Carter Hart leads crop of undersized draft-eligible goalies

Ryan Kennedy
Carter Hart. (Chris Mast/Everett Silvertips)

By all accounts, Carter Hart is having a great draft year with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips.

He’s a second-year starter with some of the best stats in the league despite playing in what can be a ravenous American Division, featuring potent squads such as Seattle and Portland. Is he the top North American netminder available next summer? There’s actually no collective wisdom right now.

In past years, big names such as Zach Fucale, Thatcher Demko and Malcolm Subban were obvious frontrunners – though, to prove just how fickle tastes are, only Subban ended up a first-rounder and the first North American goalie taken his year. “Of all the years,” one NHL exec told me, “it really is wide open.”

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Braden Holtby has goalie coach to thank for breakout, Vezina-worthy season with Capitals

Ryan Kennedy
Braden Holtby. (Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins have had a bit of a problem recently when it comes to the Washington Capitals. Last season, the Bruins literally did not score a goal in three games against Braden Holtby and the Capitals, and on an early November night this season, Holtby is keeping the mojo going. Early on, the Bruins are putting on an impressive showing, peppering him with shots and getting a lot of traffic in front of him, but Holtby holds the fort, swatting pucks away like a samurai and dropping to his butterfly whenever the scene gets sketchy. The only blemish on Holtby’s night comes when a puck deflects off Brooks Orpik’s stick and bounces off Jimmy Hayes’ chest for a Boston goal. In a game Washington ends up winning 4-1, this is the kind of goal Holtby can now live with.

“My experience with sports psychology taught me that you control the controllables,” he said. “The ones that are hard to block out are the ones you could have done something different and should have. Trying to refocus after those are the ones you have to be mentally strong with.”

Holtby used to have a different definition of mentally strong, and it didn’t help his progress in net. But a string of goalie coaches, dating back to his junior days, have aided his evolution. His current mentor is Mitch Korn, a man who has influenced the goaltending community in perhaps an unmatched capacity. Korn’s students don’t just become better goalies. They all become NHL goalie coaches themselves. So even though Holtby and Korn have just begun their second year together in Washington, Korn has actually impacted Holtby for nearly a decade already. And the potential held within their marriage is obvious: a Stanley Cup in D.C. for the first time ever.

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THN Goalie Rankings: Despite injury, Carey Price in a league of his own

Ken Campbell
(Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

When Ken Hitchcock stood behind the visitors’ bench against the Montreal Canadiens in October, he watched his St. Louis Blues fire 17 pucks at Carey Price in the first period. He stood and pondered how his team could be outchancing the Canadiens so badly and still be losing. As the game went on, he watched his players shake their heads and look to the heavens. He saw their energy ebb and resignation take over their body language, becoming more discouraged as each of their 38 shots found their way into that sea of red in the Montreal net.

It was right around then Hitchcock made his own determination about Price and his impact on the game. “As a sportsman it’s nice to see,” he said, “but as a competitor, it’s the s–ts.”

His injury this season notwithstanding, what we’re witnessing with Price is the emergence of an athlete who’s beginning to transcend his sport. There is no debate Price is the best goaltender in the NHL, and by extension, the world. As far as his impact on the game, however, he’s starting to find his way into that rarified status occupied by the likes of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Dominik Hasek. He is so dominant at his position that he is becoming the focal point of his opponents’ efforts, often to their detriment. “There’s no doubt he’s renting out space inside players’ heads,” said longtime sports psychologist Paul Dennis.

Price can do what Hasek did in his prime. On Feb. 20, 1998, in Nagano, Japan, Canada was playing the Czech Republic, and Hasek was at the height of his powers. He was not only in the Canadian players’ kitchens. He was helping himself to everything in their fridges. Canada was passing up shots, playing tentatively and looking for the perfect scoring chance. The Canadians finished regulation with 22 shots on goal, and by the time they got to the shootout, they might as well have been trying to score with manhole covers.

Two months later, Sean Burke had been dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. As the season wound down, he kept noticing in the dressing room how his teammates continued to put pressure on themselves to finish second in the Eastern Conference to avoid finishing third and a meeting with the sixth-place Buffalo Sabres and Hasek. The Flyers lost three of their last four games, met the Sabres in the first round and, despite having home-ice advantage, were crushed 4-1 by Buffalo in the series. “We were mentally beaten already,” Burke said. “We didn’t want to face him, and it became a total mental thing for us.”

And that’s perhaps where Price has his biggest advantage over opponents. It’s not so much in terms of the actual game action where players are shooting when they should be passing, passing when they should be shooting or zigging when they should be zagging. It’s in the total team approach to facing him. Price is at a stage where teams are becoming so focused on trying to beat him they forget the Canadiens are a pretty good team even without him in the net. “I know that after we played them, we were kicking ourselves for spending all our time talking about the opposing goalie,” Hitchcock said.

Dennis said it can be a huge advantage for the Canadiens. Players who rise to the ranks of the NHL do so for many reasons. One of them is a sublime level of skill, another is mental toughness and determination. But one of the big ones is their ability to eliminate distractions and focus on the task at hand. When Price enters the equation, he becomes exactly that – an unwanted and unneeded distraction. In addition to having to make plays and put themselves in a position to score goals, opponents have to think about how they’re going to get the puck past Price once they accomplish all those things.

Dennis’ advice to teams and players in the NHL is to basically ignore the reigning MVP.

“I’m not an NHL coach, but if I were and I were preparing my team, I don’t think I’d focus a lot on a Carey Price, because it brings more tension to an already tense situation,” Dennis said. “I’d focus on what we do really well and ‘this is how we’re going to exploit the Canadiens and get scoring opportunities.’ And I would stop there. I wouldn’t reinforce how good he is in my players’ minds. They already know that. I’m not going to state the obvious.”

By virtue of the position he plays, Price is always going to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game, either positively (usually) or negatively (rarely). It’s no different, really, than facing a superstar such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux in his prime. Those who were around Price with the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi marvelled at how easy he makes a very difficult game look. Even though you could count on one hand the number of goals Canada gave up in that tournament, it’s not always easy to keep your focus, particularly when the stakes are so high. Hitchcock said he knew Price was special after Canada’s 2-1 win over Latvia when Canada was hitting posts, missing open nets and continually being thwarted by a virtual unknown at the other end named Kristers Gudlevskis. But in that game, Price had to make at least a half dozen highlight-reel saves himself. Had he allowed a soft goal or not been at the top of his game, what Price does to shooters might have happened to his own team facing Gudlevskis. That he did it so calmly was what impressed those around him.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland was one of those people who had a front-row seat for Price’s exploits in Sochi. He opines that there are so many good players in the NHL it’s difficult to distinguish yourself as a difference maker. But Price has done that by determining the outcome of games. Holland isn’t sure whether Price is in his Wing players’ heads, but he is certain of one thing.

“I know he’s in my head,” Holland said. “He puts pressure on the other goalie. He puts pressure on the other team. At the same time, he gives confidence to his team because he’s the last line of defense. And he’s the best last line of defense in the league.”

THN’s Top 40

 

The Hockey News submitted a list of 40 NHL goaltenders – 30 starters plus our picks for the 10 best backups – to 10 retired NHL goaltenders. We asked them to rate each goalie in five different categories: goalie sense (positioning, angles, general hockey IQ); athleticism; puckhandling; winnability (trustworthiness in a do-or-die game); and durability (health and ability to handle large workload). Ex-NHL goaltender and goalie coach Corey Hirsch came up with the five categories. Here are the overall results:

GoalieRankings_Top40

Here are the Top 5-rated goalies from each of the five categories.

GoalieRankings_GoalieSense

 

Quick

GoalieRankings_Athleticism

GoalieRankings_Winnability

Smith

GoalieRankings_Puckhandling

GoalieRankings_Durability

Believe it or not, Marc-Andre Fleury is on pace to match the win totals of NHL’s greats

The Hockey News
Marc-Andre Fleury. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

By Shelly Anderson

With his flexible body, omnipresent smile and an infectious joie de vivre, Marc-Andre Fleury seems eternally young. Truth is, he turned 31 Nov. 28, and he’s had to make some adjustments. “I used to not stretch at all, and I could do the splits no problem,” he said. “Now I’ve got to work at it a little harder.”

Nowadays, his ritual before he takes the ice includes a stretching routine. He’s made some other tweaks in his preparation and his performance, many of them an outgrowth of his work with third-year goaltending coach Mike Bales.

Indications are that Fleury, though getting older, is still getting better. That raises some questions about what his legacy will be and where his place in history might be when he hangs up his skates, which seemingly won’t be for years to come.

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How changes in style and philosophy has made this the greatest goalie generation

Jared Clinton
Henrik Lundqvist. (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’re living in the greatest goaltending era the sport has ever seen. The modern-day legends – Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy – still stand in a league of their own, but, across the board, today’s keeper is bigger, stronger, faster and more fundamentally sound than his forebearer.

In an age with stick technology that allows snipers to shoot harder and more accurately, how have goaltenders gotten to the point where they’re increasingly unbeatable? If you ask former NHL netminder Steve Valiquette, now a broadcaster with the MSG Network who runs his own goaltending school, it’s all in the training.

Like no time before, goaltenders are brought up learning the fundamentals at a young age and developing a more technically sound game than their predecessors. They understand the four pillars of goaltending, which include having the proper depth and angle, as well as skillful footwork and an ability get square to the puck.

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Patrick Lalime: The rookie goalie who wouldn’t lose

Jared Clinton
Patrick Lalime. (Glenn Cratty/Allsport)

It was his debut on the big stage. His first NHL appearance came when he took the ice in relief. In less than half a game’s work, he allowed three goals on 14 shots. If there was an NHL-ready starting goaltender under that equipment, it didn’t shine through right away.

Then, miraculously, the run began – a string of remarkable play that had the entire league wondering where exactly this kid came from. Over his next 16 games, he set an NHL record for the longest unbeaten streak to begin a career, going 14-0-2.

While it sounds like the story of 27-year-old Andrew Hammond, who stole headlines with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15, it’s not. It’s the tale of 22-year-old Pittsburgh goaltender Patrick Lalime, who became one of the NHL’s great stories during the 1996-97 campaign, a season he recalls fondly.

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Barilko mystery grows as Leafs fan claims to have puck from historic OT goal

Brian Costello
Bill Barilko's 1951 overtime goal. (HHOF Images)

Think for a moment about the pucks out there that have mass appeal because of their exceptional time stamps on hockey history. There are the individual milestone ones – the Wayne Gretzky puck breaking Gordie Howe’s scoring record, Mike Bossy’s 50-in-50 puck, dozens more like that.

But what about the pucks marking seminal moments in the game? Paul Henderson’s winner from the 1972 Summit Series? Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal that won the 2010 Olympic gold? The Bill Barilko puck would have to be in that category as well, largely due to the mysterious disappearance of the Stanley Cup hero that same summer he scored his
Cup-clinching goal. His body was eventually found 11 years later, but the mystery doesn’t end there.

The famous puck that bore a hockey legend is in dispute. Is it the one that’s been on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame since it opened in 1961? Or has it been more humbly
showcased on the Donohue family’s mantel nearly 65 years after Barilko won the Maple Leafs Lord Stanley’s mug?

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Wild continue to be patient with prized defense prospect Mike Reilly

Ken Campbell
Mike Reilly. (Ted Sandeen)

For three years, Mike Reilly had his nose in a book at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. In his first year of pro, he’s clearly changed his major to film studies at the post-secondary institution known as the American League.

Like every young defenseman, Reilly has found himself spending much of his time off the ice in front of a monitor with him being the star of the show. In his first season with the Iowa Wild, Reilly is under the tutelage of Professor John Torchetti, the Wild’s coach and the man charged with ushering Reilly through the most difficult adjustment of his hockey career.

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