The NHL has provided fans with high flying offense and terrific goaltending thus far this season.
With a surprising Eastern Conference race, having the New York Rangers with a nine point cushion, and regularity in the West with Detroit on top, this year's playoff race should be interesting to watch.
The NHL's Central Division has been one of the better divisions in hockey this season. With Detroit sitting atop, the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, and Chicago Blackhawks hold the four, five, six position in the Western Conference standings.
With the playoffs looming closer in the next couple of months, I have decided to grade the Central Division's goaltenders.
With performances coming from Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak, and Pekka Rinne, this was harder than expected. Hope you enjoy.
Although Columbus have been rotating goaltenders between Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford, I have decided to grade Steve Mason simply because he has played in more games this season. (Only one more)
There is not much to say about the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. They sit last in not only their division, but within the whole league. They have won a dismal 17 games while producing only 40 points, as well as being defeated 34 times thus far.
As for Steve Mason's season, it hasn't been going much better. Mason has a 3.40 goals against average to go along with a save percentage of .887. Mason displays a record of seven wins and 20 loses, as well as two overtime defeats.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have nothing to look forward to this season, but with the All-Star game coming to town next year, hopefully that will get the team excited for something.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another team who have been rotating goalies throughout the year.
With the tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, I have decided once again to grade the goalie who has played in more games this season.
In 39 games this year, Crawford has 18 victories to go with 14 loses and five overtime loses. The team as a whole ranks 26th in the league in goals against, giving up an average of three goals a game.
Crawford has a goals against average of 2.99, as well as a save percentage of .898. Crawford has given up three or more goals 22 times this season and has lost his last five starts.
If Chicago wants to make another deep run into the playoffs, their goaltending has to consist of much higher quality.
The Nashville Predators have been playing good hockey all season long. Their offense is explosive and the team currently ranks third overall in power play percentage.
As for goaltending, Pekka Rinne has had a quality season thus far. Rinne has posted a .924 save percentage and is averaging 2.41 goals against per game.
In 51 games this season, Rinne has won 31 and lost only 12. His 31 wins currently ranks him second in the league behind injured Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who I will be assessing shortly.
In 24 of his wins, Rinne has held opponents to two or less goals, including four shutouts.
Rinne might have to carry the team on his back if Nashville looks to make another run at the playoffs.
With Jimmy Howard looking to return against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, the Red Wings have to feel pretty optimistic on their playoff chances.
With Joey MacDonald doing a tremendous job in Howard's absence, posting a 4-1 record in Detroit's last five games, the Red Wings remain the NHL's hottest team.
After setting an NHL record 21 straight home wins on Tuesday night, the Red Wings look to be a favorite in representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup. If they do, Howard will play a major roll.
This season, Howard has played in 44 games and leads the league with 32 victories. He boasts a 2.03 goals against average and has a save percentage of .924, which is top ten in the league.
In 28 of his victories, Howard has held opponents to two or less goals, while combining for five shutouts. His career low goals against average and with the Red Wings playing their best hockey, I'd look for Detroit to represent the West in the finals.
With Brian Elliot playing possibly the best hockey for a goalie, leading the league in his remarkable goals against average of 1.63, it was a tough decision to choose between these two St. Louis goaltenders.
Elliot has an 18-5 record thus far, but the predominant starter has been Jaroslav Halak. Halak currently sits fourth in the league with a goals against average of 1.97, and occupies a 16-10 record.
Halak's save percentage is a steady .923, while Elliot holds a .939 save percentage, which is second in the league behind New York's Henrik Lundqvist.
In 17 games this season, Halak has held opponents to two or less goals and has combined for six shutouts.
Along with Detroit, St. Louis has one of the best home records in the NHL, winning 24 games and losing only three at the Scottrade Center.
With the best duo in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues goaltenders will be a vital factor in their postseason success. Their NHL best 1.9 goals against average bodes well for the Blues chances, as goaltending will be the deciding factor in this year's Stanley Cup Finals.