Road to B.C.: Miller will carry Olympic hopes

Updated: December 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm by Patrick Davey

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Earlier this week Team USA G.M Brian Burke said he was very close to finalizing his roster for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next February. The roster will still be officially announced on January 1st during the Winter Classic, but Burke has already stated that Ryan Miller will be the starter and Tim Thomas the back-up. So I thought I’d look at the performance so far of these two as well as Team USA’s other contenders in net…

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

32 games into the season and Ryan Miller still hasn’t slowed down. He had that one game against New Jersey where he wasn’t quite on his game, and one also Florida embarassed the Sabres 6-2, but really this is more than acceptable given the workload, and he’s been flawless all season. He leads the league convincingly in all three of the four main goaltending categories, and he still has 19 wins so far to lead the Buffalo Sabres to the top of the Northeast division. The team is far from an offensive juggernaut anyway and so this makes Miller’s effort even more impressive, especially in October when he won eight-straight, yet the team didn’t manage more than three goals-per-game in that period, and only managed three twice. This season his percentage hasn’t dropped under .800, and except for that .783 roughing against the Panthers and .813 against the Islanders, Miller has been amongst the high eighties at worst and consistently around the high ninties, giving him the current 1st ranked .937sv% overall. Miller has also proved he can be big-game big-save goaltender, especially in the 3-0 shutout of Washington when he stifled the Caps offense with some huge glove saves. I still can’t believe Miller was taken in the 9th round of my nine-team fantasy league, and no doubt every owner will be more than satisfied with his 1.88GAA and what looks to be his best year yet. He has certainly outclassed any competition for the U.S starter and deserves any success he gets in Vancouver.

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Tim Thomas will be the back-up to Ryan Miller, though his play has heavily dropped off from last year’s Vezina-winning performances. A further concern is how Thomas has a losing record of 7-8-4 on a team that is sitting 5th in it’s conference; it shows hows how incredible Tuukka Rask has been and how bad Thomas has been at times. Though it seems that when he has been good this season Thomas has been great, with three shutouts so far. However there were also some really ugly 6-goal outings against Anaheim and Pittsburgh as well as probably his worst being the 5-1 loss against Montreal when Thomas ended up with a .783 percentage. Thomas’ best run was early November when he had six-straight with no more than two goals allowed including two shutouts; but incredibly he only won one of these showing how he could do with some help from his team. So Thomas will be looking to rediscover that short spell of strong play on what has been an average first 19 games so far. With a 1.97GAA over Thomas’ current mark of 2.48, the Bruins could have easily made Tuukka Rask the starter, but it’s a good vote of confidence for Thomas and fantasy owners alike, that Thomas is still getting the majority of starts.

Craig Anderson, Colorado Avalanche

The days of the Colorado Avalanche leading the National Hockey League and their goaltender leading the statistics have passed. Though Craig Anderson showed signs of that form returning recently with a shutout over the Lightning and huge win against Calgary, but then he got washed out against Washington in an awful night overall for the team that lead to Peter Budaj playing the third period. No doubt Anderson had a bad November, but it also should be considered that he is ranked first in the league in save attempts and saves, meaning that there have been some nights where he has played well and has still let in goals because of the amount of shot total is so high. It’s taxing to have to make over 30 saves most nights whether you win or lose and certainly Anderson has had a hard time having to deal with this, and add the heavy workload of starting 30 of Colorado’s 36 played. Bottom line is that Anderson should have been rested more and when Peter Budaj was playing regularly it was only because Anderson was forced out by a neck injury. Budaj has been pretty good when called upon so it would be healthier for Anderson and the club for him to play a little less especially considering that he has never been a starter for an NHL club before. Anderson’s goals-against has weakened to 2.68 but he still has 3 shutouts and a pretty solid .916%, and would be a good third goalie option for team USA considering he will get better support in front of him. Much like Nikolai Khabibulin though, taking lots of shots does not count for much in fantasy value and owners might be wishing they sold him earlier for higher value as Anderson has become more inconsistent as the season has gone on.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Jon Quick is the other option as a third goaltender for the U.S roster and probably has the edge on Anderson as he is younger and in better form right now. Quick has started even more games than Anderson with 33 from a possible 36 and is really maturing into an future-elite goaltender, at 23 years of age he already seems to be taking that next step earlier than expected with a second-best 20 wins on the season to help the Kings to the top of the Western conference. This season Quick is playing alot of games considering he is still relatively inexperienced at NHL-level- he only played 44 games for Los Angeles in his first full season last year, but looks on pace to play 70 in the 2009-10 season. That’s alot of pressure but Quick’s potential is what the organisation is counting on. His numbers haven’t been great, with¬† being the only category he is close to leading, and his current 2.60GAA and .904 are down on last year, however Erik Ersberg and his 4.10GAA hasn’t given the team any confidence in playing a back-up and if the Kings could find a better one then that would ease the pressure on Quick. He isn’t quite there yet in terms of being a fantasy starter, but should definately have solid fantasy value as a back-up in the future, and a trip to the Olympics should be a good learning experience for him.

Team USA will announce it’s roster on January 1st, 2010 and will play it’s first group game against Switzerland on February 16th.

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