Selecting Team USA Series; Is It Still Miller Time? Who should start for team USA in Net?
*It is important to understand that the selections to follow are based not on what I think will occur, but on what I believe should happen. This is an opinion editorial and is not a prediction.*
In deciding who will be the starters for team USA, one has to understand the multiple elements of play that will come into consideration. The coaching staff will have their favorites and will understandably select the players who they are most comfortable with. That comfort level typically is found in current teammates, divisional opponents, and current/former players. This will all be taken into consideration in the creation of the current Olympic roster for Team USA.
The Starter - Ryan Miller is on arguably the worst team in the entire league, in both pure talent and cohesive play, and yet he remains one of the most relied upon netminders in the league. Miller’s .919 save percentage is good enough for 15th amongst current starters and his 12 games played this season has him tied with five others for fourth most in the league.
His goals against average, currently at 3.09, happens to be very misleading number. When considering defensive support, there is no goaltender hung out to dry as much as Ryan Miller. On average Miller faces 38 shots per game, roughly four shots more on average than the number two goaltender in this category. It is his ability to carry his team, despite their ineptitude in every aspect of the game, that makes him the leading candidate for team USA.
Consider a game not too long ago when Miller’s Sabres took on the San Jose Sharks. The game ended with the Sabres victorious, a final score of 5-4, in a thrilling overtime victory. In this game, Miller had stopped 47 of 51 shots. This is a game in which the Buffalo Sabres should have been blown out, beaten badly, swept away like trash, but they weren’t. Miller stepped up his game and held his team in contention, despite the obvious knowledge that his team probably isn’t good enough to pull out a victory against a quality opponent. Yet Miller held strong and his team won.
This quality of play and veteran poise is amplified greatly when on a team of such poor quality. He is one of the most well respected US Olympians in recent history. Miller has proven time after time why he is the top goaltender for the US. Based on quality play, leadership, and poise in times of uncertainty, Ryan Miller should be named the starting goaltender for Team USA Hockey.
Now that a starting spot has been decided on, Team USA will have to make a roster decision. It is likely that they carry three goaltenders, of which one spot has been selected. In order to validate the final two spots, we have to carefully examine their play, their purpose on the team, and how they have handled adversity over the course of their career.
The Contenders - In my opinion Jonathan Quick is a no brainer as a backup. His play over the past few seasons has him in contention for the starting position on team USA. If it was not for some recent breakdowns in play over the past two seasons, I would have undoubtedly selected Quick over Miller. His freakish athleticism combined with his flair for making key saves helped Quick win a Stanley Cup just a few years back. As for now though, Quick remains the top back up to Ryan Miller heading into Sochi..
Unfortunately for one netminder, Craig Anderson, there is too much on his plate right now to be considered for team USA. Despite his quality play over the last few seasons, Anderson recently suffered a stretch of bad play,as well as a neck injury. While it might not be anything to serious or even long term, if it is even a question by the December deadline he will be removed from the possible candidates. When your remaining candidates are almost equal in talents and performance, it is the smallest things that disqualify you and for now Anderson is not playing at an Olympic level.
The true dark horse candidate coming into the Olympics this year happened to be junior superstar John Gibson. Gibson is a recent gold medal winning goaltender for the United States Junior team and IIHF under 18 team. His overall breadth of play is not very large, but with two gold medals, two MVP honors, and two tournament’ all star nominations under his belt already it is rather important to note that we are not discussing a typical young goaltender. The problem with the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native being on the Olympic team is that he does not have enough playing time against the quality of competition that the other netminders have. Unfortunately for this young man, he will not be traveling to Sochi, but the good news is that he is only a few months away from a possible NHL position.
That leaves just two goaltenders remaining for the vacant goaltender spot, which I have in consideration, have narrowed down to Corey Schneider and Jimmy Howard. After plenty of thought and analysis of the elements of consideration, I believe that it is in the best interest of team USA to select Cory Schneider as the third and final goaltender.
This is not a slight towards Jimmy Howard. His play in the playoffs last season and the past few seasons speaks for itself. He is a very good emerging goaltender and has as good a chance as Schneider to make the club, however, I would select Schneider given the nature of the position.
Given his trials and tribulations with Vancouver, his handling of the very uncomfortable situation there, his unlikely trade to New Jersey after supplanting Roberto Luongo in Vancouver as the number one goalie, and his play so far this season, I believe that Schneider is the better team player for team USA to bring to Sochi. When trying to examine the qualities you want in a third goaltender, you have to understand the likelihood that they play is little to none. It is a safety precaution and a practice piece. With that in mind, Schneider is one of the most likeable athletes in the game today and has a tremendous relationship with his teammates.
If Schneider was able to keep together a locker room in Vancouver and maintain a strong relationship with Luongo during those times of uncertainty, he would bring a very welcomed calm to team USA. His intangibles and leadership shown through adversity gives him the slightest edge over Jimmy Howard to be team USA’s third goaltender.
Official Verdict for Team USA: Ryan Miller = Starter
Jonathan Quick = Primary Backup
Cory Schneider = Secondary Backup