Stock Up, Stock Down for the NHL's Top 20 Goaltenders
Hockey may be a team sport, but no player can make more of a difference in his team's chances of winning a Stanley Cup than the goaltender can.
A hot, steady goalie can make a good team great, like Jonathan Quick during Los Angeles' 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run. A shaky netminder can send a very good team to an early tee time, much the way Roman Turek doomed the Presidents' Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues to mediocrity in the first round of the 2000 postseason.
Now that we are one-third of the way through the NHL season, we will take a look at the performances of the top 20 goalies in the NHL.
The choice of the netminders was predetermined based upon their expectations for the season and performances last year. Thus, players like Viktor Fasth, who were completely off the radar to start the season, will not be analyzed.
In addition, players who were ranked outside the top 20 to begin the year but have since proven to be better than expected, like Corey Crawford, also failed to make the list.
This is a look at the stocks of those 20 goalies with the highest expectations going into the 2013 season. Who has improved, and who seems to be struggling to help his team compete?
20. Ilya Bryzgalov
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Last season, Ilya Bryzgalov seemed to be the Achilles heel on an otherwise potent team, whose offense was among the best in the league and whose defense was serviceable, if not steady. Bryzgalov's weak goals (combined with his large contract) made him the subject of hatred in the City of Brotherly Love.
This year, the tables have turned. Though Bryz's numbers look similar to last year's, there is no denying that he has been the one constant on a team that has put up little offense, and whose defense leaves the goalie hanging out to dry on a nightly basis.
The Flyers are clawing to get back to .500, and Bryzgalov is the only one keeping that goal in reach.
19. Martin Brodeur
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He may be the greatest of all time, but somehow here in the twilight of his career, Martin Brodeur's present still manages to keep on pace with that amazing past.
His personal stats in the regular season cannot compare to those of the glory days of 10 years ago, but Brodeur has posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 13 games this year, better stats than his totals from last season.
18. Antti Niemi
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Last season, Antti Niemi looked a little bit too average, posting a 2.42 goals-against average and a save percentage of .915, numbers that were actually less impressive than backup Thomas Greiss' stats over the course of 19 appearances.
This year, Niemi is determined to make sure Greiss stays in the backup role. Going into Tuesday's action, Niemi was one of only six goaltenders with a sub-2.00 GAA (minimum of 8 appearances) and one of only four starters with a save percentage over .930.
Niemi is accustomed to taking on large workloads as a netminder, so the shorter, compact season should give him the opportunity to really shine for San Jose.
17. Craig Anderson
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If it weren't for Anderson's current ankle injury (via the Toronto Star), one would have to categorize his stock as "way, way, way up."
Anderson showed what he was capable of by going toe-to-toe with Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist in last year's No. 1-vs.-No. 8 matchup in the postseason, taking the series to a decisive seventh game against a superior hockey team. But his 2013 play is on a whole new level.
Anderson's numbers evoke the image of a third-string goalie that got called up for a lucky game and sits atop the NHL rankings due to a technicality, but his .952 save percentage and 1.49 GAA are completely legitimate.
Those numbers will not hold up over the course of 48 games, but Anderson has given us every reason to believe that he'll be the odds-on favorite to take home the Vezina himself in 2013.
16. Tuukka Rask
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Tuukka Rask has spent the last two seasons serving as backup to hockey's new favorite basket case, Tim Thomas. Rask had spent time as the starter in the 2009-10 season but took the backup role largely because of Thomas' insanely stellar play to start 2010-11.
Now that Thomas is in a cabin somewhere writing a political manifesto, Rask has returned to the starting role and has returned to the path of developing into one of hockey's finest netminders.
Going into Tuesday night's action, Rask had started 12 of Boston's 15 games this season and held a sub-2.00 GAA.
It doesn't hurt to have one of hockey's best defenses in front of you, but make no mistake about it: Rask would be one of hockey's up-and-comers even on the worst team in the league.
15. Cory Schneider
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Last season, Cory Schneider was poised to finally become the future of the Vancouver Canucks.
He started 28 games during the regular season and relieved starter Roberto Luongo of his duties on five separate occasions, a significant load for a backup goalie. Schneider put together a 1.97 GAA and a .937 save percentage, and eventually landed the starting role during the first round of the playoffs.
The offseason looked like it would bring about Schneider's ascension to the starting role, but thus far, he has split time with Luongo, whom the Canucks never managed to trade. Schneider's GAA is up to 2.68, and the Canucks are probably very happy that they didn't manage to unload Lu.
14. Brian Elliott
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As a backup last season, Elliott was a part of hockey's greatest one-two punch in net, as he and Jaroslav Halak earned St. Louis the William M. Jennings Trophy by allowing the fewest goals in the league.
This season, his goals-against average has increased by more than two points entering Tuesday's games, going from a 1.56 last year to 3.57 so far this season.
Expected to fill in when Halak went down with an injury, Elliott instead floundered, and third-stringer Jake Allen started four straight games for St. Louis before Halak returned.
With Allen showing his abilities and Elliott clearly struggling, one can't help but wonder if the Blues will look to shop the once-mighty backup.
13. Carey Price
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Carey Price was decidedly average by his own standards during 2011-12, and he fit right in on a decidedly average Montreal team.
Granted, he didn't get much help around him, but Price wasn't setting the world on fire with his .916 save percentage, a stat that made him steady but not a difference-maker in Montreal.
Now, part of a young team that was supposed to achieve little, Price is an absolute beast, boasting a GAA of 1.90 and a save percentage of .925 entering Tuesday's action. He also has 10 wins in 15 games played for the Canadiens, who began Tuesday night atop the Eastern Conference.
This is the Carey Price we thought we knew, and these are the Canadiens that hockey fans are used to seeing.
12. Roberto Luongo
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Entering Tuesday's games, Roberto Luongo and presumed backup Cory Schneider had virtually split starts this season, an interesting dynamic for two players who both expected to be starters this year.
Luongo has proven to be the better of the two netminders (as long as you don't take dollars per save into consideration), but his play has been suspect at times.
His save percentage is down slightly (.919 to .916) and his winning percentage is down slightly more (31 wins in 55 appearances in 2011-12 versus five wins in 10 appearances in 2013). Luongo's workload has been cut down significantly, and the fact that he hasn't excelled in the role is disappointing for the Canucks.
Still, he's done well enough to hang onto his job in Vancouver for the time being, so he will remain a "hold" for now.
11. Miikka Kiprusoff
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Miikka Kiprusoff, unlike his team, is coming off of a stellar year.
Last season, Kipper won 35 games for a mediocre Calgary squad, finishing the year with a .921 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.35.
As a result of an injury suffered in early February, Kiprusoff has only appeared in seven games this season, but even in the games he has started, Kipper has not been as good as he was last year. Not nearly as good.
And for the Flames, it will take a lot more than Kiprusoff improving his 3.24 GAA to get back into the playoff hunt.
10. Cam Ward
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Cam Ward was a rare bright spot for the Hurricanes last season, as he managed to earn the team 30 wins in his 66 decisions in 2011-12. This year, the team has improved, but the goaltending has gotten worse.
Ward's goals-against has gone from 2.74 to 3.16, as the team's defense and goaltending are, in large part, the reason that the 'Canes aren't running away in the very bad Southeast Division.
In any other division in hockey, Ward's performance would have his team buried at this point in the season. However, because the 'Canes play in the Southeast, they are actually on top of things entering Tuesday night's games, with a game in hand.
Still, Ward will need to improve vastly to keep up with the big boys in the rest of the Eastern Conference.
9. Ryan Miller
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Since his amazing performances in the NHL and the Olympics in 2009-10, Ryan Miller has put up very average numbers in net.
He is still a talented player, and a lot of his woes can be blamed on the defense and lack of grit in front of him, but nonetheless, Miller's struggles are becoming more evident by the day.
This year, the goaltender is struggling to keep his GAA under 3.00, and while he has taken on a heavy workload, starting 18 of Buffalo's 20 games this season, Miller has only managed to string together seven wins in that time.
Right now, Miller's stats, like his Sabres, are near the bottom of the league.
8. Kari Lehtonen
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He's doing it quietly down in Dallas, but Kari Lehtonen is steadily becoming one of the best goalies in the NHL today.
He had a terrific, albeit largely unnoticed, season last year, posting a .922 save percentage and a respectable 2.33 goals-against average for a non-playoff team, and his numbers are getting better this year.
Lehtonen, currently missing time with a mild groin injury, has a save percentage of.934 and a GAA of 2.12 this season.
Hopefully for the Stars, Lehtonen will have no trouble returning to form once the injury has healed, and he can continue to stifle opponents night-in and night-out.
7. Marc-Andre Fleury
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Marc-Andre Fleury, aside from one abysmal playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers last season, has largely been the rock around which the Penguins are built.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the true superstars, but both have been battling injuries back and forth for years, and Fleury has been Pittsburgh's constant since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Fleury's stats this season (.916 save percentage and 2.28 GAA prior to Tuesday night's game against Florida) are comparable to his stats from last season (.913 and 2.36), and his winning percentage has improved as well (10 wins in 13 appearances this year, 42 wins in 67 appearances last season).
His stats are slightly better, but Fleury hasn't done anything yet to put himself on a truly elite level with players like Rinne and Lundqvist, so he remains a reliable hold at this point in the season.
6. Jaroslav Halak
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Halak was a sight to behold last season, posting a 26-12-7 record with a 1.97 GAA and .926 save percentage as the top half of hockey's most dangerous goaltending duo.
Because of injury, Halak has only played in seven games thus far in 2013, and his impact has become obvious in his absence, as St. Louis has struggled without him. Still, prior to his injury and in his two most recent starts, Halak has been stellar, with a 1.69 GAA and a 4-0-1 record.
His smaller sample size and impressive 2011-12 campaign have Halak remaining as a "hold" for the moment, but the real test will come now that he has returned, as the Blues need him more than ever in their quest to get back among the elite of the Western Conference.
5. Jimmy Howard
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Jimmy Howard finished sixth in the league in wins last season and put up impressive numbers, including a 2.13 goals-against average.
But we're seeing just how pivotal Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart were to Howard's success, as the departed defensemen have left Howard with a surprisingly unimpressive 2.88 GAA this year and a save percentage barely over .900.
Howard looked poised to turn the corner and become a truly elite goaltender, but he has failed to take that next step when his team needs him most, and the Red Wings are a struggling team as a result. Unless Howard can pick up his game, the Red Wings will have virtually no chance of taking out teams like the Blackhawks and Ducks in the postseason.
4. Mike Smith
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Mike Smith's unexpectedly miraculous play last season had the Coyotes riding high and earned the team a Pacific Division title and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Likewise, Mike Smith's disappointingly average season this year has the Coyotes in the middle of the pack.
Few people realistically believed Smith would repeat his 38-win, 2.21-GAA season of last year, but the Phoenix faithful certainly hoped that Smith would play well enough to keep the team contending.
Instead, Smith has a 2.68 GAA so far this season and has managed only six wins in 14 starts entering Tuesday night's late game against Vancouver. Those numbers will not keep Phoenix competitive against the West's best teams this season.
3. Pekka Rinne
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Goalies can be a frustrating breed, as the hot-and-cold nature of the position usually leads one year's Vezina candidate to become the next year's goat. Luckily for the Predators, no one told that to Pekka Rinne.
Already one of the best in the game, Rinne has simply gotten better, and unlike Jimmy Howard in Detroit, Rinne is shining when his team needs him most.
The Predators lost defenseman Ryan Suter in the offseason, but Rinne, who signed a seven-year extension last season, has put up even better numbers than he did last year, including a 1.90 GAA through 17 starts. As a result, the Predators entered Tuesday's action with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.
The competition for the Vezina is sure to be stiff this year, but the familiarity of Rinne's face could give him the edge in the voting if he keeps up this pace.
2. Jonathan Quick
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Jonathan Quick was the reason the L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup last season, so it only seems fair that he take a bit of a breather and make the other guys do the work this year.
Unfortunately for Quick, when he isn't so elite, neither is his team. Quick's decidedly average 2.42 GAA and even worse .906 save percentage have been a big part of L.A.'s struggles this season, as the team seems to be shooting for that same eighth seed that was so kind to it last year.
Obviously, the bar for Quick was set high entering this season, but he hasn't merely failed to meet expectations; thus far, Quick has simply not been good.
He is riding three consecutive wins and has allowed only one even-strength goal in that span, so perhaps he can turn things around and help the Kings compete for a division title to go with that Stanley Cup.
1. Henrik Lundqvist
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Last season, no goaltender in hockey was better than Henrik Lundqvist.
He was the key part of a very good Rangers team that fell short of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the team looked to be even better this season.
Instead, the Rangers, and Lundqvist specifically, have lost a step.
King Henrik's 1.97 GAA from a year ago has morphed into a 2.41 GAA thus far in 2013, the sort of stat that takes the Rangers from an elite defensive team to one that needs to manufacture scoring chances to win most games.
Henrik's struggles, as well as the team's, are evident in his record of 7-7-1 (as opposed to 38-18-5 just a year ago).
King Henrik is still among the elite goaltenders in the game, but he will need to start playing like it if the Rangers are going to make this year "their year."