Who Has the Edge in Hottest Goalie Battles Early in 2013-14 NHL Season?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2013

Who Has the Edge in Hottest Goalie Battles Early in 2013-14 NHL Season?

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    There are a number of goaltending battles that were major stories when the 2013-14 season got under way.

    With nearly a full month of the season in the books, it's time to look at those battles and see how they are playing out.

    It's still too early to determine a winner in most of these battles, but it's not too early for any of these goalies to claim an early edge.

Calgary Flames

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    Goaltenders: Joey McDonald and Karri Ramo

     

    By the numbers: McDonald: 3-2-1, 3.01 goals-against average, .894 save percentage

    Ramo: 2-2-1, 3.56 GAA, .892 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: This battle is raging, and it might be just what the Calgary Flames need to improve.

    Neither McDonald nor Ramo are excelling, and if the Flames are going to win games, it's not going to be the result of stellar goaltending. 

    The Flames simply don't have good goaltending. McDonald has never been more than a stopgap or fill-in. He tries hard, but he has limited physical skills. Ramo was out of the NHL from 2009-10 until this season, and there's a reason for that. He doesn't have the quickness or instincts of a top goalie.

    So, the Flames are going to have to outskate, outshoot and outhit opponents if they are going to win. Once they start doing that, then general manager Jay Feaster (or team president Brian Burke) can go out and get a high-caliber goalie to help the Flames become a more competitive team.

     

    Edge goes to: McDonald, based on experience and goals-against average.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Devan Dubnyk
    Devan Dubnyk

    Goaltenders: Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera

     

    By the numbers: Dubnyk: 2-5-1, 4.01 GAA, .876 save percentage

    LaBarbera: 1-3-0, 3.65 GAA, .857 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: The numbers say both goaltenders have been awful, and those numbers would be correct.

    Dubnyk was absolutely brutal in his early starts, but he has started to play a bit better. However, Dubnyk has been slowed by a sore ankle, and the Oilers brought Richard Bachman up while Dubnyk convalesces. It does not appear to be a serious injury, and Dubnyk should be back shortly.

    LaBarbera had a decent relief appearance, but he has struggled in a starting role. Edmonton head coach Dallas Eakins gave LaBarbera a lukewarm endorsement, telling the Edmonton Journal that the backup goalie has been "OK."

    The Oilers need Dubnyk to return to full health and start playing better. They are counting on him to be a solid No. 1 goalie, but he is a long way from playing at that level.

    If LaBarbera eventually takes the job away from Dubnyk, it's because Dubnyk turns out to be a disappointment.

     

    Edge goes to: Neither goalie at this point.

Florida Panthers

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    Tim Thomas
    Tim Thomas

    Goaltenders: Tim Thomas and Jacob Markstrom

     

    By the numbers: Thomas: 2-3-0, 3.11 GAA, .905 save percentage

    Markstrom: 1-4-2, 3.19 GAA, .887 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: It's too early to tell how this is going to work out, but it's safe to say that Thomas' return to the NHL has not gone smoothly. While he has had a couple of notable games—including an impressive showing against the Boston Bruins—Thomas has been removed from three games.

    Thomas has twice had to come out of a game because of injuries (lower body), and he is currently on the injured list. The 39-year-old goalie may be impacted by these problems for quite a while.

    If Thomas can shake his injury problems and stay healthy, he still has to prove that he can battle consistently. While he has flashed some of his old skills, it doesn't appear that he will be ready to dominate any time soon.

    Still, a healthy Thomas is probably a better alternative than Markstrom, 23. While Markstrom has a 6'3" frame and sufficient quickness, he often looks intimidated.

    Markstrom has a long way to go to prove he can be a winning NHL goalie. The Panthers are hoping that Thomas can get healthy and stay in the lineup.

     

    Edge goes to: Thomas, by a small margin.

Minnesota Wild

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    josh harding
    josh harding

    Goaltenders: Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom

     

    By the numbers: Harding: 5-2-1, 1.00 GAA, .953 save percentage

    Backstrom: 1-1-2, 3.42 GAA, .871 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: Harding has come out of the gate playing sensational hockey, and that's been a real surprise considering the problems he had last year battling multiple sclerosis. 

    It seems Harding would be the clear No. 1 right now, but he is on the injured list with a lower-body injury. It's not expected to be a long-term injury, and that's a good thing because Backstrom is struggling.

    The Finnish netminder suffered a sports hernia last year while warming up prior to Minnesota's playoff meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks. He had surgery in the offseason and has not been 100 percent yet.

    Backstrom will play until Harding returns. The two should end up splitting time most of the season unless Backstrom can't find his best form.

     

    Edge goes to: Harding by a significant amount.

New Jersey Devils

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    Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider

     

    By the numbers: Brodeur: 1-2-2, 3.32 GAA, .871 save percentage

    Schneider: 1-3-2, 2.14 GAA, .915 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: This has a chance to get ugly if Brodeur does not want to bow out gracefully. Through the first month of the season, Schneider has been the better goalie by more than a goal per game. Brodeur's supporters may want to make the argument that it's just a bad start, but he appears quite a bit slower in his reaction time than he has been at any point in his career.

    The two goalies may split time, but if they stay on their current pace, Schneider deserves to be the starter. 

    Ideally, Brodeur will tell head coach Pete DeBoer and general manager Lou Lamoriello that he is ready to cede the starter's position to Schneider. The former Canuck does not want to make Brodeur feel uncomfortable, and it might be easier for all concerned if Brodeur allows Schneider to take over.

    That's not likely to happen, because Brodeur is a competitor above all, and he still believes he can play winning hockey in the NHL.

     

    Edge goes to: Schneider, based on his consistency.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Steve Mason (left)
    Steve Mason (left)

    Goaltenders: Steve Mason and Ray Emery

     

    By the numbers: Mason: 3-5-0, 2.15 GAA, .930 save percentage

    Emery: 0-2-0, 4.03 GAA, .873 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: This has been rather shocking since Emery played so well with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last year.

    He was the equal of Corey Crawford during the regular season and when the Flyers signed Emery during the offseason, they thought they were getting a goalie who would compete with Mason for the No. 1 job. But Emery has not looked good in a Flyer uniform.

    He did not look special during training camp, and that's one of the reasons he has had just two starts thus far in the regular season. He has not earned any more playing time.

    The Flyers would love to see him revert to the form he had last year when he had a 1.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage with the Blackhawks. Until he shows anything close to that form, he'll remain on the bench the majority of the time.

     

    Edge goes to: Mason has been the clear winner of the goalie battle to this point.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Ben Bishop
    Ben Bishop

    Goaltenders: Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback

     

    By the numbers: Bishop: 7-1-0, 2.47 GAA, .914 save percentage

    Lindback: 1-2-0, 3.48 GAA, .864 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: When the Lightning went into training camp (and even at the start of the season), head coach Jon Cooper thought he had two No. 1 goaltenders.

    The Lightning were pleased with both goaltenders and figured that the two would fight it out for the majority of playing time until one emerged from the battle. 

    In the early season, Bishop has gotten off to a brilliant start, while Lindback is just feeling his way. Bishop is "feeling the vibe," according to Cooper, and the coach believes Bishop is playing well because he stays so calm in the net.

    Bishop is happy to get the lion's share of the work. "It's nice. It's what you work this hard for," Bishop told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. "And that's what I've been saying, when you get a chance, you've got to do your job."

     

    Edge goes to: Bishop, based on his hot start.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer

     

    By the numbers: Bernier: 5-4-0, 2.34 GAA, .930 save percentage

    Reimer: 5-3-0, 2.56 GAA, .933 save percentage

     

    How it's playing out: This may be the most evenly matched of all the goalie battles. That's not a surprise to head coach Randy Carlyle, who wanted the goalies to split time in the early part of the season until one goalie or the other earned the No. 1 position

    Still, many believe that Bernier will eventually emerge as the Maple Leafs' top goaltender because they traded for him in the offseason after Reimer struggled in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins.

    Reimer has apparently moved past that defeat and has played consistently to this point in 2013-14.

    Look for these two to split time until late January, and perhaps that will be when one of them emerges. This battle has a long way to go before it will be decided.

     

    Edge goes to: Neither goalie at this point because both have played well.