As a pitcher is to baseball, even more so is a goaltender to hockey.
Ever since Jacques Plante introduced the goalie mask as standard hockey equipment, the goalie's fundamentals and techniques have evolved countless times along with the game of hockey. With great goaltenders Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, and Curtis Joseph having retired already and with Martin Brodeur in his last seasons in the NHL, a new group of young goaltenders must take the lead as examples of the next generation of goalies.
From playoff heros to regular season stalwarts, this slideshow looks at the best young goalies in the NHL today.
Twenty eight-year-old Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller was the hero of Anaheim's run to the Conference Semifinals in 2009, as it defeated the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in six games but then lost in seven to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.
However, this past season was not so kind to the Ducks' No. 1 goalie, as he saw most of his numbers stay the same while his goals against average went throught the roof. Still, with many years potentially ahead of him, Hiller has what it takes to get the Ducks back to the playoffs in 2011.
Despite an injury-plagued year, Cam Ward is still one of the top talents in the NHL today. He won only 18 out of 47 games last season, but he also faced more shots per game than any previous year as the Carolina Hurricanes failed to play well in front of Ward.
His numbers suffered in part because of those defensive failures. Ward's heroics in the 2006 and 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs got his team deep into the playoffs in both years, but his play in goal will have to improve if the Hurricanes are to make the postseason this year. Still, with a better and younger team overall, he will have his best chance to play consistently through a full season and deep into the playoffs this year and possibly the next for the first time in his young career.
While the Pittsburgh Penguins success continues, the play of the first overall pick in 2003 has declined. Fleury played in 67 games in 2009-10 and finished with a record of 37-21-6, but his other numbers were mediocre as he finished the regular season with a .905 SV% and a 2.65 GAA with one shutout to his credit.
Despite his quick and stunning acrobatic saves, what is holding him back is his rebound control. Even though the Penguins are holding their opponents to around 26 shots per game, rebounds seem to carom off his pads and out to opponents' forwards around the net at times. Without much improvement on his part, Fleury will continue to put up average numbers and he will not win as many games as he could if his rebound control was good.
The rise of the Los Angeles Kings to NHL prominence has been ignited by their young netminder's play in goal. Jonathan Quick had a career best 39 wins in 2009-10 and the Los Angeles Kings were able to ride his momentum into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
His .907 save percentage was average, but his 2.54 goals against average and four shutouts were key to the Kings winning 46 games this past year. The 24-year-old's numbers will only improve with age and experience, and the Kings will have more than enough chances to make the playoffs in the coming years. The Kings will undoubtedly have many chances to win their first Stanley Cup since their expansion season in 1967-68 as Quick gets better.
Even though Craig Anderson saw the most shots fired at him of any NHL goalie this past year with 2,233, he was able to save 2,047 for a save percentage of .917 and had seven shutouts in the process. Without Anderson's play in net, the Colorado Avalanche would not have come near the postseason in 2010, as they are still one of the youngest teams in the NHL and somewhat in a rebuilding mode. Many of Anderson's stats this past year were in the top ten in the NHL showing that despite his mediocre goals against average, the former Florida Panthers backup has been a steal and a savior for the Avs since he left South Florida.
The future is now in regards to the Nashville Predators and Pekka Rinne. The 258th overall pick in 2004 came out of nowhere in 2008 to claim the number one job in the Music City and despite a poor playoff showing this past year, the 27-year-old has proven doubters of his abilities wrong on many fronts.
In 58 games last season, the Finnish goaltender had 32 wins, a .911 save percentage, and a 2.53 goals against average with seven shutouts. Look to see Rinne and the Predators take the next step in their respective development as a player and as a team this year.
The Red Wings have been very patient with their second round pick at 64th overall in 2003, and that patience has produced untold dividends for the 11-time Stanley Cup Champions. Jimmy Howard was eighth in wins last year with 37, but his save percentage and goals against average were fourth and fifth respectively over the course of 63 games.
The 26-year-old Howard was okay in the Wings seven-game triumpth over the Phoenix Coyotes and did not play well against San Jose in the second round, but if this past season was a clue as to what Jimmy can do, their may be no limit to what Detroit can achieve despite its decline from the 2008-09 season to 2009-10.
The Maple Leafs' 21st overall pick in 2005 had phenomenal numbers throughout his 45 appearances with the Bruins this season, putting up a 1.97 goals against average with a .931 save percentage and five shutouts, but was one of the reason's for Boston's historic collapse to the Flyers in the Conference Semifinals last year.
At only 23 years of age, Rask has many great years ahead of him, but in order for the Bruins to make amends to their fans next season and into the playoffs, Tuukka Rask must avoid the all-to-common sophomore slump that has hit many of today's starting goalies.
Despite being the highest paid goalie in the NHL today and suffering a heartbreaking shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the last regular season game which ended the Rangers playoff hopes, Lundqvist has failed to translate his great regular season performances into playoff success.
One would think that a .921 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average in 73 games would get most teams to the playoffs, but it didn't happen for King Henrik despite the Rangers getting 16 points in the standings in the last 10 regular season games as the Rangers were unable to put the puck in the net for the most part over the course of the regular season.
The Broadway Blueshirts finished the regular season tied for eighth in scoring but it just wasn't enough. Lundqvist will no doubt have another great regular season next year, but without much help from his teammates, the Rangers could be on the bubble again come April 2011.
The Buffalo Sabres were eliminated in Boston in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, but without Ryan Miller's consistent regular season play, the Sabres would likely never have had a chance to get to the playoffs, much less win a playoff game.
Miller's .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average in the regular season earned him the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender in 2010, and as he is approaching his peak, it could be now or never for the Sabres to win a Stanley Cup. Miller will undoubtedly have to be one of the league's finalists for the Hart Trophy as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011 if the Buffalo Sabres are to have any chance at winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and his 41 regular season wins last year will have to be a footnote when it is all said and done if he and the Sabres are to go down in Buffalo lore as the city's first champions.