A lot of people, including CommittedIndians, have questioned whether or not the Blackhawks have the right goalie to make a run at the Stanley Cup in 2010. Consistency, recent struggles and a lack of playoff success have all been cited as red flags between the pipes for the Blackhawks as they approach the playoffs with Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet.
But looking across the Western Conference, the Blackhawks aren’t alone in having some concerns about their netminder(s).
In second place in the West entering Thursday night’s action are the San Jose Sharks. Their netminder, Evgeny Nabokov, has more issues than Sports Illustrated right now. Not only did he fail miserably in the Olympics, but his lack of confidence carried over into March; Nabokov has a 3.41 goals against average and a .879 save percentage since the Olympics. In the postseason, Nabokov hasn’t been a legend, either. In the last two seasons, Nabokov is 8-11 with a 2.53 goals against average and a .902 save percentage; despite having more postseason games on his resume, 65, than the rest of the netminders in the West combined, his recent lack of success is keeping Sharks fans up at night.
In third place in the West are the Vancouver Canucks. Their netminder, Roberto Luongo, was the polar opposite of Nabokov by winning the gold medal in the Olympics this year, but he too has struggled since then. Luongo has been removed from three of his 11 starts since the Olympics ended. His postseason career is only two seasons deep, and he has only a .500 record at 11-11, including last year’s elimination to the Blackhawks.
In fourth in the West, presently, are the Phoenix Coyotes. Ilya Bryzgalov is the hottest netminder going in the NHL right now (7-2-0, 2.14 GAA, .929 sv% in March), but the last time he started a playoff game was in 2006-07 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
From fifth through eighth, the four netminders fighting for position have one thing in common: zero playoff appearances in their NHL career. Colorado’s Craig Anderson, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard are all playing well in March, but none has stepped onto the ice in a postseason game before.
In fact, when you consider Niemi’s numbers in March (3-1-2, 2.32 GAA, .913 sv%), he’s playing statistically his best hockey since the 2009 calendar year this month. He has an identical goals against average to Detroit’s Howard, which is better than LA’s Quick (2.35) and Colorado’s Anderson (3.12) in March.
So in a word of pause for Blackhawks fans that are worried or concerned about the Hawks’ goalies being the reason for a failed Stanley Cup run, keep in mind that every other team in the West is going through their own issues right now as well.