There are ten games on the docket in the NHL Thursday night, but despite two-thirds of the league’s teams seeing action, there is an abundance of youth starting in net for most of them. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist, Miikka Kiprusoff and Curtis Sanford, it’s hard to find any starter tonight that isn’t still a developing netminder, even those with Stanley Cups (Cam Ward & Antti Niemi).
But there isn’t time to highlight all of the matchups, so let’s look at the game tonight that features the two goalies with the least amount of NHL experience: Dallas at the New York Islanders.
For the road Stars, the annual injury to starter Kari Lehtonen has somehow not yet yielded the plunge off the cliff that many would have foreseen. Lehtonen hasn’t played a game since November 26, but Dallas still sits atop the division that few predicted would be substantially weaker at this point than any in the western conference. The reason for this water-treading has not been backup Andrew Raycroft, who has earned his typical 3.53 goals against average.
Instead, the Stars may have found the man to bridge the Lehtonen injury gap in former Colorado College goalie Richard Bachman, who coincidentally came into being ten years after Stephen King started writing novels under the same name. Bachman, the goalie, relieved Raycroft of his duties a week ago at San Jose, and went on to start the following two games. In that time, Bachman has allowed 1 goal on 72 shots. Tonight’s game is on the road, but that’s nothing new for The Pen Name. All of his appearances this season have been away from the friendly slush of American Airlines Arena.
While Bachman will try to extend his fantastic run against a team with just 9 wins in 28 games, the offensively challenged Islanders will trot out their newest goalie-of-the-future, Kevin Poulin.
Poulin was very good in 10 games last season with the big club, posting a .924 save percentage and rocking an unusual winning record for an Islander goalie. His work in Bridgeport this year has been less than mediocre, but he’s been tabbed for a while now and no Al Montoya success should stand in his way. Poulin’s .892 and 3.37 numbers are strangely comparable to those of Raycroft, except Poulin’s been doing that in the AHL. In his defense, he is coming off injury this season and also knows that he’s the franchise’s golden child, so why give a shit about the red light turning on in Bridgeport? I guess my CCHA bias is coming out again…
Poulin’s job should be made more difficult by the fact that Bachman’s emergence has exactly coincided with the return of two of Dallas’ most important skaters: captain and left wing Brenden Morrow and defenseman Alex Goligoski. I’m by no means saying that Raycroft would have saved 71 of 72 as Bachman has, but increase in team quality over the past week as compared to the couple before it has to start with the returns of Morrow and Goligoski.
Dallas has a hockey team that I typically enjoy watching, thanks in large part to their physicality. But one symptom of a team tougher than its talent is that it often times tries to lure opponents to sleep, which is something the Stars definitely have succeeded in doing with Lehtonen between the pipes. I’m not sure that’s the best strategy on the road against a team that has youth and knows it needs to get in the win column.
If Dallas comes out firing and intense, expect them to get a lead and hold onto it. Something in the realm of 3-2 makes sense to me. But if they try to play that sleepy, “extend the 0-0 as long as we feel like” game, the troops may rally in front of Poulin like they did last year in his brief pre-injury stint.
Players to Watch
Dallas – Trevor Daley & Stephane Robidas — Daley has been Dallas’ leading scorer in the short Bachman era, and both of the defenseman’s goals have been of the game-winning variety. Robidas is one of my favorite players in the league, and always tallies up the hits and blocks while playing time on the power play and giving the Stars solid two-way play from the blue line.
New York – John Tavares & Milan Jurcina — It doesn’t take a lot of guts or brains to peg Tavares as a player to watch, but I hadn’t mentioned him yet and he’s one of the more talented centers in the league. Jurcina is a mammoth of a D man, and one that the Isles were wasting early in the season. Not so lately, however, as the big Slovak has skated over 22 minutes in each of the last two games. Jurcina is not the best player ever, and certainly doesn’t have the offensive impact from the back end that team captain Mark Streit does, but I still think that given the proper time to play into his role, Jurcina can be an impact player that can help the young Islanders transition into the playoff contending team they want to become.
I know none of you will be watching tonight, but don’t let the names on the front of the sweaters fool you. This game will be an interesting one. Puck drop is 7 p.m. eastern time.