Most NHL teams will only go as far as their goal tending will take them. No better case of this was last year’s Boston Bruins.
Tim Thomas was amazing during the playoffs, making impossible saves, frustrating the opponents and allowing his team to make it to the promised land.
Goal tenders can steal games their team had no business winning or let in seven goals some summer evening in Boston and ruin your dreams of glory which still cause you to twitch late at night.
While it is still a team game, your team is not going any where without a quality back stop.
As the NHL season looms closer and closer, the media and loud mouthed know-it-alls are beginning to make predictions as to who is going to win it all. To determine who that team might be it’s worth looking at who they have between the pipes.
This list ranks the top ten goalies going into next season. Keep in mind, the list looks forward to next year, and is not a recap of the top ten from last year.
Without a doubt I have either left off your guy or not ranked your guy high enough, so please, feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section.
Niemi may be the most under rated goal tender in the NHL today. The 27 year old has only two full NHL seasons under his belt, but what a couple of years they have been.
On his two-year old resume he has a Stanley Cup victory and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Not too shabby.
With San Jose last year he took over the number one job and improved his save percentage to .920. As San Jose has made moves to bolster their defense this off season look for the further development of Niemi.
He will improve on those numbers and once again put in a top ten goal tending performance.
Crawford’s inclusion on this list will probably be the most controversial. After all he has only played in 72 career NHL games (including the playoffs) so far in his young career.
Despite that Crawford has the potential to become an elite goal tender. That potential was on display during the first round of last year’s playoffs when he held the Blackhawks in the series with Vancouver by posting a .927 save percentage.
The Blackhawks had, what they would consider, a disappointing year last year but they still have a good defense in front of Crawford.
This is the year Crawford is given the keys from the start and he will respond with a strong 2011 campaign for Chicago.
Fleury rebounded somewhat last year from a down year the previous year. His goals against and save percentage both improved.
Considering he is still only 26 Fleury is still coming into his own.
Playing on a team with a lot of talent on it and having been through the Stanley Cup battles Fleury will continue to improve and have an even better season in 2011 than he did in 2010.
He has faced pressure since being a number one pick and playing on a marquee team and that experience will benefit him moving forward in his career.
Price has an interesting ride the past couple of seasons in Montreal. He went from hero to goat and then back to hero again.
After struggling in 2009-2010 he was relegated to watching Jaroslav Halak win the hearts and minds of the Montreal faithful during the 2010 playoffs.
When the Canadiens shocked everyone by trading Halak after that season Price was forced back into the spotlight. The fans were not on his side and at first he could do nothing right, even getting booed during the pre-season.
Price responded though and put together a stellar season by posting a 2.35 goals against and a .923 save percentage.
That season, under those conditions at the outset, will boost his confidence and Price will continue his upswing as one of the games best goalies.
Vokoun moves north from Florida to back stop the Washington Capitals in 2011 as they hope to erase some disappointing play off runs.
Vokoun also is moving north in the standings.
Here is a goalie who has played for Nashville and Florida, away from the spot light and pressure. He is an excellent goal tender and with a talented team in front of him he will continue to put up tough numbers.
The only question is to whether he can handle the added attention, pressure and expectation he has in Washington.
Being 35 years old, and around the block enough, there is no reason to believe he won’t rise up to the challenge.
Bryzgalov landed in Philadelphia this off season and the Flyers are banking on him providing a door stop to the revolving goal tender situation they’ve had to endure.
Pretty much everyone who owns a blocker pad has suited up for the Flyers the past few years.
The Flyers made a lot of drastic changes this off season and there is some transition the team will have to work through. Fortunately for them they have a solid and consistent net minder to steady the ship.
Bryzgalov has put up good numbers, in front of a lot of empty seats, in Phoenix the past few years. Last year he managed to post a save percentage of .921 in the more wide open Western Conference.
Moving to the East and for a defense first organization like the Flyers will only help Bryzgalov and for the Flyers sake, their chances in a tough conference.
It is amazing how under the radar Henrik Lundqvist seems to fly.
This is a goaltender who is always among the league leaders in save percentages (.923 last year) and goals against average (2.28 last season), plays in New York and has won an Olympic gold medal.
Lundqvist also carries a big load. He played in 68 games last year, eight more than Luongo and eleven more than Thomas. Despite more games his numbers were comparable.
With an improved roster in front of him Lundqvist will again be among the league’s best net minders in 2011.
It will probably take a deep playoff run for Lundqvist to get his proper due, and the Rangers believe they can pull that off this year.
Whether they can or not remains to be seen, one thing for sure though, is that they will have a great goal tender watching their back.
Is there more of a enigmatic goalie than Roberto Luongo? Luongo suffers from perception becoming his reality.
The perception of Luongo is that he it terrible, a choker, not a playoff performer.
The reality is that Luongo is a top goal tender. He is coming off a regular season that saw him post a .928 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average. He also came within one game of winning a Stanley Cup finals in which the skaters in front of him gave him little to no support.
So, will he rebound from a disappointing finish to last season?
History says he will.
Luongo was much maligned after the Canucks fell to Chicago in the 2010 playoffs and rebounded with his best year in the NHL.
No reason to believe he won’t do it again in 2011.
Rinne flew under the radar last year, as most Nashville players do, but he was phenomenal.
The rest of the nation and league got a good look at him during the playoffs where he stonewalled all of the Canucks scorers with the exception of Ryan Kesler.
Playing for the always defensive minded Predators will only help him repeat his stellar performance of last year.
Of all the goal tenders on this list he may face the most pressure as the Predators struggle to score goals.
He has to be good each and every night, which may crush some goal tenders. Rinne showed last year he is up to the challenge and there is no reason to suspect anything different in 2011.
Look for Rinne to put in another Vezina type year for the Predators which, like last year, will make them a tough out in the playoffs.
Obviously Thomas was a mega-star during the Stanley Cup Finals, on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Award. That performance shouldn’t have been surprising, as his regular season was just as spectacular and was rewarded with a Vezina Trophy.
So, can he repeat that performance in 2011-12?
There is no reason to think he won’t.
The Bruins are returning the majority of their roster intact, and with the tough and tight defensive system they play, Thomas will benefit with another stellar season.
Thomas is hands down the top goaltender going into next season. He plays an unconventional style that seems frantic and panic-induced at first glance, but the fact is, he just never gives up on a play.
That style resulted in an astonishing .938 save percentage last year and a GAA of 2.00. Those numbers are staggering, and even if he can’t quite match them, he is still the top goaltender heading into the 2011 season.