The 7 Most Indispensable Goalies in the NHL

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

The 7 Most Indispensable Goalies in the NHL

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    It is the most important position in hockey and perhaps the most important in sports.

    The goaltender position is a must-have for any team that considers itself a contender in the NHL. Competent and consistent goaltending will help an average team become a playoff contender and a good team become an excellent one.

    A good goaltender will usually make one or two stops a game that will make observers say, "how did he do that?"

    That ability will translate to the rest of the team. Once that kind of save is made, it can lead to a surge of adrenaline throughout the rest of the team, and that means, they will pick up their play.

    Here's a look at the seven most indispensable goalies in the NHL.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

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    Ryan Miller has been a fixture in net for the Buffalo Sabres since the 2005-06 season.

    That's quite a security blanket for head coach Lindy Ruff. Ever since Miller made it to the NHL and started flashing his extraordinary reflexes, the Sabres have known that if they got a good effort from their lineup, Miller was going to bring home the win.

    At the same time, on nights when the Sabres were not imposing their will, Miller had a chance to steal games and put them in the victory column.

    As it turns out, there have been quite a few games in the latter category for Miller to work his magic. While the Sabres have made several changes since the end of last year to increase their battle level, they have not always been the most overpowering of teams.

    Miller won the Vezina Trophy and NHL first-team honors in 2009-10. He had 41 wins that season along with a 2.22 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. Miller has played at least 59 games in every season since 2006-07.

    Miller is a steady performer capable of highlight-film saves and spectacular results. The Sabres would be toast without him.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators have been one of the most competitive NHL franchises over the last seven seasons. They have made the postseason six times in that run. Defense and goaltending have been the most vital characteristics to that run.

    Pekka Rinne has been the backbone of the team since the start of the 2008-09 season. Rinne is a big goaltender, and he uses every inch of his 6'5", 206-pound frame to make the net look smaller to opposing shooters.

    Rinne has had to be at his best because the Predators are not a high-scoring team. If they don't get excellent goaltending, they are not going to be a playoff team that scares most opponents.

    Rinne has been at his best the last two years. He had a 2.12 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in 2010-11 and he followed that up with a 2.39 GAA and a .923 save percentage last year.

    Rinne has had 25 shutouts in the last four full seasons. He's going to have to continue at that high level since the Preds still find themselves lacking in offensive productivity and may not be as strong as they have been defensively.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Henrik Lundqvist was the best goaltender in the NHL last year.

    He won the Vezina Trophy and was also a first-team All-Star in the NHL. Lundqvist had a spectacular 1.97 goals against average and a .930 save percentage with eight shutouts last year.

    That performance was the best of his career, but it was not that big a jump from the way he had been playing. He had a 2.28 GAA and a .923 save percentage in 2010-11 and he also had 11 shutouts that season.

    Lundqvist has been a fixture in the net for the New York Rangers since the start of the 2005-06 season.

    While the Rangers are not off to a stellar start this year, they are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. That would not be the case if they did not have Lundqvist in goal.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    Carey Price is the Montreal Canadiens' best asset.

    Yes, the Canadiens finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference last year and Price was their goaltender. They could have finished in last place without him

    However, the year before, the Canadiens were an overtime goal away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in their first-round playoff series. Much of that was on Price, who frustrated the Bruins throughout that series.

    Price relies on his positioning and his athleticism to make spectacular saves. While he has not always played behind the most consistent team in the league, Price has been to three All-Star games.

    He has been a regular in the Canadiens' net since the 2007-08 season when he was 20 years old.

    Price had a 2.35 goals against average and a .923 save percentage with eight shutouts in 2010-11.

Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

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    Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak backstopped the St. Louis Blues to the No. 2 position in the Western Conference last year.

    The Blues used defense and discipline to earn their position and both Elliott and Halak gave them spectacular play in 2011-12.

    Halak was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals against average and a .926 save percentage with six shutouts last year while Elliott had a 23-10-4 record with a microscopic 1.56 GAA, a .940 save percentage and nine shutouts last season.

    The Blues get their identity from their spectacular goaltending, and it was the duo that worked so well last year. If one of the goalies has an off year, the team's strength becomes a question mark and they may not be able to fulfill expectations.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jonathan Quick is the West Coast version of Henrik Lundqvist.

    He has been a spectacular performer for the Los Angeles Kings, and he backstopped them to the Stanley Cup last year.

    Quick had a magnificent 2011-12 season. He had a 1.95 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts.

    He was even better in the postseason as he backstopped the Kings to each of their 16 playoff victories and did it with a 1.41 GAA and a .946 save percentage and three more shutouts. That performance earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    The Kings would be a good team without Quick, but they would not be a Stanley Cup winner.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    Tuukka Rask has been a very patient performer in net for the Boston Bruins.

    Rask was the backup goalie to Tim Thomas for the majority of the last three seasons and he had to wait patiently for his chance to become the Bruins' No. 1 goalie. That chance has come this season since Thomas had decided to step away from hockey and take the year off.

    The Bruins are expected to become a Stanley Cup contender this year. They will almost certainly fall by the wayside if Rask does not have a stellar year since backup Anton Khudobin has little experience.

    Rask had an excellent year in 2009-10 when a hip injury forced Thomas to the sideline for the majority of the season. Rask had a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage that year.

    Now it's Rask's turn once again, and he must stay healthy and perform at his best if the Bruins are going to remain at or near the top this season.