NHL: Top Ten Units in the League, Part I (Goaltenders)

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NHL: Top Ten Units in the League, Part I (Goaltenders)

Success starts with goaltending—and so does this list. I will examine which teams have the best goaltending going into the 2008-2009 season, with heavy emphasis on the No.1 goalie these teams will rely on in the playoffs.

1. Anaheim Ducks

I have heard a lot of people claim Jean-Sebastien Giguere is on his way down. I do not know where these ideas come from.

The man is 31 years old, hardly an age for decline at the position. He is just one year removed from leading his team to the Stanley Cup, and was a candidate for his second Conn Smythe that year.

Sure, he did not fare well in the Dallas series—but you try facing that power play that often! Moreover, he is backed up by a very solid Jonas Hiller. 

2. San Jose Sharks

The Ducks' rivals have the man who should have won the Vezina last season—reputation played too large of a role—for leading the league in starts and wins, and was among the leaders in goals against average.

Evegni Nabokov has plenty of playoff experience, having played in the Western Conference Finals, but did seem to suffer from fatigue in a mediocre postseason—until the last game, a four-OT, 2-1 thriller!

That is why it is good he has an experienced back-up in Brian Boucher, who played well in limited action, has playoff experience, and holds the NHL record for scoreless minutes.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

While they are unlikely to pay Nicolai Khabibulin $7 million to be a backup, currently the Blackhawks have two guys with playoff success and one who has won a Stanley Cup. Cristabol Huet is coming into his own and may be a top-ten goalie, but add one of the top back-ups (for now) in the game and this unit has to be considered strong.

4. New Jersey Devils

Martin Brodeur has been a workhorse for this franchise, and is one of the five most successful playoff goalies ever. However, he has seemed worn down the past two playoffs, and it would behoove the Devils to rest him more often during the regular season.

They have two serviceable backups on the roster in Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmenson, and if they use them two or three times as often as usual (i.e. 12-18 games), there might be no goalie I would rather have in net in the playoffs than Brodeur.

5. Detroit Red Wings

There is a marked drop-off from four to five, because Chris Osgood has spent more of his career being marginal than outstanding like he was for much of last season. However, Osgood won a Stanley Cup eleven years after winning his first, and that is no small feat. He also seems to have made adjustments that have minimized his trademark soft goals, and when on his game he is always tough to beat.

He is backed by Ty Conklin, who carried the Penguins net admirably for a long stretch last season when Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt.  This is a strong unit.

6. New York Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist was the third finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season, and carried the Rangers in the early season when the offense was struggling. The Rangers are one of two top-ten teams in goals against average in the Eastern Conference because of Lundqvist, who also won a gold medal in 2006.

Stephen Valiquette is not someone who would give a team confidence in the playoffs, but can easily give King Henry enough rest to keep him fresh without the team's season being derailed.

7. Dallas Stars

Marty Turco is a stud who has been unfairly labeled as a playoff bust. He had one bad series in 2006 against Colorado, but otherwise lost to Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Vezina finalist Roberto Luongo in a series wherein he had three shut-outs.

In case you missed that, if he did not shut out the opposition, the Stars offense could not get him a win. Last season, he carried the team to the Western Conference Finals and gave Detroit as good a run as anyone.

His back-up is Johan Holmqvist, once tabbed as Tampa Bay's goalie of the future. While he proved unable to handle that responsibility, especially in the postseason, he certainly can spell Turc often enough to help him be at his best come playoff time.

8. Vancouver Canucks

Roberto Luongo has limited playoff experience and only one series win, but was outstanding when given the opportunity, and has been one of the most impressive regular-season goaltenders in the league for years.

He is backed up by Curtis Sanford, who is marginal, but because Luongo appears able to play in 70-plus games and still be great in the playoffs, Sanford is more than adequate to allow this tandem to be in the top third of the league.

9. Buffalo Sabres

Ryan Miller has proven himself to be a stud, even anchoring the team well in their playoff run a couple years ago despite four defencemen being out by the end of it. He is backed up by Patrick Lalime, whose career has been marked by inconsistency—but who has had a couple big seasons with playoff experience.

10. Calgary Flames

Mikka Kiprusoff is coming off a sub-par year, but played better in the playoffs than the regular season. It was also just one tough year after many seasons of outstanding play.

Therefore, it is unlikely he will struggle again—but he better not because he is going to have to play an immense number of games with untested goalies Curtis McElhinney and Matt Keetley behind him. And even though he has always been able to handle a heavy load, this is likely to negatively impact Kiprusoff's postseason performance.

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