2015 NHL Draft
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Unmasked: Predators' Rinne reflects ahead of ASG

Thursday, 01.28.2016 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- For Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, the chance to play in his first NHL All-Star Game, in his home arena no less, has led to a lot of reflection.

It's given the 33-year-old the opportunity to think back on a career he didn't think possible as a kid in Finland, one that seemed only slightly more likely after the Predators selected him with the 258th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, in an eighth round that no longer exists.

"If you would have told me growing up in Finland I would be playing in an All-Star Game, or even playing in the NHL, I would have never believed you," Rinne said.

Not all of Rinne's memories are positive.

Unmasked: Sabres' Johnson comfortable with coach

Thursday, 01.21.2016 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

When Chad Johnson found out the Buffalo Sabres hired Andrew Allen as their goaltending coach last summer, he was prepared to put his foot down when it came to altering his playing style and positional preferences.

Johnson, 29, was open to suggested technical tweaks that might make him better. Like a lot of professional goaltenders, he spends the summer working with a private coach to stay on top of changes in a position that is constantly evolving. But after playing for several coaches with five NHL organizations during his first six seasons, Johnson also learned it is important to be able to manage and stand up for his own game.

"Over the years, I have learned this is my job and I need to stand up and say, 'I know you're the goalie coach but …,'" Johnson said, pausing. "I just wish I had in the past said, 'I am not doing this,' maybe taken a little more responsibility on my own."

Johnson didn't need to fight for his preferred playing style. He knew after one phone call from Allen, who studied video of all of the Sabres goalies before talking individually to each of them, that any changes would be made together.

"I knew right off the bat he was open to different styles," Johnson said.

Unmasked: Luongo defying age with stellar season

Thursday, 01.14.2016 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Unlike so many Canadians heading south to Florida, goaltender Roberto Luongo was not looking for a more laid-back life when the Florida Panthers acquired him from the Vancouver Canucks prior to the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline.

"I didn't go there to just retire," Luongo said this week during his latest return to Vancouver. "We don't go there to enjoy the sun and all that other stuff. It's about winning hockey games."

Winning drives almost everything Luongo does. He entered 11 fantasy football pools this season and won six. He returned from the hospital to finish a game late last season with a broken bone in his shoulder because backup Al Montoya was hurt during the same game.

Luongo, the oldest goalie in the League at 36, has been winning a lot lately, including nine straight during a 12-game win streak by the Panthers that tied for 10th-longest in NHL history before a 3-2 overtime loss Monday to his former team, the Canucks. His 19 wins are tied for fourth in the League.

Capitals' Holtby has evolved into top-tier goaltender

Thursday, 01.07.2016 / 9:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Braden Holtby was named to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in his career Wednesday, an obvious decision midway through a season that has the Washington Capitals No. 1 goalie on pace to better the one that earned Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens the Hart and Vezina trophies last summer.

Unbeaten in regulation for almost two months and on pace to be the first NHL goaltender to win 50 games, Holtby was a no-brainer all-star, even if it meant not having room for Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers on the Metropolitan Division team.

The thing is, Holtby has always been good. He posted a .934 save percentage as a rookie. His .922 career average is tied with Dominik Hasek all-time among goalies that played more than 100 games, ahead of Lundqvist and behind only Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins (.925) and All-Star Game teammate Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils (.926).

Holtby has hit another level this season, however. He leads the NHL in wins with a 25-4-2 record, is on a 17-0-2 run that is the longest stretch by a goalie without a regulation loss in five years, and is tied for second with a 1.93 goals-against average while ranking fourth with a .932 save percentage.

Unmasked: Trying hard not enough for Nilsson, Talbot

Thursday, 12.31.2015 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The week after Christmas hasn't been kind to the Edmonton Oilers goalies so far, but if there is one thing Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson have learned this season it's that trying harder in games won't help them.

After a strong 22-save performance by Talbot in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 26, Nilsson was pulled after allowing four goals on 30 shots in two periods of a 5-3 loss against the Calgary Flames the following night. Talbot didn't last that long in the next game Tuesday, pulled after giving up three goals in 96 seconds early in the second period of 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, another dip in an up-and-down season.

Each goalie is now tasked with bouncing back: Talbot from a blip against the Kings that included two goals on attacks starting below the goal line, interrupting a solid, at times spectacular, four-game stretch since mid-December; Nilsson from a four-game skid that opened the door for Talbot to start his recent resurgence.

Along the way in this first season in Edmonton, each goalie has learned trying harder when things go wrong will only lead to more trouble.

Unmasked: Goalies credit gear for love of position

Thursday, 12.24.2015 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Ask NHL goaltender why he started playing the position and you might be surprised by how many of the answers involve falling for the equipment they get to wear.

From brightly painted masks to the latest innovation in pads and gloves, it seems many were attracted to goaltending as much for how they looked as the exciting saves they made.

"Of course the equipment played a role," said the Florida Panthers' Roberto Luongo, who grew up in Montreal as a fan of Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr. "It was so cool."

Luongo isn't alone in remembering an early passion for goaltending equipment.

"People always ask me why did you become a goalie, and I think it was the pads more than anything else," said the Montreal Canadiens' Mike Condon. "It was the colors and the equipment and everything. I have so many stories about gear. Every set is in my brain; when I got them, how I got them, why I designed them like I did."

Unmasked: Sparks, Condon, Darling form bond

Thursday, 12.17.2015 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Garret Sparks approached Mike Condon and Scott Darling during warmups before games in the American Hockey League two seasons ago to ask if they were interested in helping him coach at a new summer camp that would include beer-league goalies.

Two camps later, all three are close friends and in the NHL. If you ask each of the goalies, it's not a coincidence.

Darling was the first to make the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, and Condon earned a spot with Montreal Canadiens out of training camp this season. Sparks joined them with a late-November call-up to the Toronto Maple Leafs and is 3-1-0 with a .921 save percentage, including a shutout in his debut.

"Meeting those two guys was honestly one of the best things to ever happen to me career-wise," Sparks said. "It always feels like a dogfight as a goalie. The competition is usually too fierce to form friendships, and they were two of the first goalies in pro hockey I met and could relate to. Watching them have success and what they have done to achieve it was just like reading a blueprint for everything I needed to do to get there too."

Unmasked: Rangers' Lundqvist playing more relaxed

Thursday, 12.10.2015 / 9:30 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Antti Raanta was already well into his first preseason game backing up Henrik Lundqvist before the New York Rangers star spoke to him for the first time that night.

"It was first TV timeout in the first period and he just came to me at the bench and was like, 'It's nothing against you, this is just my style,'" Raanta said with a chuckle. "I think he was worried I thought I did something wrong because I was sitting back, pulling away from him."

No one would blame the Rangers new backup for being standoffish. A lot of goaltenders are given a wide berth as they slip into their own little world of visualization and warmups in the hours before a game, but Lundqvist is well known for the intensity of his pregame preparation.

Unmasked: Vision training a new tool for goaltenders

Thursday, 12.03.2015 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

It's hard to imagine any NHL goalie getting ready to play or practice without a series of dynamic stretches and movements designed to warm up the key muscles required to stop pucks.

For many goalies, though, the most important muscles are in their head.

"Your biggest muscle as a goalie is your eyes," Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "I do a lot of visual training in my pregame routine to warm up my eyes and keep them sharp. If you're not seeing it, nothing else matters. Your eyes are the basis of your whole game."

Whether it's bouncing balls off a wall or standing at the bench hours before the game with his eyes darting around an empty arena, warming up the eyes is a big part of Holtby's well-documented pregame routine. He's hardly the only one. Spend enough time in the bowels of NHL arenas before a game and you will see goalies juggling as often as stretching.

"I use it as a warmup for my eyes just to get my focus and concentration going, watching the ball spin, watching it into my hand," said Richard Bachman, who has seen time with the Vancouver Canucks this season in addition to playing in the American Hockey League. "I try to incorporate the vision and tracking that I use on the ice with a tennis ball."

Unmasked: Backup role readied Mason for new career

Thursday, 11.26.2015 / 3:00 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

Chris Mason may be new to broadcasting, but the recently retired NHL goaltender-turned-radio analyst got a chance to prepare for his second career while playing out his first.

During his two stints with the Nashville Predators, it was common for the backup goalie to put on a headset during a break in the action and take questions from the broadcast crew. Now, after calling it a career this past summer following two seasons in Europe and trading in his pads for a headset, all those interviews from the bench are paying off for Mason as a Predators analyst.

"I played behind Tomas Vokoun in his heyday, so there was a lot of games where I was on the bench for those interviews," Mason, who played 317 NHL games over 13 seasons with the Predators, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets, said with a laugh. "I looked forward to doing it actually. I love talking about hockey. I love watching hockey. I love playing hockey. It's a passion of mine, so to be able to have that small sample of experience, it did help and it does make a difference feeling comfortable being on air and talking about hockey and not making a fool of yourself. I probably still did, but it makes you not so scared to make a fool of yourself."

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