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NHL Notebook

The NHL's new goaltending model Add to ...

San Jose coach Todd McLellan is one of those pleasing truth tellers, which accounts for his soaring popularity among the players, even when things are just drifting along, as they are for his Sharks' team in the early going.

And so when McLellan is asked about his team's two-headed goalie monster - the sound-alike Finns, Antti Niemi and Antero Nittymaki - he is blunt about his plans, such as they are.

"I really don't have a plan, to tell you the truth," said McLellan. Okay, that stopped me in my tracks for a moment, or until he had a chance to go on. "We're going to play for a little while and we're going to see how the guys adapt and adjust. That's why we have 82 games. We get to figure it out as we go along.

"I'm sure when playoffs arrive, and if we're lucky enough to qualify, then we'll have a good idea of who we want to start with. But along the way, we'll build enough confidence in the other guy to be able to turn and use him."

McLellan didn't add the word "hopefully" to the last sentence , but that appears to be his expectation - that by seasons end, both will hopefully have found their respective strides on a Sharks' team with its eyes firmly on the Stanley Cup prize.

San Jose is one of a handful of NHL teams exploring that new, rotating goaltender dynamic, popularized by both the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers on the way to last year's collision in the Stanley Cup final.

Niemi is the far better known of San Jose's two netminders, largely because he took the Blackhawks where the Sharks have failed to go these past half-dozen years - all the way to the winner's circle last year with Chicago. And in the NHL's game of musical goaltenders that followed this past summer, where the Blackhawks severed ties with both of their goalies, the Sharks took on Niemi so that he could job share with Nittymaki, and in the process, save the San Joses a pile of salary-cap dollars.

It is a model adopted by a number of teams with varying degrees of success thus far this season - to find an unknown somewhere and roll the dice.

The Nashville Predators believe their current goaltending duo - of Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback - is the tallest in NHL history. One is 6-4, the other 6-5 and they have both been key parts of the Predators' fast start (Nashville didn't lose its first game in regulation until Thursday night, a 3-0 defeat to the St. Louis Blues). The Blues happen to be the NHL's top defensive team at the moment, thanks in part to ex-Hab Jaroslav Halak, who has been everything St. Louis hoped for in a starter.

Halak was the NHL's second star of the week, even before recording the shutout win over the Predators. The only reason hardcore Hab fans aren't lamenting Halak's strong start (1.55 GAA, two shutouts) is that Carey Price appears to have been right all along - the Canadiens weren't about to win or lose the Stanley Cup in the first exhibition game of the season. Everybody is chilling in Montreal, as per Price's direction.

Meanwhile, last year's top defensive team, the New Jersey Devils, is jockeying with Atlanta, Anaheim and Colorado for the worst defensive record in the game, with long-time stalwart Martin Brodeur off to a tough start.

Last year's top individual performer, the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask, the only goalie with 45 or more appearances to finish with a GAA under 2.00, is at an underwhelming 3.53 today. He can't get back between the pipes because Tim Thomas, the Vezina Trophy winner two years ago who was on the bench for much of last year, has bounced back in a big meaningful way. Thomas lowered his eye-popping GAA to 0.60 after shutting out the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night.

But back to the Sharks, a team that qualified for the Western Conference final last year riding mostly Evgeni Nabokov, who has since taken up residence in Russia's KHL.

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