Friday, March 5, 2010

Who Should Start In Net This Weekend?

Normally, I tend to post when I feel like I have big, meaty issues to weigh in on, but since the Thrashers are hot and interest seems to be on the increase, I think it would be interesting to discuss which goalies the Thrashers should start in their two games this weekend.

They play back-to-back games less than 24 hours apart. That makes it a virtual certainty (especially with so many games remaining in so few days) that Ondrej Pavelec will earn one of the starts. On paper, the more critical game is against Tampa Bay, which trails the Thrashers by three points for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth and has played one more game. It's one of those "four-point games," in the hockey lingo -- a regulation win by Tampa pulls them within a point of the Thrashers and a regulation win by the Thrashers puts them five points ahead of the Lightning. Five points at this juncture of the season, with what would be 18 games left and three teams over which to climb, is an awfully uphill struggle.

It can be done, but only by going on a hot streak, which the Lightning definitely are not on. In a 2-2 game with Philadelphia in their first game back after the Olympic break, the Lightning surrendered five goals in the third period and got drilled 7-2. Then they lost in regulation 5-4 to Washington last night. (That's 12 goals in two games for those of you counting at home as they prepare for a Thrashers team that has scored 10 in its first two since the break.) Coach Rick Tocchet's bunch has lost five in a row and are 4-6 in their last 10.

Meanwhile, the red hot Carolina Hurricanes, owners of the NHL's third worst record, visit town on Sunday having won seven in a row. Remember: This team played in the Eastern Conference finals last season and suffered through an injury to their starting goalie and top player, Eric Staal, earlier in the season. Now both are back.

The Canes have outscored their opponents 29-12 in those last seven games and haven't scored fewer than three goals in a game and haven't allowed more than three -- which they've done only twice -- in that span. Also, four of those victories have come against the East's third- (Ottawa), fourth- (New Jersey) and fifth-places teams (Buffalo, twice).

So what do you do? Play your de facto No. 1 goalie, Johan Hedberg, who has started nine of the last 12 games, at home on Sunday or in what is, on paper, the more meaningful game -- even if it is on the road? So John Anderson's strategy is either to go for the easier points (Carolina, on paper) or for the more meaningful game.

But if Tampa Bay continues to implode, those strategies could be one in the same: He could start Hedberg tomorrow in Tampa in the hopes of dealing a potential knock-out blow to the Lightning while possibly picking up the easier points -- even though it's on the road and the Lightning have outplayed the Thrashers in the season series so far (The Thrashers are 1-2-2). Then Anderson would be playing with house money when he comes home on Sunday. A regulation loss to Tampa, on the other hand, could make the strategy potentially more high-risk.

That, as they say, is why Anderson gets paid the big bucks.

Looks like Anderson rendered this post moot by saying that Hedberg would start on Saturday and possibly again on Sunday. Regardless, these are the thoughts he must have weighed when making his decision.

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Oh, one other thing: Kari Lehtonen got his first playing time last night with the Dallas Stars, allowing two goals on 16 shots. Apparently, he'll make his first start on Saturday against Pittsburgh. Sort of a sink-or-swim moment, I suppose.

1 comment:

  1. Very tough call with the games coming so close together, but at some point Pavelec will need to start. I hope they don't ride Hedberg until he collapses.