|Jonathan Bernier is clearly the Los Angeles Kings' goalie of the future, but determining the goalie of the moment is a much harder task.|
Bernier lasted four games in Los Angeles, going 1-3 while posting a 4.03 goals-against average and .864 save percentage, before the Kings decided his development would be better served if he were returned to his junior team in Lewiston, Maine. Now, another calendar year has ended with the Kings still searching for goaltending stability.
Bernier still looks to be the Kings’ goalie of the future. It is difficult, however, to know whom the team considers its goalie of the moment.
Jason LaBarbera has seen the most action, playing in 24 of the Kings’ first 40 games. But Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who has appeared in 15 games, has started two of the team’s last three contests. Aubin has played well recently, going 1-1-0 with a 1.13 goals against and .962 save percentage in his last two appearances. LaBarbera, meanwhile, has scuffled, going 1-2-0 with a 3.11 GAA in his last six games. LaBarbera has been pulled in favor of Aubin four times this season.
Each of the two goalies recorded a victory in the team’s two consecutive road wins that closed out 2007.
Bernier, meanwhile, has been splitting time with Steve Mason while representing Canada at the World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. Bernier looked sharp while stopping all 44 shots in faced in a 3-0 shutout of the Czech Republic, but was the losing goalie in Canada’s 4-3 loss to Sweden.
Things can only get better for the Kings, who enter the New Year as the NHL’s worst (14-24-2, 30 points) team.
Star man -- The Dallas Stars gave coach Dave Tippett, who has won more games than any other NHL coach during the past five years, a one-year extension. His current team sits atop the Pacific Division with a 23-13-4 record. The Stars’ 50 points are third overall in the NHL.
Brett Hull and Les Jackson, the Stars’ co-general managers, rewarded Tippet with the extension last week. Tippett, who has a 212-110-45 record since taking over in Dallas prior to the 2002-2003 season, leads all active NHL coaches with a .641 winning percentage. After three consecutive first-round playoff exits, Tippett will probably need to guide the Stars to postseason success if he is to remain in Dallas beyond the 2008-09 campaign.
Still finding their legs -- “The honeymoon is over.” Those were the words of Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle after his team dropped a 2-1 decision to Vancouver on Sunday, the team’s second loss in two days.
Carlyle was referring to the tardy arrival of Scott Niedermayer, an event that had infused Anaheim with a jolt of energy, propelling the defending Stanley Cup champions to four wins in five games.
But, after the back-to-back road losses, Carlyle said his team, which is 19-17-5 and in third place in the Pacific Division, has a long way to go if it hopes to regain its Cup form.
“I think that (the back-to-back losses) were an indication of how much work we have ahead of us,” Carlyle told reporters in Vancouver. “Even with Scott Niedermayer.”
Niedermayer said he is still about 5 percent away from being at his peak performance level.
Who’s hot -- Shane Doan of Phoenix has eight points in nine games. … Mike Ribeiro of the Stars has seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in his last three games. … San Jose’s Steve Bernier has four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in two games, while Joe Thornton has four assists in his last three games. … Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has won his last two starts
while posting a 1.00 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. … Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is 3-1-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .941 save percentage in his last five appearances. …The Ducks’ Todd Bertuzzi and Ryan Getzlaf each have four points in four games. … Brenden Morrow of Dallas has four points in two games, while teammates Mike Modano and Niklas Hagman have been hot, too. Modano has three points in two games; Hagman has picked up two points in two games. … Dustin Brown of Los Angeles has three points in two games. … Coyote goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is 3-2 with a 1.69 GAA in his last five games played.
Who’s not -- The Ducks’ Rob Niedermayer has not scored in 15 games. … Michal Handzus of the Kings is scoreless in six contests, and has just five goals and five assists in 40 games. Handzus, who had eight points in eight games during an injury-marred season with the Blackhawks last year, is on pace for just 20 points in his first year with the Kings after signing a four-year, $16 million contract last summer. …Teammate Brad Stuart has not scored in 10 games while posting a minus-4 rating. … San Jose defenseman Kyle McLaren is scoreless in 10 games.
The week ahead -- The Ducks will kick off 2008 by playing six of their first seven games of the New Year at home. Anaheim will host Columbus (Wed.) and Chicago (Fri.).
The red-hot Stars carried a four-game winning streak into their New Year’s Eve encounter with Nashville which ended in a 1-0 loss. Dallas, which began the week having won eight-of-nine games, will be tested by a two-game trip to Detroit (Wednesday) and Minnesota (Thursday.).
After closing out a miserable month in which they won just four of 16 games, the Kings will take a two-game winning streak into a six-game homestand that they hope will enable them to begin 2008 on an upbeat note.
Phoenix will begin 2008 the same way they closed out 2007; after starting the week by besting Colorado in a New Year’s Eve engagement, the Coyotes will travel to Denver for the back end of the home-and-home series Wednesday. Phoenix closes out the week with home games against Chicago (Thursday) and Anaheim (Saturday).