Which Goalie Is Winning the Race for Team USA's Olympic Starting Job?
There really wasn't supposed to even be a race for the American starting job at the Sochi Games. Jonathan Quick, despite a mediocre 2012-13, had established himself as the clear front-runner with two brilliant postseason runs in two years and was the consensus choice as Team USA's No. 1 goalie.
There's a race now.
Quick has been pedestrian early. Other contenders, hitherto expected to battle for a backup role, have emerged as real challengers in the primary goaltending role.
Does Quick still deserve the No. 1 slot, or has one of the other options usurped him? Read on to see our take.
8. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Gibson raised a few eyebrows when he was invited to Team USA's summer orientation camp, but he's a compelling candidate as the American's Olympic goalie of the future.
A second-round pick in 2011, Gibson has distinguished himself not just with strong play at the junior level but also at various tournaments. He was named not only best goalie but also the most valuable player at the 2013 World Juniors, where he backstopped Team USA to gold while posting a .955 save percentage. He looked almost as good at the World Championships later that year, winning bronze and recording a .951 save percentage over five games (and outplaying veteran Ben Bishop in the process).
His professional debut has gone well, too. Through nine AHL contests, he has a .951 save percentage.
7. Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers
Tim Thomas has a tremendous track record.
In the last five seasons, the Florida Panthers goaltender has been named the NHL's best goaltender twice and won the Conn Smythe Trophy while backstopping the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. His .935 save percentage at five-on-five over that span is not only the best total of any American goaltender but of any NHL goalie period.
The problem? Thomas is 39 years old. He didn't play last season. He's missed time this season thanks to injury, and when he has played, he hasn't been that impressive (2-3-0, .905 save percentage).
6. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Ben Bishop leads all American-born goaltenders with a .925 save percentage this season. He's been a big part of Tampa Bay's surprisingly successful start, going 9-2-0 in his games for the team.
That's the argument for his inclusion on Team USA. The argument against is two-fold.
First, Bishop's track record at hockey's highest level is not long. He's 20 games into a starting job with the Lightning—a starting job he had to compete with Anders Lindback for at the start of this season—and only 56 games into his NHL career overall. His .915 save percentage is solid, but it's early yet.
The second, and less substantive, part of the argument is that he has no track record in pressure situations. He's played one postseason game as a professional, and his five games for Team USA at last summer's World Championships went badly (he posted an .876 save percentage).
5. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
Cory Schneider's experience problem is a little less pronounced than that of Ben Bishop, but with just a hair over 100 games in the NHL, it's still there. That's part of the reason why, despite a .930 save percentage at five-on-five over the last five seasons, he isn't a shoo-in for Team USA (the other reason, obviously, being the other quality candidates).
Schneider is off to a somewhat erratic start in New Jersey, going 1-4-2 with a .907 save percentage. He last played internationally for Team USA at the World Juniors nearly a decade ago.
4. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson was one of four veteran goaltenders identified early on as logical candidates for the American Olympic team, but right now, it looks like he's the odd man out. However, there's still time for that to change.
Anderson's .915 career save percentage is a very solid number, and he's been even better in the playoffs, posting a .926 save percentage for Ottawa and Colorado. His start this year is pretty close to his career numbers; he's gone 4-4-2 with a .912 save percentage. Unfortunately, that puts him behind most of his competition, and with the long-term track records so close, that may make the difference.
Not helping Anderson is his lack of international experience; he has only played seven games for Team USA—all at the World Championships and none of them since 2008.
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick has never played a game for Team USA internationally, going to the Vancouver Olympics as the country's third-stringer. As it stands, that's the same position he should play for this year's American entry.
Quick was the presumptive front-runner for the starting job this summer thanks to his playoff record in Los Angeles. He won the playoff MVP award as the Cup-winning Kings' starter in 2012, and over his NHL career, he has posted a .929 save percentage while appearing in 50 postseason games.
The trouble is that he was pretty bad in the regular season last year, and this year, he hasn't been any better. His .902 save percentage nearly cost the Kings a playoff spot last year; this season, he's started with an 8-5-0 record but a lousy .896 save percentage.
The way he's playing, he's more deserving of being left off the team altogether than going to Sochi as the starter.
2. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard was a late-bloomer, but over the last five years, he's emerged as one of the NHL's better goalies.
Howard's done fine work both during the regular season and in the playoffs, posting matching .918 save percentages in both. He also did pretty good work for the United States at the 2012 World Championships, where he posted a .911 save percentage.
He's in the prime of his career and could realistically slot in anywhere on the American depth chart; right now, he's probably the best fit for the backup job.
1. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
After a fantastic performance as Team USA's starter in a silver medal-winning effort back in 2010, Ryan Miller looks like he's ready for an encore.
Miller hasn't matched a career-best 2009-10 performance that saw him win the Vezina as the NHL's top goalie, but he's been consistently good since, and his work this year is especially deserving of praise.
With the woeful Sabres getting stomped by other teams almost as a matter of routine, Miller has been a rare bright spot, consistently delivering good goaltending for an overmatched team. There is a notable contrast between his record (1-10-0) and his save percentage (0.919) this season.
He is Team USA's best bet in net.