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The Penalty Box: Finns, Devils and Sharks goalies

by Shawn P. Roarke

The Penalty Box is awful light this week. CTN guesses everybody is saving their energy for the upcoming trade deadline this Tuesday. CTN has also adopted energy-saving measures in anticipation of the looming deadline.

So let's address the mail sent in by those with enough energy to keep the Penalty Box discussion going for another week. Thanks a lot, guys, your efforts are much appreciated. CTN expects to hear from more people in next week's Penalty Box

If you would like to contribute to upcoming Penalty Box segments, please feel free to offer your questions or thoughts on any hockey topic. Just send the missive to Please include your name and hometown.


And thanks for the CTN; I always love to read your 'not-that-typical' hockey column at Did you notice (I'm sure that you know), that all the players, you mentioned in the Opening Faceoff of Feb. 14, that had played in Europe, did that in Finland? Glen Metropolit, Cory Murphy, Brian Rafalski and Tim Thomas. Cory Murphy was voted for the best player in the regular season 06-07. Tim Thomas was one of the very best goalies in 04-05 (and also in 01-02) with GAA of 1.58 in the regular season and 1.83 in playoffs. Glen Metropolit was among leading scorers from 2003 to 2005 with 50 and 47 points, respectively. Brian Rafalski played for three seasons in Finland and in the final season (98-99) he scored 53 points in 53 games. Also, I just read that Glenn Hanlon has agreed to coach in Finland during next season. He told to a newspaper that he thought Finnish hockey was a good mix of European and North American styles.


-- Akseli

Akseli, Glen Hanlon is a far sharper hockey mind than your humble CTN, but CTN has always shared the same opinion about Finnish hockey. It has the physicality and north-south tendencies that dominate North American hockey, while still stressing the skating and puck possession skills that are hallmarks of the European hockey. Plus, the Finns tend to be tough, which means that they are prepared for the physical intimidation that is routine in the NHL. For each of the aforementioned players, though, it is important to remember that they really had no choice. Both Rafalski and Murphy were considered under-sized defensemen incapable of handling the North American game. Metropolit was facing the prospect of another season shuttling between the NHL and the minors, unable to lay claim to a permanent NHL roster spot because of questions about his size and defensive ability. Thomas, meanwhile, had played in the North American minors for several years without getting the big break he sought. Each thought that the practice-heavy schedule in Finland would give them the ice time they thought would be necessary to improve their skills and capture the fancy of the European scouting staffs employed by every NHL team. In the end, those gambles paid off in spades for them. For you, Akseli, you can say that you knew them all way back when – and that is pretty cool, too.


The New Jersey Devils have been wildly inconsistent this year, but appear to be getting hot again. Do you think they need to make a trade before the deadline or are they OK for the postseason the way they are?

-- Vince

The superior goaltending of Martin Brodeur has helped the Devils win this season. Watch Martin Brodeur defend the net

Vince, thanks for the question. New Jersey has been one of the most perplexing teams out there this season. They have gone on incredible hot streaks and also have struggled mightily at other times, especially early in the season. One of the Devils’ biggest problems this season has been a lack of urgency as the team often struggles to start games and routinely falls behind before making a determined effort to get back into the contest. Can such a mental deficit be addressed through a deadline deal? I'm not sure that it can. But there are still a few areas that GM Lou Lamoriello can address. The club could certainly use a secondary scorer, especially with Patrik Elias struggling this season. But scoring has been a question mark for the Devils throughout much of the past decade. They have repeatedly proven they can win close games because of the superior goaltending of Martin Brodeur. But in order for Brodeur to be at his best, he needs some crease-clearing defensemen in front of him. And that is what Lamoriello should be in the market for. Colin White is never shy about throwing his weight around in the defensive zone, but he has little help from his defensive mates, who, for the first time in recent memory, would have to be considered to be a finesse-oriented group. A big thumper on the blue line would sure look good, especially in a long playoff series against Montreal or Ottawa.


Should the Sharks be concerned that Evgeni Nabokov has played all but (two games) this season? I was shocked to see him play the other day after he was hit in the face by a slap shot that broke his mask and required stitches to close the cut. But, he came back out for the next period. Is San Jose's goaltending after Nabokov that bad?

-- Jill S., San Jose


Jill, I don't know if concerned is the right word. Nabokov is an elite athlete and like all good goalies, he wants to play a lot. Martin Brodeur in New Jersey has put up incredible games played numbers for the past decade, but is still going strong. Nabokov is much younger than Brodeur, so there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to handle the workload physically. The question is whether or not he can handle the mental exhaustion that comes with playing so many games. Every time the Devils have failed to get deep into the playoffs, outsiders have whispered that Brodeur 'cracked' under the unrelenting workload. Brodeur has always denied those accusations, insisting that he has learned to keep himself both mentally and physically fresh. Nabokov is still learning those skills, so it will be interesting to see what happens this spring. As for the state of San Jose's goaltending, it is not that bad, it is just young. When the team decided that Nabokov would be the No. 1 and traded Toskala, it lost all of its experience in the backup position. Most observers believe Dimitri Patzold will be a good goalie one day soon, but he is only 25 and possesses very little North American experience. None of the other six goalies in San Jose's system – including current backup Thomas Greiss -- is older than 22.


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