Who's Winning Hottest Goalie Battles at Midpoint of 2013-14 NHL Season?
Everybody loves a good goaltending controversy, and there has been no shortage of drama between the pipes in the NHL this season.
In some of the NHL's largest markets, the only certainty has been uncertainty: In Toronto, a competent incumbent and a highly touted challenger have been the best parts of a difficult season. In Detroit, a clear-cut starter suddenly found himself fighting for playing time against a clear-cut backup. In New York, we've seen a no-win scenario unfold as the coaching staff tried to decide between two equally poor choices.
Read on to see who has ultimately emerged as the leader in those battles, as well as what's happening in seven other NHL cities.
Calgary Flames: Karri Ramo
- Reto Berra: 5-13-2, 0.899 save percentage
- Karri Ramo: 8-9-3, 0.903 save percentage
The Battle: Neither of Calgary's two European goaltending gambles has really stepped up to fill the starting role for the Flames, and at this point the two are so evenly matched that it's hard to say that one has much of a lead on the other.
It is clearly Ramo, however, who has the coach's confidence. He recently started back-to-back games against Carolina and Nashville, and has five of seven starts in 2014. He also has a slightly better save percentage and the superior wins/losses record.
But really, both guys are entirely replaceable.
Carolina Hurricanes: Anton Khudobin
- Anton Khudobin: 6-2-0, 0.935 save percentage
- Justin Peters: 7-9-4, 0.922 save percentage
- Cam Ward: 6-7-5, 0.895 save percentage
The Battle: Injuries forced Justin Peters into the mix in Carolina, and his strong play kept him there. But it is Anton Khudobin whom the coaching staff has turned to in 2014, and Khudobin has delivered. In nine games played this season, only once has the 27-year-old posted a sub-0.900 save percentage.
The Hurricanes seem certain to trade one of their goalies, and given his play this year, it just might be Cam Ward who finds himself on the outs. If he isn't dealt, he's going to face a tough challenge in trying to retake his starting job from a red-hot Khudobin.
Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard
- Jonas Gustavsson: 11-3-2, 0.914 save percentage
- Jimmy Howard: 8-10-8, 0.913 save percentage
The Battle: Jonas Gustavsson briefly made waves by usurping Jimmy Howard when the incumbent goalie was in a nasty funk. But water finds its level, and that's been the case with Gustavsson, who has posted a 0.860 save percentage for Detroit in his last five games played.
With Howard rebounding since the Winter Classic (2-1-1, 0.942 save percentage) the Red Wings' choice has been easy of late.
Edmonton Oilers: Ben Scrivens
- Ilya Bryzgalov: 3-7-2, 0.902 save percentage
- Ben Scrivens: 7-5-4, 0.931 save percentage
The Battle: The Oilers overhauled their goaltending situation on Wednesday, moving out incumbent starter Devan Dubnyk and adding Ben Scrivens from the Kings.
Scrivens won't simply be given the starting role in Edmonton, but there's a decent chance he wins it. Familiarity with head coach Dallas Eakins (both were previously members of the Toronto Marlies organization) isn't going to hurt, but the simple fact is that the Oilers wouldn't have needed to add Scrivens if they were happy with the job Bryzgalov had been doing.
Bryzgalov was given an opportunity and couldn't secure the top job. Now it's Scrivens' turn.
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
- Martin Brodeur: 13-9-4, 0.905 save percentage
- Cory Schneider: 7-9-6, 0.921 save percentage
The Battle: Both goalies are still in the mix, but with Schneider starting back-to-back games against Florida and Toronto on the weekend, it isn't hard to see which way the wind is blowing.
And small wonder. While the Devils have generally done a better job of converting their shots with Brodeur in net, it is Schneider who has been superior at stopping the puck. Not only is the the team's goalie of the future, but his save percentage far outpaces Brodeur's in the here-and-now.
New York Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov
- Evgeni Nabokov: 9-8-5, 0.905 save percentage
- Kevin Poulin: 9-13-0, 0.895 save percentage
The Battle: Evgeni Nabokov has made it really easy for the Islanders to go to Kevin Poulin. And Poulin has made it equally clear that he isn't really a starting option.
Consider this: Not once this season has Poulin posted three consecutive games with a 0.900 save percentage or better. He does, however, have both four- and seven-game runs of sub-0.900 save percentage goaltending.
Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson
- Craig Anderson: 15-9-5, 0.905 save percentage
- Robin Lehner: 6-9-3, 0.926 save percentage
The Battle: If 12 consecutive games of 0.900-or-better goaltending to start the year couldn't get Robin Lehner past a struggling Craig Anderson, it doesn't seem likely that he'll overcome the veteran goalie now.
Anderson has won six of his last seven starts (the other decision was an overtime loss) and posted a 0.932 save percentage in the process. Lehner will take the starting job eventually, but not while Anderson is posting numbers like that.
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott
- Brian Elliott: 13-2-2, 0.925 save percentage
- Jaroslav Halak: 19-6-3, 0.912 save percentage
The Battle: Jaroslav Halak has been excellent when called on lately, but after getting first crack at the starting gig in St. Louis, it appears that Brian Elliott has pushed him out.
It's easy to see the progression when we look at games played by month:
- October: 9-2 Halak
- November: 11-6 Halak
- December: 8-8 tie
- January: 4-2 Elliott
Halak started the year with the benefit of the doubt, but slowly and steadily Elliott's taken over.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jonathan Bernier
- Jonathan Bernier: 15-14-4, 0.926 save percentage
- James Reimer: 8-6-1, 0.918 save percentage
The Battle: For the season's first two months, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a problem most teams would love to have. Both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier were playing exceptional hockey, and the Leafs could count on either netminder being able to cover up the club's defensive deficiencies.
Reimer has slipped over the last few months, however, pushing more of the load to Bernier. Bernier's play has stood up to the challenge better, though he, too, has seen a slight drop-off this month.
Still, one of the toughest goaltending battles appears to have been decided in Bernier's favour.
Washington Capitals: Philipp Grubauer
- Philipp Grubauer: 6-2-5, 0.936 save percentage
- Braden Holtby: 13-11-2, 0.910 save percentage
- Michal Neuvirth: 3-3-1, 0.916 save percentage
The Battle: On some teams, any one of these three goaltenders would pretty clearly be the starter. The Capitals, however, get to pick only one.
Right now it is the unknown Grubauer who is making it impossible for either of his competitors to unseat him. In 14 games this season, Grubauer has posted a sub-0.900 save percentage just twice and in fully half of his games has managed a 0.950-or-better save percentage.
Normally, the incumbent starter (in this case, Braden Holtby) might be expected to be given a little consideration, but the Capitals have always been willing to find time for a new guy. Since 2009-10, the team has changed starters every year, going from Jose Theodore to Michal Neuvirth to Tomas Vokoun to Holtby.