Training Camp is here and there’s plenty for National Hockey League goaltenders to prove this season. In fact, all 30 teams have some type of question mark surrounding their tandems – and in some cases – trios. Think about the Western Conference alone and conglomerates of Q’s quickly arise; Can Dominik Hasek stay as healthy as he did last season? Will David Aebischer and Alex Auld join forces to help save Phoenix? Does Peter Budaj have the poise to play 70 games?
(School of Block is subbing in for the Wild West this week)
These questions are unique to each goaltender, for each one has a critical aspect of their game that must be answered in order to silence the critics. But three goalies in particular – Martin Biron, Evgeni Nabokov and Jason LaBarbera – have significant scores to settle on a personal and professional level.
Martin Biron – The Man in the BIron Mask
There’s an unfair perception floating around that Martin Biron will crash and burn with his opportunity as the “true starter” for the Philadelphia Flyers. Sure, he’s only seen limited minutes as a Sabre, but Biron has moved on and now he has to prove he can provide confidence for his re-structured defensive core. At least there is one man who trusts in Biron – Flyers GM Paul Holmgren – who says this “unfair perception” is perpetuated by uninformed masses.
“I'm not sure it's fair,” Holmgren said. “I think there were a couple of years in Buffalo where he probably was their No. 1 goalie and there were also a couple of years he was behind Dominik Hasek, then in the last few years, Ryan Miller.”
Those are certainly some brilliant goalies that Biron has backed up, yet there comes a time in every goalie’s career where they can no longer handle slithering around in the shadows of others. So Biron drew a line in the sand and took matters into his own hands, mainly due to an opportunity to lead a struggling (and now promising) team to greatness.
“We think Marty Biron is the No. 1 goalie,” Holmgren added. “When he came here last year, he provided us immediately with stability and gave us a chance to win a lot of games. I look for more of the same from him this year.”
Not only does Holmgren expect his #1 goaltender to win 35 to 40 games, but more importantly, so does Biron. And so long as his defensemen play stable hockey, Biron will finally shed that unfair perception as the man in an iron mask.
Evgeni Nabokov – Playing for His Fallen Hero
Evgeni Nabokov is in a much different situation than any other goaltender this