Game 39: ROLL THE DICE

by desertdawg

It’s a bit ironic that the position that is arguably the most important on the team, gets the least press at the annual amateur draft.

Sure, Roberto was taken in the first round…and then later traded away when Mad Mike Milbury defied the odds and drafted another first rounder in Rick Dipietro. And Montreal took Corey Price fifth overall (even while signing Jose Theodore to a huge long-term deal). Of course, every fan knows that the old Oilers plucked future Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr from the Victoria Cougars.

But the fact remains, goaltenders have rarely been taken in the first round. Nik Khabibulin was taken 204 th over all, and Ryan Miller 138h. Guys like Curtis Joseph and Ed Balfour weren’t even drafted.

Other star players were never drafted (Geoff Courtnal comes to mind) but again, given the importance of the position, goaltenders have generally not emerged from high draft picks. Tim Burke, the San Jose scout who is one of the architects of the massively successful Sharks goaltending system, openly admits that choosing a goaltender is a bit of a crap shoot. He has said publicly that there is just so much more guess work when it comes to selecting the Gatekeeper. A goaltender on a bad team can look a lot worse than he really is, because a team that is not good defensively generally hangs the goaltender out to dry.

It is conventional wisdom that one of the reasons Quebec goalies have dominated in the pros is that they see so many more pucks in the offensively minded QHL. By the time they get to the pros, and onto defensively responsible teams, those goaltenders are ready.
One of the reasons we got Jason LaBarbera so cheaply is that he was devalued playing in the horrendous system run by the Kings. Sure they are better this year, and will be much better next year. But that doesn’t excuse a decade of dismal performances exacerbated by coaches who would not, or could not get their teams to play simple, uncomplicated defense.

So how good will LaBarbera be for us? Well, like I said, it’s a roll of the dice. We don’t know this kid’s character yet. How did he handle the adversity that he’s been through? I suspect we’ll find out a fair amount about these questions by the end of this month.

To The Game:

Well, Jordan Tootoo had to sit and watch while we ran the Preds out of their own arena last game. And Toots being the coward that he is, chooses Alex Burrows who is generally not a fighter, to tangle with. Toots drops the gloves more than Matt Cooke, but not much more. Points to Burrows for answering the call.

Two early PPs that could set the tone fail in a rather uninspired manner. Doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion tonight. We get a couple of chances with Bernier and Daniel but nothing seems to happen. And then just as the PP ends, Matty Ohlund throws a harmless one at the net and whoooops…we are up one zip.

We seem to be overly concerned with playing a road game in the first period. Not much aggression, not much forecheck. On the other hand, Nashville isn’t playing with much either. I thought that we could be in for the old barnburner after the early dust-up, but it’s like the guys on both teams have agreed to settle into a somewhat pedestrian approach.

LaBarbera is steady.

In the second period Nashville comes out with much more passion and we are back on our heels the whole period. The Preds mirror our own first goal, however, by scoring just as their PP ends. The Canucks defense gets caught running around and with Shane O’Brien caught away from the play on the far boards, Rich Peverly easily wrists one into the empty net. Can’t really fault Jason LaBarbera on that one, but his meager shut out streak with Canucks is over.

The rest of the period sees our guys settle back into the road game approach. Nashville gets lots of shots, but nothing particularly dangerous. All the rebounds are taken care of but I still sense we are a bit lucky to be tied at the end of period.

Quick note here: I think Henrik Sedin is one of the elite set-up men in the league. He can be counted on for a soft laser beam (usually to Daniel) on any given odd man rush. The problem is, the goalies know this as well. The three on two halfway through the period is the perfect example. Everyone (including Preds’ tender Pekka Rinne) knows Henrik’s going to pass. He needs to make the occasional fake dish and then wire one top shelf to shake things up.

Nashville comes out hard in the third but the Canucks answer in kind. Hordichuk gets taken down by Belak in a close encounter of the third kind. Darcy didn’t look great until I see the replay and noticed he tagged Belak with a hard right right after they dropped the mitts.

We settle back again and by the midway period I start to think about how much we need a point here…if nothing else but to welcome the new guy in net. And speaking of him, LaBarbera turns the game around with two fabulous saves just past the mid point. Does not give up on the puck…yeahhhh! Hopefully his groins are in better shape than our injured goalies because he is stretching them to the max tonight.

Kesler is laced into the boards with the kind of check that usually separates shoulders, but typically with this kid, he does not miss a shift. Like the energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going, driving the Preds nuts on most shifts.

The hard work for the boys pays off and we get a PP…but man, was it ever useless. No urgency and complete panic every time the Preds PK pressures us. But this is a strange game, the other two goals were scored just after the seven minute mark after the PP ended. And in the third, with that and change to play, big Willie throws a puck at the net and wha….? Jaffray tips it home!

We are up two to one. No power play goals in this game, but I’ve often thought the PP doesn’t end with the other guy coming out of the box. It ends when there is a face off after the teams are at even strength. Everyone is still in the mode until then.

Two great chances by Burrows and a near miss by Hansen keeps the Preds back on their heels until Edler makes a rookie (ok, sophmore mistake) and handcuffs Ohlund on a breakout pass. Matty prevents a goal by slashing/hooking the Pred forward but we are on the PK.

Aaiieeeee…

A bit frantic at the end, but as the seconds tick off, I realize how impressed I’ve been with Jason LaBarbera’s game. He’s a big kid with good positioning and great lateral movement. And he’s probably not used to having his rebounds cleared so quickly.
Welcome to the Canucks.

The Dawg’s Three Stars:
1) Jason LaBarbera…the Preds had great chances but the kid stoned ‘em
2)
Shea Weber…saved a sure goal late and was a force at both ends
3)
Ryan Kesler…doin’ the do all game.

Unsung Hero…. Mason Raymond…outskated everyone on the forecheck all night.

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One response to “Game 39: ROLL THE DICE

  1. Bill:
    Another great post.
    Sometimes great minds think alike.
    Had just finished an analysis of October to December’s top 30 goalies and where they appeared during their draft years.
    This was prompted by the research that I had done on the San Jose goalies.
    Ron

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