NHL Hat Trick: The Goalie Question for 3 Eastern Conference Teams

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent INovember 8, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04:  Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals warms up before playing the New York Rangers on February 4, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The goaltender is the most talked about position in the NHL today. More and more teams are relying on a tandem or an unproven commodity to lead them to victory.

Right now there are only six goalies who have started 12 or more games and most teams are not having their goaltender play more than 60 percent of the time. In this week's Pucking Awesome Hat Trick I examine the three goaltending situations that are at the forefront of all hockey fans' minds.


Washington Capitals

No one has had a more revolving door in the crease than the defending President Trophy winners. Picked by most to repeat that feet this year the Capitals turned to two unproven 22-year-olds this offseason in Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.

Varlamov, the playoff goalie the last two springs, suffered a groin injury early and started the season on IR. Paving the way for the two-time Calder Cup champion Neuvirth who went out and won four of his first five games played. All seemed well as Varly was set to return from the injury but after his first start was back on the shelf with the same groin injury.

The Czech goalie continued his hot play winning eight of the first 13 games played in filling in for Varlamov, with a 2.41 GAA and .914 save percentage. Then came Friday night vs. the Bruins, a game which the 22-year-old gave up three goals on 14 shots and was pulled giving way for former third-round pick Braden Holtby.

The 21-year-old finished the game strong in a Capitals comeback win and then was given his first NHL start against the red-hot and first-place Flyers. The 6'1'' goalie responded with his second win in his second game and now has fans in Washington really confused on who should be their netminder.

I think the organization has given Semyon Varlamov every chance to become the full-fledged No. 1 option and will be given that opportunity back when completely healthy. The Russian already has the playoff experience that the Capitals feel they need in a goalie but I am sure they are pleased in how both Neuvirth and Holtby have played just in case Varlamov does not stay healthy.


Philadelphia Flyers

The no-angle goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and flat out bad goaltending play brought to the forefront what every media outlet has covered for decades—the Flyers have not had a franchise goalie since Ron Hextall retired.

With that in mind and some money to spend GM Paul Holmgren made the calls to the likes of Evgeni Nabokov, Dan Ellis and Marty Turco but they all went to other organizations or even leagues.

Thus the Flyers seemed to be left with the tandem that they magically rode to a Stanley Cup Final appearance: waiver wire hero Michael Leighton and good locker room veteran Brian Boucher. Little did they know that a signing that happened during the playoff run would be so important to their run to the top of the East this season.

Sergei Bobrovsky played the last three seasons as the starting goalie for Metallurg, two of them in the KHL, putting up good numbers despite the bad team. The 22-year-old undrafted free agent came into Flyers camp hoping for a starting spot on the AHL team but due to hot preseason play and back surgery to Leighton was named the opening-night goalie for the Flyers.

Bob's has been spectacular with an 8-2-1 record and ranked ninth in the league in both GAA (2.19) and save percentage (.926). He even was one win short of the franchise record of seven consecutive wins for a rookie netminder.

Now, with Leighton rehabbing his back and set for an end-of-month return, begs the question of who will be the No. 1 for this top Eastern Conference team?

I think the team will carry three goalies until it is proven that Leighton is completely healthy. The team has four back-to-back game nights in the next month and a half and will have plenty of opportunities to get at least two goalies some action. Once they are forced to (salary cap reasons or not getting one goalie enough playing time) they will make the tough decision of who to take off the active roster.

What complicates things more is the goalie playing the best right now is the only one with options to be sent down without going through waivers. A lot has to be played out before they have to make their decision, but today I would say Brian Boucher better get ready for some long bus trips or a new address.


Tampa Bay Lightning

One of the more surprising top teams this year has been the Tampa Bay Lightning, though it has been mostly because their offense is pretty sick. They have been getting decent goaltending out of both Mike Smith and Dan Ellis.

The have split the starts in the first 13 games this season with Ellis having the better numbers: 2.45 GAA to Smith's 3.43 GAA and .911 save percentage to .881 percent. But the player who they received in the big Brad Richards trade to Dallas has been winning with a 4-2 record. While the offseason free-agent acquisition also has a winning record of 3-2-2.

I must give new general manager Steve Yzerman some credit in teaming up two goalies with not a lot of recent success to be the No. 1 goalie. He seems to have found a great pair that will not complain for more ice time as the other plays.

For this team to have continued success I think they will have to keep the formula of splitting time to keep these talented goalies fresh and away from injury. I think if they needed to rely on one of them that would be a recipe for disaster.