One of the biggest decisions for the Canadian Olympic Hockey Committee is who will be the man behind the mask come February? Two prime candidates, Sean Burke and Curtis Joseph, battled at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
Both goalies have been the topic of conversation in hockey circles when considering Canada's number one man. The competition is so close that Wayne Gretzky's final decision may just come down to his own gut feeling. Who knows goalies better than the NHL's all-time leading scorer?
Joseph and Burke had a head-to-head opportunity to impress the decision-makers as Toronto faced Phoenix in their only meeting of the season. Cujo handled the added Olympic pressure a little better stopping 18 of 21 shots in the Leafs 6-3 win. Burke let in two marginal goals but his defence fell asleep for most of the night.
| Curtis Joseph remains a top contender for the number one goalie on Canada's Olympic team. |
The two really weren't a big part of either team's performance. Toronto got a huge game from Bryan McCabe (four points) and the power play (3-for-4) while Phoenix wasn't able to come up with any pressure killing penalties.
This game though means very little for the Olympic dreams of either goalie as everyone knows both are better than they performed.
"It would be a tragedy, it's not being evaluated properly if it's on one game," Phoenix coach Bob Francis said about the possibility of Burke falling out of the running. "He's played as good as any goalie in hockey for the last, not one year, but the last few years."
Team Canada and Leafs Coach Pat Quinn felt the same way
"I'm not sure he had much of a chance on a lot of those," said Quinn, who will help finalize the roster Friday before an announcement is made Saturday. "We all have those kinds of games occasionally. According to the Phoenix coaches and management he has tremendous backbone so certainly one game is not going to make the final decision."
The two candidates have positives in very different areas. Joseph is a popular netminder known for making his teams better than they really are and Burke has been impressing people with superior stats and an Olympic resume.
Experience is a valuable tool on Burke's side. The 34-year-old was a member of the national team in two Olympics, one Canada Cup and four world championship teams.
Another aspect in Burke's favour is that he holds the advantage in the coveted save percentage category with a .935 mark heading into Tuesday's action. Joseph has a .913 save percentage after he suffered a slower start than expected.
Interestingly, Burke also holds the highest save percentage in the NHL the last three years (.921). Joseph ranks fourth (.914) on that list just behind Patrick Roy and Jose Theodore. Martin Brodeur, another top Olympic candidate, isn't in the top eight.
What lies in Joseph's favour is the consistency through his entire career and the fact you know what you're getting. Burke, on the other hand, had marginal results with earlier stops in his NHL career before catching fire in the desert.
Others are getting heavy consideration, Brodeur for one, but it appears as if Joseph and Burke have played their way into the first two spots and it's hard not to argue with that even if Brodeur is shaking off a slow start.
The problem is that Canada can win with any of the top candidates but the first thing to be criticized will be the goaltending, if the team is not successful. It will be up to Gretzky to make the final decision but chances are his gut will be the most important stat of all.