Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks is off to a hot start.
The young NHL season has been full of surprises so far, but perhaps nothing has been quite as astonishing as some of the unexpectedly hot starts from previously under-the-radar goaltenders.
To be sure, the usual suspects like Nashville Predators netminder Pekka Rinne and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist have gotten off to their characteristically strong starts.
But in the race for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the season’s best goaltender, there have been some unexpected candidates forcing their names into the conversation in the early goings of the lockout-shortened campaign.
Be it a first-year starter like Anaheim’s Viktor Fasth or a seasoned veteran like Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, all the members of this list share one thing in common—they all are surprising Vezina Trophy candidates in the early goings of the NHL season.
All statistics via ESPN.
Crawford and the Blackhawks have yet to lose in regulation.
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to a record-setting start, and Crawford is a large reason for that.
The 28-year-old netminder has a sizzling .941 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average in 10 games, both of which rank second in the NHL. Crawford also hasn’t dropped a contest in regulation, boasting an 8-0-3 record with two shutouts.
If there is one drawback to Crawford’s young Vezina campaign, it’s that he doesn’t have the huge workload expected of elite goaltenders in the league. Blackhawks backup goaltender Ray Emery has started seven games to Crawford’s 11.
That being said, Crawford has been on fire to start the season and shows no signs of letting up. If he can up his workload, Crawford should remain in Vezina contention.
Anderson leads the league in save percentage and goals-against average.
The Ottawa Senators netminder is the runaway league leader in save percentage at a .952 clip and ranks second in goals-against average at 1.49.
Anderson had a solid 2011-12 campaign, posting a .914 save percentage and 2.83 GAA for a good but not great Senators team. But anyone who says he expected such a stellar start from Anderson in 2013 is probably lying.
With a solid penalty-kill unit in front of him—Ottawa ranks second in the league, stopping opposing power plays 88.7 percent of the time—expect Anderson to play well through the rest of the season and remain in Vezina contention.
Fasth is off to a fantastic first year in the NHL.
Fasth was an unknown commodity to the NHL before this season, as the Anaheim Ducks netminder had never played a game in the league. By the look of things, he’s caught on pretty fast.
The 30-year-old Swedish netminder boasts a .933 save percentage and 1.78 GAA, numbers that rank fifth and fourth in the NHL, respectively. Fasth also has a perfect 8-0-0 record and is a large reason for the Ducks’ fast start to the season.
While Fasth has served in a tandem with Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller, he’s played much better than the Swiss goalie. If Fasth’s workload increases, expect his name to pop up more and more in the Vezina conversation.
Niemi ranks in the top 10 league leaders in save percentage and GAA.
The San Jose Sharks may have cooled off a bit after a sizzling start to the season, but Niemi has been one of the better players on the team.
In 14 games, Niemi has a 7-4-3 record with a stellar .931 save percentage, fifth in the league, and a more-than-respectable 1.96 GAA.
The 29-year-old Finnish netminder is also a large reason for the Sharks ranking sixth in the league in goals-against per game and fifth in penalty-kill percentage.
Look for Niemi to continue his hot start and stay in the Vezina hunt come awards season.
Lehtonen ranks third in the league in save percentage.
The Dallas Stars stand at eighth in the Western Conference after a disappointing 2011-12 campaign where the team barely missed out on the playoffs. Lehtonen is a large factor in that turnaround.
The 29-year-old Finnish netminder boasts a stellar .934 save percentage, ranked third in the league, and respectable 2.12 GAA on the season.
While Lehtonen may not benefit from the defensive support other Vezina contenders may enjoy, the fact he is keeping Dallas in the playoff hunt is noteworthy.
If Lehtonen can keep up his hot play deep into the season and steer the Stars into the playoffs, look for him to be in contention for his first Vezina Trophy.
Reimer and Scrivens both rank in the top 10 NHL leaders in save percentage.
The Toronto Maple Leafs goaltenders were about as far a thing as you could get from household names prior to the season, yet Scrivens and Reimer are a large reason as to why their team is in the playoff hunt.
Scrivens, a sophomore netminder, has responded to his added workload well, boasting a .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 games.
Reimer hasn’t looked shabby either with six wins and a .929 save percentage on the season.
It would require one of the two to grab the starting duties and not let go for a Maple Leafs goalie to win the Vezina, but it doesn’t hurt that both have looked sharp in the early goings of the season in one of the toughest media markets in the NHL.
While both remain long shots to win, don’t be surprised if either Reimer or Scrivens is discussed as a Vezina candidate come the end of the 2013 season.