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Pollard: Captain Koivu Part II and back-up net gains

Dan Pollard
10/28/2008 5:56:32 PM
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It's time for a second Captain Koivu in the NHL.

The Minnesota Wild should end their rotating captain experiment and attach the "C" to Mikko Koivu's jersey on a permanent basis. The current interim captain, for the month of October, has shown he's ready for the job and to join his older brother Saku as an official full time NHL leader. Koivu junior has shown, like the elder Koivu, that actions speak louder than words. On a night in, night out basis he's ready to play at both ends of the ice. Last season the 25 year-old led all Minnesota forwards averaging 20:54 of ice time per game. This season he leads again, averaging 21:51.

The 6th overall pick in the 2001 draft has matured and help show the Wild the way through another period of time without Marian Gaborik in the line-up. As of the morning of Oct. 28th he led the league with 12 assists and led his team with a plus-5.

Maybe it's all part of Jacques Lemaire's master plan anyway. After naming Koivu a permanent assistant captain at the start of the year Lemaire had new owner Craig Leipold announce to the team that Koivu would wear the "C" for the month of October.

It's not a stretch to keep that "C" on jersey number #9 for the rest of the year. After all the Wild award it to the player who has shown the greatest leadership qualities every month.

--Saving Their Teams--

It's early but it doesn't make it any less important that there's been a strong start to the season for many back-up goaltenders in the NHL. They've saved many games.

In fact in Columbus, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Ottawa and Carolina they've almost split the duties between two netminders. Injuries to Pascal Leclaire have given Fredrik Norrena an opportunity to start in Columbus but in several cases you can actually question which goaltender should be considered the go to guy.

Alex Auld has stepped up in Ottawa to out perform Martin Gerber. Michael Leighton has given the Hurricane strong efforts between the pipes in three games. Both goaltenders have struggled in Philly while in Chicago and Boston they are slow to anoint a number one although you could argue that Tim Thomas takes the mantle in bean town every year whether anyone gives him the title or not.  

Ironically this is the first year in three seasons the Nashville Predators back-up hasn't taken over from the number one guy.

Last year Chris Osgood stepped in for Dominik Hasek in Detroit. This year Osgood is number one but Mike Babcock doesn't hesitate to give Ty Conklin the nod in relief. Conklin of course made a name for himself last year in Pittsburg after stepping in for Marc-Andre Fleury while he was injured. Conklin's two shut-outs and 10-0-1 run in mid season allowed Pittsburg to keep their Patrick Division title hopes alive and ultimately gave them a higher seeding when the playoffs rolled around.
 
Dany Sabourin has filled in once this year for Fleury giving up just one goal on 36 shots.
It was an important win. They all are.
 
Brian Boucher has turned aside a rough pre-season and pitched two shut-outs for San Jose and statistically he's actually out performing Evgeni Nabokov.

The number one tandem is in New York where in two games Stephen Valiquette has recorded one white-wash and a little higher save percentage than Henrik Lundqvist.
Look up, look way up…

With division races so tight and playoff seeding so important you can't concede anything between the pipes while giving your starter a break or dealing with injuries. The spotlight will only get brighter for back-ups.

Joey MacDonald is in tough on Long Island trying to keep the season from going south with Rick Dipietro trying to nurse himself back to health.

In St Louis they've gone four deep to keep the team on the rails. Marek Schwarz is the latest to fill the crease with Manny Legace, Chris Mason, and Ben Bishop banged up.

Back-ups will continue to play important roles and watch the trade wire.

The Hawks have two goalies making $6 million a year and the Edmonton Oilers are carrying a starter and two back-ups.

Nikolai Khabibulin is in the last year of his deal in Chicago and would come at a discounted price later in the season for a team looking for a strong net presence.
 
In Edmonton, Jeff Drouin-Deslaurier would need to clear waivers to be sent him down and the Oilers won't take that chance. Dwayne Roloson could be on the move. He'd also offer a last year discount in the last year of his $3.6 million dollar deal.



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