Handicapping often is easier than you believe

Nov 12, 2013 3:06 AM

Handicapping often is easier than the linemakers allow you to believe.

In baseball, when all else fails, pick the better pitcher. Look to the quarterback in football. And in hockey, one must go with the goaltender.

But when a rookie or a young, inexperienced goalie enters the crease, some teams don’t care and go about their winning ways.

A case-in-point comes from each coast, where many teams are surviving with reserve goalies.

On Sunday, Anaheim lost the services of Jonas Hiller (undisclosed illness). The late scratch was replaced by rookie goalie Frederik Andersen, who won his sixth straight game to start his NHL career in a 3-1 win over Vancouver.

Despite the late betting action going toward the Canucks, Anaheim improved its NHL best record to 15-3-1 and the team’s first 8-0-0 home start in franchise history. Coupled with Andersen, the Ducks own the deepest roster in net in the league.

Barely hanging on without their starting goalie are the Carolina Hurricanes. They dearly miss Cam Ward, who has reigned in Raleigh since the end of this century’s first lockout.

After taking over full-time in the net during the 2005-06 playoffs, Ward led the club to its first Stanley Cup and the franchise’s second championship (1974 WHA crown). Ward became the first rookie goaltender to lead his team to the Stanley Cup as a starter since Montreal’s Patrick Roy in 1986.

Anton Khudobin, Ward’s replacement, had been a solid back-up Boston, although when the Bruins won the Cup, since he did not play in a game, his name is not engraved on it (Khudobin was awarded a championship ring anyway).

The Russian entered the season with a 14-5-1 career NHL mark, and is now 2-0-0 with the Canes after signing as a free agent. But then he got injured, too.

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, once an NHL goalie, brought in Justin Peters, who has been wildly inconsistent despite one solid shutout performance.

Other NHL clubs thought goaltending issues were on the horizon.

Last week, the Rangers realized Henrik Lundqvist would be a late scratch against Columbus, but he bounced back to move New York above .500 following a 4-3 victory against Florida over the weekend.

The injury-riddled Rangers already have overcome a long, difficult 9-game road trip to open the season, and with a slate of games against fellow Metropolitan Division opponents, Lundqvist should keep the team winning.

Lundqvist, a known commodity, last season shared the NHL lead in wins to become the first Rangers goaltender to lead the league since Mike Richter in 1993-94.

A newer standout with early season success hails in Denver, where Semyon Varlamov is powering the surprising Colorado Avalanche to the top of the Central Division.

Varlamov was the lone bright spot on a poor defensive Avs roster last season. With Roy making major changes on the blue line, Varlamov has blossomed.

Never mind that back goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a Conn Smythe Trophy (2000) and Stanley Cup champion (2007), is a perfect 5-0-0, too. Roy knows a thing or two about playing goal. All three have been mentored by Francois Allaire, the Avs new goalie coach and one of the sport’s best in that field.

Those struggling out the gate are Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus and Pekka Rinne in Nashville. Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina winner, owns a 2.82 GAA (28th in the league). Meanwhile, Rinne is out for the foreseeable future with an infection in his hip.

Contact Nick at [email protected].

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