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By Judd Hall
Hockey is a game of not only speed and skill, but also perseverance. In a season that lasts 82 games over a seven-month span, you have to have stamina or you’ll feel the shaven ice from your opponent’s skate as they blaze on the rink. But that first month, October, all clubs look to start off with a bang. And the biggest statement a team can make is how well they perform on their first major road trip of the year.
Two squads are making their first true roadies this week as the Ducks and Sharks head out East. While you might want to play the “jet lag” angle due to the cross-country trip, it won’t work against a pair of the elite clubs in the Western Conference. Instead, we’re going to focus on the goaltenders in specific. Why? Because when you get down to it, the netminder is the final deciding factor in a win or a loss.
Anaheim started a four-game East Coast swing on Oct. 22 with a win at the Maple Leafs as a $1.40 road “chalk,” 3-2, in a shootout. While that sounds like a quality win away from home, you need to realize that the Ducks held a 2-0 lead after the first period. We shouldn’t be so surprised that Toronto made a run at the upset since Jean-Sebastien Giguere held a lifetime record of 0-2-0 with a 3.02 goals against average prior to this year’s contest.
So what can we expect from the rest of this road trip from Giguere?
Next up for the Ducks is a visit to Ottawa on Oct. 24 for a rematch of 2007 Stanley Cup Final. During that championship series, Giguere went 1-1 with a 3.56 GAA. That coincides nicely with his regular season mark of 1-1 and GAA of 2.89 against the Senators. Given those numbers, we can reasonably expect a chance for the ‘over’ to kick in.
Anaheim continues its trip across the Great White North by visiting the Canadiens for an Oct. 25 tilt. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner hasn’t played in Montreal in a few years, but he’s got a decent 1-1-1 record and 2.92 GAA. Although, this might be a pass for all of us considering how strong the Habs have been to start the year.
Instead of backing the Ducks at Montreal, hold onto your cash for their trip to Central Ohio. Anaheim is slated to face the Blue Jackets on Oct. 27 and Giguere has an all-time record of 5-4 mark with a 2.13 GAA. He has also won his last two starts against Columbus with a GAA of 2.49.
Anaheim’s Pacific Division brother, the Sharks, is embarking on a three matches in the Eastern Conference. The only difference for San Jose over its foes from Orange County is that they house two starter quality goaltenders for this trip in Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Boucher.
Nabokov, the unquestioned No. 1 goalie for San Jose, is a rarity in that he has a winning record when playing away from the HP Pavilion (94-79-15-7, 2.54 GAA). That mark extends to playing in Philadelphia, where the Russian netminder has gone 2-0-1 with a 2.32 GAA for his career. In the event that Boucher will start for the Sharks on Oct. 22, remember that he was the Flyers’ starting goaltender for much of the late 90s, which is evident in his 26-16-4 tally with a GAA of 2.35.
Todd McLellan’s club then makes the famed “Sunshine Swing” to round out the week. And like most teams making that trip to Florida, there is a time to back and a time to fade.
San Jose first heads to the BankAtlantic Center for an Oct. 24 showdown with the Panthers. This should spell some easy cash for the bettors as Nabokov boasts a 2-0-1 career record at Florida with a 2.60 GAA. Even if Boucher starts, you have a good chance at a win here since he won his only start against the Panthers with a 1.85 GAA.
Where you want to fade the Sharks is the following night when they head to Tampa Bay. Nabokov has a lackluster 1-2-1 mark and 2.43 GAA at the St. Pete Times Forum all-time. Don’t bank on Boucher either with his 2-3 record and a king sized GAA of 3.71 against the Lightning.
Thoughts from the Sin Bin…
I don’t know how many of you saw the game between the Capitals and Flames at the Saddledome on Oct. 21, but you missed one of the best clean open ice hits I’ve seen in a while. Washington rearguard Tyler Sloan leveled the Flames’ Daymond Langkow with a clean body check about seven minutes into the game.
Calgary’s Rene Bourque came to the scene and promptly tried to knock the taste out of Sloan’s mouth. Not bad for Capitals farmhand playing just his third shift in the NHL. Bourque received nine minutes in the penalty box: five for fighting, two for unsportsmanlike conduct and another two minutes for instigating. Oh yeah, he received a game misconduct as well. Keep in mind that Washington held a 1-0 lead at the time.
So did the Caps come out of that major advantage with a goal? Hell no, Washington couldn’t get more than four average shots at goal during that stretch. The Capitals actually gave up a piece of that power play when Michael Nylander went down for a holding call for two minutes.
All of the momentum was there for Washington to set up a blowout. Yet the Capitals couldn’t take advantage of an early advantage and gave all the mojo to the Flames. Calgary knew what to do with that momentum as Jarome Iginla and Matthew Lombardi scored within the first three minutes of the second period. Hopefully the Caps can take this loss and learn a lot from it as the season wears on.