Archive for October, 2013

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

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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

Regular Season Game 3: Greiss Helps Coyotes Past Flyers In First Start

October 12, 2013
In his first start with Phoenix, Thomas Greiss made 36 saves to help lead the Coyotes past the Flyers, 2-1, in Philadelphia on Friday night.  (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

In his first start with Phoenix, Thomas Greiss made 36 saves to help lead the Coyotes past the Flyers, 2-1, in Philadelphia on Friday night. (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers had momentum.  Under new head coach Craig Berube, they’d won their first game against the Florida Panthers, and seemed poised to go on a little bit of a run.  The Phoenix Coyotes were not interested in this part of the plan.

Making his first start for the team, goaltender Thomas Greiss stopped 36 of the 37 shots he saw, and the Coyotes handed the Flyers a tough, 2-1 loss at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night.  Phoenix was in the second game of back-to-backs, not to mention that they were in Detroit just last night.  Although head coach Dave Tippett acknowledged that his players were looking a little worn down late in tonight’s game, this was still a big two points for his Coyotes, especially coming in a tough road building like Philly.

“It’s a tough building to win in, but it’s a fun building to play in too,” Greiss said.  “There’s a lot of fans, and the fans are rowdy.  It’s a good atmosphere in there, and it was fun.”

Added captain Shane Doan: “It was huge.  This is a very tough building to win in.  You look throughout the year, and you see games that you know not a lot of others teams in the West are going to get points coming out of here.  So it’s a big two points when you can add points that are going to be tough for other teams to get in your division and in your conference.”

It was a relatively even contest between the two teams, but the turning point would come late in the second period.  After Zac Rinaldo took the second of his three ill-advised minors on the night, the Coyotes capitalized when Oliver Ekman-Larsson snapped a shot past Flyers netminder Steve Mason with just 13 seconds left to give Phoenix a 2-1 lead.  Although Philadelphia did seem to turn it on in the third period — they held Phoenix to just five shots while mustering ten of their own — Greiss made the big saves when he needed to, and the Coyotes were able to fend off a team that still seemed to be playing with some sense of urgency after a change was made behind the bench.

“We know the type of men that they have behind the bench now,” Doan said.  “Berube and Laperrierre…and John Paddock coached me in Winnipeg.  They’re quality guys that are going to have their guys ready to go.  They’re guys that are going to push the intensity and level of commitment from their guys and you can see that.  The first five minutes, they were flying and we were fortunate to get out of it not being down.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Regular Season Game 2: Post-Game Notes, Panthers @ Flyers

October 9, 2013
Steve Mason was outstanding for the Flyers on Tuesday night, stopping 27 of 28 shots to win the first game of the Craig Berube era (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Steve Mason was outstanding for the Flyers on Tuesday night, stopping 27 of 28 shots to win the first game of the Craig Berube era (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

PHILADELPHIA — Steve Mason was outstanding on Tuesday night.  That’s Steve Mason.  Playing well.

More so than any coaching change, that seemed to be the biggest story to come out of the Philadelphia Flyers side of their 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers.  But sure, there was that whole coaching change as well, and it was Craig Berube’s first game as the head coach after the firing of Peter Laviolette.  After the game, in a very packed locker room, I was able to ask Mason a few questions.

The Trentonian: How do you guys make sure you keep this new-found momentum going forward?

Steve Mason: “It starts tomorrow at practice.  We can’t just be content with one good feeling after a nice win.  We have to just come to the rink working hard.  I know Chief is really going to drive that work ethic into us, and it’s something that we really have to relish.  Just have that good feeling and keep it coming.”

The Trentonian: From a goaltending standpoint, how do things change when there’s a coaching change?

Steve Mason: “They don’t, really.  The coach has the final say as to who’s playing, but I deal mostly with Jeff Reese, so you have a good relationship with the head coach, but at the same time you don’t deal with him at all that often because you have your own individual coach, pretty much.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Regular Season Game 2: Panthers @ Flyers

October 8, 2013

So, I got to this a little late because I had a ton of print responsibilities to attend to.  The first of which was writing this story on how the Florida Panthers are a team on the rise…and not just because they finished dead last in the NHL with 36 points last year.  You should go read that.  Plenty of quotes from Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Scott Gomez and Kevin Dineen inside.  Chatted with Ryan Whitney for it as well.

This is my first regular season Flyers game of the year after a handful last season — big thanks to Brian Smith of Philly PR for putting up with me — and hey, would you look at that, it’s Craig Berube’s first game as head coach as well.  Peter Laviolette, who was somewhat surprisingly unpleasant to deal with from a media standpoint, at least in my dealings with him, is now looking for work.  Dineen had little to say about the firing before today’s game, throwing out the standard “any time somebody loses their job, that’s an unfortunate thing” line.

Typically, the Flyers skate in Voorhees and the visiting team skates at the Wells Fargo Center.  So, no Flyers stuff until after the game.  But the beat crew — namely Frank Seravalli since I saw his name first when I looked into it — has Steve Mason in net and Erik Gustafsson, Hal Gill and Kris Newbury as the scratches tonight.  Joey Crabb, Krys Barch and Matt Gilroy are the scratches for the Panthers tonight, and Tim Thomas should start between the pipes.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Ranking The Top 60 NHL Goalies: 51-60

October 8, 2013

Ever since I was a little kid, goaltenders fascinated me.  Just the unique nature of the position always stood out to me…I always wanted to be a goalie, and I always looked up to players who were.  So something that would be of interest to me, and hopefully to my readers as well, would be taking a look at each of the active 60 goaltenders in the NHL and ranking them from top to bottom.  Well, for the purposes of this series of blog posts, from bottom to top.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you my rankings of the 2013-14 NHL netminders, and we’ll start today with 51-60.

***

51) Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames

Career NHL stats: 49 GP, 11-21-11, 3.36 GAA, .895 Save Pct.

Ramo was the Flames opening night starter following a four-season stint in the KHL.  His NHL numbers, for all but one game, are based off of what he did as an up-and-coming goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons.  The 27-year-old Finn posted outstanding numbers with Omsk of the KHL, but has yet to be able to translate his international success to the NHL.  Given that he’s part of a rebuild in Calgary, it’s unlikely that will change.  Joey MacDonald, who is ranked slightly ahead of Ramo, may ultimately be the better NHL goaltender right now.

52) Jason Labarbera, Edmonton Oilers

Career NHL stats: 177 GP, 59-70-19, 2.83 GAA, .909 Save Pct.

LaBarbera, 33, has had to fight through being buried in multiple organizations to finally establish himself as an NHL backup.  He last held a starting job with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, and signed with Edmonton this season after four years as the backup to both Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith in Phoenix.  A well-decorated goaltender at the AHL level, “Barbs” has proven to be little more than a capable backup in the NHL, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  However, at this stage in his career, no team is likely to rely on him to be the full-time starter, although if there ever were a situation where that may arise, it could be behind the perpetually-struggling Devan Dubnyk.

53) Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks

Career NHL stats: 1 GP, 1-0-0, 3.81 GAA, .889 Save Pct.

Lack’s low placement on this list is more because of…drumroll please…lack of playing time in the NHL than anything else.  The 25-year-old’s path to Vancouver was blocked over the past several seasons by the Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider tandem, but with Schneider having been dealt out East to the Devils, a spot finally opened for the 25-year-old Swede.  Lack put together two very solid seasons in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves before struggling to play through a hip injury last season that ultimately required surgery to repair.  He won’t see a lot of playing time behind Luongo this season, but should establish himself as a solid No. 2 option.

54) Curtis McElhinney, Columbus Blue Jackets

Career NHL stats: 69 GP, 19-26-4, 3.10 GAA, .899 Save Pct.

McElhinney has once again fought his way back to the NHL, given an opportunity by the Blue Jackets after he put together an All-Star season for their AHL affiliate in Springfield.  The 30-year-old has never been a full-time starter in the NHL, but had always managed to stick around at the game’s highest level despite a bevy of trades and transactions over the past several years that have seen him in five different organizations since the 2009-10 season.  McElhinney has never played more than 28 games in a full NHL season — which he did while splitting games between the Ducks and Senators in 2010-11 — and almost assuredly will not come anywhere near that mark while backing up Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus.  He should be a capable backup, but is unlikely to be relied upon for consecutive starts.

55) Al Montoya, Winnipeg Jets

Career NHL stats: 64 GP, 24-18-10, 2.77 GAA, .906 Save Pct.

The sixth overall pick of the New York Rangers in the 2004 NHL Draft, Montoya has never achieved the stardom that he appeared to be destined for.  Some guy named Henrik Lundqvist came out of nowhere to become the Rangers goaltender of the future instead of him, and that led to him being unable to get a full-time NHL job until halfway through the 2010-11 season when he was traded for the second time in his career, this time to the New York Islanders.  Montoya played well on a sub-par team that year, but struggled when given an increased workload in 2011-12.  He appeared in just seven games last year in an injury-riddled campaign — his first with Winnipeg — and has Eddie Pasquale nipping at his heels for the backup job to Ondrej Pavelec.

56) Chad Johnson, Boston Bruins

Career NHL stats: 10 GP, 3-2-3, 1.97 GAA, .929 Save Pct.

The Rangers seem to be adept at developing NHL-caliber netminders, just not for themselves.  Johnson is the third goalie of the 51-60 group to have been given his start by New York, but he’s since moved on as well.  Like Montoya, Johnson got his first real opportunity to shine with the Phoenix Coyotes, and he was stellar last season.  Albeit in just four games, he posted a 1.21 goals against average and .954 save percentage, and likely put himself on the radar to be given an opportunity like the one he’s earned in Boston backing up Tuukka Rask this season.  Johnson, who beat out AHL All-Star Niklas Svedberg for the job, is, like most backups on good teams, unlikely to see much time between the pipes this year.  But at the very least, this is his first opportunity to be a full-time NHL’er.

57) Kevin Poulin, New York Islanders

Career NHL stats: 21 GP, 7-9-1, 2.76 GAA, .912 Save Pct.

Poulin is in somewhat of a Catch-22 situation with the Islanders.  While he’s learning a lot by being at the NHL level, he might not be developing at as quickly as a rate of some of his peers because he isn’t playing a lot.  Just 23 years old, the Montreal-born netminder appeared in just five games last year behind workhorse Evgeni Nabokov, and seems destined to maybe a dozen or so starts this year as well.  Poulin does have extensive time in the AHL with the Islanders’ affiliate in Bridgeport over the past two seasons, and it might be wise to send him down — he remains exempt from waivers — on occasion to keep him sharp.

58) Carter Hutton, Nashville Predators

Career NHL stats: 2 GP, 0-1-0, 2.20 GAA, .920 Save Pct.

Hutton is a rarity among NHL netminders; a 27-year-old rookie who has played his entire pro career in North America.  An underdog who was jettisoned to the ECHL as recently as the 2011-12 season, the UMass-Lowell alum had always been good enough to see spot duty as a backup in the NHL (with the Flyers and Sharks) but never managed to actually get into a game.  But that all changed once he joined the Blackhawks organization — even though he still backed up in a handful of games in his first season, 2011-12, without getting any game time — and he made his NHL debut on the last day of the regular season last year.  With seemingly little left to prove at the AHL level, Hutton was given an opportunity to backup Pekka Rinne in Nashville this season.  While he surely won’t supplant Rinne as the starter, with the big Finn coming off a hip procedure, Hutton could see more games than you might think this season, particularly in back-to-back nights situations.

59) Alex Stalock, San Jose Sharks

Career NHL stats: 3 GP, 1-0-1, 1.68 GAA, .909 Save Pct.

Stalock is another guy where there simply isn’t a big enough sample size to properly evaluate him at the NHL level.  But that he’s even there at all is a minor miracle.  He lost all but a handful of games in the 2011-12 season due to a career-threatening injury suffered when he was cut by a skate behind the knee the year prior.  The 26-year-old American-born goaltender has three full seasons in the AHL under his belt, and beat out Harri Sateri to claim the backup job to Antti Niemi this season.  This will also be his first opportunity to be a full-time NHL goalie.

60) Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh Penguins

Career NHL stats: None

Zatkoff is ranked last because he has no NHL experience.  After three full seasons of being trapped behind Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier in the Los Angeles Kings organization — not to mention splitting time with Martin Jones — the 26-year-old signed with the Penguins organization prior to the 2012-13 season and got the bulk of the games for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  An AHL All-Star with Manchester two seasons ago, Zatkoff didn’t earn an invite to Providence last year despite a career-best 1.93 goals against average.  Although questions remain about whether GM Ray Shero will stick with Zatkoff as his backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, for now, he’s got an opportunity to cement himself as an NHL’er until Tomas Vokoun is able to return.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Regular Season Game 1: Islanders @ Devils

October 4, 2013

5:15 PM — With the Devils not holding a morning skate, and the Islanders only having an optional, my start to the 2013-14 National Hockey League regular season got off to a later start than I was anticipating.  But, after a brief hiatus to focus on the Atlantic League postseason, I’ll be back as The Trentonian’s national hockey writer, which will include coverage…well, everywhere.  I’m based in New Jersey, so there will certainly be an East Coast focus, but I’ll do my best to bring you stories from all over the hockey world.

But, for now, it’s the Devils home opener, which also serves as the Islanders season opener.

The plan for a few days now was to start Cory Schneider between the pipes for New Jersey in their season opener — they did, and they lost in Pittsburgh — and have Martin Brodeur start the home opener.  That, of course, raises the questions if this will be Brodeur’s final home opener…but that’s nothing new.  I’d imagine he’s been dealing with those questions for years now, and I’m not adding to them.

Anyway, be sure to check out my print previews of the 2013-14 NHL season, New Jersey Devils season and New York Rangers season.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com