The 2009-10 NHL season saw a lot of otherwise unknown goaltenders establish themselves as the go-to netminders for their respective teams.
Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Michael Leighton in Philadelphia, and Jimmy Howard in Detroit all had excellent seasons, followed by more than respectable playoff runs.
With the 2010-11 season just a few months away, many NHL netminders will be looking to duplicate or surpass their 2009 success, with others trying to re-establish themselves as the number one crease beast.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 12 NHL goalies that must step up their play in order to have a successful 2010-11 season.
While nobody is suggesting that Marc-Andre Fleury is in jeopardy of losing his starter's role with the Penguins, a lackluster 2009-10 regular season and subsequent poor showing during the Stanley Cup Playoffs has many Penguins fans yearning for the 2008-09 Stanley Cup winner to return to form.
Fleury finished the 2009-10 regular season with a modest 37-21-6 record to go along with a very average 2.65 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Fleury followed that up with a less-than-stellar playoffs which saw him post a 7-6-0 record to go along with his sub-par 2.78 GAA and alarming .891 save percentage.
In order for Fleury to re-establish himself as an elite goaltender he will have to silence his critics with an improved effort and much better numbers.
Fortunately for Fleury the Penguins bolstered their defense with a number of offseason signings, which should pay dividends going forward.
Despite winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Roberto Luongo had what can only be termed a disappointing 2009-10 season.
Luongo put up his second career 40 win season last year, but his goals against average of 2.57 ranked him 19th among NHL keepers while his .913 save percentage was only good enough for 17th overall.
Luongo followed up his less than stellar regular season with another early exit in the playoffs, losing to eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks for the second consecutive year and looking rather average in the process.
Luongo finished the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a paltry 6-6 record with a bloated 3.22 GAA and an awful .895 save percentage.
Given Luongo’s bloated contract and the talent that plays in front of him, Canuck’s fans expect more from him, especially in the playoffs where he has of history of coming up rather small.
With Perennial number one Evgeni Nabokov headed to the KHL, Thomas Greiss will get his chance to shine as the San Jose Sharks number one guy.
Playing in a backup role, Greiss put together a 7-4-1 record while posting a 2.69 GAA and a decent .912 save percentage.
Simply put, if Greiss plans on being “the man” in San Jose he will have to adapt quickly to a huge increase in games played, which has taken its toll on more than a few NHL backups over the years.
For the record, Greiss has a grand total of 19 NHL games under his belt, which should have the Sharks brass a little worried going forward.
Veteran netminder Antero Niittymaki will make a strong push for the Sharks number one goaltending position. Niittymaki, 30, has a total of 210 NHL games under his belt and registered a 21-18-5 record with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
The Sharks also have Alex Stalock in the fold, who, as a rookie, put up a 39 win season as a member of the Sharks AHL affiliate (an AHL record).
While it is expected that $6 million goaltender J.S. Giguere will see the majority of games in between the pipes for the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is also a strong possibility that sophomore Jonas Gustavsson could emerge as the Leafs go-to crease beast.
Gustavsson, 25, had an up and down rookie season with the Leafs which saw him finish with a decent 16-15-9 record on a very poor Maple Leafs squad.
Affectionately known as “the monster”, Gustavsson earned a 2.87 GAA and a .902 save percentage; two areas that will have to improve if he has any delusions about usurping Giguere as the Leafs number one guy.
For his part, Giguere, a former Stanley Cup winner with the Anaheim Ducks, will be looking to bounce back from a rather ordinary 2009-10 season which saw him register a 6-7-2 record with the Leafs and a 4-8-1 record with the Ducks (combined 10-15-3).
Giguere is in the final year of his contract and, at 33-years-old, will have to put up some big numbers if he hopes to be re-signed by Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who has been on a youth movement of late.
Jimmy Howard put up some very impressive numbers as the Detroit Red Wings number one goalie last season, boasting a terrific 37-15-10 record in the regular season, which was followed up by a strong showing in the playoffs.
As good as Howard was in 2009-10, nothing short of similar success will be accepted by Red Wings fans.
Howard’s talent is undeniable, that is until he falters. While Howard was a mature 26-year old rookie, many rookie goaltenders have seen their sophomore seasons go awry.
To be fair, Howard should see similar success in 2010-11 as the Red Wings still boast one of the NHL’s deepest/most talented lineups. That said, the sophomore curse is alive and well, just ask Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Steve Mason, who, after a solid rookie campaign, watched his numbers and reputation dip significantly in 2009-10.
While nothing is written in stone, the inevitable departure of veteran goaltender Jose Theodore from the Washington Capitals likely means that Semyon Varlamov will emerge as the Capitals number one keeper.
More likely, a goaltending duo of Varlamov and the ever-improving Michal Neuvirth will likely be the direction the Capitals go until one or the other establishes themselves as the number one guy between the pipes.
Varlamov had an up and down 2009-10 season, registering a 15-4-6 record, while posting a 2.55 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
For his part, Neuvirth registered a 9-4-0 record with a 2.75 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
There is not much to choose between these two youngsters, the Caps are banking on one of them getting hot.
An injury riddled 2009-10 season saw Smith put up some very poor numbers as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His 13-18-7 record, 3.09 GAA and .900 were a far cry from his 2008-09 campaign, which, despite a poor win-loss record (14-18-9), saw Smith boast a 2.62 GAA and a decent .916 save percentage.
Smith will look to rebound from his poor 2009-10 campaign and should do so given all the positive changes in Tampa this off-season.
That said, with the addition of free agent goaltender Dan Ellis from the Nashville Predators, it appears as if Smith will have to earn the starting position from Ellis, who is expected to get the majority of play in Tampa.
Ellis, who managed a 15-13-1 record to go along with his 2.69 GAA and .909 save percentage, will fight tooth and nail to win the starters position with the Bolts. The competition should serve both goaltenders well, especially when you consider their rather average 2009-10 campaigns.
After a rookie campaign that saw Steve Mason register an impressive 33-20-7 record as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, he fell well short of expectations in 2009-10, registering a 20-26-9 record.
Mason’s 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage as a rookie ballooned into a 3.06 GAA and .901 save percentage in 2009-10, proving once and for all that the sophomore curse is alive and well.
Despite all his critics the Blue Jackets appear set to start the season with Mason penciled in as the number one netminder. That said, should he show signs of reverting back to his 2009-10 ways, veteran goaltender Mathieu Garon will be waiting in the wings to take over as the Blue Jackets go-to guy.
Picked up in a late-season trade with the Atlanta Thrashers, the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen will get a chance to re-establish himself with the Dallas Stars in 2010-11.
Lehtonen played in just 12 games with the Stars last season, posting a record of 6-4-0 with a 2.81 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Not bad for a guy that spent most of last season on the sidelines.
Lehtonen owns a 100-87-0-17 record in 216 career NHL games, an impressive feat considering the poor Atlanta Thrashers teams he has played on over the years.
With the departure of 34-year old Marty Turco (who owns a 262-154-26-37 career record as a member of the Dallas Stars), Lehtonen has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk is betting on Lehtonen staying healthy and leading Dallas to a successful 2010-11 campaign that should see the talented Finnish goalkeeper hit 30 wins for the first time since the 2006-07 season when he earned 34 wins as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.