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Ken Baker
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Goalie Insider

Baker: My favorites in the Vezina Trophy race

Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 12:34 PM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

While NHL teams battle for Stanley Cup Playoff positioning, the men in the bulky gear and bulbous masks are also amid a race of their own -- for the Vezina Trophy.

To win it means more than just bragging rights as the regular season's best goalie -- and perhaps leverage in their next contract negotiation. Since a dominant goalie can carry a team deep into the playoffs, the Vezina race is the League's must-watch subplot because the team whose goalie ends up winning the award almost certainly will have an edge in its Cup quest.

The big V is voted on by the League's 30 general managers, who, at the end of the season, fill in a ballot with their three top picks, in order of ranking,  for the goalie who is deemed "the best at this position."

In other words, not the lowest GAA or the lowest save percentage or fewest goals-against (that's the Jennings Trophy) or the most wins. Simply, the best.
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Backup goalies need to be seen more for Cup success

Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 12:53 PM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

Roberto Luongo, Reimer, Ryan  Miller, Mike Smith, Kari Lehtonen, Martin Brodeur. The list of top NHL goalies who have been saddled with injuries so far this season reads more like a potential goalie rotation for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game later this month in Ottawa.

With the long grind of an entire regular season, such is the reality of today's NHL, in which the practice of relying on a single starting goalie to remain strong and healthy enough to carry you to -- and then deeper into -- the Stanley Cup Playoffs increasingly is looking as out-dated as Bernie Parent's leather pads at the Winter Classic alumni game a few weeks back.
 
Speaking of the Classic, in an interview on HBO's 24/7. Rangers coach John Tortorella revealed that he wanted to play his No. 1 guy Henrik Lundqvist in about 65 of the team's 82 games this season in order to keep him fresh for the entire run. For you "mathletes" out there, that works out to appearances in about 80 percent of the team's regular-season games.
 
Is Coach Torts' "80-percent rule" a sound one?
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Conklin has the tricks of outdoor goalie trade

Sunday, 01.01.2012 / 9:00 AM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

Ty Conklin has played goal in 206 NHL games, not a huge number. But, when it comes to outdoor experience, nobody is more experienced.

Now the backup to Jimmy Howard in Detroit, Conklin is best known for the two Winter Classics in which he played -- and won. In the first Winter Classic, in 2008, he led Pittsburgh to a shootout victory against Buffalo. The next year, he was the winning goalie in a 6-4 decision again Chicago. Those games came after he was the starting goalie for Edmonton in the 2003 Heritage Classic, the League's first regular-season outdoor game.

So I couldn't think of anyone better to track down on the eve of the fifth-annual outdoor showcase to lend insight into what this year's Classic may look like from the crease.
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Bryzgalov's eccentricities continue a goalie tradition

Sunday, 12.25.2011 / 9:00 AM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

Ilya Bryzgalov, part-time goalie and full-time non sequitur-spewing stand-up philosopher, has been the breakout star of HBO's "24/7" series. And, of course, by "breakout" I mean Bryz apparently has broken out of a loony bin.

His Flyers teammate Danny Briere recently seemed to confirm my diagnosis, calling the free-spirited Russian "a little crazy," before quickly adding, "and it's a good thing."

But is it really a good thing for your $51-million starting goalie to utter some of the most outrageous quotes of the season. And is it truly beneficial for the team to hear him confess he sometimes can "hate" being a puck-stopper. So much so that, according to the man himself in Episode 2, he recently surmised, "Man, I don't want to be goalie anymore" and then continued to explain how he would rather answer phones as the office secretary.
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Baker: A look at five Classic goalie moments

Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 11:37 AM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

Maybe it's the unpredictable shinny-ness of playing in the Great Outdoors. Maybe it's the huge TV audience that magnifies every move made. Whatever the reason, goalies have provided many memorable moments in the NHL's annual Winter Classic.
 
So, as we inch closer to the fifthinstallment, here's my list of the Big Game's five most memorable masked–men moments:
 
5. Ty Conklin's Shootout Glove Save (2008)

It was cold, flurries were fluttering, and the inaugural Classic in Buffalo's wintry wonderland was settled in a shootout when Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby fooled Ryan Miller with a nifty deke. But nearly forgotten in the lore: The Kid's ace move wouldn't have been a game-winning one if it weren't for the shootout save a minute earlier by Pens goalie Ty Conklin, whose pokecheck forced Maxim Afinogenov to rush a backhand shot, which Conklin, playing for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, snagged dramatically. The rest is history.
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Hiller: 'I still think I can play better'

Sunday, 11.27.2011 / 3:37 PM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

According to Jonas Hiller, he was playing at his puck-stopping peak about a year ago.

Ranking atop the League's stat board in almost every goaltending category in the first half of an All-Star season, the Anaheim goalie was consistently stealing games as he frustrated shooters with his distinctively lanky, wide-stance, butterfly style.

But then in early February came a head injury — featuring "vertigo-like symptoms" — that eventually turned his inspired 2010-11 season into a frustrating nightmare.

Despite currently being "symptom free," Hiller says his comeback this season has not been free of drama.

"I feel I am not where I want to be," Hiller, 29, said after a practice in Anaheim last week. "I mean, I am having some really good games, but I don't think I am consistent enough, which has always been a strength. That extra-good feeling every night is still missing." 
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Baker: Meet the five best backup goalie bargains

Sunday, 11.13.2011 / 12:18 PM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

There are few joys in life that compare to obtaining a pricey item at an insane discount. You know, the kind of bargain-bin steal that leaves you feeling lucky (and a little guilty) for walking out of the store with something that you clearly shouldn't have gotten for so cheap.
 
That's how a lot of NHL coaches, general managers and owners should feel early this season for getting fat-paycheck performances out of goalies who are making much less scratch than super-size salaried elite goalies.
 
Thanks to a perfect storm of injuries, starter slumps, balanced playing time designed to rest a No. 1, and the penny-pinching reality of the post-lockout salary cap, so far this year we've seen more "blue-collar backups" than ever before.
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Baker: Bryzgalov, Khabibulin's reversal of fortunes

Sunday, 10.30.2011 / 11:29 AM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

It's a tale of two Russians.
 
One’s a comeback story starring Edmonton's 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, who, after a lackluster 2010-11 season and then a summer in which he spent 15 days in an Arizona jail on a driving-under-the-influence charge, was not expected to do great things this year.
 
The other is a tragicomedy featuring Philly's 31-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov, who spent his summer counting the zeros on his $51 million contract and being heralded as the next best Flyers goalie since Ron Hextall.
 
But, like any good piece of literature, these two tales have begun with a shocking plot twist: Bryzgalov's early-season performance has been a Broad Street bust, while Khabibulin has boomed in Oil Town.
 
Why?
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Trio makes this golden era for California goalies

Sunday, 10.23.2011 / 9:00 AM / Goalie Insider

Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

When it comes to earthquakes, floods, and just-shoot-me traffic, we all know California is king, but now we can add another notable item to the Golden State's royal list: goalies.
 
With three world-class NHL goalkeepers now plying their trade in California (Jonas Hiller, Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick), the country's most populous state is also the most populous state of superstar goalies (sorry, New York and Pennsylvania, but it's true!).

But which of these three top-notch keepers is California's best right now?
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Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis