Ranking Every 2014 Olympic Hockey Team's Starting Goaltender
The starting goaltenders for the 2014 Olympics are an eclectic bunch. Some are incredible athletes who could have starred in other sports.
Other teams have journeymen who simply battle endlessly and strive to make life miserable for opposing shooters with sheer will.
The one quality they all share is the ability to inspire their teammates. Great goaltending is the backbone of almost every winning team. The team that captures the gold medal in Sochi is likely to be anchored by an excellent netminder.
There are a few questions about who is the No. 1 goaltender for each team, but based on play over the past few seasons in both international and club play, as well as the first few days in Sochi, we have named one masked man for each country.
In ascending order, here are the best starting goaltenders at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
12. Robert Kristan, Slovenia
Robert Kristan has already led the Slovenian team to an improbable victory. Expectations are necessarily low for this squad despite having one of the best players in the world, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
Kristan was impressive in the 3-1 upset of Team Slovakia. He almost earned a shutout but lost that bid with less than 20 seconds to go in the game.
The 30-year-old Slovenian is unlikely to repeat this performance at this level, but if he does, Slovenia is likely to have done it on his shoulders.
11. Edgars Masalskis, Latvia
Edgars Masalskis is one of those goaltenders that is easy to cheer for. The Latvian netminder was no longer wanted at the end of the KHL season last year and has gained some redemption in Slovakia this season.
The veteran goaltender is a battler who seems to thrive on a high shot volume. The 33-year-old has to be at the top of his game in every Latvian contest at the Olympics, or things could get ugly very quickly for his home nation.
Expect Masalskis to keep Latvia in most games, and if the club can score a timely goal or two, it just might pull off an upset.
10. Bernhard Starkbaum, Austria
Austria's Bernhard Starkbaum might not have the same pressures as Jonathan Quick or Roberto Luongo, but he knows that if he doesn't play well, it will be a long day for his Austrian teammates.
Starkbaum played with Modo in the Swedish Elite League last season and posted a very good .933 save percentage. With Gavle this year, he can boast a .931 save percentage.
At the Olympics, he's facing an altogether better cast of players, though. Keeping Austria close is his main objective. Winning more than one or two games will be a good accomplishment for Starkbaum and Austria.
9. Lars Haugen, Norway
Lars Haugen has carved out a good career for himself. He's been a solid goaltender in the KHL, highlighted by 13 wins and a .933 save percentage in 2012-13.
Haugen has the abilities to lead Norway to an upset at the Games. He played a big part in helping to frustrate the Canadian offence in a 3-1 loss to the powerful Canucks.
Haugen had 35 saves in that game and with the help of a collapsing defence, he showed an ability to play well against some of the game's best shooters.
Norway won't be going home with a medal in hockey, but Haugen should allow Norway to be competitive in most games.
8. Ondrej Pavelec, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is going to need everything that Ondrej Pavelec has to offer if it hopes to be competitive at the Sochi Olympics.
The Czechs do not have the same kind of talent as Russia, Canada, the U.S. or Sweden, so Pavelec will have to steal at least one game, if not two, if the Czechs hope to gain a medal.
With a .906 career save percentage in the NHL, it seems unlikely that he'll be able to do this given the level of competition he'll see as the games get more competitive.
If the Czech Republic can play some inspired defence, Pavelec and his teammates could surprise us all. It seems like a lot to ask.
7. Jaroslav Halak, Slovakia
Slovakia's Jaroslav Halak has been good but not great with the St. Louis Blues this season. He's had a solid goals-against average of 2.26 but a more pedestrian save percentage of .915.
Halak will have to be spectacular if Slovakia wants to play for bronze as it did in Vancouver in 2010.
The Slovaks do not have the offensive firepower to compete with the top teams, but with Zdeno Chara and Halak, they have a chance to thwart the other teams' top skaters.
It will be very challenging for Slovakia to knock off the top teams, but if it does, expect Halak to play a big part in that.
6. Jonas Hiller, Switzerland
The Swiss have all the ingredients to pull off a few upsets at this year's Olympics. This starts with Jonas Hiller, who can be outstanding when he's at his best.
Team Switzerland is not going to score a lot of goals, but Hiller has already given it great goaltending. He's yet to give up a goal in the tournament with two shutouts in Sochi.
Hiller has been good but not outstanding in Anaheim this season. He's got 25 wins and a .917 save percentage. That save percentage puts him at the middle of the pack in the NHL.
It's a different game at the Olympics, though, as the extra width of the ice changes angles for goaltenders. Hiller seems very comfortable with this. If he remains this hot at the Olympics, he's going to cause fits for the top offensive teams.
5. Sergei Bobrovsky, Russia
Russia's Sergei Bobrovsky gave fans one of the best 10 minutes or so of Olympic action in Sochi so far. The Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender was very good against the United States and especially T.J. Oshie but came up just short in the final shootout round.
It does not seem certain that Bobrovsky is the No. 1 goaltender for the host country, but based on his performance against the United States, it seems likely that he's earned the position. If not, Semyon Varlamov has been outstanding with the Colorado Avalanche this year, and Russia will be in good hands.
Bobrovsky is the 2012-13 Vezina Trophy winner, and his .918 save percentage and two shutouts have been an important element as the Blue Jackets have turned their season around in the past few months.
It's always a lot of pressure playing for Russia, especially with the entire nation looking for nothing less than gold, but Bobrovsky's calm demeanour seems well-suited to meeting that challenge.
4. Henrik Lundqvist, Sweden
They don't call him King Henrik for nothing. The New York Rangers goaltender has been one of the top goalies in the NHL for a long time.
Lundqvist is one of the few goaltenders in the world who can intimidate the opposition. His .918 save percentage this year is actually quite low for him, but he seems to be rounding into form at the Olympics.
Sweden might have the most talented blue line in Sochi. That factor, combined with Lundqvist's excellent play, could see Sweden at the top of podium at the end of the tournament.
3. Carey Price, Canada
Team Canada is one of the most talented teams in Sochi, but questions do remain in goal. The team has given up just one goal to date, but not a lot has been asked of Roberto Luongo and Carey Price heading into the Finland contest.
The Montreal Canadiens were pretty average coming into the Winter Olympics break, but Price's .925 save percentage this year is very good. The Vancouver Canucks haven't won with either Luongo or Eddie Lack in net of late.
However, those teams are not nearly as talented as Team Canada. It is unlikely that Price, likely to get the starter's job over Luongo, will have to outduel his opposing goalie on most nights given Canada's firepower.
Luongo had taken the torch from one of Canada's best goaltenders ever in the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur. It appears that Carey Price has now earned the title of Canada's best netminder in Sochi.
2. Jonathan Quick, United States
The Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick has been just average this season with a .911 save percentage and just 16 wins in 32 games.
But based on his body of work over the past three seasons, including a Stanley Cup in 2012, he's one of the top goalies in Sochi.
The native of Milford, Connecticut was outstanding against the Russian team in a 3-2 shootout win.
Quick is an excellent athlete who can make saves even if he's out of position and scrambling around the crease. Quick seems fazed by very little, and that quality will serve him well in hostile territory.
Ryan Miller could get some playing time in Sochi, but it looks like Quick has established himself as the U.S. starter in the most important games for coach Dan Bylsma.
1. Tuukka Rask, Finland
The Boston Bruins and Tuukka Rask have been excellent in 2013-14. Rask has a .928 save percentage and a minuscule 2.11 goals-against average. He's an imposing goaltender with his combination of size and great fundamentals.
While the Finnish goaltender might not be perfect, he gives his team every opportunity to win, on almost every night in the NHL.
Finland has the deepest trio of goaltenders at the Olympics. The Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen is more than capable of leading the team. Failing these two, the San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi would get the call.
Rask's pedigree, combined with his ability to win the big game, should mean that he'll be the Finns' choice as the tournament wears on.