Goalies still reeling from lockout
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera kept sharp during the NHL lockout by joining his teammates for informal workouts at the team's practice facility.
He didn't go overseas to play, as some goalies did, but tracking pucks and turning away shots every day gave him an edge over players who stayed at home.
Of course, once the lockout ended, it was a scramble, leaving LaBarbera and everyone else less than a week and no preseason games to get ready for the regular season.
Even with all the work LaBarbera put in, it was like a fighter jet catapulting off the deck of an aircraft carrier once the real games started.
“It's a big difference going from shinny hockey where it's kind of half-paced, a lot of passing, without the scrambles around the net to playing in a real game,” LaBarbera said. “You have five games and, boom, you're right into playing games.”
LaBarbera isn't alone feeling that way between the pipes.
Of all the players on the ice, the goalies may have had it toughest coming out of the lockout. While skaters mostly need to get their legs under them at the start of a season, a lot of what goalies do is predicated on timing.
So with a short training camp and not a single preseason game to work out the kinks, goalies were thrown into the cold water right away. And some of the best in the game have taken a while to adjust.
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist set franchise records with 39 wins and a .930 save percentage while winning the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie last season. Through the first seven games this season, he was 3-4 with a save percentage of .903.
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a Vezina finalist and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of last season's playoffs, opened the season by giving up five goals to Chicago and needed four starts to get his first win.
Mike Smith, LaBarbera's teammate in Phoenix, had a save percentage of .836 and a goals-against average of 4.62 in three games before going on injured reserve with a groin injury.
St. Louis' Brian Elliott, one of the league leaders in save percentage last season, was 29th at .901, and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff was near the bottom of the NHL with a .854 save percentage. There were 21 players in the under-90 club through Thursday's games.
“We're in the season, but it's like we're still in the preseason,” said Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, a former goalie. “We've played five games, and we usually play eight preseason games.”
One problem for the goalies is that it is a far more technical position than any of the others. Because NHL coaches weren't allowed to work with players during the lockout, the goalies didn't do much technical work.
It also hasn't helped that defenses have struggled to congeal early in the season.
“If you have a day off, if you've had a tough game, the next day you can kind of work on basics. Now you don't,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.