March 01, 2010
We saw in 2006 when the goaltender from the Torino gold medal game, Finland's Antero Niittymaki(notes) and Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist(notes) returned from the Olympics, both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers struggled down the stretch. Both goaltenders had carried their countries to the final and with the final leg of a condensed NHL schedule to follow, it would be tough to keep the same high-level intensity when things transferred back to the NHL game.
This is what Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks' fans have to fear today. While both goaltender, especially Miller, played well, how will their feats in Vancouver affect their play in the final 20 or so games for each team? Buffalo and Vancouver are sitting in good enough position in their respective divisions and conferences that even a little blip in the play of Miller and Luongo shouldn't have the alarm bells ringing. The difference between the goaltenders from the 2006 Olympic final and the 2010 gold medal game is experience. Both Lundqvist and Niittymaki were young goaltenders going through the NHL grind for the first time. Miller and Luongo have danced this dance before and know what to expect and how to pace themselves throughout a season.
Four more predictions after the jump.
2. DirecTV and Versus will work out an agreement to broadcast the NHL playoffs.
Key words here are "work out". That's not to say that the entire matter will be resolved come mid-April, but at some point, the NHL is going to have to up the pressure to get the playoffs on Versus. If hockey fans that subscribe to DirecTV are to be forced to miss a number of games, and even worse some Stanley Cup games, because of the dispute, it's a huge embarrassment. An embarrassment 10 times worse than missing an entire season's worth of games that is a month away from happening.
One could imagine Versus starting another rallying campaign like they did before the season to put pressure on DirecTV. With playoff games every night, Versus will want to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase a juicy series, like say, if the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins should meet again. The dispute has gone on too long and there have already been a number of hockey fans that have left DirecTV for another television service and that number may grow a bit more if the threat of missing playoffs games comes to reality.
Heading into this season, the Finnish Flash was at 579 goals. He surpassed the 590 mark in late-November and then broke a hand, causing him to miss 17 games. Selanne returned January 9th and promptly scored twice in his first two games back, but then took a deflected puck to the face and broke his jaw. Missing eight games before returning to Anaheim, Selanne then scored two goals in the final seven games before the Olympic break to leave him three away from the milestone.
It was like Selanne was Super Mario and goal No. 600 is Princess Peach, but those dang Koopa Troopa's kept tripping him up along his way. The Anaheim Ducks have 20 games remaining and sit two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. After Selanne's farewell performance at the Olympics for Finland - and possible NHL farewell - it'd only be right if the injury cloud that hovered over him for most of this season disappears and he hits the 600 goal milestone.
Have you taken a breath yet after yesterday's gold medal game? Well, hope you're rested because as of 11:59 p.m. EST last night, the NHL roster freeze was lifted and teams have already begun making deals prior to the 3 p.m. EST deadline on Wednesday.
After Florida's owners threw in the towel on their season with a letter to the fans, it's obvious that moves will be made to restart the franchise. With Jacob Markstrom ready for primetime next season and backup Scott Clemmensen(notes) proving last season with New Jersey he can handle a heavy workload, Vokoun will be an enticing acquisition for any playoff team who wants a veteran goalie that typically faces plenty of rubber on a nightly basis. The 33-year old Vokoun have one year remaining on his deal and would come with a $5.7 million cap hit.
Now that Rick DiPietro(notes) is out indefinitely with a sore knee, does that make New York Islanders GM Garth Snow keen to keep both Biron and Dwayne Roloson(notes)? New York went 2-8-0 in their final 10 games before the Olympic break and find themselves six points out of a playoff spot. Biron is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and will have suitors after his recent playoff experience with Philadelphia. Snow would be silly to pull the trigger on a deal that could benefit the Islanders for next year. This summer's free agent goalie crop is pretty good and Snow could find himself a long-term No. 1 or potential backup for Roloson next season.
What once was Bob Gainey's decision will now be new Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier's. With a standout performance by Halak in the Olympics, has that upped his trade value? After already requesting a trade earlier this season, Halak has been the Canadiens' saving grace in goal and it's up to Gauthier to decide if value he can acquire in a trade with Halak is worth allowing Carey Price(notes) to man the Montreal goal as the team currently sits one point ahead of Tampa Bay for the final spot in the Eastern Conference.
First, we get it in the playoffs last season. Then, we get it in the Olympics last Wednesday night. Now, we're going to get spoiled with three more Penguins-Capitals, Sid vs. Alex match-ups and both superstars returning from the Olympics tied at 42 goals, each with 20 games to play. We knew Ovechkin - who's played seven less games than Crosby - would be in the running for another Richard Trophy, but Crosby's goal scoring prowess has been a pleasant surprise for the Penguins. Crosby, who's previous career-high was 39 goals during his rookie season in 2005-06, might attribute his goal-scoring success this season to his new batch of one-piece synthetic sticks, something that took the superstitious Penguins center a while to do.
So why not another high-profile battle between the two superstars in the goal scoring category? It's be like the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homerun battle during the summer of 1998, minus the performance-enhancing drugs, of course. You know Ovechkin will want to atone for the disappointing Russian performance at the Olympics and with the current wave of favorable coverage for hockey, why not serve us hockey fans this appetizer before a possible Pittsburgh-Washington rematch in the playoffs?