Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conklin In Pittsburgh

Ty Conklin's play since he has been called up by the Pittsburgh Penguins has been very good and is worth a post. He has now played enough games to qualify for the saves percentage race and is leading with a .932 saves percentage. His 2.17 goals against average and 12-3-3 record are also very good.

I wrote earlier that Pittsburgh would be Stanley Cup contenders if they acquired a top goalie. I stand by that statement, because it is quite reasonable to be skeptical of Conklin. He has not been able to play at this high a level before. But it is not impossible that he carries on this level of play throughout the stretch drive and the playoffs and provides Pittsburgh with top level goaltending.

Conklin first played in the NHL in the 2001/02 season with the Edmonton Oilers. He only played four games that season and spent most of his time in the AHL. His first prolonged exposure to the NHL was in 2003/04 where he played 38 games. After the lockout, the Oilers used him (and other goalies) in 2005/06. Conklin played 18 more games plus one memorable playoff game when he came into the goal after Dwayne Roloson was injured and let in a very bad losing goal. Conklin had never been anything more than a passable option as a goalie and with the Oilers crowded situation in goal after acquiring Roloson and the memory of the bad goal, it was clear his days in Edmonton were over. Columbus signed his as a free agent that summer. His stay in Columbus was not memorable. Conklin appeared in 11 games, mostly in relief and was banished to the minors before being traded to Buffalo to end the season. In Buffalo, Conklin appeared in five more games, mostly uneventful relief work. Pittsburgh signed him this past summer and he challenged for the backup goalie job in training camp which he lost to Dany Sabourin. It looked like Ty Conklin had played himself out of the NHL. Then he got another chance. When starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury got hurt, the Penguins called Conklin up. Conklin promptly won his first nine starts and became a hero for the Penguins. If there are signs that his fairy tale start is over, they would be that he has only won three of his last nine starts since the winning streak ended. Three of his losses have been regulation ties, so his 3-6 record goes in the books as a 3-3-3 record which looks more respectable. Its hardly fair to blame Conklin for all of Pittsburgh's losses, any more than it is fair to give him sole credit during the winning streak, but given Conklin's history, one would expect most likely the winning streak was a fluke.

Ty Conklin has played very well so far this season. He has no shot at the Vezina Trophy or any other post-season awards due to an abbreviated season (he missed too much of it in the minors before he was called up). Is this the real Ty Conklin? Is he really a top goalie? Most likely the answer is no, but stranger things have happened. Ty Conklin becoming a top goalie is no more surprising than Tim Thomas becoming one and I think Thomas is the Vezina frontrunner right now.

Speaking of USA Hockey's international tournament future... I would like to see Conklin get a shot in one of the big tourneys (World Cup, Olympics). He has shown he can be a very good goalie in such competitions with his WC play.

Anybody who wasn't a Carolina fan who watched that particular playoffs was heartbroken for Conklin when he gave up the puck behind the net. It's good to see that he has put it behind him.

Furthermore, as someone who has benefited immensely by stealing Conklin off the free agent list in his fantasy hockey league, I hope to see Conklin's NHL contributions continue. :)
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