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Duff: Bad goals torment game's top goalies

by Brian Duff
Less than two weeks ago, Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist went off -- on himself -- for what he termed a terrible goal allowed to Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle in the game's waning minutes. The goal paved the way for the Maple Leafs to win in overtime, costing New York a very valuable point as it tries to fight its way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It sure seems like Lundqvist has had some company this season in the bad goal department.

Despite some of the impressive numbers posted again by the goaltenders' union, it really has been a season full of shockingly bad goals allowed -- from all areas of the ice. So much so that I had to follow up with On The Fly analyst -- and former NHL goalie -- Kevin Weekes to see if my eyes had been deceiving me.

Have there been more bad goals than usual?

"Yes," said Weekes, and for a number of reasons.

"Some of it is a result of goalies simply misplaying the pucks, but give credit to the shooters for shooting more, and from angles they typically wouldn't shoot from," Weekes explained. "Because teams are so responsible defensively and take away so many of the shooting lanes and seldom give up quality looks, teams are left with 'take what you can get.' And because players have seen that they can score from some odd angles, they continue to shoot from such places."

Factor in the new sticks, plus the fact players are feeling more confident in their own shots, and Weekes says "more players are willing to let if fly, as opposed to earlier days when it might have been just the top guys doing a lot of the shooting."

Will the Stanley Cup Playoffs be marred by the bad goals we have seen throughout this season?

"As long as shooters keep shooting from sharp angles, you'll see a few," said Weekes, "especially when you consider that the playoffs tend to feel as though there is less space to work with. The standard 200-by-85 feet of ice becomes more like 160-by-50."

I won't bore you with all the numbers, but I think we all can agree that this has not been the smoothest season for even the best in the game, or even those playing on the regular-season's best teams.

Roberto Luongo might feel as though Mike Keenan is coaching him again with the number of times he's been hooked in Vancouver. And Pittsburgh's hardcore fan base is wondering what's up with Marc-Andre Fleury.

The tandems in conference-leading Chicago and Washington have been analyzed virtually non-stop.

Ottawa's highest-paid goalie no longer is the No. 1 there.

The Olympic nightmare for Evgeni Nabokov has lingered too long for the tastes of Sharks fans.

Philadelphia is using the same netminder they used a decade ago, but since the spring of 2000, Brian Boucher has played 127 playoff minutes total.

Of course "Boosh" is far more seasoned than Antti Niemi, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne, Jimmy Howard, Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask -- all likely to see action in the postseason.

All those names and nary a mention of Martin Brodeur -- I wonder if he likes it that way?

I will say this. I'll be shocked if Brodeur isn't one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy.
And despite his lack of success the past five postseasons, we tend to have a good idea what we're going to get from the game's winningest goalie.

"I am mildly concerned about his game, because his skill set is off the charts, as is his athleticism, which makes his inconsistency this season a real head-scratcher." -- Kevin Weekes on Marc-Andre Fleury

As for Luongo, Weekes acknowledged that he has been inconsistent and not playing to his technical strengths following his gold-medal success at the Olympics. But he doesn't believe his followers should be too concerned, based upon how the Canucks' captain likes to get on the ice, optional practice or not, and work on his game. Plus, with each passing season, there is more big-game experience on his resume.

Weekes' take on fellow Canadian Olympian and reigning Cup winner Fleury was even more noteworthy.

"I am mildly concerned about his game, because his skill set is off the charts, as is his athleticism, which makes his inconsistency this season a real head-scratcher."

So how can Fleury eliminate the bad goals?

"The best way to eliminate them is when he plays a balanced game using both his technical and athletic abilities. When he's too technical or too athletic, he gets into trouble," said Weekes.

So who does Weekes expect to shine come this time next week?

Perhaps based upon his coverage of the Western Conference for "Hockey Night in Canada," he instinctively started there.

"I think (Ilya) Bryzgalov is going to play really well for Phoenix. I really like him. And an honorable mention to Nashville's Pekka Rinne," he said.

As for the East?

"Rask, if the Bruins get in. Halak. And Ryan Miller. I like them all because they are cool, and never panic."

Any others?

"Jose Theodore. He's a fighter."

Brian Duff is a broadcaster on NHL Network and can be seen nightly during the season alongside co-host Dan Pollard on NHL On The Fly.
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