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Charlton's NHL: Canadian Cage Match
A Look at Canada's Goaltending Choices

Rick Charlton

November 28th, 2001

The line on Canada's Olympic goaltending last night wasn't particularly pretty.

Martin Brodeur allowed six goals on 17 shots

Curtis Joseph allowed five goals on 20 shots

Sean Burke allowed three goals on 25 shots

Chris Osgood allowed five goals on 29 shots

Patrick Lalime allowed four goals on 23 shots

Roberto Luongo allowed four goals on 27 shots

The resulting .809 save percentage wasn't what Wayne Gretzky and company have been looking for as they get set to name their roster for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

In spite of the absence of a red line and the use of a large ice surface, scoring at the Olympics will probably mirror that of Nagano in 1998. The last Olympic hockey tournament, with a concentration of talent rarely seen these days, resulted in an average of only 4.75 goals per game among the top six teams competing with each other.

With goals so hard to come by, it would figure that goaltending is likely to be a critical element for any team hoping to claim a gold medal.

And without high level goaltending, as we see time and time again in the parity stricken NHL, whatever else your team might be doing quickly becomes lost amid an avalanche of poor results.

On the other side of the ledger, Nik Khabibulin for Russia is coming off NHL Player of the Week honours. The Czechs have Dominik Hasek and Roman Turek as two of the top statistical goaltenders in the NHL this year while Hasek has the last Olympic gold around his neck. Tommy Salo will probably stand on his head for the Swedes just as he's been doing for the Oilers, plus Johann Hedberg, late of the Manitoba Moose, has been terrific for the Penguins and was the shutout victor over Brodeur last night. Mike Richter, the leading light for the U.S., is turning aside a veritable barrage of shots nightly in New York. Sweden's

And Canada's best goaltender, Patrick Roy, has decided to go fishing in February.

Which leaves the six mentioned above, all of whom were bombed to various degrees last night.

Brodeur is having a sub-par season following a sub-par playoff where the Devils made the Stanley Cup final in spite of him and not because of him.

Joseph has been inconsistent, alternately average, which isn't good enough by a long shot in Toronto, and brilliant.

Burke has been generally terrific in Phoenix in guiding the Coyotes to a record decidedly higher than their talent base.

Osgood, a waiver-wire pickup, has been just what the Islanders needed to solidify their lineup. Whatever confidence problems he had in Detroit seem to have vanished.

Lalime has taken the Senators by the short hairs and led them back into contention after a slow start.

Luongo has performed magnificently for a team that doesn't deserve him.

Two of the above players have "won something," Stanley Cup rings belonging to Brodeur and Chris Osgood. If that means anything, and Brodeur is playing himself off Canada's entry, then suddenly Osgood stands out. But that hardly seems likely since Osgood has never seemed to be in the mix at any point in time.

Of the possibilities who have no particular winning credentials under their belts, Joseph seems to be the leading light based on experience, performance and politics, not necessarily in that order. Burke has the advantage of a ton of international experience under his belt, his dominating performance at the 1992 Olympics a highlight moment.

Luongo is often mentioned as the third string backup due to his relative youth.

One night a bad one does not a season make. But the poor results for Canada's Olympic hopefuls simply underlines that whomever earns the job as the number one netminder for Canada will face a tremendous weight of collective angst from their countrymen.

And, for the first time in memory, it would appear that Canada will not have the goaltending advantage in international hockey which has served it so well in the past.

THE DAYS OF THE BLOCKBUSTER MID-SEASON TRADE designed to shake a team to its foundations appears to be behind us. Parity, dollars and a host of other factors are to blame for a distinct lack of significant mid-season movement. Aside from the forced Jason Allison deal between Boston and LA, little has happened or appears to be in the works. While Paul Kariya stews in Anaheim and potential UFA's Bobby Holik, Teemu Selanne and Tony Amonte wax philosophical about their futures, the same self-imposed trade embargo we saw much of last year seems to have descended like a curtain across the NHL. "Every team is so tight now," says Detroit GM Ken Holland. "If you got gaps, you really have to fill them from within . . . or take care of it before the season." So the same lack of willing trade partners which prevented Flames GM Craig Button from re-designing Calgary during the tenure of Don Hay may also prevent him from adding any significant help on wing until the March trade deadline. Or the draft next summer.

"I DON'T LOOK AT IT AS A LONG-TERM SOLUTION. I look at it as a spark. "It's 'Spread the Wealth,' what little wealth we have." - Bobby Holik, former team player, talking about the decision to break up the Arnott, Sykora, Elias line in New Jersey. Do you think Holik is going to be back with the Devils next year? Not a chance.

TWO FORMER HABS, SCOTTY BOWMAN AND JACQUES LEMAIRE, are changing the face of the typical NHL power play this season. Bowman says most power plays are designed to have a point man control the play. The thought of the Bowman and Lemaire is to "invert" the emphasis from the point towards the forwards down low, having those players in charge. "You know how the puck is always going back to the point?" Bowman told the Toronto SUN. "Every time you get the puck back to the point, it is now 50 feet from the net. What we're trying to explain to the players is to pretend that the goal line is the point. Work backward. Work from the goal line. Imagine if you had Gretzky in one corner and Mario Lemieux in the other. What it does to the defending team is it makes them turn sideways. If you're a goalie or a penalty killer and the puck is out at the point, that's the only time you feel a little relieved. Even though they can shoot it, at least you know where everybody is. When the puck goes behind you, you're worried. You lose sight of it. You're turning to one side or the other." Detroit and Minnesota are among the top five power plays in the NHL.

"ONE THING THAT BOTHERS ME IS YOU LOOK AT MY FACE and those guys are saying he didn't hit me. I guess my face is only this way because I went home and beat myself up." - Darcy Tucker of Toronto, after being way-laid with a butt-end from Florida's Jason Weimer, commenting on the inference that his reputation as a diver had caught up to him.

THE FIRST NOSE-DIVE OF THE SEASON FOR THE FLAMES was coming for a while. Although their undefeated string reached 10 games with a 4-4 tie in Ottawa, the Flames had actually been playing increasingly poor hockey on the defensive side of the puck for the preceding week and a half. The Flames look like a team not a little full of itself, believing as individuals press reports describing them as an offensive juggernaut that can score itself out of any jam. When Calgary's goaltending faltered in this five game winless skid, the lie was brought to full light. In the end, we will find the Flames to be not so different from what they were described as in our pre-season prognostication - a team that must be dominant defensively to compensate for a somewhat limited offence. As soon as the players themselves realize that fact, the sooner they will return to their winning ways. One thing is sure, however, exposing their netminders to a continuous barrage of Grade "A" opportunities is a recipe for group suicide.

"THAT'S WHAT WINNING IS - THAT SENSE OF URGENCY. You have to understand how you won and how hard it is. You've got to find ways to win games you don't deserve to win. From goaltending out, the Red Wings are not only an experienced, well-prepared team, they've also got the experience of winning." - Chicago coach Brian Sutter.

"THE FLAMES PLAY IN THE MOLD OF THEIR COACHING STAFF. Those guys were a real pain in the butt to play against. They know how to push buttons to get that kind of work ethic they want. They're a hard-working team. They're not overloaded with skill or spectacular goaltending, but they can work you to death.'' - Ancient Columbus Blue Jacket forward Kevin Dineen.

''IT'S PROBABLY AN EVALUATION OF MY EVALUATION OF PLAYERS" - Dallas GM Bob Gainey, the Honest Andy of NHL GM's after admitting defeat and swallowing his pride in trading Donald Audette and Jyrkki Lumme, two prominent free agent signings from the summer. Val Kamensky will be the next to go.

"PEOPLE WHO ARE DESPERATE TO PUT PEOPLE IN THE STANDS will do anything. This just shows me they're desperate ... They should be embarrassed.'' - Columbus GM Doug MacLean on arriving in Nashville to find the Predators handing out fly swatters to the first 10,000 fans through the door.

"THE PLAYERS ARE UNHAPPY, THE MANAGEMENT IS UNHAPPY. I see a team that is uncomfortable on the ice, jittery with the puck and uncomfortable as a group." - St. Louis GM Larry Pleau commenting on his Blues earlier in the week.



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