Saturday, April 30, 2011

WATCH PEKKA RINNE'S "OMFG" SAVE



It really doesn't get any better than this save that Pekka Rinne made tonight in OT, enabling Nasvhille to down Vancouver in Double OT.

Wow:


Friday, April 29, 2011

WESTERN GOALIES: MORE QUESTIONS THAN CARRIE UNDERWOOD HAS SEX APPEAL



Royal Wedding, Schmoyal Wedding! Unless it involves Carrie Underwood and Mike Fisher (see above for gratuitous effort to show you an image of Carrie), we here at Stop Da Puck are most enjoying the NHL playoffs - the marriage of just the right amount of raw drama and competition.

It's been a great post-season, in part because the games have been freaking awesome, but also because NHL.com is having us contribute to its playoff goaltending coverage. (Check out our latest piece on Pekka Rinne's imposing presence in the Preds-Canucks series.)

Meanwhile, here are my burning questions for each starting goalie in the West:


ANTTI NIEMI: Can he return to his Stanley Cup-winning form?

The defending Stanley Cup champion goalie played mostly like a badminton champion in his opening round against the Kings -- yanked twice, sluggish butterflies and sloppy rebounds, and a bloated goals-against. Even with their impressive firepower up front, the Sharks will have to get much better goaltending against Detroit's veteran-laden team if they hope to advance to the third round.

PEKKA RINNE: Will he bring his regular-season dominance to the playoffs?

Vezinas are won in the first 82 games. Legends are made during what follows. No doubt the Vezina finalist has the potential to steal the Vancouver series, but with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler and Vancouver's assortment of other Presidential weapons firing their missiles, Rinne will have to be da bomb.

JIMMY HOWARD: Was his Round 1 performance a fluke?

The energetic battler rendered the Phoenix offense impotent. He made key saves at key moments and didn't let in the kind of demoralizing stinkers that leaked through him on occasion during the season. Given that he doesn't have a postseason track record and faces the scrutiny that any post-Hasek/post-Osgood Red Wings goalie encounters, every game will be this sophomore goalie's final exam.

ROBERTO LUONGO: Will he finally be able to relax and lead his team?

By coming back from some horrendous starts to beat Chicago in Game 7, Luongo may have gotten one monkey off his back. But he still has that giant gorilla hanging on him in the form of a $64 million contract that seemingly, according to Canucks fans, has a clause that requires him to win the Cup or he will be a failure. Pressure? Yes. However Luongo reacts, either positively or negatively, it will be nuclear.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A TRULY MUST-SEE GOALIE VIDEO



We interrupt this overly dramatic, heart-rattling NHL playoff season with some much-needed comic relief.

Enjoy this video about a truly inspiring young man named Clark the Canadian Hockey Goalie. If you haven't seen this brilliant video before (starring my El Segundo bro Nick Vachon), you just simply haven't lived.

In advance, let me just say: Yes, you're welcome!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

THE TOP THREE WORST COACHES FOR GOALIES IN HOCKEY HISTORY!

Philly head coach Peter Laviolette's handling of his playoff goaltending situation (his three-goalie revolving door that until his team won the series was being derided as an unfunny episode The Three Stooges) has gotten Stop Da Puck thinking...

The fact is that some coaches have a touch for managing their goalies, and, well, some don't.

The wise ones understand the psychological challenges of the position, know not only how to talk to 'tenders, but also when to play them (and not play them). Putting it politely, goalies are a "special" breed - okay, we are total head cases - and as such need special care and attention.

Then there are coaches who have no clue how to handle keepers, who manage goalies as stupidly as Bill Lumbergh in Office Space did with his abused workers.

There are a lot of low-goalie-IQ coaches out there (trust me, I suffered with a couple), but here is our list of the Top Three Worst Coaches For Goalies Ever:


MIKE KEENAN




If I told you there once was an NHL coach who traded future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek from Chicago to Buffalo for the equivalent of a box of tape because he didn't like his "style," you would probably think he was a chump. Mike Keenan did this.

If I told you that there once was a coach who would regularly pull and put back in a goalkeeper several times a game, often for no good reason other than he wanted to "change the tone" of the game, you might brand him simple-minded and short-sighted. Mike did this too.

In fact, the notoriously difficult Keenan infamously in the 1987 playoffs yanked a total of five times Ron Hextall and Glenn "Chico" Resch in a single game. Two hooks can happen. Three is unusual. Four is just odd. Five is a WTF moment!

"Iron Mike" was his nickname. But we think, when it came to goalies, Mike was as solid as cellophane.


MARIO TREMBLAY




The story of how Montreal Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay's poor netside manner in 1995 led to superstar goalie Patrick Roy being traded to Colorado is not one reminiscent of, say, a shady massage parlor. Indeed, the Mario Tremblay tale has no happy ending.

Sure, Roy had a temper and could be a pain the derriere. But he was the heart and soul of the Habs, the reason why they had twice won the Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, Tremblay, 39 at the time, had no previous head coaching experience. Yet that didn't stop the former Canadiens player from sparking a long running feud with Roy. There was an alleged fight between the two in a Long Island coffee shop. There was the time Tremblay, during a practice, reportedly shot a puck at Roy's throat. But the piece de la resistance came on December 2, 1995, when Roy got shelled by the Detroit Red Wings and, rather than rescue the off-night Roy by mercifully pulling him, Tremblay purposely kept him in until it was 9-1 (apparently, just to make the hot-headed goalie learn a lesson).

What happened next was an epic case study in how not to coach a star goalie.

As the Sports Illustrated story goes: When Roy skated off, he removed his mask and walked past Tremblay toward the backup goalie's stool at the far end of the bench. Tremblay glared. Roy glared. If looks could kill, there would have been a double murder. Roy then wheeled, locked eyeballs with Tremblay again and walked past him to Corey, who was sitting behind the bench in the traditional, and intrusive, section 105 seat of Canadien bosses. "This is my last game for Montreal," Roy told [Team President Ronald] Corey. Roy then stomped back to the stool, turned to Tremblay and said, "T'as compris, 'stie [Did'ya understand, dammit]?" Roy and Tremblay had a screaming match in the dressing room after the period.

By the end of the week, King Roy was traded to Colorado, where Roy would win the Stanley Cup twice before he finally retired. As for Tremblay, he was canned the following season and never served again as an NHL head coach.


VIKTOR TIKHONOV





As an American, I am conflicted. One one hand, I want to throw this legendary Soviet national team coach a giant party for inexplicably pulling Vladislav Tretiak from the epic USA-USSR game at the 1980 Olympics after allowing two pretty well-earned goals.

But to this day, Tretiak - and hockey world - sit with boggled minds wondering what the dictator-like Tikhonov was thinking.

"Yes, I will never forget that as long a I live," Tretiak told IIHF.com. "Coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled me from the decisive game against USA after the first period. He told me that I made a bad mistake on Mark Johnson's 2-2 goal and that reserve Myshkin would play the rest. I would have had four gold medals if not for Tikhonov's bad judgment."

Did we leave anyone off the list you think should be on there? Peter Laviolette? Marc Crawford? Scotty Bowman? Leave your comments here below!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

PUCK-STOPPING NOT JUST FOR GOALIES





We at Stop Da Puck are dedicated to celebrating, covering, analyzing, glorifying and, well, basically obsessing over the art of stopping da puck.

In fulfilling our mission, we do not discriminate on the basis of what position someone has on the ice...as long as they are stopping the puck.

To prove our non-discriminatory policy, we are acknowledging the clutch rubber-blocking saves Saturday night by two Boston Bruins (neither of which was a goalie) -- defenseman Zdeno Chara, who made an old-school skate save, and forward Michael Ryder, whose right glove save reminded us of playing basement hockey with a rolled-up sock with our little brother.

Nice work, gentlemen. You have proved that one need not wear a mask to be a hero.

(Check out even more of my goalie coverage and analysis at NHL.com throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SAVE OF THE DAY ... MADE WITH A CAPITAL "S"



Maybe the shot would have gone wide. Maybe he made the glove snag with a little bit of unnecessary post-save flair.

Whatever. This one on Saturday afternoon was just one of the many fun stops to watch Michal Neuvirth make throughout the Capitals' winning series with the Rangers.

(Check out even more of my goalie coverage and analysis at NHL.com throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

WILL PHILLY COACH'S ROOKIE GOALIE MISTAKE BE HIS WATERGATE?



Folks in Washington, D.C., had Watergate and, of course, Bill Clinton's Zippergate scandal. Now Philadelphia Flyers fans have "Bobgate."

Before turning to veteran Brian Boucher (then, in desperation, Michael Leighton) in his series against the Buffalo Sabres, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette went with the alluring promise of youth in going with 22-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky. But it turned out to be a misguided decision that put Philly’s series in peril.

I’m of the school that when a coach picks his starting goalie for the playoffs, the decision should be handled like picking a brain surgeon.

Seriously: Do you want the young genius from the top of his class at Harvard Medical School but who has never operated on a live body, or do you go with the crusty but steady-handed practitioner down the street with a degree from Moosehead State but who has been doing successful brain surgery for the last twenty years?

Clearly, the move to finally throw Boucher, 33, into the starting slot was the prudent one at the time (his leaky Game 5 showing notwithstanding). Boosh was a calming presence in the net. Before his Game 5 meltdown, his post-season 1.45 GAA and .954 Save %, including a brilliant 28-save Game 4 in Buffalo), back up Laviolette’s choice. But, clearly, it was a choice that came two games too late.

Hindsight is always 20/20. But the warning signs of a ready-to-fold Bobrovsky (who not only has lost the starting job but has been ingloriously demoted to #3 on the goalie depth chart behind Michael Leighton) were clearer than the parking lot outside Edmonton’s Rexall Place this playoff season.

The Flyers rookie didn’t exactly fly into the playoffs, over the last ten games of the regular season Bobrovsky let in soft goals with consistently sloppy and floppy net-minding. In fact, in his last regular season start on April 9 against the Islanders, he was yanked (in favor of Boosh) after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Even so, a week before the playoffs, Laviolette proclaimed “Bob” his man, saying, “In Game 1,Bob’s going to start and Boosh will back up.”

Bob would become the youngest goalie in this year’s NHL playoffs. And within five days also become the first to lose his job.

A “short leash” is the metaphor that hockey writers have been using to describe the high-pressure situation Laviolette placed his young goalkeeper in by on the eve of the playoffs calling up Leighton from the minors for “insurance” (i.e., a symbol that the team’s motto was not In Bob We Trust) and by making veiled statements to the press that Boucher would replace Bob the moment he faltered.

But more than a leash, Laviolette handed Bobrovsky a noose.

Yet if Philly can recover from their early in-goal stumble, if Boosh can bounce back, and if the team can figure out a way to consistently solve Ryan ‘The Rock” Miller, Laviolette will redeem himself by being the one who gave the push to Boosh. If not, then Laviolette may become as infamous as Richard Nixon.



(Check out even more of my goalie analysis at NHL.com throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

GOALIES PROVE THAT REBOUNDS AREN'T JUST FOR THE NEWLY SINGLE

Sometimes it's not enough just to stop da puck. One of those times is in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when forwards are on high alert and buzzing like sorority girls on a Saturday night.

At these times, you have to stop and control da puck. In other words, not cough up rebounds that the other team can slap in and make you feel shame about.

On Friday night, we saw that getting caught in a rebound situation can be about as troubling as a rebound romance that has gotten all Fatal Attraction on you.

On the first goal against Ryan Miller ... the Sabres goalie couldn't control the rebound off his right pad on the point shot and, as you can see, he severely paid the price:



But then the Sabres got payback in OT when a seemingly harmless point shot made Michael Leighton look like a bounce house:



Later in the night out West, Anaheim's Teamu Selanne's gritty bad angle (make that, no angle) shot on Pekka Rinne yielded a rebound straight onto the stick of Jason Blake, who made the gifting Rinne look like lanky, 6-foot-5 Santa Claus:



The lesson here for shooters: put da puck on the net and great things can happen. The lesson here for goalies: control your shizz.

(Check out even more of my goalie coverage and analysis at NHL.com throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

JONAS HILLER'S HEAD CASE: COULD IT END HIS CAREER?



Is Jonas Hiller's career dunzo? A concerned Anaheim Ducks fan recently asked me this very question.

At first, I was like, "Nah, I'm sure he'll be good to go by next year."

Now I'm not so sure.

Today came news that Hiller, who in early February went on injured reserve with vertigo-like symptoms and since has basically been a very highly paid third-string goalie for late-season replacements Ray Emery and Dan Ellis, was sent back home to California as the Ducks prepared for Game 4 in Nashville. It was just the latest setback in what has been a - pardon the pun - dizzying season for the Swiss keeper, who started off the year so good he was named to the All Star team. Then this.

Back in March, Hiller was quoted as saying, “I still have the symptoms and I still don’t feel right. It still feels like I’ve got something slowing me down and it seems like I’m always behind the play. It doesn’t hurt or anything, but it’s definitely not a nice feeling.”

And I'm told it hasn't gotten any nicer for the 29-year-old goalie.

But just how serious is Hiller's medical situation? Getting this answer from Honda Center insiders has been like trying to get the truth out of those guys doing PR for that Japanese nuclear reactor spewing more crap into the atmosphere than Don Cherry.

In other words, impossible!

In Hiller's head case, though, there's no grand conspiracy to conceal the truth. Quite simply, Hiller's unrelenting case of vertigo is confounding doctors, whose treatment of this mysterious disorder has apparently gone something like this: Rest. Try to play. Still dizzy? Ok, rest again. And so it has gone for a long time. Poor Jonas. You really gotta feel for the guy.

Even the most cursory research into the various treatments for vertigo makes one think that doctors really don't have a clue what to do. I've read everything from acupuncture to rest to surgery to something called "vestibular rehabilitation exercises" (I'm not even going to pretend to explain what the heck this is).

Long story short: Hiller's future is as uncertain as the exact number of teeth missing at any given time from Alex Ovechkin's mouth.

(Check out even more of my goalie coverage and analysis at NHL.com throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

RAY EMERY WINS ... BUT HIS LEG LOSES



I just witnessed a display of true goalie grit tonight. But it was painful to watch.

Ducks stopper Ray Emery, who has miraculously come back from a right hip surgery a year ago that would have ended most any athlete's career, played in his first playoff game since 2007 tonight at the Honda Center in Anaheim against the Preds.

He stopped 31 saves and made some key stops on a Nashville offense that was rolling over the Ducks the entire third period. So, then, what's the bad news for Emery?

For anyone in the rink paying close attention, it was clear that Emery was favoring his right leg. He was constantly stretching it during TV timeouts, barely putting weight on it while skating to and from the bench, and clearly didn't have full extension or strength in the leg as we had seen in his solid play at the end of the season. Emery's mobility in the crease grew increasingly hampered throughout the game, but a noticeable decline in his play occurred during a goalie interference collision in the first period.

Luckily for him, however, his team played solid shut-down D and the Preds got very few high-percentage shots through to him.

Insiders tell Stop Da Puck that Emery's "lower body injury" is in fact his right groin. These Honda Center insiders also tell me that the Ducks had hoped to rest Emery for Game 2, but Dan Ellis' poor performance in Game 1 put an end to that best-case plan.

In the short term, the Ducks' gamble paid off and they got the win, evening up the series 1-1. But as I watched Emery limp off the ice after the game I couldn't help but wonder if he will be in any condition to start again in Game 3 Sunday night in Nashville, let alone finish out what is sure to be a punishing series.

I don't have a crystal ball, and if I did I would be in Vegas putting all my money down on my predicted Stanley Cup winner. But I think a safe bet is that Dan Ellis will return to this series at some point. For the Ducks' sake, if Ellis returns in relief they must be hoping he doesn't once again play as shaky as a cameraman at a Girls Gone Wild party.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SAVE OF THE DAY: PEKKA RINNE SUCKS THE LIFE OUT OF SELANNE



In real life, if you suffocate someone you go to jail - and hell.

But, in goalie life, if you suffocate someone you go straight to hockey heaven.

No one has earned his angel wings more this season than Nashville Predators keeper and Vezina contender Pekka Rinne. And his sterling Game 1 right pad save in which he robbed Teamu Selanne was simply heavenly!

What the heck, you might ask, is a Suffocation Save? A video can be worth a few thousands words (so see videos below and below to see an SS in action), but I will try here to briefly define...

Suffocation Save: A save in which the goaltender, rather than remaining in a stationary depth position while making save, attacks forward to the puck while executing his save selection, thus suffocating the puck so that it has no where to go but into the goalie's body.

This kind of save is most dramatically effective when a shooter is on the doorstep and the keeper comes out on top of the puck (like Rinne last night), taking away most every angle and limiting the shooter's options. But it is also effective, though less dramatic, on mid-range shots when a quick push out to the puck just sucks out any life the shooter had in his shot.



What's most impressive is that Rinne is deftly able to go down into a full butterfly and slide directly out at the puck with all the rapidity of Charles Barkley's heart on a treadmill. Literally sucking the air out of a puck like, say, Paris Hilton might suck intelligence out of a room.

Most goalies will hold their depth position, slide across and make the save, or, if they are feeling frisky will attempt their version of this forward challenge - but often with mixed success. Rinne almost always knows when to use this technique, how to use it, and is able to recover back to the crease if the play turns into a scramble. It is simply textbook (we at Stop Da Puck can't help but think Professor Korn has something to do with all this mastery).

In all fairness, Rinne, while the most proficient at this New Age Goalie Warlock Assassin Attack Method, is not the only NHL'er who has learned how to employ this attack-and-save technique. Notably, Jonathan Quick of the L.A. Kings also does it well.

Just this bit of advice to these suffocating goalies' playoff opponents: Bring oxygen.





Tuesday, April 12, 2011

STOP DA PUCK JOINS FORCES WITH NHL.COM FOR PLAYOFF COVERAGE




We at Stop Da Puck are privileged to be guest blogging on NHL.com throughout the playoffs.

That means, from now until the Stanley Cup Finals Stop Da Puck will be providing expert opinion on each team's goalie credentials.

Does Sergei Bobrovsky stand a chance against Ryan Miller? Will Henrik Lundqvist reign as King against Prince Michal Neuvirth? Will this be the post-season that Pekka Rinne cements himself as a bonafide superstar?

Supersmart 'keeper commentator from The Goalie Guild Justin Goldman and I will debate these important questions - and other pressing issues such as the future of the dollar vs. the yen in the post-Libya global marketplace (duh, kidding!) - over at NHL.com.

Go here to see our Round One debates on these match-ups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) Washington Capitals - (8) New York Rangers
(2) Philadelphia Flyers - (7) Buffalo Sabres
(3) Boston Bruins - (6) Montreal Canadiens
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins - (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) Vancouver Canucks - (8) Chicago Blackhawks
(2) San Jose Sharks - (7) Los Angeles Kings
(3) Detroit Red Wingss - (6) Phoenix Coyotes
(4) Anaheim Ducks - (5) Nashville Predators

Saturday, April 9, 2011

AND THE MOST WANTED NHL PLAYOFF GOALIE IS . . .




You, the genius readers of Stop Da Puck, have spoken.

We recently commissioned a poll asking Stop Da Puck'ers the following question: "Which Goalie Would You Most Want on Your Playoff Team?"

And, by an overwhelming margin (48%), you picked Buffalo Sabres swan Ryan Miller (despite his recent injury).

So - along with Chicken Wings, Wolf Blitzer and E!'s Chief News Correspondent (we jest) - Miller joins an elite group of some great things that have come out of The Buff.

Coming in second was the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist (28%); third went to the B's Tim Thomas (16%) and fourth went to that ruffian Carey Price (8%).

Friday, April 8, 2011

CAREY PRICE PLAYS WHACK-A-CANADIAN (AND WE LIKE IT!)



Goalkeeping by its very nature is - hello! - an entirely defensive position. Unlike the rest of a hockey team.

Goalies don't get to work up a head of steam and nail a defenseman against the boards. They don't get to hip check an attacking winger on the blue line. They don't get to slap the rubber with all their might (hmmm, that didn't come out the way I meant). Anyway...

No. Goalies are usually sitting targets to forwards racing at them like missiles with blades strapped to their tails, vulnerable victims of skull-rattling pucks to the head and to wood-swinging players chopping on their hands at rebounds like a game of Whack-A-Mole.

So you can't blame Carey Price for perhaps taking out a little aggression and sending P.K. Subban to the ice Hulkster-on-Iron Sheik style - um, even though they are on the same team.

Best part of the body slam: Price hugs it out afterward. Awww...

Monday, April 4, 2011

RYAN MILLER'S BACKUP IS STEPPING UP!



We admit it. Upon hearing that Ryan Miller had gone down with a mysterious "upper body" injury last week, we at Stop Da Puck were worried that the Sabres would be SOL now that they had to rely on rookie Jhonas Enroth, who had spent most of the season in the AHL.

We feared the 5'10" (on his tippy toes) Swede would prove a practice dummy for the likes of the Caps, Canes and Leafs.

Well, we were wrong. His 7-2-2 record and .915 Save % so far, and especially his ridiculously great game Sunday against Carolina, and again Tuesday against Tampa Bay (see video highlights below), are making us believers. (We at SDP really should have listened to the pro-Enroth Sabres Prospects guru!

Enroth, 22, has been nothing short of amazeballs.

And, with news that his mentor Miller is still out, Enroth apparently is going to be called upon to keep it up.

In the tradition of Patrick Roy, Jaroslav Halak, Antti Niemi and others who came of age in their first playoffs, if Miller can't heal soon this could be a breakout spring for Da Roth.

Friday, April 1, 2011

JONATHAN QUICK FREAKS US OUT WITH HIS "MIND CONTROL"



Every now and then, you see something happen on the ice that you've never seen before. Like the other day when I took a slapshot to my mask and got a concussion (my first in 30 years of goaltending).

Or, more freaky, like this save that L.A. Kings keeper Jonathan Quick made against Calgary.

The puck went behind Quick and then, as if that creepy Criss Angel magician from "Mindfreak" was casting a spell on the rubber, the puck suddenly took a right turn and went wide of the net. Spooooky stuff.

"It's no secret that I have mind control," Quick jokingly told the Vancouver Sun.

Although obviously there was some serious spin on da puck, the kid in me wants to believe there was a goalie ghost.