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.
|No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Phoenix
|Ken Baker chooses Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes:
For Detroit, payback could be a Bryz.
In last year's opening playoff round, the Wings sent the upstart Coyotes to an early desert summer vacation in a 6-1 blowout in the seventh game, despite the series-long acrobatics of Ilya Bryzgalov
Known for his fiery competitiveness -- so much so, he hates getting scored on in practice nearly as much as in games -- I'd imagine the leggy goalie is getting the very rematch his Siberia-sized ego wants.
As if the revenge-inspired intangibles aren't compelling enough, Bryzgalov, 30, also brings with him a career season, not to mention solid positional fundamentals that he has near-perfected during his eight NHL seasons.
At 6-foot-3 with a disciplined, squared-off stance (normally just inside the crease) that rarely lets pucks get through him, Bryzgalov doesn't have to come out further and "block" as much as many goalies because his reflexes are so impressive he can sit deep, track and react like the best of the old-schoolers -- Grant Fuhr
anyone? It's so hard to score on the bulky Russian down low -- he's expertly able to seal the ice with his pads and stick -- that opponents' scouting reports must read something along the lines of: "Shoot low? Nyet!"
Moreover, Bryzgalov carries much momentum into the playoffs, leading the Coyotes to a 7-2-1 record in last ten games and 16-6-3 since February.
And while Bryz has logged the fifth-highest number of minutes of any goalie, and started 37 of the team's last 39 games, he's shown about as much fatigue as Charlie Sheen on an (alleged) bender (that is, not one bit). In fact, Bryzgalov has been a wall down the stretch, and there's no reason to think he will crack for the recently fluttering Wings and their embattled young starter Jimmy Howard
For a while there, I was at a loss for words.
I mean, how could I possibly argue against Ilya Bryzgalov
? Compared to Jimmy Howard
, his skills are in a different universe, while Howard is still stuck on the planet of what many would call the "slightly above average" goaltender.
Luckily for Howard, winning in a Red Wings uniform is less about skill and more about timing. He doesn't have to stop a ton of high-quality scoring chances like Bryzgalov will be asked to do in every game. He just has to make a couple of big saves when it really matters.
Because Howard isn't nearly as skilled as Bryzgalov, I'll rely on one juicy stat to shove my argument along. In three games against the Coyotes this year, Jimmy went 2-0-1 with a .925 save percentage, stopping 86 of 93 total shots. So with the regular-season series on his side, Howard will enter Game 1 with a solid comfort and confidence level.
One thing I do admire about Howard's style is his aggressiveness. He loves to challenge shooters by launching off his posts and soaring beyond the blue paint to take away time and space. This aspect of his game frustrates his opponents, mainly because they know he's not the most skilled goalie in the NHL, but still very well positioned in the net and capable of sheer robbery.
Another reason Howard is so effective in a Red Wings uniform is the communication with his defensemen. Because he is so aggressive, his defensemen understand how and when to eliminate passes on 2-on-1s and exactly when to seal off potential back-door passes. They also trust Howard to come out and challenge the shooter on a consistent basis, and he trusts them to stay true to their assignments.
What Howard lacks in skill, he compensates with confidence. He has a tinge of that cocky swagger you want to see in a Red Wings goalie and he knows how to handle the pressure of typical Detroit expectations.
No, Howard is not the type of goalie that will beat the Coyotes with skill. But he's a confident kid with the ability to make the big save at the right time.