-round pick has spent the last few seasons in the KHL, and could make a major impact if he can bring consistent production to a Blues offense that wasn’t exactly intimidating last year.
But while Tarasenko could be the league’s next big star, let’s hold off on the hype until we see him do it against an NHL-caliber defense.
Earlier this week, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was adamant that he was not in the market for someone to supplement and/or replace Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in net. "We are not looking for a goaltender at this point," he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
That was before Gustavsson turned in a clunker of a performance Tuesday night. The Leafs, who are on the playoff bubble, lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime as Gustavsson was weak on the five-hole in regulation and unfortunate with his positioning on the overtime goal, which was headed wide but caromed off his equipment and into the net to erase what had been a late comeback by Toronto.
On Wednesday, Burke changed his tune on TSN Radio. "It's very hard to watch what happened and not wonder if we have enough [in net]," he said, before deploying the tried-and-true double negative: "I'm not sure that we're not going to be in the market [for a goalie] before we're done," he said. "The fact is we're losing games because we're not stopping the puck enough."
It's a tough time for goalies in Toronto, though I did enjoy the way this Toronto Sun headline sought to put a positive spin on whether Burke's words might affect his netminders' performance going forward: "Goalies already felt lowly."
With Toronto one of the teams that might be in the market at the deadline for a goalie, who would potentially be available? Here's a look at some of the names that have been floated as being goalies in play (not just for Toronto, but to other teams who may be seeking help in net) leading up to Monday's trade deadline:
"I won't lie," Montreal goalie Carey Price told to NBC Sports during the NHL All-Star Game, seconds after a reflexive glove save left Ottawa's Jason Spezza chuckling in disbelief and NBC's announcers remarking that they wished there was a way Price could see what he looked like while flashing the leather. "I was checking myself out on the big screen."