Surprising Spartans Top Conference Despite Controversy, Trade

Things aren't going as planned this year in St. Louis, but the Spartans seem to be finding a way to succeed anyway.
by Sean Gallagher | January 28, 2011, 12:18 PM ET
The Spartans team is built in a fairly traditional manner: two scoring lines, a clear-cut starter and backup goalie and some steady, if unflashy defense. On paper it would seem that the simple recipe is working. But delving into the numbers, the Spartans seem to be succeeding in spite of themselves. First of all, the high-powered first line has been good, but not great. Evgeni Malkin and Mike Richards have suffered through pointless streaks and haven't scored the timely goals they're counted on to score. Their starborad side has been rotating regularly, as neither Phil Kessel or Nathan Horton have been able to perform consistently with top line minutes. In their stead, the Spartnas have gotten important goals from third lines like T.J. Oshie and R.J. Umberger and free agent fourth liner and defensive specialist Chris Drury and Matt Bradley "It's lucky, more than anything," said GM Sean Gallagher, "You want your impact players to play impact hockey, but when they aren't it's nice to have that second level step up and save some points for you. So far, we've been lucky that way." In net, St. Louis has a full-scale goaltending controversy, as backup Antero Niittymaki has outplayed starter Evgeni Nabokov since the outset of the season. Nabokov has played better of late, but he is still being beaten by his understudy in virtually every statistic, including wins, despite the fact that Nabokov has played four more games than Niittymaki. "That's a coaching decision," sidestepped Gallagher when asked about which netminder was really his team's starter, "I'd guess the guy who is playing better will get more starts. Nabokov has been our main guy for six seasons, but, you know, it's a tough business." On the back end, St. Louis' no-name defense has played well in every zone, but hasn't really helped the offense capitalize on the talent they have. As for that, GM Gallagher let the assembled media know that he had a plan to boost his team. "We've actually just completed a trade for a premier defender," teased Gallagher, "It should be approved by the league tonight and we hope to have Dan, err, this man in our lineup shortly. I expect that his presence will help us quite a bit in all three zones. Plus, he has been with this franchise before, so he's not unfamiliar with how we work. I'm excited to have him join our team." The Spartans play tonight in Iceland before coming home for a quick two-game homestand where they will try to hold on to their top seed in the World Conference.

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