5FW Extra: Jamie Langenbrunner Quotes

January 19, 2014

I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with long-time NHL’er Jamie Langenbrunner for an exclusive story you can read in Monday’s Trentonian.  But here are some extra quotes that didn’t make the story.

On if the 2010 Team USA Captain will watch this year’s Olympics:

“I’ll definitely watch.  I have some friends on that team, and I’ll definitely cheer them on.  The Olympic tournament is very exciting and great hockey to watch.  It’s a great two weeks for hockey to showcase how great the game is.”

On his experience at the Olympics:

“I think while you’re there, you don’t really realize a lot of what’s going on.  You’re in your own little world and in a bubble in the village, so I was really focused on our team and what we were doing.  But when you come back – and I came back to New Jersey at the time – and you listen to the stories of people that were watching the games and the excitement, and then I came back home to Minnesota and heard those same things, it was great.  Everybody got really into it.  The other thing was just being in the Olympic village, it was really a neat experience to be with the other athletes and get to hang out with some of them and meet them.  That was a really neat experience.”

On who he got to meet while there that stands out:

“In 2010, I’d already met him, but the guy that blew me away with how gracious he is and how good a guy he is was Wayne Gretzky.  We were in the USA house in Vancouver, and he happened to be there, and I won’t forget how gracious he was with my kids.  It was amazing.”

On his initial reaction to getting traded to the Devils:

“I think like any outsider coming in, you flew into Newark and stayed out in Secaucus and you went to the game, so I didn’t really know a lot about New Jersey.  So the initial one was a little bit of, not necessarily disappointment for going there, but disappointment for getting traded.  It was an adjustment at first, but then you get there and you see what a well-run organization it is and what a special place it is and how beautiful a place it is.  It became home for my family and I, and I loved playing there and being a part of that organization.”

On the Rangers-Devils rivalry:

“It was a little different for me, because coming from Dallas we didn’t really have that natural rival.  It was a unique experience for me in that regard.  I found it really odd.  I’m living in New Jersey and my neighbors are Rangers fans.  It was, I don’t want to say frustrating, but your team is having all this success and we were fortunate in my time there that we were winning and they were not, so we had that on them, but it was a unique thing and something that is exciting and frustrating in the same regard as a player, because your neighbors and friends are some of the biggest Rangers fans.”

On his post-retirement plans:

“I’ve been kind of fishing around and seeing what opportunities are out there.  I’m going to keep on looking to find something that makes sense for what I want to do…I’m not 100 percent certain what I want to do, but I’m enjoying spending time with my kids and coaching pee-wee hockey.  We’ll see what the future brings.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Jagr vs. Selanne: The Final Frontier

December 20, 2013

So, this is it.  This is the last time that Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne will face each other in the regular season.  Despite careers that have seen both men combine for a whopping 2,841 games and 1,370 goals, this is just the 24th meeting between the two in the NHL.  That, in large part, is due to each player having been in the opposite conference for most of their careers — only Jagr has played in both the East and West, and his stint out West was limited to a 34-game stint with the Dallas Stars last year.

“You never want to let go of heroes,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau.

“I think both of them doing great is good for the game.  They’re both very popular players, both well-loved by the home fanbases and across the league, quite frankly.”

Boudreau, however, doesn’t find himself marveling at both players being on the same sheet of ice at the same time as many of the fans get to.  He does, of course, have two points to think about tonight.

“I don’t really notice much about that,” he said.  “Coaches get zoned in on doing what they’re doing during the course of the game.  But after the game, when you watch it, it’s pretty to watch how good they’ve done and how good they’re still doing.”

Jagr, 41, leads the Devils in scoring with 29 points (12-17-29), while Selanne, 43, has posted just nine points in what he insisted several times during the morning skate would be his final season.

“Lately, I’ve had some good chances, they just aren’t going in,” he said.  “It’s frustrating, but the good thing is the team is playing well.  That’s what matters…I’m feeling good, so that’s the bottom line.  It would be tough if we were losing…the second half is what really matters, you want to play well in the second half.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Regular Season Game 10: Pre-Game Notes, Predators @ Islanders

November 12, 2013

3:35 PM — There will come a time in which I’m covering an NHL game and I’m able to give it the proper pre-game blog treatment it deserves.  Now is not that time.  So yes, it’s three and a half hours before game time, and I’m just now able to throw up a quick preview post.

In tomorrow’s Trentonian, you’ll read my latest notebook, which features quotes from Kyle Okposo, Radek Martinek and Rich Clune.  But I also spoke with Jack Capuano, Victor Bartley and Carter Hutton today as well, and I’m sure I’ll have a good haul post-game too.  Tonight’s matchup between the pipes warms my little goalie nerd heart: Marek Mazanec makes his first NHL start for the Nashville Predators, while Kevin Poulin gets the nod for the New York Islanders.

Capuano on Poulin starting: “We haven’t given him a couple starts back-to-back here, and I think he’s deserving of it…we’ve got both goalies giving us a chance for the most part, and we’ll go with Kevin tonight.”

Capuano on Rinne not being in Preds net: “It doesn’t change anything.  Guys are in the National Hockey League for a reason.  A lot of guys come up through the minors and play well, and this guy is no different; the guys that they have.  And they’ll play hard in front of him.  So my mindset doesn’t change on how we need to play.”

Nashville HC Barry Trotz on Mazanec getting the start: “I think any goaltender, if you ask him, will say the first time he went in was fast and it was chaotic.  It was all those things, because it’s a different level.  It’s the best league in the world, the best players are out there making really good plays at a high pace.  So he’s fine.”

Okposo on how his game has improved this season: “I think my down-low play has been a lot better.  I move my feet a lot more this year, I think, in the offensive zone.  I’ve been able to create more shot opportunities, whether it be for myself or for my teammates.”

Martinek on returning to the Islanders: “It was always my priority to stay with the Islanders.  I was happy and lucky to get the contract during a season.  But I was lucky too because two guys got hurt, and in Bridgeport somebody was hurt too.  They knew I was practicing here.  I know the system, I know everything about this team.  It was an easy fit for the coaches and for me too.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

5FW Originals: Predators’ Clune Discusses Enforcer Role

November 12, 2013
Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (Photo: NHLPA)

Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (Photo: NHLPA)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Even if you knew very little about hockey, it would only take a quick glance around the visiting locker room at Nassau Coliseum to not only find Nashville Predators Rich Clune, but understand what role he played.

The 26-year-old sat quietly in the back right corner of the room, but the stitches in his face and bruising around his right eye were plenty loud.  Nashville’s enforcer was still showing the effects of a Friday night fight against Winnipeg’s Adam Pardy, one in which he was cut on the first punch.  Just part of the job, right?

“It’s not difficult,” said Clune, when asked how challenging it is to be expecting to fill the role he does.

“It’s not something that I lose sleep over, that’s for sure.  I’ve played hard my life.  At this level, you’re getting paid a lot of money.”

Clune signed a 2-year, $1.7 million contract this off-season.  The expectations are primarily for penalty minutes, with the hope that he’ll chip in a handful of goals and assists every year as well; he posted a 4-5-9 line in 47 games last season.  But back to those PIM’s?  Clune had some interesting thoughts on just how he accumulates them.

“It can be a little bit mechanical, as far as you feel like you have to generate something,” he said.  “The one thing I don’t like about it is at times, I’m not exactly mad out there.  It’s kind of a skill, to try to fight.  If I actually got mad, that’s when I usually fight a lot better.  But surprisingly, I have a long fuse.  A lot of it’s kind of manufactured out there.”

So is there way, then, to manufacture the anger necessary to do the job at the top level?

“Just being on the other team is enough for me, seeing a guy in a different jersey,” he said.

This marks Clune’s second full season in the NHL.  He was claimed on waivers by Nashville after the lockout ended, which ended a 4 1/2 year stay in the Los Angeles Kings organization, for whom he got into 14 NHL games during the 2009-10 season.  The Toronto native says he’s been able to learn a lot from Eric Nystrom — who was quite popular this morning given his father’s role in the Islanders dynasty days — and how he plays the game.

“We’re not exactly similar, but I like the brand of hockey he plays,” Clune said.  “He’s pretty consistent, and he’s a physical guy.  He doesn’t go looking for fights or anything, but if it happens, it happens.  I just like the way he plays…he works hard, he skates hard, he goes into the corners and he goes to net and shoots the puck.  He plays the game the way it should be played, and I think I’m capable of doing that.  I’ve just got to keep working.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Recapping a Disastrous Weekend For Princeton

November 10, 2013

Friday, November 8

Yale 5
Princeton 2

Saturday, November 9

Brown 6
Princeton 3

PRINCETON — That’s really all you need to see.  But it’s obviously a little more complicated than just two blowout losses.  Let’s start with Friday…

It’s fair to say that Yale came in as the heavy favorites.  The defending national champions were the No. 9 team in the country, but the Tigers had held them to just a one-goal defeat in the season-opening Liberty Hockey Invitational, in which the Bulldogs were upset out of the gate by Brown.  Friday wasn’t that close, nor was it as “close” as the score might indicate.

“They’re a team that, if you give them an opportunity, they don’t make too many mistakes,” said Tigers head coach Bob Prier.  “We gave them too many.”

That’s somewhat of an understatement.  Turnover after turnover after turnover marked an uneven performance, and Prier knew it cost his team.

“It’s troubling, there were far too many unforced turnovers,” he said.  “They’re a team that isn’t overly physical, they don’t really cause you to throw pucks away.  I think that we just tried to pass it into traffic instead of just skate it a few times, and that was probably the biggest difference in the game, we had far too many unforced turnovers where we just kind of gave them the puck.”

But there was reason for optimism heading into Saturday.  Princeton played much better in the third period against Yale, and looked to carry that momentum into their game against Brown…and they did, but they really didn’t.

Another tough start saw them get behind early, and a complete departure in the second from their first few physical shifts in the opening period had the game out of reach by the time the final 20 minutes were to be played.

“I don’t know if you can pinpoint it on a certain period,” said Prier of his team’s struggles this weekend.

“I just think we’re going to have evaluate how we’re allowing that many goals.  It’s not always the same instance, the same mistake.  We’re not tracking the puck at one time, and then the next time, we’re not in the right position in our cage defensively.  And it’s not like it’s the same people all the time.  I think we’re looking for consistency from the team as a whole from a defensive aspect.  If we do that, we’ll have more offensive opportunities.”

From the “bad goes to worse” department, Princeton’s offensive opportunities were already limited by the absence of Andrew Calof, considered by some to be the only true NHL prospect on the team.  According to Prier, Calof has an “upper-body injury,” and hasn’t been playing at 100 percent all season.  He’s day-to-day.  Seems like the rest of the team is as well.

“We can’t get much worse than the way it went down,” he said.  “You look at the whole weekend, and we’re just a team right now that doesn’t have much margin of error, so we’re going to have to clean things up.  We can’t have that many systematic errors again, because every one of them seems to bite us in the ass somehow.”

But even Prier conceded that his team’s 1-5 record (0-4 in conference) is a solid indication of where they’re at right now.

“We’ve got to be honest with ourselves and understand that this is a tough league,” he said.  “But at the same time, we’re not far off from climbing ourselves out of this hole…it’s a nice wake-up call early in the year.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Pre Game Notes: Regular Season Game 6, Anaheim Ducks @ Columbus Blue Jackets

October 27, 2013
The Ducks are expected to continue to ride the hot hand with Frederik Andersen between the pipes tonight in Columbus (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

The Ducks are expected to continue to ride the hot hand with Frederik Andersen between the pipes tonight in Columbus (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

COLUMBUS, OHIO — This is my first time at Nationwide Arena in a working capacity, and boy…I could get used to this place.  Love the arena district, love the building, and there aren’t a ton of people trying to do the same thing you’re looking to do since it isn’t as big of a market as what I’m used to.

I spoke to Mark Letestu for an ECHL.com piece you’ll read later this week, as well as Ryan Murray, Curtis McElhinney, Frederik Andersen and Saku Koivu for stuff you’ll see on here and in print as part of my Wednesday column.

Let’s start out with Murray.  The 20-year-old was the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and is looked upon to be a big part of the continuing efforts by the Blue Jackets to rebuild.  The skilled defenseman has already tallied his first NHL goal — “a bit of a garbage goal,” he joked — and is excited for the opportunity he’s been receiving.

“It’s been awesome,” he said.  “These guys last year made a lot of strides to get the team where they are now, and I just want to be a part of it moving forward and contribute as much as I can…there’s a great group of guys in this locker room; a lot of good character guys and a lot of good personalities.  It’s just a fun place to come to every day.”

Murray credited veteran blueliner and D-pair mate James Wisniewski for helping to bring him along at the next level.

“I’ve been playing with Wiz pretty much all season, and he’s always been talking to me.  He’s such a great guy for feedback,” Murray said.

“Every play, he’s always, ‘You can do this better,’ or, ‘That was a great play.’  He’s always letting me know what I can do better and what I’m doing right.  He’s kind of like my personal coach, I guess you could say.  He’s always there, and he’s always in my ear.  That’s a great thing as a young guy trying to learn more in this league.”

Meanwhile, over in the Ducks room, I scored a 1-on-1 chat with a very gracious Koivu, who was still beaming over the reception he got in Montreal.

“That’s one thing, is that I think you lose perspective on a lot of things, but when you know there’s not a lot of hockey left in your career, you try to enjoy it more and appreciate the success the team is having,” he said.  “As an individual, when you get a reaction like that as a visiting player from your old fans, those moments are pretty cool.”

The Ducks have won eight of their first 11 games, and the 38-year-old Finnish center has potted two goals and an assist to start out the year.

“I really believe that this is a team that can go far,” he said.  “At times, we’re playing really, really good hockey, especially 5-on-5 where I think our defensive game has been pretty consistent.  But offensively, we’re still trying to find the combinations and trying to find a little more offense.  The one thing we really have to improve is our special teams, both the penalty killing and the power play.  We’ve been struggling, but fortunately we’ve still been winning games and it gives you a little more time to get those things going.  But if you want to be successful, we have to be better in those areas.”

– Looked like Sergei Bobrovsky will start for the Blue Jackets, and Andersen will get the nod for the Ducks.  Michael Chaput is expected to make his NHL debut for Columbus as well.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Liberty Hockey Invitational: Day 1

October 26, 2013
Princeton senior goaltender Sean Bonar stole the show at day one of the Liberty Hockey Invitational (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Princeton senior goaltender Sean Bonar stole the show at day one of the Liberty Hockey Invitational (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

NEWARK — If the first day of the inaugural Liberty Hockey Invitational was any indication, the ECAC could be wide open this year.

Defending national champions Yale were easily knocked off in the first game by Brown, losing 4-1 in the first game, and Princeton managed to sneak past a solid Dartmouth team, 3-2, in overtime.

The attendance was listed at just 1,209 for the first day of the event, leading the question to be asked: If the defending national champions drop their season opener, but nobody is there to see it…does it make a sound?  Yale controlled the play for the first ten minutes, easily outshooting the Bears…but then the momentum started to shift.  Yes, the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead on a Stu Wilson goal at 5:01 of the second period, but Brown really turned on the pressure and rattled off four unanswered goals to collect the upset win.  Mark Naclerio was credited with two of Brown’s four markers.

In the nightcap, Dartmouth and Princeton provided a much better show than the opening contest, which was at times unwatchable.  Dartmouth outshot the Tigers 40-20 in the game, including a whopping 19-5 margin in the first period, but it was Princeton who struck first…and second.  Goals by senior captain Jack Berger and the first collegiate tally by Ben Foster gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead early in the third.  But Jack Barre got the Big Green to within one just 1:15 after Foster’s goal, which set the stage for some late-game drama.

With goaltender James Kruger pulled for the extra attacker, Brett Patterson managed to thread a feed to Eric Neiley up the right side, and he was inexplicably in all alone on Princeton goalie Sean Bonar with 40 seconds left to play in regulation.  Neiley managed to shield the puck from the trailing defenseman long enough, and shuffled the puck past Bonar to send the game into overtime tied, 2-2.

But it took Tucker Brockett just 45 seconds to net his first career college goal, taking advantage of a broken play to bury the puck into a wide open net after a blocked shot had caromed right to him.

Princeton is scheduled to play Yale today, while Brown and Dartmouth will face off.  As this is not a true tournament, there will be no champion of the event, despite what players and coaches said after the game.

***

QUOTES

Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet

“I think we played really well the entire game.  I just don’t think they had a lot going, it was just one of those games where it was a bounce.  Their goaltender played really, really well…I think there were a couple of penalties in the offensive zone that hurt us and gave them some momentum, but I don’t think they generated much against us.  I’m really happy with the way the team played because I think on another night, it’s a decisive win.”

“I thought we were good defensively.  Calof is obviously an elite level player, and I don’t think we gave them a lot of room.  The neutral zone is a key area to generate speed, and I thought we nullified that.  On the other hand, I thought we generated some.  I thought we had some good rushes, I thought we had some clean-in situations, and they clogged it up in their end.  They had a lot of guys, plus the goalie, trying to block shots.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier

“It was 0-0 after the first, so we had absolutely no doubts, we were confident in this team.  It was a gutsy win.  I think when you win like that and when you win with an absolute ton of resilience…I think we got a lot better as the game went on and got a lot more comfortable, and I think it goes a long way.  You learn a lot more from a win like that.  We weren’t as sharp as we could have been early, but our guys stuck to the process and did a really good job…it’s nice to be able to learn some lessons and walk away with the W at the same time.”

“I think as a whole, we’ve got to play quicker and that’s something that we learned.  Away from the puck, our wingers have to do a better job of getting to their spots faster and helping our defensemen out.  But I give our defensemen a lot of credit tonight, I think they did a very good job of hanging on to the puck.  If they didn’t have anything, they didn’t throw it away, and that’s frustrating to play against.  But at the same time, we’ve got to get them something.  As wingers and as centers, we’ve got to do a better job of coming back and getting to open space so they can move that puck up.”

WATCH Princeton players comment on the game here

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Pre-Game Notes, Regular Season Game 5: Oilers @ Islanders

October 17, 2013

3:30 PM — OK, so here’s what to expect from what I got this morning.  I spoke to Josh Bailey and Thomas Hickey on the Islanders side.  For the Oilers, it was chats with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron and Mark Arcobello.

You’ll see the Bailey, Hickey, Eberle and RNH stuff in a story in Saturday’s Trentonian.  The Perron piece, much like one you’ll see on Loui Eriksson soon, will be a player feature in the paper down the road.  And you can read the Arcobello story now on ECHL.com

2:50 PM — I’ve been impossibly busy. But, in case you missed my tweets, it’s Evgeni Nabokov in goal for the Islanders and Devan Dubnyk between the pipes for the Oilers.

Nassau Coliseum, still standing after all these years.  (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Nassau Coliseum, still standing after all these years. (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

10:00 AM — Nassau Coliseum.  Ah, how I missed thee.  Any potential sarcasm aside, it’s been two years since I’ve been here, and it is genuinely nice to get back.  I haven’t seen the Oilers since the 2008-09 season, so basically I haven’t seen the Oilers.  Think about the massive overhaul that organization has undergone since then, and the massive influx of talent they’ve been infused with thanks to top picks in the Draft.

Not entirely sure what I’ll be getting out of their end of the morning skate, but I’ll be sure to update you either way.

As for the Islanders, well…I’ve got a few ideas for what I want to get out of their portion of the skate, and a lot of that will likely go towards a feature I have in mind.  So, you might not see much of that here just yet.  Regardless, I’ll try to have as many game-related updates as I can from both sides of things once everything gets going at 10:30.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Pre-Game Notes, Regular Season Game 4: Red Wings @ Bruins

October 14, 2013

BOSTON — I feel like I’ve written this blog post before.  I’m in Boston, excited for an Original Six matchup and it happens to be Red Wings-Bruins.  But the last time we did this, it was the preseason.  Detroit beat the tar out of Boston, and even they said it meant absolutely nothing.  But this one counts — not in the awful MLB All-Star Game way — but with this being the regular season, there is genuine interest in a contest between two of the top teams in the National Hockey League.

It’s a 1 PM start today, so there’s no morning skate for either team and no way to give you any indication as to the lines or starting goaltenders until warmups get underway.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Ranking The Top 60 NHL Goalies: 41-50

October 13, 2013

After revealing numbers 51-60 several days ago, it’s time to unveil the next ten goaltenders in my extensive look at ranking the 60 men who man the pipes in the NHL…

41) J.S. Giguere, Colorado Avalanche

Career NHL stats: 693 GP, 291-266-49, 2.52 GAA, .913 save pct.

It feels a little weird to see Giguere this low on any goaltending list given what he’s accomplished in his career, but realistically, he’s somewhere in the middle of the pack at this stage of the game.  The Conn Smythe winner in 2003 despite his Anaheim Ducks losing the Stanley Cup to the Devils, he was able to hoist the game’s biggest prize over his head just four years later.  One of the game’s top goaltenders for a long period of time, Giguere was eventually dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster midway through the 2009-10 season, handing the number one job in Orange to Jonas Hiller.  But he’d last just a season and a half in Toronto, only briefly claiming the starting job there before being supplanted by James Reimer.  The 36-year-old is now in his third season with the Avalanche, and after an outstanding first year behind Semyon Varlamov, he struggled on a team that followed suit last season.  It would not be out of the realm of possibility by any means to think that Giguere could make another run as a starter in the NHL.  But, barring injury, that’s unlikely to happen in Denver, where Varlamov has been on fire to start the season.

42) Martin Biron, New York Rangers

Career NHL stats: 648 GP, 288-248-27, 2.56 GAA, .910 save pct.

At 36 years old, Biron may be showing a noticeable decline in his performance for the first time in his career.  Once considered to be a part of arguably the top tandem in the NHL in New York with Henrik Lundqvist, the affable French-Canadian has struggled this year.  The Rangers briefly brought in Johan Hedberg to challenge for the backup spot while Biron was tending to a personal matter, and upstart Cam Talbot was also given a chance to win the job on the preseason.  But for now, it remains Biron’s, who has yet to post a goals against average over 2.46 with the Rangers, for whom he’s played since 2010-11.  Biron has played in over 60 games twice in his career, suiting up in a whopping 72 for the Buffalo Sabres in 2001-02 and 62 for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007-08.  But, two seasons later, his transition to a backup began after he joined the New York Islanders for a largely miserable season.  However, he appeared to have rejuvenated his career in the Big Apple as the clear number two behind Lundqvist.  If Biron can turn around a lousy start in which he’s allowed nine goals in his first 71 minutes of play this season, he’ll remain cemented as the backup this year.  If not?  He may be playing for his career.

43) Peter Budaj, Montreal Canadiens

Career NHL stats: 273 GP, 115-100-33, 2.78 GAA, .903 save pct.

You’re lying if you thought Budaj had played in that many NHL games.  273?  For Peter Budaj?  Really?  One of those under the radar netminders, the 31-year-old Slovakian-born Budaj has been a full-time NHL’er since the 2005-06 season, when he broke in with the Colorado Avalanche.  Eventually, he took the starting job, and even got the bulk of the starts with Jose Theodore in town.  But once Craig Anderson put together his outstanding year in 2009-10, Budaj’s days as a number one NHL goaltender had come and gone.  After splitting time with Anderson in 2010-11, Budaj joined the Montreal Canadiens the following year, and has served as Carey Price’s backup ever since.  As durable as goaltenders come in the NHL, Price is typically good for a 60-70 game workload, leaving only a handful of starts for Budaj.  But he’s performed well, posting sub-2.60 goals against averages in each season.  Although Dustin Tokarski is very capable, Budaj is at no risk of losing his backup job, and could get into 15-18 games this year.

44) Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals

Career NHL stats: 123 GP, 56-36-11, 2.67 GAA, .909 save pct.

It’s hard to believe that “Neuvy” is just 25 years old.  This is, after all, his sixth NHL season.  The on-again, off-again starter for the Capitals, the Czech native finds himself in the backup role again, this time to fellow homegrown netminder Braden Holtby.  In 2010-11, Neuvirth fought off Semyon Varlamov and Holtby to secure the number one spot; he appeared in a career-high 48 games and played in nine postseason contests as well.  But the numbers have slowly gone downhill since then, and so his playing time has followed on a similar gradual decline.  Although neither Holtby or Neuvirth instill confidence in Capitals fans for a long playoff run, it seems it would be Holtby who would once again get the opportunity to make the attempt this year.  Should he falter, however, Neuvirth could once again claim the starting job.  For now, however, anywhere from 20 to 30 games seems reasonable.

45) Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild

Career NHL stats: 125 GP, 44-53-8, 2.62 GAA, .915 save pct.

It is impossible to not root for Josh Harding.  Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis during the 2012-13 season, the 29-year-old not only kept playing, but pitched a shutout in his first game after it was made public.  Harding has been with the Wild throughout the duration of his nine-year pro career, but has never truly been the starter, only seeing significant time when Niklas Backstrom was injured.  It’s hard to project any sort of season forecast with Harding, given the uncertain nature of being able to manage his symptoms throughout the year.  Under regular circumstances, he’d likely be slated for 20-25 games behind Backstrom.  Darcy Kuemper proved himself to be a worthy backup candidate when pressed into action last year, but for now, the number two job belongs to the Masterton Trophy recipient.

46) Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers

Career NHL stats: 35 GP, 11-20-2, 3.14 GAA, .903 save pct.

Markstrom is believed to the Panthers goalie of the future.  It just doesn’t seem Florida feels the future is now just yet.  Entering this season, it seemed that Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen would be the tandem in Sunrise, with Markstrom expected to take the majority of the games.  But rumors regarding Tim Thomas turned into reality, and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner was brought in to be the number one.  Just 23 years old, Markstrom has little left to prove at the AHL level with two solid seasons in San Antonio under his belt over the past two years.  But, depending on what they want to do with Clemmensen, how Thomas responds to his recent injury, and where they feel Markstrom is at in his development, he may have to make a return trip to Texas.  The 6-foot-6 Swede’s AHL numbers are far more indicative of his skill level than his NHL stats are, but he still isn’t quite there just yet.  Bringing in a reliable veteran like Thomas is likely the best thing for him, but he’s not far off from becoming a regular NHL starter.

47) Dan Ellis, Dallas Stars

Career NHL stats: 186 GP, 78-66-17, 2.74 GAA, .908 save pct.

Dan Ellis problems?  They’ve certainly been worse for the 33-year-old, who finds himself back in the NHL after starting last year in the American Hockey League for the first time since the 2006-07 season.  Curiously, he was with the Stars organization at the time, an organization that gave him his start.  13 years after they drafted him, and he’s back, serving as the backup to the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen.  Ellis established himself as an NHL starter in the 2007-08 season, posting an excellent 2.34 goals against average and .924 save percentage for the Nashville Predators.  But, unable to match his performance over the next two seasons and with Pekka Rinne challenging for the number one job, Ellis needed to move on, and has been in four different organizations over the past four years.  Dallas evidently doesn’t believe Jack Campbell, drafted 11th overall in 2010, is NHL-ready yet, so Ellis will hold the fort for now.  However, with Lehtonen’s injury history, Ellis will need to play well during his stints between the pipes or risk Campbell or Christopher Nihlstorp taking his job.

48) Joey MacDonald, Calgary Flames

Career NHL stats: 126 GP, 42-57-15, 3.01 GAA, .903 save pct.

One of the better examples of on-ice perseverance in the entire National Hockey League, no less its goaltending ranks, the undrafted MacDonald appeared destined to be a career minor leaguer.  He played in five full seasons below the NHL before finally breaking into the game’s top level with the Detroit Red Wings in the 2006-07 season.  He played well enough to attract interest from the Boston Bruins when he had to clear waivers, and appeared in seven games for them before joining the New York Islanders organization.  It was with the Islanders where he caught his big break, getting the bulk of the contests for a 2008-09 team that was largely forgettable.  After bouncing around between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings (again) organizations in the three seasons that followed, the 33-year-old has since seemingly found a home with the Calgary Flames.  An afterthought on a team that brought in Karri Ramo to be its starter, its been MacDonald that’s taken the reins, winning three of his first four appearances for a team that has been better than many expected them to be early on this year.  With Ramo still unproven at the NHL level and Calgary still realistically in a rebuild, MacDonald could approach his 49-game mark that established an NHL-best for him in Uniondale.

49) Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit Red Wings

Career NHL stats: 114 GP, 41-47-16, 2.98 GAA, .899 save pct.

Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs brought over the 6-foot-3, 195 pounder over from Sweden, hoping that he’d be the solution to their long-lasting goaltending issues.  He was not.  The “Monster” is known more for injuries than anything else, and has super-talented Petr Mrazek as a serious challenger to the backup job to Jimmy Howard in Detroit.  Since joining the Red Wings last year, the soon-to-be 29-year-old has played in just seven games.  Having already missed time to start this year, and already small workload behind incumbent starter Howard will likely get even smaller.  With Mrazek having little left to prove after a breakout rookie season in which he won a Calder Cup, it would not be surprising to see Gustavsson either traded or sent to the minors before the year is over.

50) Thomas Greiss, Phoenix Coyotes

Career NHL stats: 46 GP, 18-16-3, 2.48 GAA, .913 save pct.

For years, Thomas Greiss was a “2B” goalie in the San Jose Sharks organization.  Basically, he was either their top option in the AHL, or he was the backup until a better option came along.  After just 44 appearance in the NHL spread out over four seasons in San Jose, it was apparent that a change of scenery would in his best interests.  He got that this season, signing with the Phoenix Coyotes as Mike Smith’s backup.  If given the opportunity, Greiss could be a solid starter for a handful of NHL teams.  A member of the German Olympic team in 2010, Greiss’ strengths are staying square to the shooter and anticipating the play, and he should be in line for 20 games or so behind Smith, perhaps more if Smith can’t recover from a sub-par 2012-13 season.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.