NHL Predictions 2012: Ilya Bryzgalov and 5 Toughest Goalies to Fool

Jack SouleCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2011

NHL Predictions 2012: Ilya Bryzgalov and 5 Toughest Goalies to Fool

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    The NHL boasts a large number of quality netminders this season. A lot of these goalies are hard to get the puck by.

    While a lot of goalies are able to put up quality statistics because they have great defenses standing in front of them, a small number of them are truly great and regardless of the players standing in front of them, stand on their heads to keep the puck out of the net and their teams in the game time and time again.

    These goalies will be near impossible to beat. Any team facing them should be dreading that night's matchup. 

    Here are the five goaltenders who will be hardest to put the puck by during the 2011-2012 season.

5. Pekka Rinne

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    Along with Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne was Vezina Trophy finalist for the 2010-2011 season. He is emerging as one of the league's elite goaltenders. 

    As the man between the pipes for a team whose blue line boasts stalwarts Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, it's going to be hard for opposing teams to score against Rinne and the Nashville Predators. 

    Rinne has a great career ahead of him and he's already making a name for himself early in his career.

    Look for Rinne to put up another Vezina Finalist performance this season.

    En route to doing so, he will be just shy of impossible to put the puck by. I sincerely feel sympathetic for any team that has to carry the puck past Nashville's defense only to find themselves facing this goaltender. 

4. Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas is far and away the biggest reason that the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year. 

    Thomas is debatably the best goaltender in the league. The question that people are asking however is, "When will his age start affecting him?"

    Well, Dwayne Roloson might say that he has got a while before his age affects his game. Common wisdom might say that he'll start feeling it in the knees and hips pretty soon. Rivals of Boston might be hoping to death that he'll be affected this year.

    Personally, I think that anybody who watches him play can't help but admit that he has at least another few years in him.

    The 37-year-old is in superb shape, and although he really sacrifices his body to stop shots, he should still have some great playing time left.

    What makes Thomas so hard to beat is that he doesn't care about form or what he looks like. Tim simply does whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net. His old-school, scrappy style of play makes him one of the most frustrating goaltenders in the league. 

    It doesn't hurt that he has big Zdeno Chara and one of the league's top defenses playing in front of him.

3. Ryan Miller

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    Real American hero Ryan Miller is simply incredible.

    In my mind, the best goalie in the league right now is either Miller or Thomas. And, no, I don't say that as a red-blooded, patriotic American. These two guys are incredible.

    Whereas Tim Thomas doesn't adhere so much to form as he does to just scrapping to keep the puck out of the net, Ryan Miller is a delight to watch. His form and positioning are impeccable. He's fast, smart, flexible and incredibly skilled.

    Miller is already an incredible netminder but after the Sabres acquired Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, chances of Buffalo's opponent's scoring began to look very dismal. 

    It would be hard enough to put a puck past Miller if he was playing behind a poor defense. But put a stellar blue line corps in front of one of the world's best puck-stoppers and you've got a recipe for an offense's headache.

2. Tomas Vokoun

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    Vokoun has been one of the league's best goaltenders for years.

    Despite playing in front of one of the worst defenses the league has seen since the lockout, Vokoun consistently puts up stellar numbers. Florida hasn't had great defensive personnel in the past, yet with Vokoun's help, the Panthers have still been able to post decent defensive numbers.

    Now, Vokoun is backing up one of the league's best defenses in the Nation's Capital. Although Vokoun looked very shaky in his debut game for the Caps, he looked stellar against Pittsburgh last night and was able to get the win for Washington even though they were outshot 41-19.

    When Vokoun is playing his game and once the Caps get comfortable in front of him, it will be near impossible to beat him.

    The is one concern, however. Vokoun does his best when he faces a lot of shots. 

    Washington doesn't allow a lot of shots. The Capitals are poised to be the single best shot-blocking team in the league. So do the Capitals allow more shots to get through to allow Vokoun to feel the puck well, or do they keep blocking shots and hope Vokoun adjusts his game?

1. Ilya Bryzgalov

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    One of the biggest controversies during this last summer's offseason was Philadelphia's trading away of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. 

    It was a tough decision, but Paul Holmgren made a move that will end up being very beneficial for his hockey club.

    The Flyers look like they have finally solved their goaltender problems.

    Philadelphia didn't just put a man between the pipes, though. They inked one of the league's best goalies to a long-term deal. While signing a goalie who has never played for your team to very long deal worth more money than a goaltender should ever be paid seemed a little foolish at the time, but this move will look like the signing of the century once this season is done.

    The Flyers have an elite backstop to man their net until 2020.

    Phillie's hockey club has always had a solid defense and now that they have a quality goalie, they are set to be one of the greatest defensive teams in the league and Bryzgalov has a chance to put up league-leading numbers.