The Race for the Vezina Heats Up, Pt. 1: Ryan Miller and Evgeni Nabokov

Account KillerContributor IFebruary 20, 2009

With the NHL season now half over the spotlight turns to the goaltender position. The annual question now arises who is really the best at guarding the net. Last year came as no shock as the trophy was awarded to Martin Brodeur. This year Brodeur's defense ended a few short weeks into the season when he suffered a long term injury.

So now it has to be asked who can make a run for it this year. The usual names come to mind of course. Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff and Jean-Sebastian Giguere are always safe bets. You can add in Tim Thomas and if you're going for a Canadian goalie Carey Price is a stretch but he is there.

One Goalie that has never garnered much attention for the Vezina is Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. Although his stats may not stand out like those of other goaltenders he should be considered. Miller is called on more then any other goalie in the NHL and consistently makes huge saves to keep his team alive.

Miller so far this year has quietly accumulated 28 wins with a save percentage of .917 and a GAA of 2.54. Although not amazing these are solid numbers. More importantly he has a career high 5 shutouts so far this season and has made the big saves when they've counted most. 

The Vezina is usually awarded to the Goaltender with the most wins with a few exceptions but often times wins don't tell the whole story. Some goalies get more scoring support then others. Some goalies have to face more shots and odd man rushes that can sometimes lead to undeserved loses. This is the case with some of Ryan Miller's loses this season including a few games were the Sabres have lost by a score of 1-0 and Miller has stopped 30 or more shots in the process. 

Last season Miller's numbers were down because he was called on to play in more games then any other goaltender do to lack of a solid back-up. Although he is getting almost as many starts as he did this time last year his numbers continue to be solid and Miller has his team solidly in the race for a playoff berth.  

If Miller does not receive the Vezina the next best choice is Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks. Although he has not played as many games as Miller he is still keeping up in the wins department. If not for the extra help he receives he would be the first choice. The only argument against him is that the Sharks allow the lowest shots on goal of any team in the NHL. Although this is not Nabokov's fault it does count against him.

Nabokov knows how to make the big saves that much is clear. He often makes SportCenter's Top 10 plays with post to post and diving saves. His style is a hybrid between the standard butterfly and Dominik Hasek's legendary flop around like a fish style. He has made some saves that make you go "what just happened?"

Miller and Nabokov are the leading two candidates but others can be mentioned. Tomorrows stories will feature arguments for Miikka Kiprusoff and Tim Thomas. First i have some film to watch or it will be a very short article.