The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten off to a great start this season. They lead the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand. They are the only team in their division with a double digit goal differential. No one has a better or even a comparable powerplay, and their goaltender is having a career year. Sidney Crosby is producing at a rate he never has before, and he, Hornqvist and Malkin are all producing half or more of their points on the powerplay.

That’s the problem. Most of this is completely unsustainable. The Penguins powerplay is rocking along at 35.6%. Going back all the way to the 2005-06 season, the best a powerplay has finished is 26.8%. That’s 9% below what the team is rolling along at, and still well above the 21-22% the top powerplays have finished at in the last decade. When you consider that they are 13th in 5 on 5 scoring, you have to wonder how hard the fall will be.

Marc-Andre Fleury is saving a noticeably higher number of pucks than is normal for him. A career .911% save percentage with over 500 games played and no full season higher than .918, means people shouldn’t fall in love with his current .924. Through 12 games played he is also facing more shots per game than anytime in the last five years.

While there are lots of reasons for the decline, the Pittsburgh Penguins are near the top of the league in scoring in the first and second periods, and twentieth in third.  In the third period they’ve also allowed more goals than in any other period, 30% more goals than in either the first or second period. Is it conditioning? Is it desperation by the other team? Or are the Penguins just getting caught playing passively and running out the clock as happens to many teams?

Unsustainable powerplay, high reliance upon it for scoring, weak 3rd period, a goaltender fighting above his weight class all on one team add up to a team that will slide backwards at some point soon.

There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.

Since it doesn’t appear that Martin Brodeur is going to fade off into the sunset and enjoy the numerous accolades he so richly deserves just yet, the question becomes where can he go play?

We’ll start with some basic assumptions:

  1. He wants to play or a team who is going to win at least half their games as is.
  2. He wants to play for a team who might not have a legitimate number one goaltender.
  3. He wants to be penciled in for for 25-30 starts minimum to start the season.
  4. He wants to hit 700 wins, this year.
  5. A defensive system that favors goaltending is the ideal landing spot.

Those five points eliminate a lot of teams. Towards the top of the heap the Kings, Rangers, Bruins, and towards the bottom the Hurricanes, Panthers, Flames, Oilers and not a few more.

The one place where there is both a need and a fit is the Saint Louis Blues. Brian Elliott has done well splitting starts. Jake Allen has one strong AHL season under his belt. Neither has ever proven themselves to be the goaltender that can go out and play fifty five or sixty games and come out with a winning record and strong individual statistics.

If you look above ice level the need grows even more pronounced. General Manager Doug Armstrong and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock have been in place since 2010 and 2011 respectively, and have only made it out of the first round once, that was in the first year. That is not the upward trajectory that keeps people managers and coaches employed in the NHL. Two out of the three years of Hitchcocks tenure as coach they have finished in the bottom half of the playoff teams in goals against. In his career Brian Elliott has a playoff save percentage of .898 and a GAA of 2.55 in 18 games.

Martin Brodeur has almost as many playoff games played as Elliott does regular season games, and stands up wit a career .919 sv% and 2.02 GAA, his last playoff appearance was the New Jersey Devils run to Stanley Cup Finals 24 games played .917sv%.

This is a textbook case of when to bring in a ringer to make a deep run, possibly even a cup win. Brodeur is a good mentor, he’s won the Stanley Cup before. He knows his time is very, very, limited and given the current roster and how much more some of them will need to be paid in two years, the teams window isn’t much wider. If Brodeur signs for about a million for one season, this could be a marriage made in heaven, if if its just for one year.

The Dallas Stars ended the second game of their first playoff series since the 2007-08 conference finals exactly where they didn’t want to be. They are down two games to zero, and the games were not as close as the score in the first game would indicate.  Through 120 minutes they have given up eight goals. Only two of those goals came while on the penalty kill. One more was an empty net goal.

Worse, a look at the number of shots in each game says that it isn’t just pure shot totals getting them in trouble. The first game was a high but not outrageous 35 shots against Kari Lehtonen, but the second was not high at all. Just 19 shots found their way through sprawling forwards and stalwart defenders. His save percentage in the two games this series is .886 and .842. Neither of those numbers can be called anything as glorious as average.

But there are alternatives to Lehtonen. Jack Campbell who played for the US National Development team allowed 1 goal in April playing int he AHL. The former 1st round pick also was named Man of the Year for the Texas Stars. Given how poorly the current netminded has done in his playoff exploits, it might be time to give Campbell a call before the opportunity passes the club by.  Closer to home is two time Vezina winner, and playoff warrior Tim Thomas. Yes, Thomas isn’t having his best year, and yes he did not play in the playoffs or at any other time last year, but his career numbers indicate that when the light shines brightest and people say he can’t, that’s the time Thomas glows.

No matter what option Lindy Ruff goes with, assuming he gets the choice, the Stars do need to figure out what to do with their goaltending. The current situation will make a waste of the hard work, dedication, and determination of players like Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and others all season long.

Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

Back half an eon ago, at least in terms of news cycles I previewed the series.  Depth and health were the two keywords, and whiled they did play a pivotal part, the component I don’t think anyone looked at was something that seems obvious.

The New York Rangers did not have any killer instinct. They were good at evening games up, or popping in goals here and there. They had solid defense for the most part. But getting ahead and standing on their opponents throat? Nope, didn’t happen.

By The Numbers:

  • 4 : The number of games in the series Lundqvist had a sub .900Sv%.
  • 10 : The number of years Brodeur is older than Lundqvist.
  • 3 : The number of Rangers who finished the post season with more points than Artem Anisimov.
  • 0 : The number of shutouts in this series by Brodeur
  • 19:29 : How many minutes Adam Larsson played in this series.
  • 1 : The number of points Gaborik had in the series.
  • 3: Chris Kreider’s points total for the series.

After killer instinct, the Rangers biggest failure was simply not playing sixty minutes of hockey. Bad first periods, mixed second and third periods are no way to win against talented teams. The Devils biggest corporate asset was the ability to withstand the frankly scary Ranger surges and still maintain composure. First to last this was a series that the New Jersey Devils were more willing to sweat blood for. The Devils got contributions from more players, and were consistent game in and game out.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

In 2010-11 the Penguins had an amazing season. They defied all the critics by making drastic improvements to their defense. Unfortunately they also had an amazing amount of man games lost to injury. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal each played roughly half a season, never all of them at once. Chris Kunitz missed a double digit number of games as well. Yet they still made the playoffs.

High Card:

Kris Letang. With the teams centers shelved for about a season and a half worth of games, Letang stepped into the offensive gap and had by far his best offensive totals. He improved in his own end as well. Despite the teams reduced offense Letang was 22 better in the +/- column than in 08-09 when the Penguins hoisted the Cup. While putting Sidney Crosby or Evegeny Malkin into this space is probably what some expected, with all the time they spent on the shelf last year, it is hard to say either will be capable of being the best player when they return to the ice.

Wild Card:

Marc-Andre Fluery. While Fluery too had a career year last year, he was only the second best goaltender on the team in doing so. Backup Brent Johnson was better in both GAA and Sv%.  Even if he’s only slightly below last years numbers the first pick overall in 2003 is likely to ride the team in to the playoffs. The real question will be if he is going to be on what passes for one of his hot streaks that will decide how deep the team goes. Of his five NHL playoff appearances, three of them feature save percentages under .900.

So, last spring during that ignoble dive into the wrong history records, how many of you believed the reason Thomas wasn’t put in was that Julien had no confidence in Tim Thomas? I know some of you simply expected it was Julien’s well known, occasionally excessive, stubborn loyalty to a player that kept Rask in net as it kept certain skaters on the ice? I also know some of you never expected Thomas to play another game as a Bruin. I have just one question for you all now.

Are you done doubting Thomas yet? Right now, Tim Thomas has all of the Boston Bruins wins this year. He has the National Hockey league lead in goals against average, saves percentage, and shutouts. He’s just one win behind several goalies who have played more games. To top that off he’s also currently tied for the most wins for any Bruin’s goalie to start a season since the days when the NHL was about one fifth its current size. To put it in perspective, the Red Sox drought was still not old enough to vote, and Germany had yet to be split by the Iron Curtain.

At 36 years old Thomas is out playing Martin Broduer who many consider the best goalie ever, and even those less enamored of him will call a top 25 all time goalie. He’s outplaying last years Vezina winner Ryan Miller, and any other goalie you can name and scores you can’t.

Thomas has smacked down the assumption he’d spend most of the season opening the bench door for Rask and robbing the team of cap space to no good. Instead he’s walked back into the limelight by stonewalling some minor goal scoring talents like Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, Daniel Alfredsson, and some guy the Bruins fans thanked during the last Leafs game. He’s employed the whirling dervish style that until Thomas ascended to a full time NHL player had been unseen since Hasek’s hayday. Its unconventional to say the least, uncomfortable for the weak of bladder (and brain) to watch, and has an elegance roughly equivalent to a demolition derby, but it is undeniably effective. Former college team mate Martin St Louis has said there is no book on Thomas and you just have to shoot well and hope for the best. If someone who’s known and played with and against Thomas for decades and who has had much better than average goal totals is convinced of Thomas’s quality, who are you to doubt it?