Goaltenders are often considered one of the most important players for an NHL franchise, and that has been very true this season. There have been multiple instances in which a backup goalie has stepped up, and they have helped keep their teams in a position to succeed. There have also been instance in which quality netminders have failed to live up to their potential.
Grades will be assessed based on the performance of each team's goaltending thus far, and higher grades will be given to team's that have had unexpected success thus far. Conversely, teams with esteemed goaltenders that have struggled this year will be graded with more scrutiny.
With that in mind, here is one man's opinion of grading each team's goaltending thus far in 2013-14.
Andersen and Hiller are solid netminders.
The Anaheim Ducks have had solid goaltending this year between Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen.
Hiller has a record of 7-3-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a.898 save percentage, and Andersen is 6-1-0 with a 1.66 GAA and a .943 save percentage. Prior to the Ducks sending Andersen down to the AHL last week, the two netminders had been splitting starts for most of the season.
Now that Viktor Fasth is back with the big club after his long-term injury conditioning assignment, the goaltending situation in Anaheim could get very interesting.
Rask is one of the NHL's top netminders.
Tuukka Rask is currently one of the NHL's hottest netminders, and he is coming off a solid start against the New York Rangers. The Finnish netminder is 12-5-1 with a 1.61 GAA, and a .946 save percentage.
He also has two shutouts thus far, and he is really making the Boston Bruins look smart for giving him a contract extension this past summer. Rask is only 26 years old, and he has the opportunity to continue being a top-notch netminder for years to come.
Miller has been the Sabres' best player this season.
Ryan Miller has been the one bright spot for the Buffalo Sabres this year. Although he is only 4-12-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a .917 save percentage, he is a solid goaltender that has made the second most saves of all goaltenders in the NHL.
Without Miller, the Sabres would be lost, and he has played very well considering the circumstances.
MacDonald has played decent thus far.
Nothing was really expected of the Calgary Flames this year considering the loss of Miikka Kiprusoff, but the goaltending tandem of Joey MacDonald, Karri Ramo and Reto Berra have combined for seven wins.
They are all giving up over 3.00 goals a game thus far, and if this trend continues, the Flames will not win many games this season.
Ward is a key member of the Hurricanes.
The Carolina Hurricanes just got goaltender Cam Ward back, and it couldn't have come soon enough. Ward is a top-notch goaltender that has a 2-3-3 record through nine games, and he will be influential in leading the Hurricanes going forward.
In Ward's absence, Justin Peters held down the fort with a 4-6-1 record and a 2.35 GAA, and those numbers helped the Hurricanes stay on track.
Crawford has been solid for the Blackhawks thus far.
Corey Crawford has played well for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, and he is tied for the league lead in wins with 13. He has only lost four games and has a GAA of 2.55 and a .905 save percentage.
The Blackhawks have a high-octane offense, but without Crawford in net, they may not be where they currently are in the standings. Crawford came through during last spring's playoffs, and his solid play has rolled over into the 2013-14 season to date.
Varlamov has been one of the NHL's most surprising stories this year in goal.
The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the NHL's biggest surprise stories of 2013-14, and the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere has been stellar. Varlamov has been particularly impressive with a 10-5-0 record, 2.19 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Giguere is 5-0-0 on the year, and he has a 1.73 GAA and a .947 save percentage. He also has recorded two shutouts, which places him second overall in the NHL.
Overall, the Avalanche have had some amazing production from their goaltending, and it is a big reason why they are off to a hot start.
Bob needs to be better for "Lumbus"
Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last season as the NHL's top netminder, but he hasn't had that great of a start to 2013-14. He has a 6-9-2 record to go along with a 2.88 GAA and .907 save percentage through 17 games this season.
He is coming off a terrible start against the struggling Edmonton Oilers, and he needs to be better for his team to advance in the standings.
Backup Curtis McElhinney has a record of 1-2-1 with a 2.32 GAA thus far, and it is good to see that the team has a second option in goal when Bobrovsky is not between the pipes.
There is no denying the obvious talent Bobrovsky has in goal, but the Columbus Blue Jackets netminder is going to have to be a lot better going forward if he wants to get his team into the postseason.
Lehtonen is playing some of the best hockey of his career.
Kari Lehtonen has been amazing for the Dallas Stars this season, and he is a big reason why they are off to a hot start. Lehtonen is 10-3-2 with a 2.01 GAA and a .934 save percentage, and he is making a strong case to start for Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics.
Lehtonen has been a solid goaltender, but this year he is taking things to the next level. If he can remain healthy for the rest of the year, he could contend for the Vezina Trophy seeing as how he is a quality netminder with a ton of upside.
Howard is a solid netminder, but he needs to be better for Detroit.
Jimmy Howard is supposed to be one of the Detroit Red Wings' best players, but he hasn't played well this year. Howard is 5-6-6 with a 2.64 GAA and a paltry .911 save percentage. The Wings are also in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, and Howard has been unable to steal a win for Detroit.
He is supposed to be a franchise goaltender that can bring the Stanley Cup back to the city of Detroit, but this season, he hasn't shown that he is capable of doing so.
Dubnyk will likely become a backup under Bryzgalov.
Devan Dubnyk is 5-10-1 on the year, and he just recorded his first shutout of the season. Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman have backed him up, but that is about to change. Ilya Bryzgalov is going to enter the goaltending situation, and he has an opportunity to do some wonderful things for the Edmonton Oilers.
With Bryzgalov in net, the Oilers will have a chance to win because he has the most success out of all the goaltenders in the organization.
Right now, the team has a low grade because of the poor numbers in net, but that could change with Bryzgalov entering the picture.
Thomas is the Panthers' current starter.
The Florida Panthers' goaltending situation has been intriguing this season. Tim Thomas has become the starter over youngster Jacob Markstrom, and there has been mixed results in net. Thomas is 5-6-0 with a 2.76 GAA, and Markstrom is 1-5-3 with a subpar 3.36 GAA.
Markstrom has a ton of potential, but this year has been tough for him. Conversely, Thomas is nearing the end of his career, and he has been average at best. No matter how you slice it, the goaltending could be better, but no one expected anything major from the Panthers in 2013-14.
Ben Scrivens has stepped in and performed well under pressure.
Jonathan Quick is one of the NHL's top netminders, but he is going to be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, backup Ben Scrivens has played exceptionally well this season.
The former Toronto Maple Leaf is 5-1-1 on the year with a 1.35 GAA and a .949 save percentage. He also has three shutouts in 2013-14, tops in the NHL. The Kings are one of the NHL's best franchises, and with quality goaltending, they could contend for the Stanley Cup again in 2013-14.
Harding has been the NHL's top surprise story this season.
The Minnesota Wild get an A+ grade because of Josh Harding's unexpected play thus far. Harding's play has been one of the NHL's biggest stories, especially considering the fact that he is battling MS. Thus far in 2013-14, Harding has a record of 12-3-2 with a 1.38 GAA and a .941 save percentage.
These numbers make Harding one of the league's top netminders to date, and it has really made fans forget about Niklas Backstrom. If Harding keeps this play up, he could become a favorite for the Vezina, and it would be the perfect ending to this great story of triumph and success.
Price could be Canada's starter in Sochi if he keeps his play up.
Carey Price is one of Canada's rising stars in goal, and he has had a solid year to date. Price is 8-8-2 with a 2.05 GAA and a .935 save percentage. It is an Olympic year, and with Canada's situation in goal still in question, Price is going to do everything in his power to show why he deserves to start in Sochi.
The Montreal Canadiens haven't played as well thus far as they did last year, but with Price's performance in net, they have the potential to go places later in the season.
Rinne is an integral part of the Predators.
Pekka Rinne is going to be sidelined for the next few weeks, and the Nashville Predators could be doomed without him. Since Rinne has been out of the lineup, Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec have split time in goal. Hutton is 4-3-1 with a 3.39 GAA to date, and Mazanec is 2-2-0 with a 2.45 GAA.
Neither of these netminders have the cache nor the skills that Rinne possess, and things could get dicey for the Predators if Rinne can't get back into the lineup soon.
Brodeur is showing he still has a lot of life left in him.
It seemed like Cory Schneider was going to usurp Martin Brodeur as the team's starting goaltender, but that didn't happen. Instead, Brodeur has showed why he is one of the NHL's greatest goaltenders, and he has reclaimed the starting job.
Brodeur is 6-3-2 with two shutouts, and he has an amazing 1.98 GAA. Schneider, meanwhile, has played in nine games, and he has a 1-5-3 record with a 1.98 GAA. He hasn't had the greatest offensive support, but his record still remains negative.
All in all, the Devils have two suitable netminders, but right now, their future starter is in a backup role.
Poulin is going to have to hold the fort in Nabokov's absence.
The New York Islanders have had a lot of production from their forwards offensively, but they could be a lot better as a team if they had some quality goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov is currently sidelined, but his record of 5-5-3 with a 3.30 GAA hasn't been great.
Backup Kevin Poulin has a record of 3-6-0 with a 2.79 GAA, and he is now the interim starter for the Islanders.
The Islanders have a combination of talented forwards and prospects, but they are still a top-end goaltender away from becoming a solid playoff team.
The Blueshirts' goaltending duo has been solid so far.
The New York Rangers have one of the NHL's top netminders, but he hasn't had a great start to the season. Henrik Lundqvist is currently 6-9-0 with a 2.38 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Conversely, backup Cam Talbot has played tremendously, posting a 4-1-0 record with a 1.58 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
Lundqvist can be a lot better for the Rangers, and he has made strides over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, he has not had a ton of offensive support, but that hasn't stopped Talbot from getting the job done.
Anderson is a netminder with a ton of skill, but he needs to be better.
The Ottawa Senators have a very talented goaltending tandem in Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, but the duo has not posted solid numbers thus far. Anderson has a 5-6-2 record with a 3.26 GAA, and his backup has posted a 3-3-2 record with a 2.37 GAA.
One of the staples of the Senators in 2012-13 was their stinginess when it came to surrendering goals, but this year, that hasn't been the case. The Sens are going to need more out of Anderson if they want to return to the playoffs, and he clearly has the ability to do that.
Mason is the Flyers' best chance to win in goal.
Steve Mason has been surprisingly good for the Philadelphia Flyers, and Ray Emery has been equally bad. Mason is 6-7-2 with a 2.12 GAA and a .932 save percentage. Emery, on the other hand, has posted a 2-3-0 record with a paltry 2.82 GAA and a .898 save percentage.
The Flyers' goaltending situation has been a joke for the last decade, but at least Mason has shown some promise. If Mason can improve his play a little bit, the Flyers should be in good shape, and they might have a chance at making the playoffs.
Mike Smith is playing at an elite level once again.
Mike Smith has been pretty good as the Phoenix Coyotes starter this year. He has a record of 12-3-3, a 2.87 GAA and a .917 save percentage. Backup Thomas Greiss has also posted solid numbers, as he is 2-1-0 with a 2.61 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
The Coyotes are off to an amazing start this year, and the stability in net has certainly attributed to the team's early success.
Fleury is playing some of the best hockey of his career.
Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a great start this year, and he is surrendering fewer goals than usual. He is 12-6-0 with a solid 2.00 GAA and a decent .921 save percentage. Historically, the Pittsburgh Penguins have found ways to win by using a high-octane offense, but this year, Fleury is showcasing his ability to steal games in goal.
If this continues, the Penguins will have a chance to do damage in the playoffs and get back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Niemi is one of the Western Conference's best goalies.
Antti Niemi has been very good for the San Jose Sharks this year, and he has been one of the league's top netminders. Thus far, Niemi has a 10-3-5 record with a 2.29 GAA. Niemi was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season, and if he keeps up his stellar play, he should have no problem contending for the award again next season.
Halak has had a great season with St. Louis to date.
The St. Louis Blues are once again near the top of the standings as one of the NHL's best teams. They have been led by a dynamic duo in net, and each netminder is worthy of being the team's starter.
Jaroslav Halak has posted an 11-3-2 record with a 2.38 GAA, and Brian Elliott has a 3-0-1 record with a 1.94 GAA. Strong defense and superb goaltending has been the Blues' strength over the last few years, and this season, the play in goal has been better than ever before.
Bishop's play has been a bright spot for the Lightning thus far.
Ben Bishop is currently the NHL's top netminder with a record of 13-2-0 and a 2.11 GAA. His success has come out of nowhere, and he has been a bright spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning are going to have to fight an uphill battle with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup, but they should be able to survive if Bishop keeps up his stellar play in goal.
Bernier has acclimated to Toronto quite nicely.
The goaltending situation in Toronto has played out pretty well thus far. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have played well, and each has pushed the other to be better. Bernier is 8-5-1 with a 2.05 GAA and a .939 save percentage.
Reimer has a record of 5-2-0 with a GAA of 2.27 with a .942 save percentage. There is no clear-cut starter at this point, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will ultimately end up with a solid starter and a pretty good backup.
Luongo is a talented goaltender, but he is capable of more.
Roberto Luongo has had his ups and downs this year, but he is playing pretty well overall. Luongo has a 9-6-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Head coach John Tortorella has treated him like Henrik Lundqvist, starting Luongo in 19 of the Canucks' 23 games to date.
In the other four games, Eddie Lack has a 2-2-0 record with a 2.41 GAA and a .911 save percentage. As a whole, the Canucks' goaltending situation has played out well, but Luongo has shown in the past that he can play better than he currently is at the moment.
Holtby is a netminder that is not playing to his potential this season.
The Washington Capitals' goaltending duo has been average at best. Braden Holtby is 10-6-0 with a 2.62 GAA, and Michal Neuvirth is 2-2-1 with a 2.78 GAA.
The Capitals have had a ton of success offensively, but they could be doing even better if they straightened out their goaltending situation. Holtby has shown that he is capable of better in the past, and he is going to have to improve his play to get the Capitals back into the playoffs.
Pavelec needs to be better for the Jets to make the playoffs.
The Winnipeg Jets' goaltending situation has been less than optimal this season. Starter Ondrej Pavelec is 8-8-2, and he has a paltry 2.74 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Backup Al Montoya is 2-2-1 on the year, and he has 2.49 GAA and a .913 save percentage.
The Jets have struggled with goaltending over the past few seasons, and the trading of goaltender Kari Lehtonen looks really dumb in hindsight.