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Goalie matchup: Kings-Sharks

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Goaltending is the most important position in any playoff battle. Without good goaltending, the Stanley Cup is near impossible to win.

 
So NHL.com decided to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 goalies that will compete for this year's Stanley Cup championship in the most in-depth manner possible.

In order to do that, we found some experts, enlisting Ken Baker and Justin Goldman.

Baker, most recognizable as E!’s Chief News Correspondent, is a goalie junkie. Not only did he play the position in college, but he wrote a memorable book about playing the position, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, which chronicled his attempt to make the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors after overcoming a brain tumor. He is also the brain behind the Stop Da Puck blog, which details all things goaltending.

Goldman, meanwhile, is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services.

For this exercise, we used a draft mechanism that allowed each expert to pick four of his favorite goalies and start the discussion. Baker picked the four goalies he wanted to trumpet in the West, leaving the rebuttal to Goldman. In the East, Goldman made the picks, leaving rebuttal duties to Baker.

Here are the intriguing results, which promise to be a treasure trove of insider info on the men that more than anyone will determine who advances to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ken Baker chooses Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: If you combined the precision, flexibility and agility of a ballet dancer with the brute leg strength and athleticism of a fullback -- and then threw some goalie equipment on the confused guy -- you'd get Jonathan Quick.
 
Living every bit up to his surname, Quick, 25, has an exceptional ability to dart (no, make that explode) laterally from post to post -- and do it while almost always being square to the puck.
 
During his 61 games played this season, his consistency, health, and mental toughness haven't waned -- unlike last April when he seemingly limped into the playoffs against Vancouver after an exhausting 72-game schedule.
 
Perhaps most key to Quick's advantage over the Sharks (or any playoff series opponent, for that matter) is that he's able to challenge aggressively way above the paint. Yet, he also rarely lets pucks get around his back doors (this, by the way, is a big reason why he was the only goalie undefeated in his 10 shootouts this season) -- it's a yin-yang combo that frustrates shooters and tends to make them over-think their shots. And we all know a second-guessing shooter is usually a shooter that doesn't score.
 
Another arrow in Quick's quiver is the presence of his talented, younger backup Jonathan Bernier, whose ability to step in and win has continued to motivate him to stay the top dog.
 
If there are any weakness to Quick's game, it's that he can let in the occasional gimme, and he was chased from the net in his last start against the Sharks on April 4 -- yanked after allowing 4 goals on 16 shots.
 
But this will likely prove a mere blip, since Quick has repeatedly bounced back from poor starts faster than an over-inflated basketball.
Goldman counters: In my opinion, the duel between Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick is all about form and function.

Quick, as Ken explained, is a true reflection of his name and one of the best young netminders in the NHL. Niemi, on the other hand, is a man of mystery. Nobody really knows where he came from, what he's doing, or how he's doing it.

But before I explain what makes Niemi so fit for a win in this series, let me get the obvious advantages out of the way. Yes, that big Stanley Cup ring and four rounds of playoff experience are two things Quick still dreams of having. But those are not the be-all, end-all to this argument.

No, Niemi's advantages run much deeper than that.

For starters, he has a very low center of gravity and is extremely strong on his skates. So when he drops into the butterfly, you might as well be dropping a two-ton anchor into the ice. He's an immovable, steady force that you simply can't push around.

Another mysterious key to Niemi's success is his leg pads. They definitely look like flat wooden planks, but they seal the ice extremely well and allow him to employ a very wide butterfly. Combined with his low center of gravity and powerful frame, those pads make it extremely tough to beat him down low.

Even though Niemi looks very awkward, unrefined and unconventional, he can still execute butterfly slides in an effective manner. It doesn't look very fluid or smooth, but it doesn't stop him from being mobile in the crease.

If you think Niemi played too many games down the stretch, realize that it's not difficult to play that many games in a row when you get adequate rest early in the season. Thanks to Antero Niittymaki's workload in October and November, Niemi was eased into a heavier workload and had plenty of gas left in the tank when the games truly mattered.

If you want to compare Niemi's workload to Quick's, you also have to compare their styles. Niemi thrives on moving less and being positionally sound, while Quick thrives on moving more and relying on his reflexes. That means Quick might wear down faster than Niemi, especially if the series goes longer than four or five games.

So in the argument of form versus function, I'll take function any day. Quick looks pretty, but Niemi is a real machine.
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