ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Panic In Hockey Town? Conklin v. Osgood

Is there really a goaltending controversy in Detroit?

Hockey Town, USA, the home of the Red Wings, is a perennial powerhouse. They have set an NHL record of consecutive seasons with 100 plus points this year and are always in the mix for another visit from Lord Stanley and his Beloved Cup.

The question about goaltending is not so much if there is a goaltending controversy, but rather, does it really matter?

Ty Conklin versus Chris Osgood:

Age: 32
Years: 6
Games: 39
GAA: 2.50
Save %: .910
Wins: 25
Losses: 10
Points: 52
Shutouts: 6
Playoff Career: 0-1

Age: 38
Years: 15
Games: 44
GAA: 3.10
Save %: .887
Wins: 26
Losses: 8
OT: 7
Points: 59
Shutouts: 2
Playoff Career: 59-41

For a brief second, let us throw out the fact that Osgood's stats are anything but stellar. The Red Wings really do not have anything left to prove for the regular season and it seems that some of their players (goaltenders included) have been mailing it in a touch as they reserve their strength for a playoff push.

Throw out, for a second, the goals against and save percentages of each net minder and look at the point totals and point percentages. Each man secures about 70% of points available in their games and each has mediocre core statistical totals.

What does this tell us? Well, that it is really not about goaltending in Detroit. The Red Wings play a puck possession game, European style and they have some of the best puck moving defensemen in the league. Their goal, on any given night, is to play keep away with the puck and grind the opposition into submission. Think of it like tennis, there are the power guys (Pete Sampras) and the more agile ballers who will get to everything and keep their opponent running (Andre Agassi). The Red Wings are more Agassi than Sampras. They have the hammers (Marian Hossa) when they need them, but the system in Detroit is to not rely on one or two guys to make the plays.

Put this in contrast to a hammer team, like the Alexander Ovechkin led Washington Capitals. If AO is not on his game on any given day, the Capitals are going to struggle. Detroit? Is struggle even in its lexicon (outside hockey economic struggles notwithstanding)? They remain marvelously consistent, an amazing thing to watch year after year.

I was talking with a long time NHL beat writer the other day and he said to me "the two deepest positions in the NHL are coach and goalie." This basically means that coaches and goalies can come and go, but it is really the periphery that makes a team good or bad. This is exactly what we see in Detroit. The coach may have changed but the system stays and the players execute it. When a machine runs that smoothly, does it really matter which goalie is between the pipes?

A goalie can be mediocre all season and the team can still be good. Look at this years incarnation of the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly fans want Marty Biron's head on a pike, yet the team sits in fourth in the conference and looks like it will get first round home ice (if they can hold off Carolina). A top-notch goalie (or just a hot one) may have added a half dozen points to the Flyers win total this year, but that does not break them into the top three in the conference.

So, what is the answer going into the playoffs? History tells us that Osgood can get hot and carry a team through the playoffs and Conklin has one playoff game to his name, a loss with Edmonton in 2006 where he only saw three shots. Thus, the answer has to be Osgood, at least for the start, until he proves himself too old and slow to dig it for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Perhaps that will be when Conklin steps in and builds his own legacy.

Only time will tell, but with the second season starting next week, one thing is for sure: The Red Wings will be ready.

They always are.

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1 comment:

  1. Have to go Osgood through thick and thin man. Alex Ovechkin would score against either of them, lets just say that. Parise is ok too