The Opossum-Palooza

It's okay. We don't know what the name means either.

5.14.2006

Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending.

The three teams to advance to the third round in the NHL Playoffs so far? Anaheim, Buffalo and Carolina. Their respective starting goaltenders? Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller and Cam Ward. If you've never heard of any of them, you're not alone. Between them they had, before the start of the postseason, a grand total of zero (0) playoff games under their belts. Zero. In the one series that is still undecided, Vesa Toskala is in the same boat, having been on the bench behing Evgeni Nabokov in 2004. Dwayne Roloson is the only remaining goaltender with any previous playoff experience (just fifteen appearances for a 6-7 record). So, should San Jose prevail in their series, it will leave us with four goalies who had never played a playoff game in their careers. This is a big deal. This means something. I'm just not sure what. It could just mean that the one year layoff resulted in an extra large group of extra talented young goalies. 2005-06 has already been dubbed "The Year of the Rookie" and this could perhaps be an extension of that. Or...

Or it could be an indication of how little impact the goaltender has on the game in the new NHL.With all the added focus on offense, all the new rules meant to reduce goalies' abilties to stop the puck (not to mention the Martin Brodeur rule) and the long overdue crackdown on obstruction, has the position of goaltender in the NHL been rendered obsolete? It used to be, there would always be at least one team that would grab the coattails of a hot goaltender ('98 Capitals and Olie Kolzig, '03 Mighty Ducks and J.S. Giguere, '04 Flames and Mikka Kiprusoff) and I just don't see it this year. Bryzgalov has certainly been excellent, but he has not really been the key to Anaheim's success. The starting goaltenders for the last five cup-winning teams? Nikolai Khabibulin in 2004, Martin Brodeur (twice: 2000 and 2003), Patrick Roy (2001) and Dominik Hasek (2002). You have to go back to 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings won it with Chris Osgood at the helm to find a situation similar to what we'll see a few weeks from now. And before that it was Mike Vernon, Brodeur, Roy twice and Mike Richter.

I'd like to think that this is a changing of the guard of sorts, as most of the goalies listed above are now retired (or in Hasek's case, a hobbled, crippled version of his former self). Looking at the league, there is really nobody left other than Brodeur that has any sort of history of success, so I suppose this may have been bound to happen. The only problem is that none of the goalies currently alive have been all that impressive, in my opinion. I view Bryzgalov's success as more of an abberation than an indicator of how he'll continue to play. Miller, Ward and Toskala have all benfited from prolific offenses, while Roloson has, in Edmonton, what I think is the best defensive team still playing.

Granted, one year is only a small sampling. It may be too early to draw any sort of conclusions. So far, though, it seems to me that in the new NHL, goalies just don't matter as much as they used to.

EDIT: Four goals in the first five minutes of the third period of Edmonton-San Jose. See?

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