If the American Olympic team overmatches its North American counterparts beyond any doubt at one position, it’s at the game-breaking one. The collection of American netminders with a serious eye on a job in Sochi rivals only the Finnish factory for depth of elite talent.
Which is really unfair. Because if Jonathan Quick hadn’t been sent to this planet from Krypton, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller would have a shot at being No. 1 for the USA.
All three are off to solid starts and were stars of the NHL Friday night. Miller and Anderson went head-to-head in one of those games that makes you appreciate low-scoring hockey. I mean, c’mon man…
The Senators won the game 1-0, even though the shots were 46-35.
There is a very real race on for the backup position in Sochi, though, and that’s the guy who will come in should Quick encounter some of that kryptonite between now and February. The Anderson-Miller match was a back-and-forth exchange of flash, though the two are in very different positions from which to aim at the Olympic goal.
Anderson would certainly have the inside track, as someone coming off a .941 save percentage season is wont to do. And the Senators are a team in position to rise to greater heights, which means better defense, better numbers and better confidence.
But Miller is the holder of the belt and led a silver charge for the Red, White and Blue in 2010. He hasn’t done anything to lose the spot – his save percentage has been between .915 and .918 for four of the past five seasons, with the outlier being a .929 percentage. He’s been consistent even though his team has been consistently declining and allowed the most shots against last season. What would Anderson’s totals be with Buffalo’s defense in front of him?
Then there’s Jimmy Howard, who too often gets shoved into the background because his team is too good. Sure Detroit is one of the better defensive teams around, but whether it’s 23 shots against or 34, Howard does the necessary work. He made 34 saves in a 4-3 win in Anaheim last playoff season to force a Game 7 – and then made 31 saves for a 3-2 road win in Game 7 to steal the series. His numbers have matured, though they’re often obscured by the Red Wings engine.
And on a night when American goalies were shining, Howard also earned a nod in his team’s come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win. He’ll continue to play sturdy hockey to get wins and won’t need to steal 25-shot games. But he does put his team’s weapons in position to pull out a win, as he did against Carolina, keeping the Wings within striking distance during his busiest period.
The American roster is still a little less than three months away from being announced, so each will have plenty more opportunities to make their case. And who knows what could happen with Quick in the meantime? He did have the worst night of the bunch, getting pulled after allowing four goals on 27 shots against Winnipeg. But, oh wait…
The smart money in this sidecar derby may be on Cory Schneider. On Friday night, he was the only one who actually played the position the winner will occupy in Sochi.
And he’s learned to get comfortable on the bench the past few years.