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Top Shelf: Re-packaging the 1-2 goalie punch

Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have the Predators sitting eighth in the West despite a slow start. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have the Predators sitting eighth in the West despite a slow start. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

While standard calendars everywhere would have you believe we’re in the year 2010, NHL creases tell a much different story.

Alternating goalies was a popular practice in the aftermath of expansion in 1967, but has kind of gone the way of the wooden stick during recent decades. These days, teams tend to identify and ride a No. 1 man until a series of softies call his status into question.

But the Nashville Predators are bucking the modern trend and a few other teams are almost in line to follow. Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis have been operating on a straight rotation since Christmas as both goalies have demonstrated they deserve a portion of the starts.

In Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville can’t make a bad call in goal these days, with Cristobal Huet and first-year Finnish stopper Antti Niemi both making all the required saves. And Montreal seems to have finally embraced the idea that 22-year-old Carey Price should have to actually earn the top job, as the Canadiens flip back and forth between Jaroslav Halak and the kid Habs fans still hope turns into the next Patrick Roy.

On the topic of Roy, his career is just one of many that speak to the benefits of breaking in a goalie in a 1, 1A system. After coming out of nowhere to lead the Habs to the 1986 Cup, Roy spent the next handful of seasons forming one of the league’s best tandems with Brian Hayward.

Mike Richter might be the best American goalie ever, but he didn’t become that until after sharing the New York Rangers crease with another Yank, John Vanbiesbrouck. In fact, the two ‘tenders basically carved the blue ice right down the middle in 1991-92, leading the Blueshirts to the Presidents’ Trophy.

Even Martin Brodeur, the Godfather of active goalies, cut his teeth splitting time with Chris Terreri during his rookie season of 1993-94.

Competition, both internal and external, is at the core of what drives sports and athletes. Giving two goalies equal playing time – assuming one isn’t Angry Eddie Belfour – creates a healthy rivalry that should keep both stoppers sharp, while simultaneously giving a coach a nice, big sample of shots and saves to choose from when deciding who to turn to when it matters most.

Another item that stands in contrast to time? How about the late-career performance of New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner. I’m not sure anybody has gotten better with age the way Langenbrunner has – at least, not without the help of plastic surgery.

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Last season, at age 33, Langenbrunner set a new career high with 69 points. This year, he’s on pace for 74 thanks to his 13 goals and 37 points through 41 games. All that from a guy who, prior to 2008-09, averaged about 43 points per season.

Langenbrunner is a two-way force who basically defines what it is to be a Devil, hence the ‘C’ on his jersey. Though Chris Drury seems destined to wear that letter for Team USA in Vancouver, for my money, Langenbrunner should be the Red, White and Blue’s boy when it comes to picking a captain.

OUTSIDE INFLUENCE
Add the ability of fans and players to call penalties to the list of things that make hockey unique. It occurred to me the other hockey-watching day that in no other sport (that I can immediately think of, anyways) can screaming fans and coaches actually alert officials to the fact an infraction has occurred and prompt them to enforce it.

The context, of course, is the penalty a team gets for putting too many men on the ice. Can you think of a single example where one team’s bench – not to mention half an arena’s worth of spectators – haven’t already started shouting themselves hoarse before the referee blows the whistle?

There are certainly instances in all sports where vehement protest can cause a ruling to be reversed, usually after some kind of video review. But, with the possible exception of golf, I can’t think of another major sport where participants or observers who aren’t officials can basically call a penalty in real time.

Just one more thing that makes it cool to be a hockey fan.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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