Jamming The Crease (cont.)
I think Kings coach Terry Murray is being completely genuine when he says there's no goaltending controversy in Los Angeles. Despite his recent struggles (.852 save percentage in his last four starts), Jonathan Quick is the number one guy in LA. Everyone knows it, including Jonathan Bernier, the superlative young stopper who excelled after being recalled on an emergency basis last week (3-0, 1.30 GAA).
That said, don't count on Quick being the guy who runs the table in the postseason.
Sure, he'll get the first shot. He's earned it. But it's undeniable that Bernier has given the team a boost when it was struggling to find its defensive soul over the last couple weeks. He made 34 stops in a crucial 2-0 win over conference rival Nashville on Tuesday, making him the youngest goalie in franchise history to earn a shutout. He might have done nearly as well Thursday against Vancouver if his teammates hadn't hung him out to dry after building an early 5-0 lead on the way to an 8-3 win.
In short, he gave the Kings a chance to find their footing after a disquieting four-game losing streak sent them tumbling closer to ninth than they should have been. But that'll be it...for now, anyway. Quick, who has won a franchise-record 39 games this season, will get the start Saturday when the Kings host Anaheim. The Kings shipped Bernier back to Manchester as regular backup Erik Ersberg has been cleared to play. It seems likely, though, that he'll get another chance before the season's out to prove himself in Los Angeles. And if Quick falters once the playoffs start, Bernier could get his chance
It's looking even more likely now that Mike Modano's Hall of Fame career is coming to a close. The injured Dallas center, who should be back in action this weekend after missing nine games following an appendectomy, announced that his parents would fly to Minnesota to attend the Stars' season finale on April. 10. Now, it could just be that his folks have been looking for an excuse to check out the Mall of America, but it sure feels like he's covering his bases, doesn't it?
Speaking of the Stars, we may also be watching Mike Ribeiro's last games wearing that dull wordmark jersey. In many ways, he won't be missed. Even if Modano leaves, the team has plenty of center depth with Brad Richards, Jamie Benn and the recently-signed Steve Ott and Tom Wandell, so losing Mickey Ribs and his nearly a point-per-game contribution wouldn't be a killer. More to the point, the team needs a different quality for the second line. Dallas could afford to sacrifice some offensive flash for a little more size and physicality in the role. They could also use Ribeiro as a chip to acquire some much needed blueline help. Either way, the Stars will be better off for whatever they get in return.
Ribeiro was already rumored to be on his way out before a disciplinary breach on the road last week (he missed a team meeting) earned him a spot in the press box as a healthy scratch for Dallas' 4-1 win over the Kings. If he had any supporters in the organization before that incident, they're considerably more scarce now.
Spring's best matchup
My hometown loyalties aside, I think I'd rather watch the Ontario Hockey League's second-round battle between the Windsor Sptifires and Plymouth Whalers than just about any matchup I can picture in the NHL this spring. Of course, so would every scout whose team has a prayer of drafting in the top five.
The series, which got underway Thursday night with a 5-1 win for the Spitfires, features the top three prospects for this June's draft: Windsor left winger Taylor Hall and defenseman Cam Fowler, and Plymouth center Tyler Seguin.
At this point, Hall, the top-ranked player according to the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, has little to prove. The MVP of the 2009 Memorial Cup, a member of Canada's World Junior squad, the OHL's leading scorer....he's shown his ability to ramp up his game when it matters most. And if the team with the first overall selection is looking for a dynamic scorer off the wing -- think Alexander Mogilny -- then Hall is an easy choice.
But there's plenty to like about Seguin, a crafty playmaker who shared that OHL scoring crown with Hall. A supporting player during last year's six-game series, he'll be front and center this time around. And with so little separating the two, an outstanding performance here could provide an edge.
Give that early edge to Hall, who scored a pair of goals in Thursday's win. That gives him multi-point performances in each of Windsor's five playoff games and four consecutive multi-goal efforts. Seguin was pointless and a minus-three. Not the best night on his resume, but as one scout said this morning, "He's got plenty of bounce-back in him."
The series resumes Saturday in Plymouth and could extend to April 12 if it goes seven games. That'd make for a nice ramp up to the NHL's draft lottery, which will be held in New York on April 13.
A modest proposal
I mentioned this last season, but it's worth bringing up again: I'd really like to see the Central Hockey League's anti-scrum rule enacted in the NHL. The legislation, which is in effect for the playoffs only, puts an immediate end to all of the post-whistle, goalmouth silliness by dictating that the referee must penalize one involved player for every incident. The actual call can vary by situation -- roughing, interference, unsportsmanlike conduct -- but there will always be a man advantage arising from any gathering of the clans. And since the players know there'll be a call, but don't know which team it'll go against, they're inclined to beat a safe retreat to the face-off circle or the bench at a stoppage. A CHL official said the rule saves time and keeps the energy focused where it belongs: between the whistles. I like it.
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