James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Is the Bulin Wall rebuilt?

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's easy to downplay every upstart because most hot streaks end up fizzling out, but to some extent, it’s really all just a guessing game.


Still, some guesses are more educated than others, which is why that “small sample size” talk actually makes a lot of sense. A player’s history often repeats itself but when there's no past to draw on, it's an even bigger gamble to assume that a hot run might continue to yield the same results.


Nikolai Khabibulin is an interesting case because his career has featured a staggering amount of ups and downs. Those downs have been pretty ugly at times, yet every now and then, “The Bulin Wall” reminds the hockey world that his ceiling can also be very high.


If there was a Vezina Trophy for the first tenth of the 2011-12 season, Khabibulin would have to at least be one of the three finalists. He’s 4-0-2 with an outstanding .964 save percentage and a ludicrous .97 GAA. Those numbers are unsustainable (cue the “small sample size” screams), but the difference between Khabibulin and some random flash in the pan is that he’s done it before. Khabibulin wasn’t just “along for the ride” when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the last pre-lockout Stanley Cup, for one thing.


That doesn’t mean one can guarantee that “The Bulin Wall” has been rebuilt for good this season, but that idea isn’t as crazy as it would have sounded just a month ago.



Before the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers stunned the world with their dramatic duel, the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers had their own jaw-dropper. The two teams combined for 17 goals, the highest total since 1996.


Logic rarely surfaced in that wacky contest, a notion that can be shown simply by the fact that Tanner Glass – yes, Tanner Glass – scored three points.


That would be strange enough, but the Flyers’ two netminders stole the show in the ugliest way possible. Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals in less than half of a game’s work and registered a .667 save percentage, yet he wasn’t the most ashamed goalie in orange and black. That would be Ilya Bryzgalov, who was saddled with the loss after allowing four goals on just 10 shots. (His save percentage? 60 percent. Woof.)


I still think that Bryzgalov owners should be patient, but now it might be because that's the only way to get a reasonable return on a netminder who was likely a pretty high draft pick, Simply put, public opinion on the quirky Russian is likely at an all-time low.



There was a time when James Neal seemed primed to be one of the best power forwards in the NHL, but the bottom fell out on his game in the last half or two-thirds of 2010-11. The Dallas Stars eventually traded him, which would have once seemed unthinkable but eventually appeared downright sensible thanks to some great work by Alex Goligoski and a tough drought by Neal.


However you slice it, Neal is carrying the Pittsburgh Penguins offense while its two star centers heal. (Now if he can just introduce a little balance into the mix; 9 of his 10 points have been goals. Any reasonable fantasy owner will take goals over assists in a heartbeat, but a little balance is nice … just saying.)


Neal has a new contract to earn, so perhaps the biggest hurdle isn't the law of averages - it's the possibility of a motivation-sapping contract extension coming from the Penguins.



Ray Whitney won’t ever win you a fantasy hockey championship, but the under-sized forward doesn’t get enough credit for his playmaking skills. His 3-point night against the New Jersey Devils pushed his season totals to 10 points in 9 games. It’s not like he’s a one-hit wonder either; “The Wizard” has only gone 2 games without a point in this young season.



While I pontificated that Kris Versteeg would slip under the radar as the most sober move of Dale Tallon’s transaction binge in Florida, I didn’t expect him to earn 11 points in his first 9 games. Hopefully he keeps at it, though, because he only has 2 shots in his last 2 games (which includes 1 goal, so he’s doing fine).



A Stephane Robidas power-play goal finally ended Jonathan Quick’s royal shutout run for the Kings, but the American goalie traded style points for 2 standings points on Thursday. His counterpart Kari Lehtonen saw the end of his own streak, as he finally lost after looking like a truly elite goalie while winning his first six games. (Andrew Raycroft took the Dallas Stars’ first two defeats of the season.)


Both goalies are about as strong as “second tier” fantasy goalies can get – and this season might be the one in which the hockey world admits that at least one of them is truly elite.



Slava Voynov went into Oct. 27 without a single point only to score 2 goals and 1 assist (while looking quite impressive). Too bad he’s likely to get lost in the shuffle once Drew Doughty comes back … Teemu Selanne earned an assist on all 3 of the Ducks’ goals in a 3-2 win … Jacob Markstrom lost to the Ottawa Senators, but probably doesn’t deserve much of the blame after making 34 saves … Jason Pominville scored 2 goals and 1 assist while Jhonas Enroth probably earned himself another start or two after blocking 41 attempts … Mike Fisher earned 3 points on Oct. 27, pushing him to 4 in 2 games. Maybe he’ll eventually earn the right to avoid the “Mr. Carrie Underwood” jokes just yet … Don’t blame Tim Thomas for Boston’s sluggish start. He stopped 33 shots in defeat last night and has a .929 save percentage, which isn’t that far off his record-breaking mark from last season … Tim Connolly played more than 15 minutes in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut … Speaking of Leafs, Joffrey Lupul could still be had in lazier leagues; he has 10 points in 9 games as Phil Kessel’s partner in crime, so give him a look …



Brayden Schenn could miss a month or more with a  foot injury … Drew Doughty teased us once, so stay tuned, but the talented defenseman said he could play on Saturday … James Reimer’s health situation is very cloudy; some wonder if he’s dealing with a concussion, other people focus on his neck. Either way, he’s going to be out for a while, so stick with Rotoworld to find out the latest in an ongoing story. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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