Shutouts -- and not just Brodeur's -- take center stage

Thursday, 12.10.2009 / 9:35 AM / NHL Network

By Brian Duff - NHL Network

Don't look now but a dirty word -- for some -- has sprung back into the game.


And we're not just talking Martin Brodeur's milestone Monday night.

We've had eight of them in the 23 games played the past three nights. Plus, we've also had some very low-scoring games this week.

The scoring average for this week -- 4.43 goals per game. For the season it's between 5.7 and 5.8 goals a game.

Possible explanations?

* All members of goaltenders union striving to be like, or merely paying tribute, to Marty.

* Keith Ballard's reign of terror is over

* Goaltenders the only ones capable of maintaining focus, while rest of world remains obsessed with Tiger!

While it is probably just a blip in the big picture of a season, it wouldn't be a shock to see the goals-per-game average continue to trend downward from here on out.

Just look at the list of goaltenders that -- for some -- have exceeded expectations to date.

* Antti Niemi, Chicago -- 5-1-1, 1.71 goals-against average.

Tuukka Rask, Boston -- More wins (8) than Tim Thomas, and a .932 save percentage.

* Semyon Varlamov, Washington -- 12-1-2, 2.21 GAA on a team that many falsely allege can't play defense.

* Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, Edmonton -- a four-game road winning streak, something the Oilers haven't had in four years.

* Antero Nittymaki, Tampa Bay -- .927 save percentage.

* Johan Hedberg, Atlanta -- 7-3-0, 2.15 GAA, .933 save percentage.

* Peter Budaj, Colorado -- 2.37 GAA, .920 save percentage in eight appearances.

* Craig Anderson, Colorado – an October that may have set the table for a season

Then there are the bona fide No. 1's who are on fire.

Brodeur, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff. An Olympic foursome if there ever was one.

Then there's the quietly efficient who, like a good furnace -- now that much of Canada and the U.S. have had a nice blast of winter -- can be easily taken for granted, and will rarely garner attention.

Cristobal Huet, Ty Conklin, Chris Mason, Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne.

Finally, there's the group that has wowed, or will wow, before it's all said and done.

Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Niklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist.

Of course that leaves a whole lot of teams unaccounted for, and, with more than a third of the season gone, uncertainty heading into Christmas raises some serious concerns.

Anaheim -- Having doubted J.S. Giguere's ability in the past, partially due to a bias against what I perceived to be inflated gear, you would think I'd have learned. But I'm still not sure he's all the way back, or even heading to where he was in his best days.

San Jose -- They don't lose often, but when they do, it's usually in a spectacularly shocking way. Last week, Evgeni Nabokov blamed Marc-Edouard Vlasic for not blocking a shot in the dying seconds of what became a shootout loss. Wednesday night, the defense and Nabokov looked horrid on Dustin Brown's OT winner.

Dallas -- Christmas cards from Apple Valley, MN (birthplace of Anaheim call-up Dan Sexton) already in the mail and addressed to a "M. Turco, Dallas, TX." The Stars/Turco's inability to close games out, or prevail beyond regulation, has them closer to the playoff bubble than maybe they should be.

Los Angeles -- Compared to their Pacific Division foes above, the Kings are a feel-good story. But something about Jonathan Quick's .901 save percentage doesn't convince me. Maybe it's … too low?

(Pausing for a moment to see what I've just written, we now have the answer as to why every single "late game of the night" goes beyond regulation time. (Note: there are some, maybe just a few, who work behind the scenes on "NHL on the Fly," who don't get as excited as I do for a shootout at 1:15 a.m. ET.  I'll never understand.)

Montreal -- It took awhile, and on the heels of a bitterly disappointing end to last season, but Carey Price seems really close to being what he needs to be, and what the Canadiens expect him to be.

Islanders -- What will the Islanders be able to fetch for an inconsistent Martin Biron, assuming that time to deal eventually comes? Considering it cost them nothing to get him, they may have to realize that not much will be coming back. At the end of the day, it was still a good, proactive signing by GM Garth Snow.

Philadelphia -- Saving the best for last. The Ray Emery injury explains his struggles, as well as those of his team, this past month; but will the problem be solved upon his return in six weeks? It's a potentially tricky injury to recover from for a goalie. Will a trade be needed to help save this season? It would be an incredible roll of the dice to bring in a goalie who hasn't been asked to carry the mail for an entire season, let alone a playoff. But with limited cap space, the Flyers' options aren't plentiful. Personally, if they have to make a move, I believe Minnesota's Josh Harding (cap friendly, waiting for his big chance) should be their target. But I've been wrong before.

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