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A Look From The Atlantic

By Patrick Hoffman In the first of six installments, I will look at the goaltending in each division of the National Hockey League. Let’s start out in the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. Will Martin Brodeur be dethroned? Will this finally be the year in which Rick DiPietro provides consistent goaltending out on the Island? Will there be a goaltending controversy down in Philly? Will the Penguins future suddenly become the present? Will Henrik Lundqvist follow up last season’s performance with an even better sophomore season? All this and more in: A Look from the Atlantic. New York Rangers The Rangers were one of the top defensive teams in the NHL, finishing fourth out of 30 teams. Many hockey pundits would say that everything went through “Route 68” but if one was to dig a bit deeper, they would find that the goaltending of Vezina Trophy finalist Lundqvist was the big reasons that the lights were up on Broadway this past season. Lundqvist posted stellar numbers this past season as he won 30 games, posted a miniscule goals against average of 2.24 and had a sparkling .922 save percentage. Ranger fans have not seen this kind of goaltending since Mike Richter reigned the Rangers goal for 13 seasons. Lundqvist struggled down the stretch as he tried to play through a hip injury and that certainly cost the Rangers a victory in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New Jersey Devils. However, look for Lundqvist to come back stronger than ever and look for him to prove that last year was no fluke. Kevin Weekes holds the title of backup goaltender for the Rangers. Weekes had 14 wins while posting a 2.95 goals against average and a .895 save percentage. Weekes struggled at home this season, often drawing the well-known boo birds of Madison Square Garden. However, he stole some games on the road for the team and provided some quality goaltending when Lundqvist needed a rest. For him to succeed this season, he must cut down on the softies he lets up and be a bit more consistent on home ice when he is given the chance to do so. New Jersey Devils After a slow start and some problems adjusting to the new rules, Martin Brodeur went onto win over 40 games (43) once again while posting 2.57 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. He was one of the main reasons that the Devils got so hot towards the end of the season to help them clinch the Atlantic division. Look for him to play between 55-70 games. The backup goaltending duties for the Devils have yet to be established. Last season, that role belonged to Scott Clemensen, as he won three games, had a 3.35 goals against average and posted a .881 save percentage. With Brodeur playing the majority of the games, you would expect his backup to be quite rusty. However, there are rumors floating around that former Devils goaltender Mike Dunham will sign with the club. He would certainly be an upgrade over youngster Clemensen.

Philadelphia Flyers
Is there a goaltending controversy looming over Philadelphia?  Last season, the Flyers had a 1/1a goaltending system.  2004 playoff hero Robert Esche won 22 games, had 2.97 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.  In the beginning of the season, Hitchcock gave Esche the opportunity to be the number one guy but Esche never seemed to be able to take control.
1a goaltender Antero Niittymaki continues to challenge Esche for the role of number one goaltender.  Niittymaki was spectacular in a 17-consecutive start stretch dating back to late December into January and he used that momentum to win 23 games and post a goals against average of 2.97 and a save percentage of .895.  To top it all off, he was a Silver medalist and a tournament MVP in the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

New York Islanders
The first overall pick in the 2000 NHL entry draft has yet to find his niche out on the Island.  While winning 30 games and posting a goals against average of 3.02 and a respectable save percentage of .900, Rick DiPietro has yet to excel as the Islanders starting goaltender.  He has been unable to provide his hockey club with a consistent regular season and he still has some trouble positionally.  If he wants to prevent further embarrassment of his team, he will need to have a strong regular season and try to push his club into the playoffs, certainly no easy task.
As of now, the role of backup goaltender will be played by Wade Dubielewicz, replacing the now-GM of the team Garth Snow.  Dubielewicz won two games last season but look for him to get in more games this year if DiPietro cannot give the Islanders want they want:  solid goaltending.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The time is now for Penguins young phenom goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to become the go-to man in net.  The 21-year old played in 50 games last season and put up respectable numbers for the worst defensive teams in the NHL, as he posted a 3.25 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.  This kid has great athleticism, an abundance of side-to-side quickness and a drive to put the Penguins back on the map.
The backup goaltender for the Pens is Jocelyn Thibault.  He was a free agent flop for the hockey club as he went 1-9 in 16 games for his club while posting a 4.46 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.  What the Pens could use is a solid veteran presence in net but that has yet to be seen down in PA.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com


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