James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Backups move on up

Monday, November 28, 2011


If there’s one interesting (and likely short-lived) trend forming in the NHL right now, it’s the ascension of backup goalies.

 

In some cases, teams haven’t turned to those guys voluntarily. Steve Mason’s concussion kicked the door open for Curtis Sanford, who might not have received the opportunity to run with the ball like he’s doing without Mason’s head issues. (Mason backed up Sanford on Sunday night, by the way, so he’ll probably start fighting for the starting job again … whether it’s good for the Columbus Blue Jackets or not.) Jhonas Enroth was outplaying Ryan Miller before the Buffalo Sabres star went down with his own concussion, but it wasn’t until that controversial Milan Lucic check that Enroth received a real chance to play. Even Jonas Gustavsson is finally taking advantage of a golden opportunity to raise his profile thanks to (you guessed it) what is likely a concussion for James Reimer.

 

Injuries opened the door in some situations, but glaringly superior play has given a few backups the No. 1 role – at least on the interim. It’s quite possible that the St. Louis Blues will continue to try to force Jaroslav Halak into the limelight, but Brian Elliott’s 10-1-0 record (and six-game winning streak) wrestled the decision out of Ken Hitchcock’s hands. Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault admitted the obvious when he turned to red-hot redhead Cory Schneider: it was a “no-brainer.”

 

While those previous examples are the most obvious situations, there are some “jump balls” that arguably deserve to go to backups who are outperforming their more highly paid counterparts in less pronounced ways. Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Tampa Bay’s Mathieu Garon, Colorado’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere and New Jersey’s Johan Hedberg all have reason to gripe that they should be the real starters on their respective teams. Their records aren’t always resoundingly better, but aside from Bobrovsky, their individual numbers are significantly better.

 

THE KARI QUESTION

 

Which brings us to what could be the biggest injury of the season so far: Kari Lehtonen stretched the wrong way on Saturday and is now on the injured reserve. This could change in time, but right now it looks like the Dallas Stars will roll with Andrew Raycroft and Richard Bachman in net.

 

You may remember Raycroft as the guy people reference when they discuss Calder Trophy winners who didn’t quite pan out. (In other words, he’s the most recent Steve Mason before Steve Mason became Steve Mason. More seasoned hockey snarksters might call him Jim Carrey Part II.) Raycroft hasn’t exactly been on fire this season, with a 0-5-0 record and pedestrian individual numbers. He hasn’t won a hockey game since Jan. 9.

 

Before today, I didn’t look at Richard Bachman as anything more than a pen name that Stephen King used to find out if he could become famous twice.  Judging from hockey Bachman’s stats in the AHL this season and generally low profile, I’d say that the job is Raycroft’s – at least unless the wheels fall off. (It probably doesn’t help that Bachman is likely shorter than his already less-than-ideal listed height of 5-foot-10, either.)

So should you bag Raycroft? I’d say “Almost definitely not.” There’s no guarantee that Lehtonen will miss much more than the week required by a stint on the IR, but if the injury keeps him on the shelf for a while, the Stars might need to make a transaction or score a lot to offset their perceived disadvantage in net.

 

Certainly put Raycroft on your “watch list,” though.


HALL OF SHAME

 

The magic between Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Taylor Hall has been one of the most pleasant surprises so far in 2011-12, but that will have to be placed on hold. For how long exactly is still to be determined – he’s allegedly getting it looked at today – so keep an eye on Rotoworld for updates. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but losing Hall would be a big blow to the Edmonton Oilers and all the fantasy owners who likely drafted him in the middle/late rounds.


ROLE REVERSAL FOR MAX

 

At the time of Zdeno Chara’s notorious stanchion hit, it looked like Max Pacioretty might not play another game. Interestingly enough, it didn’t even take him a full year to be on the other side of a controversy.

 

Pacioretty broke Kris Letang’s nose with a hit that was bad enough to force Pacioretty to apologize. That check has suspension written all over it, but we’ll find out after he goes to Brendan Shanahan’s virtual principal’s office today.

 

The good news is that Letang was healthy enough to return and pot the game-winning goal. The bad news is that Pacioretty has been a revelation this season. Considering his high shot totals, more versatile game and rarer wing position, one could argue that he has been just as valuable as Tomas Plekanec. Well, let’s rephrase that; he was just as valuable …


GET GONCH?

 

When the Ottawa Senators stumbled out of the gate, Sergei Gonchar was one of the biggest targets for ridicule. The former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman has his flaws – and certainly struggled last season – but he might be one of the most explosive blueliners potentially available in your league.

 

He currently has seven points in his last seven games, including two primary assists from Sunday night. Erik Karlsson is clearly the top fantasy blueliner in Ottawa, but Gonchar figures to get in on a nice number of Spezza’s goals, too.

 

As far as another polarizing Senators player, I’d say stay away from Nikita Filatov until he proves that he’s more than a very poor man’s version of Nik Zherdev.


QUICK HITS

 

If you’re in the right league, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz could still be out there. They seem to be in a lot of scoring chances with No. 87 back in action. Steve Sullivan is an interesting guy to watch if he can stay healthy and ride shotgun with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, as well … Want a guy to buy low on? Try Eric Staal. His season has been miserable, but it would be shocking if he doesn’t turn it around at least a bit. It’s highly likely that his current owner is as sour as can be on him and I’d rather roll the dice with Staal turning things around than Cam Ward.


INJURY SNIPES

 

Dan Ellis won’t be available to back up Jonas Hiller for a bit, as the goalie suffered a groin injury … Robyn Regehr is the latest of several injured Sabres … Erik Johnson’s groin has him on the IR … The hope is that tonight will be the last game Brenden Morrow misses, but we’ll see … Patrick Eaves is out 6-8 weeks after a puck fractured his jaw in an incident that looked even scarier than it sounds … Tomas Kopecky is day-to-day with a  back injury … James van Riemsdyk is day-to-day with an upper-body injury … Alexander Edler is becoming the next frequently injured Canucks defenseman, as his shoulder is acting up.

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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.
Email :James O'Brien



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