Handicapping the Hottest Goaltending Battles Early in 2014-15
For years, the Vancouver Canucks have been the focus of goalie drama in the NHL. The battle for playing time between Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo was compelling because it featured two exceptional goalies and it took years for Vancouver to resolve the situation.
With both players now departed from British Columbia, which team has the most interesting contest for playing time between the pipes? The following slideshow looks at 10 potential goaltending controversies, breaking down the contenders for the starting job and their early work this season, as well as predicting the eventual winner.
Read on to see our take on the hottest goaltending battles early in 2014-15.
The contenders: Frederik Andersen emerged from a crowded field in Anaheim in 2013-14 as the team's best regular-season option, but his hold on the top job is still tenuous. Highly regarded prospect John Gibson displaced him in net in the postseason and will look to secure the No. 1 position himself in 2014-15.
The early returns: Gibson allowed six goals in his only start, a defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Andersen has won both of his games and has a 0.927 save percentage over that span.
The prognosis: 3-2 in favour of Andersen. The Ducks may love Gibson, but Andersen's recent minor league work is better. Gibson may win out in the long term, but for now Andersen's further along in his career arc, and that probably makes him the better goalie today.
The contenders: Buffalo has a goaltending tandem with a lot to prove. Pending unrestricted free agent Jhonas Enroth finally has the chance to step out of Ryan Miller's shadow and prove himself an NHL starter. He'll battle for playing time with another pending UFA, Michal Neuvirth, who showed flashes of No. 1 potential over several years in Washington.
The early returns: Buffalo has allowed 40 or more shots in all three games it has played so far. Enroth has played in two of those games and has a 0.897 save percentage; Neuvirth appeared in one and posted a 0.886 number.
The prognosis: 5-4 in favour of Enroth. Enroth has the advantage of being familiar to the team and his career save percentage (0.913) is marginally better than Neuvirth's (0.911), but this one is so close that it's almost a coin toss.
The contenders: Jonas Hiller entered training camp as the obvious favourite. The 32-year-old veteran has been a starting goalie for most of the last six seasons, during which time his save percentage has never dipped below 0.910. His opponent is incumbent Karri Ramo, who returned to the NHL after a stint overseas and looked decent in his first year in Calgary.
The early returns: Hiller is 0-2 with a 0.901 save percentage, while Ramo was excellent in his lone start, a 38-save victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
The prognosis: 3-2 in Hiller's favour. If the Flames had been impressed with Ramo last year, they wouldn't have gone out and added Hiller.
The contenders: After a long career as a minor league starter and NHL backup, Anton Khudobin came into Raleigh and established himself as the 'Canes best goaltending option. The guy he usurped, long-time starter Cam Ward, has a virtually untradeable contract and as a result will get a crack at winning back his job.
The early returns: An injury-ridden Carolina team has been manhandled in the early going, and both goalies have been shelled. Khudobin's 0.871 save percentage is a little better than Ward's ugly 0.808 number.
The prognosis: 2-1 with Khudobin the favourite. Ward was a good goalie, but injuries seem to have dulled his game.
The contenders: Two goalies with a decent history as No. 1B-types are going head-to-head for the starting job in Edmonton. Ben Scrivens brings a strong resume as a backup in Toronto and Los Angeles with him, and performed very well late last season. Viktor Fasth came extremely close to unseating Jonas Hiller in Anaheim, but injury and the numbers game means he's trying his luck with the Oilers.
The early returns: Fasth provided strong play in a shootout loss to Vancouver, while Scrivens' mistakes probably cost Edmonton its opening game against Calgary.
The prognosis: 5-4 in favour of Scrivens; these are evenly matched players, but Scrivens has the benefit of a degree of incumbency.
The contenders: Darcy Kuemper, who performed extremely well as a rookie in 2013-14, is back again after a tough contract battle. He's sharing the net with Niklas Backstrom, the long-time Wild starter who struggled badly last season. Somewhere in the mix too is Josh Harding, currently suspended following an off-ice injury.
The early returns: The Minnesota Wild have faced 46 shots over two games this season, and Kuemper has stopped them all.
The prognosis: 3-2 that Kuemper wins the job. At age 36, Backstrom may be done, while Harding's early absence gives Kuemper time to secure his spot on the team.
The contenders: Craig Anderson took over the starting job in Ottawa the moment he arrived following a trade with the Colorado Avalanche in 2010-11. He's provided the Sens with solid goaltending all down the line, and he's even had moments of brilliance. Top prospect Robin Lehner is likely penciled in as his eventual replacement, but the 6'5" backup undoubtedly would like to make that happen sooner rather than later.
The early returns: Both goalies have been very good. Anderson posted a shutout Monday, bringing his save percentage up to 0.955 over two games. Lehner stopped 38 of 40 shots in his only start, a win over Tampa Bay, which leaves him with a 0.950 save percentage.
The prognosis: 3-2 in favour of Anderson. The veteran was awarded a three-year contract extension in August, which strongly suggests that Ottawa sees him as the starter this season.
St. Louis Blues
The contenders: Brian Elliott saved his NHL career with great work in St. Louis; now for the first time he's set to take on the starting job. Challenging him for playing time is 24-year-old Jake Allen, who has just 15 NHL games under his belt but who excelled in the minors last year and is a prospect of note.
The early returns: Elliott has played both of the Blues' games, going 1-1 with a 0.918 save percentage.
The prognosis: 3-1 in favour of Elliott. This only becomes a battle if Elliott struggles early; otherwise it's a learning year for Allen and a chance for the journeyman to prove he's up to the task.
San Jose Sharks
The contenders: Antti Niemi has been the Sharks' No. 1 goalie in all four of his years with the team, but weak playoff performances have made him vulnerable. Alex Stalock, who performed exceptionally well in the backup role a year ago, is expected to be given every chance to unseat the incumbent.
The early returns: Niemi shut out the Kings on opening night, making 34 saves; not to be outdone, Stalock turned aside all 30 shots he faced a few nights later against Winnipeg.
The prognosis: 3-2 in favour of Niemi. One of these guys is a proven NHL goalie, while the other right now is just a one-hit wonder with mediocre minor league numbers.
The contenders: After jettisoning both goalies from the last round of netminder drama, Vancouver is at it again. Veteran NHL No. 1 Ryan Miller was signed to a three-year, $18.0 million contract in the offseason to be the team's starter, but he'll be pushed for time by Eddie Lack, who posted a 0.912 save percentage in 41 games last season.
The early returns: Ryan Miller has played both of the Canucks' games and has wins in both, but was shaky against Edmonton and sports a 0.889 save percentage on the season.
The prognosis: 2-1 in favour of Miller. Lack's a solid candidate, but Miller has a long history and a big contract.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.