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Vezina Race Remains Close as NHL Season Winds Down

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJanuary 2, 2015

Vezina Race Remains Close as NHL Season Winds Down

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    With less than a month remaining in the NHL regular season, the race for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender remains a tight one. 

    Players like Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne remain among the top candidates to capture the coveted trophy. But they aren't the only contenders out there.

    Here's a look at some other players who have made themselves a part of the discussion with their stellar play in recent weeks.

Jaroslav Halak

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    The St. Louis Blues have given up fewer goals than any team in the NHL, and Jaroslav Halak is a big reason why. 

    Halak's numbers are very impressive: a 1.84 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage with a record of 24-10-5. 

    The biggest thing holding Halak back is that he has only played 40 games this year, a lot less than the other candidates for the Vezina Trophy. Brian Elliott is practically alternating games with Halak and has accumulated even better statistics.

    Halak belongs in the discussion, but the lack of games played may keep him from becoming a Vezina finalist this year.  He and Elliott will almost certainly win the Jennings Trophy for the team giving up the fewest goals in the league.

Jimmy Howard

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    Like Chris Osgood before him, Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard doesn't get a lot of credit for his team's success.

    A quick look at the goaltending statistics, however, shows how consistently good Howard has been this season. His goals-against average is just 2.05 and he has an impressive .923 save percentage and six shutouts.  Howard is third in the league with 33 victories despite the fact that he has played eight and 12 fewer games than the two players ahead of him.

    Injuries slowed Howard down in February, but backup Joey MacDonald played well in his stead.

    The fact that he plays for the Red Wings, a team that has won with so many different goalies over the past 15 years, may hold Howard back, but he is worthy of being in the Vezina discussion.

Marc-Andre Fleury

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    The Penguins' recent winning streak has helped shine the spotlight back on Marc-Andre Fleury when discussions for the Vezina arise.

    Fleury is second in the NHL with 37 victories, just one win behind the league leader, Pekka Rinne, despite the fact that Rinne has started seven more games than Fleury.

    The Penguins goalie has a solid 2.26 goals-against average, although his save percentage is just .917, a cut below most of the other Vezina candidates.

    Fleury has never been about statistics, but he has always been a clutch goalie, winning one Stanley Cup and taking the Penguins to the finals on another occasion. 

    If the Penguins continue winning, Fleury may find himself a finalist for the Vezina this summer.

The Top Three Candidates

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    While the three goalies discussed earlier in this story have improved their chances for being Vezina finalists, last week's top three candidates remain unchanged.

    Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers remain the favorites and have been the best three goalies in the league over the course of the season.

    Lundqvist and Quick are ranked first and second in the league in shutouts and second and third, respectively, among starters for goals-against average.  Rinne leads the league in wins while Lundqvist is fourth.

    Barring a late-season collapse, Rinne, Lundqvist and Quick remain the cream of the crop.

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