Peter Budaj hasn't been able to backstop the Avs to a win in three chances this season. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I know it’s early, but given the way some NHL goaltenders have flopped out of the gate, Ray Emery doesn’t look so bad now, does he?
After having a rough Kontinental League debut with Atlant Mystichi himself, Emery has righted the ship and boasts a .930 save percentage (good for sixth in the league) and 2.07 goals-against average (tied for 11th) through 10 appearances.
Contrast that with a couple NHL starters who came into the year with question marks and have yet to answer them. In Colorado, the Avs are scoring 3.33 goals per game so far. Now, for 27 of the NHL’s netminders with GAAs of less than 3.00, that would be great; you have to assume those goalies would have won at least one of three games and likely two. The only problem is Colorado’s goaltender, Peter Budaj, is sporting a GAA of 4.37. Based on GAA, he would win none of those games. Reality backed this up.
In Emery’s old stomping grounds of Ottawa, Martin Gerber is once again thrusting his team into a goalie controversy thanks to his proclivity for giving up bad goals and attracting tough bounces. Can the Sens ride a combination of Alex Auld and Gerber into the playoffs? Most likely, though earning home-ice advantage is up for debate.
But the Avs have no such luxury. Backup Andrew Raycroft is coming off a scorchingly bad season with the Maple Leafs, so jumping into the fire in Denver doesn’t seem like a super-appealing option. If Raycroft could take the Hot Tub Approach (slowly lowering himself in so as to not get shocked by the heat), then he definitely has the talent to rebound. If he needs to carry the load for Budaj, it’s bad news.
The Northwest Division will always be tightly packed. These early games matter more to this group than any other in the league, so now that the Flames are bailing out another of netminder Miikka Kiprusoff’s poor starts to the season by scoring in bunches, the Avs need someone to step up – Budaj, Raycroft or GM Francois Giguere – before they give up what ultimately becomes one point too many for that eighth playoff spot.
Speaking of goaltending controversies, how awkward is it in Atlanta right now? Kari Lehtonen has the support of GM Don Waddell (not to mention the all-important Lil Jon lobby), but finds himself on the wrong side of No. 30 in the overall goaltending statistics list.
In this case, seasonal expectations are not the problem; Atlanta didn’t expect to be Cup contenders and the fact young center Bryan Little is putting up big numbers is a bonus. The problem is while Lehtonen puts up pedestrian numbers, Atlanta’s other highly touted young goalie – Ondrej Pavelec – is incensed he didn’t get more of a shot at training camp after leading the American League’s Chicago Wolves to a Calder Cup last spring.
So what do you do if you’re Waddell? Lehtonen is a restricted free agent after this season. As the No. 2 pick overall in 2002 (and a really nice guy), the team is heavily invested in his success. But Pavelec has already taken a team to the promised land and wants his shot at the NHL now. Backup Johan Hedberg is perfect at what he does and is popular in the dressing room (not to mention he has a negligible salary), so you don’t move him.
Sometimes I’m glad I just write about these decisions instead of being called on to make them.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer 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 Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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