February 16, 2010
(Reminder: Live chats for both the U.S. and Canada games Tuesday. Wooo!)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – He's a goalie with a 2-3-1 record in February who has given up 18 goals in six games and played to a save percentage of .850 or below in three of them. So the question for Team Canada coach Mike Babcock over the last two weeks has been: Can Martin Brodeur(notes) start looking like Martin Brodeur again in the Olympics?
The decision to give Roberto Luongo(notes) the start in Canada's first game of the tournament on Tuesday can be read several ways. Damien Cox saw it as a bit of scheduling genius ahead of the showdown against the U.S. on Sunday, as well as a little shock-and-awe for the Canadians before Game 1. But Babcock alluded to Brodeur's workload with the New Jersey Devils as a factor, which brings to mind his uncharacteristic struggles this month.
Of course, Marty isn't alone in struggling ahead of the Games. Luongo was pulled in his last start. Team USA starter Ryan Miller(notes) had given up 18 goals in five games before shutting down the San Jose Sharks in a 3-1 Buffalo Sabres' win Saturday.
(If you haven't seen Dan Wetzel's piece on Miller vs. the IOC regarding tributes on his mask, it's a must-read.)
Jonas Hiller(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks, the Switzerland starting netminder, gave up 16 goals in five games before the break. Tomas Vokoun(notes) of the Florida Panthers and the Czech team surrendered 11 goals in four games, none of them wins. Evgeni Nabokov(notes) surrendered 14 goals in five games before joining Team Russia.
On the other hand, Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) had only given up 10 goals in six games before joining Team Finland. Henrik Lundqvist(notes) of the New York Rangers was a respectable 3-1 with 7 goals against in four games before donning a Team Sweden sweater.
The question: Does any of this matter? Miller attempted to answer it.
Miller, whom Coach Ron Wilson said will start every game, said the Olympic tournament is like each new game for a goalie: a clean slate.
"I think as a goaltender, every night is a reset button. It doesn't matter what you did the night before. You can bring some confidence with you, but it's not going to stop pucks. It's not going to sit behind you and deflect pucks away. I think that, for my own game, I know what I'm capable of when I'm dialed in," he said.
"You let in a few goals one night, you can have a shutout the next night."
Babcock acknowledged that dynamic for his struggling Team Canada goalies, too.
"I've noticed a lot of Olympic athletes this last little while who haven't been all-world," he said. "I think their focus will be very good."
Have hot goalies in the final NHL games before the break translated into hot goalies in the tournament? Consider:
Henrik Lundqvist, gold medalist for Sweden in 2006, before the break: 11-2-1, 28 goals. In the Olympics: 5-1, 14 goals.
Marty Brodeur, gold in 2002 for Canada, before the break: 6-3-4 (ties), 28 goals. In the Olympics: 4-0-1, 9 goals.
So no, it probably doesn't matter. These goalies enter the tournament with clean records; their momentum, and legacies, will be created in the preliminary rounds.
"You get here, you kind of feel refreshed," said Ryan Callahan(notes) of the New York Rangers, agreeing with his Team USA goalie. "It's the beginning of something new here. It doesn't matter what happened during the season – even if you were having a great season or a terrible season."