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Brian Duff's Blog: Goals-against down, winning games up

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It’s still all about defense. This is not breaking news, but for a league focused on generating more offense, it’s telling four of the most improved teams through the first 10 games are way better defensively than a year ago.

The Flyers allowed 19 fewer goals and were nine points better. Columbus improved by six points while chopping 11 at the back end. The Bruins cut 14 from their goals against total and improved by four points. And St. Louis was four points better through nine games, allowing 10 fewer goals.

What else do they have in common? All of them have changed coaches in recent months. John Stevens, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien and Andy Murray are early-season contenders for the Jack Adams Award.

The aforementioned teams were also getting solid netminding, the backbone of any good defense. And we’re not just talking about No. 1 guys. Backups are critical, too.

The line between starter and No. 2 can be kind of blurry at this time of year. Off-season rehab or early-season injuries (Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ray Emery, Manny Fernandez, Dominik Hasek, Kari Lehtonen) or slow starts by the incumbents (Chris Mason, Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Tomas Vokoun) can in some cases lead to an increased opportunity for the relatively inexperienced.

And with so many “backups” seeing time already, I couldn’t help but wonder whether teams are really at a disadvantage when turning to a No. 2, or 3 on the depth chart? Toronto can answer that. The Leafs recently saw six consecutive backups and posted a record of 2-3-1.

And through games of Sunday, goalies across the league that had not played the most minutes for their teams were a combined 37-37-8. Seems to me coaches shouldn’t feel too bad when the No. 1 needs a night or two off.

Of course, even the best goalies are getting victimized by another outstanding crop of rookies, including Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago and Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano in Edmonton.

I’d like to see them keep it up, if for no other reason than to witness the reactions of some of my colleagues. One of the best things about working at NHL Network is seeing how former players and coaches (now co-hosts of mine) react like giddy school kids at the moves put forth by the young talent today.

You’d think they would have seen it all before, but judging by their expressions they are just like us – amazed.

In case you need a reminder of some of the best so far, here’s a link to my three favorites of October.

Phoenix’s Mike Zigomanis vs. Edmonton, Oct. 18

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews vs. Colorado, Oct 19

Edmonton’s Sam Gagner, shootout, vs. Anaheim, Oct. 28

Brian Duff is a host of the NHL Network’s ‘On the Fly’ and host of Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio.

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