Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is facing some tough decisions in the coming weeks if his team’s goaltending does not get more consistent. Yzerman has come out in support of his goalies, telling everyone who would listen that both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are talented players and he feels that the efforts will get better as the season moves along.
In an effort to help his players, Coach Guy Boucher met with both goalies and told them to keep things simple. Boucher felt they had been trying to do more than they need to during the game and they needed to let them game come to them.
Ellis has started 17 games this season with a 3.23 goals against average and a save percentage of .876%. He’s tied for the team lead with eight wins and has two shutouts. Smith also has eight wins with a 3.57 goals against and save percentage of .872%.
The team is 10th in the NHL in points and averaging 3.1 goals for on the season, so it would be reasonable to hope that the goalies can give up three goals or less a night. Ellis has done that in 14 of the 20 games and Smith in 10 of his 15 contests. It’s the inconsistent play that has to drive Yzerman and Boucher crazy, as Ellis and Smith both show on some nights they are as good as anyone in the league.
Is the defense in front of the goalies doing everything they can to help? Well the team is giving up the second fewest shots per game in the NHL. So they are not seeing the number of shots per game that some goalies are facing. Mental toughness and concentration have to be what Ellis and Smith are both fighting in net on a nightly basis. It is a curse of having a quality offensive team in front of them.
If you compare Ellis and Smith against Montreal goalie Carey Price, who is considered the best goalie in the NHL through the first two-plus months of the season, it’s not even close. To give you some perspective, Price has given up two goals or less in 16 of his 27 games this year and three goals or less in 25 of 27 games. So with the offense on this club how many more wins would the team have if they could get consistent play in goal as Price has given the Canadians?
Yzerman and Boucher have both come out in support of the Ellis and Smith with the hopes they will be able to turn things around but if they do not what option might the team have in making any changes? Well Ellis is under contract for next year at a reasonable salary at $1.5 million for next year and Smith’s contract is up at the end of year. So Smith seems to be the likely one to go, but for who and what might the Bolts have to give up to improve in net?
The phone that may ring in Detroit has Yzerman calls and inquires about Chris Osgood, who is a Stanley Cup champion goalie and currently backing up in Hockeytown. If the team gets real creative they might think about calling Vancouver and inquiring about Corey Schneider, the 24-year-old backup to Roberto Luongo.
Schneider has had a great deal of success in AHL at Manitoba and limited games in the NHL. In seven NHL games this year, Schneider has a 2.58 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The team might have to move player like Ryan Malone to get a player Schneider; where Osgood might be able to be had for a combination of picks and a prospect.
There are a number of reports indicating Yzerman has spoken about Evgeni Nabokov, who left his KHL team in Russia. Nabokov’s agent made calls to a number of teams and the Bolts happen to be one of them. Nabokov price is going to be too high and he is not a guy who would fit long term with this hockey club.
While Yzerman does not want to make any knee jerk reactions to the play in net currently it has to be something that is weighing on his mind. The Lightning has a legitimate shot at making a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they are able to clean up the play in net.
After the game against the Colorado Avalanche on December 4, Boucher talked about how his defense unit has been playing this season. http://video.lightning.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=791&id=86088