Over the last week, the NHL was laden with situations where new faces created tighter spaces in the crease. And for scouts everywhere, it provided us with plenty of entertainment. I mean, what other choice did Dan Bylsma really have after John Curry allowed five goals on 14 shots against Vancouver on Saturday? He simply had to put in the 19-year-old Alex Pechursky, who was signed on an emergency basis. But for so many good reasons, it was the right choice.
Could you imagine the painstaking process of deciding which goalie to start after one is sudden injured or coming off a terrible performance? A coach’s ability to make good goalie decisions is admirable, for there are infinite factors to ponder, including age, experience, confidence, rust and even things like energy level in practices. But most of the time, coaches make easy decisions because the answer is hitting them in the face like a giant sack of doorknobs.
Even Senators coach Cory Clouston said, "Whatever goaltender is going to get us the win is the one we're going to go with…" over the weekend. So how could you not expect Ottawa to keep rolling with Mike Brodeur, their 26-year-old AHL “prospect”? Pascal Leclaire is living out his “Band-Aid Boy” status and Brian Elliott has been a big disappointment, especially considering how strong he played in the second half of last season. At least they made the right decision by letting their former goalie coach Eli Wilson walk.
Clouston’s approach not only makes the most sense, it’s the most effective when having to handle depth chart issues in goal. Just ride the hot hand, regardless of all other factors. And remember - any time a goalie gets a string of starts in a row, he becomes a fantasy option worth noting. If he’s younger than 21, regardless of win or lose, he’s getting a boost in long-term value due to the experience gained. And since so many goalies either returned from or suffered an injury last week, it led to many more prospects experiencing NHL action sooner than expected.
Thanks to Brent Johnson’s lower-body injury and Marc-Andre Fleury’s fractured finger, Curry ended up with the start against the Canucks on Saturday night. It did not go well at all, as he was lit up for five goals against on just 14 shots.
Curry started off with some solid confidence and movement, but it completely crumbled after Henrik Sedin banked a shot off his blocker arm and into the net. That goal virtually eliminated all of Curry’s confidence and focus, as he was not the same from that point on. Yes, the puck was bouncing like crazy, which does take a little blame off of his shoulders, but the fact remains that he was totally shook after allowing a weak goal.
Moving forward, Curry’s rank in the Top-100 Prospects Rankings will drop. I believe his size will be an issue at the NHL level, similar to what I see in Vesa Toskala and Jose Theodore. Curry does have a huge heart, amazing perseverance and a lot of other aspects of mental fortitude I really like, but after this game, his future is as a long-term keeper is not as bright. As long as he is with the Penguins, he won’t get much of an opportunity anyways.
This was by far the most interesting and entertaining goalie story of the week. Pechursky, a 19-year-old Russian currently playing in his first WHL season, was signed by Pittsburgh to a one-day emergency deal. He came over from Russia to play in North America in December, so you know his head was spinning when the Penguins made the call.
But Pechursky thrived, stopping 12 of 13 shots in relief of Curry. Even though he had to wear Fleury’s Reebok Revokes (Alex’s current WHL pads were not legal for NHL play), Pechursky settled in nicely after a few scrambling saves and showed some real confidence and true puck-stopping skills. He was even named the game’s third star.
What does this do to his fantasy stock moving forward? To be honest, it’s still too early to consider him a Top-100 Keeper Prospect, but did legitimize his potential by putting his name on the map. This is exactly why I continually stress that teams need to give goalie prospects every opportunity possible to play NHL minutes. You never know what you have until you expose a goalie to the elements. And now the Penguins, if anything, know they have a prospect with real NHL potential improving his game over the next few years. No pressure, lots of upside. Score.
I absolutely loved what I saw from Tokarski in the third period of Tampa Bay’s game on Saturday. He came out with a ton of confidence, looked very composed and didn’t have hyper or overactive limbs. Tokarski has always displayed sharpness and mental fortitude rarely seen in such a young goaltender, but his 20-minute shutout was beyond impressive considering the circumstances. And with Mike Smith back in Tampa Bay due to his most recent injury, it looks like Tokarski will continue to stay up with the Lightning.
I’ll point to one play in particular in the third period, where Tokarski faced a sudden two-on-one break. Most goalies making their NHL debut in this situation would have gotten caught out of position, or simply a step behind. But Tokarski stood firm, displayed a ton of patience and forced the Panthers player with the puck to shoot it right at him. Tokarski didn’t even drop into the butterfly, which is his biggest strength. Instead he stood up and re-directed the puck out of harm’s way. It was flawless composure in his first real NHL test.
What comes from being a 26-year-old NHL rookie? Thick skin. Brodeur has been through a lot in his career, and similar to goalies like Tim Thomas, Craig Anderson (even Curry) he has overcome obstacles every step of the way. Giving him the start was a perfect recipe for success, as MB31 had nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Early confidence was sustained for a full 60 minutes and along with the other ingredients, which always includes a few dazzling stops and a few lucky bounces, Brodeur became an overnight sensation. Oh great, people thought, another good Brodeur goalie. But I see those comments and I laugh – because Brodeur was always a pretty good goalie. And hey, I’m 27. If this month was my first as an NHL pro, I wouldn’t be complaining. There’s a lot of time left.
Again, what other choice does Pat Quinn have right now? Even though Devan Dubnyk has not won a game in his first four NHL starts, he’s not regarded as a strong or quality prospect right now. But if there’s little faith in Jeff Deslauriers right now, at least giving him some starts will boost his potential and give him experience.
Dubnyk is a big goalie with good net presence, but after watching him play over the last week, I’ll probably pull him off the Top-100 Rankings. He only won 18 out of 62 games in the AHL last season and doesn’t seem to have much more to his game other than size and adequate agility. To get an idea of what the Oilers are going through with their goaltending, they signed Colorado Eagles goalie Andrew Penner to an AHL contract and put him in Springfield.
Although Auld is not a prospect by any means, his chance to string together some consecutive starts has finally arrived. After a shootout win over Detroit on Saturday, Marc Crawford was quoted as saying Auld will get his chance to be Dallas’ new go-to guy. Auld is just 6-4-3 this year, but as an eight-year veteran, he has experienced this before.
"He is a guy that was hired to be a backup goaltender, but he'll be given an opportunity to get on a run now," Crawford said to a reporter following the shootout win against Detroit.
That means one thing and one thing only – consistent minutes for a capable goalie. And after I took the time to rant and rave about getting Michael Leighton some consistent minutes, I really hope you recognize the potential here. Auld has probably been lying dormant in many fantasy leagues, so scoop him up if he can fill a void on your team.
Emery was terrible in his first game back from injury against the Capitals on Sunday. He coughed up rebounds, failed to have active hands on plays in tight and had terrible angles and positioning on a few goals as well. You can pin the performance mainly on rust, but it begs the question of why he didn’t get a few more starts in Adirondack. It turns out the NHL’s new CBA has certain rules in place that didn’t allow Emery to stay in the AHL longer than he did.
That being said, I think the Flyers should continue to play Michael Leighton and let Emery handle the backup role until his next opportunity. He needs a lot of practice time right now. More importantly, he needs a strong work ethic in those practices. The good news for Flyers fans and fantasy owners is that he’s in jeopardy of losing his starting role for an even longer period of time if he doesn’t shape up quick.