Goaltending as valuable as ever

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stops a shot against the Canucks at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.,...

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stops a shot against the Canucks at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., May 20, 2011. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:53 AM ET

CALGARY - Last week, it was San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan calling out his netminder Antti Niemi after a sub-standard outing.

This week, Washington bench boss Dale Hunter did the same with Tomas Vokoun.

It’s often you see coaches single out specific players for their poor performances. It’s even more rare for it to be a goalie.

Which also should make fans appreciate when their team has a netminder who is a consistent game-changer. Or, at worst, reliable enough to ensure the club pulls out all the wins it deserves.

Goalies such as Pekka Rinne in Nashville, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames, and to a lesser degree — mainly because the longevity factor isn’t there yet — Craig Anderson in Ottawa, Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes fall into the former category.

Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Tim Thomas in Boston and Roberto Luongo are among those in the latter group.

And there are a bunch of clubs with goaltending questions heading into the trade deadline, wishing they had one of the aforementioned Vezina-Trophy worthy netminders.

As Monday’s deadline nears, you can bet your bottom dollar the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and Sharks are wondering how to find a goalie to make their playoff hopes reality, or — in the case of the Flyers, especially — will hold up.

Not to mention the teams who know they’re out of the playoff chase this season, but must address a hole in the net, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Take the Flames, for example.

Without Kiprusoff, they would be nowhere near the playoff fight right now. Sure, the numbers may not seem as impressive as so many other twine-minders, but he’s been — as coach Brent Sutter said this week — the “glue” of the team.

Back in 2001-02, Jose Theodore won the Hart Trophy for getting the Canadiens into the playoffs with the No.-8 seed. In Kiprusoff’s case, doing the same for the Flames would be just as impressive.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Ryan Howse’s status among the Flames prospects has fallen greatly over the past year, but if the 2009 third-round draft choice — who scored 51 goals in his final junior season — has indeed learned his lesson about fitness and what it’ll take to be a pro, he could be an offensive contributor. Netting his first AHL goal, in Game No. 22, for the Heat is a big step. “It was the biggest relief of my hockey career,” he said ... Since people love to compare Michael Cammalleri’s post-trade success in Calgary to Rene Bourque’s in Montreal since last month’s swap, especially when Cammalleri’s struggled, we’ll give the most recent update. In 17 games for Montreal since the trade, Bourque has three goals and five points. The Habs have an 8-7-2 record. Going into Thursday’s clash with Phoenix, Cammalleri had five goals and seven points in 15 games for the Flames. The Flames had a 7-4-4 record ...

HOCKEY TALKY

Now the Washington Capitals are really starting to get exciting. You have an owner writing in his blog about “unacceptable” performances. You have a coach in Dale Hunter starting to rip on his team and scratch veterans, and you have veterans lashing out in frustration. Makes you wonder if it can get bad enough Alex Ovechkin would be on the trade market ... Speaking of floundering teams, does anybody know what the Columbus Blue Jackets are trying to do? Grabbing draft picks and prospects won’t make them a playoff team next season. Try selling that to the fan base ... Is it possible the Winnipeg Jets could take a playoff spot away from the Toronto Maple Leafs? How strange would it be to see a ‘Southeast Division champs’ banner in Western Canada?

YOU DON’T SAY

“You should ask him about the penalties because when he played I think he make lots of penalties himself. He should know better. This is a game and guys (play with) emotion. I know I took a bad penalty.”

— Washington’s Roman Hamrlik to Comcast Sportsnet about Dale Hunter’s decision to scratch him.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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