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Bylsma deliberate figuring out U.S. Olympic goalie

by Corey Masisak

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was having a great January after returning from a groin injury before an inopportune hiccup Thursday.

He was pulled from a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins after yielding three goals on seven shots in the first period. This performance stung even more than it otherwise would because Quick's future Olympic coach, Dan Bylsma, was in charge of his opponent.

"We got him [Thursday], which wasn't the best game for Jonathan," said Bylsma, the coach for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "When I talked to him after the game he was hoping I wouldn't remember that game too closely."

While Bylsma and general manager David Poile were speaking to members of the media Friday to announce Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise as the United States captain for Sochi, the coach also talked about one of the most intriguing storylines for the Americans as the Olympic tournament approaches.

The United States opens pool play in Russia against Slovakia in 13 days, and who Bylsma will tap as his starting goaltender remains an unanswered query.

"That's not a question I'm ready to answer for right now," Bylsma said. "Whether I know it or not, [the media] is not going to find out today."

Bylsma has impressive candidates to consider for the job. Ryan Miller was the MVP of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He was 5-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in six games to help the Americans to a silver medal.

After a couple of seasons not up to the standard he's set, Miller has been outstanding for the Buffalo Sabres in 2013-14. He's posted a .927 save percentage despite playing on one of the worst teams in the League and routinely facing large quantities of shots and quality scoring chances.

"We've had him first-hand here [in Pittsburgh] and we'll get him again before the [Olympic] break," Bylsma said. "The way he's been playing and has been playing all year with a team that hasn't won a lot of games, but he's been their best player and he's been very, very good."

Quick was the United States' third goalie in Vancouver but has become a star with back-to-back great performances during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 and helped the Kings to the conference finals last season.

This season began with inconsistent play from Quick before a groin injury sidelined him for nearly two months. He returned earlier this month and still has a 1.85 GAA and .925 save percentage for January despite his rough night against the Penguins.

"Jonathan Quick has come back from an injury around the first of the year and played his best hockey of the year," Bylsma said. "It wasn't a great first period for him [Thursday]. He's coming off a shutout two games before against San Jose, so he is playing his best hockey."

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard also could be in the mix to start but he's been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. He'll return to the crease Friday against the Washington Capitals and could get a few starts in before the break, but it might be hard to impress the American coaching staff enough to push him ahead of Miller and Quick.

Bylsma said he's "philosophically" not a coach who wants to name the starting goaltender and ride him for the entire tournament, so it's certainly possible more than one will see time in net. He could rotate goalies in the preliminary round or decide a change is needed during the Olympics, similar to when Canada switched from Martin Brodeur to Roberto Luongo during the 2010 tournament.

"It's going to be a tough choice," Bylsma said. "Both guys are playing really well and Jimmy Howard is going to get a chance to get back in the net before we go over.

"I've had reports from the tournament that [Miller] was the best player, for Team USA and for the tournament. He was that good and he was a big part of that team's success right up to the end and the golden goal in overtime. He has that experience. You're also looking at the other goalies on our team having championship experience. Jonathan Quick won the Stanley Cup and was maybe the best player on that team. Jimmy Howard has been to the playoffs and won big games."

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