Last night's 5-4 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes was a typical one for Chris Osgood this season: make a few stellar saves, allow a couple of soft goals, skate off the ice with a victory. He's 17-4-6 on the season, tied with Nikolai Khabibulin of the Chicago Blackhawks for fewest regulation losses in the NHL for goalies with at least 25 starts.
Yet something that happened after the game made last night anything but typical: Osgood was called out by Detroit Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock for allowing the Coyotes to get back into the game. From the Freep:
"We should have won that game, 4-2. But I thought the guys stayed resilient and were able to pick up Ozzie tonight. When we got to 4-2, the game should have been done. We found a way to let them back in the game. That's the way it goes. I didn't think we were bad defensively, I didn't think those things at all -- I just thought the puck went in the net."
It's not rocket surgery to figure out the motivation here: Babcock has a degree in sports psychology; Osgood is a goalie that has played his best when many have expected the least; and the coach's comments are coming after a victory for a nice, soft landing.
That said: With a 3.29 GAA and a .880 save percentage nearly outweighing the cache of goodwill Osgood built up in the Cup run, do the Red Wings need to consider alternatives as the postseason nears?
In essence, Red Wings fans are getting tired of waiting. Osgood himself said last night that he suffered through some kind of "Stanley Cup hangover," but that really shouldn't be an issue in 2009; nor does it explain why Osgood has given up three or more goals in his last seven starts, while backup Ty Conklin has given up three or more just three times in his last seven, behind virtually the same team.
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Still, Ozzie remains optimistic, giving the Detroit News this quote:
"I feel real good out there. I feel sharp and confident. I feel the tide is turning and pretty soon I'm going to get on a huge roll and things are going to go real good here."
That's a line that set off eagle-eyed Wings blogger The Chief on Abel To Yzerman:
Jesus. What is it, November? We've been hearing that crap for almost five months now. It's not a hangover and it's not a slump. It's not a temporary issue he and Bedard can work out of.
It's a problem that's not going away and it's going to cost this team their 12th Cup. The Red Wings will not win with Osgood playing like this, not in the playoffs. Oh, and don't think I'm advocating a Conk fest either. A better option? Yep. But a Cup-winning one? Seriously?
George James Malik notes that the Wings are missing defenseman Brad Stuart, which obviously hurts the defense in front of a guy like Osgood. But he wouldn't have made any difference on the soft goals surrendered last night, which led Bruce MacLeod of The Macomb Daily to believe Babcock is attempting to spark a competition in goal:
Add in that earlier this week Babcock said that a team needs good goaltending to win the Stanley Cup and that he's looking for one of his two netminders to step up in the final 30 games and Osgood's role as playoff goalie is closer to being taken away. Not gone, but closer to being gone.
From training camp until now, Osgood was the playoff goalie. If Osgood doesn't play better and Ty Conklin does get hot, then the groundwork is being laid for a transferal of status.
Remember that early in his first season in Detroit, Babcock went with Jimmy Howard rather than Osgood when Manny Legace got hurt.
The goalie trade market isn't exactly bursting with Stanley Cup caliber goaltending. Jimmy Howard has played in as many postseason games in the NHL as the Blue Jackets. Conklin's got strong numbers (2.56 GAA, .910 save percentage); as MacLeod points out, his starting the postseason isn't out of the question. The Wings could be a stronger team with a steady ConkBlock getting the nod, and having a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in the bullpen.
That said, hasn't Osgood been underestimated like this before only to come through? Doesn't 17 wins against 4 losses in regulation -- coupled with 14 wins and a 1.55 GAA in last year's Stanley Cup championship -- indicate that while he's not some who can a steal a game, he's good enough to win one?
Not in the eyes of Babcock. His public statements are more than motivation -- they're a sign of dissatisfaction. The next step won't be words, but deeds; and Osgood will be watching the Wings push for the playoffs from the pine.