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|THE HPT 10: Best goalies|
|Written by Denis Gorman|
|Thursday, 29 July 2010 00:00|
Imagine for a minute that you have a very specialized skill set. You possess a gymnast’s balance and flexibility. Your reflexes are lightning fast. A prerequisite for the most important positional job in sports is clear-headedness and an ability to instantly forget miscues.
Your job description is to stand sentry at a piece of land that is six feet by six feet while men level fusillades of small chunks of frozen, vulcanized rubber at you nightly for six months. One split second is the difference between success and failure – an infinitesimal moment separating hero from failure.
Welcome to the life of an NHL goaltender.
As the hockey world slows – it never stops revolving – in the final summer days before training camps open in mid-September, the staff of HockeyPrimeTime.com has decided to examine the best of the NHL. To that end, you will read our ten best rankings in a variety of categories.
We begin with a list of the game’s 10 best netminders. The criteria that we used in compiling the list are goaltenders who are currently active in the NHL. So you will not find Evgeni Nabokov nor Marty Turco on this list. Nabokov signed with the KHL, while Turco is still a free agent.
10. Cam Ward
Team: Carolina Hurricanes
Final 2009-10 statistics: 18-23-5; .916 save percentage; 2.69 goals-against average
Career statistics: 138-100-23; .905 save percentage; 2.79 goals-against average.
Ward is somewhat forgotten, but not because he’s overshadowed by a galaxy of stars in the dressing room. In Ward’s case, it is because the ‘Canes are not often showcased on national television. Still, he was the number one goalie when the Hurricanes won the first Cup in Hartford/Carolina history following the lockout, and hasn’t dropped off since.
9. Marc-Andre Fleury
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Final 2009-10 statistics: 37-21-6; .905 save percentage; 2.65 goals-against average
Career statistics: 148-106-2-30; .907 save percentage; 2.82 goals-against average
Fleury may be the Grant Fuhr of his era. All he has accomplished in seven years was to be a number-one overall pick, a Stanley Cup runner-up, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist. Yet Fleury is somewhat of a forgotten man when the Penguins are discussed. That’s what happens when you dress in the same room as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. However, those three do not find their name on the Cup without Fleury.
8. Craig Anderson
Team: Colorado Avalanche
Final 2009-10 statistics: 38-25-7; .917 save percentage; 2.65 goals-against average
Career statistics: 74-68-2-18; .913 save percentage; 2.77 goals-against average
Signed as a free agent last summer, Anderson was among the primary reasons a very young Avalanche team qualified for the playoffs. Anderson had previously been employed by Florida as Tomas Vokoun’s understudy until then-rookie Panthers coach Pete DeBoer had the two alternate starts in 2008-09.
7. Jaroslav Halak
Team: St. Louis Blues
Final 2009-10 statistics: 26-13-5; .924 save percentage; 2.40 goals-against average
Career statistics: 56-34-7; .914 save percentage; 2.62 goals-against average
John Davidson’s acquisition of Halak from Montreal for two prospects may have been the shrewdest personnel move of the off-season. While Chicago’s Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Award, it was Halak who was the best player in the playoffs. His stellar play in goal led the eighth-seeded Canadiens to seven-game series upsets over Washington and Pittsburgh.
6. Niklas Backstrom
Team: Minnesota Wild
Final 2009-10 statistics: 26-23-8; .903 save percentage; 2.72 goals-against average
Career statistics: 119-68-30; .918 save percentage; 2.37 goals-against average
Backstrom had his worst NHL year under Todd Richards and his up-tempo system last season. Still, 26 wins, a save percentage over .900 and a 2.72 goals-against is nothing to scoff at. Entering his fifth year as Minnesota’s starter, Backstrom has averaged 29 wins, a GAA of 2.27 and a .913 save percentage for an often offensively impotent franchise.
5. Martin Brodeur
Team: New Jersey Devils
Final 2009-10 statistics: 45-25-6; .916 save percentage; 2.24 goals-against average
Career statistics: 602-324-105-29; .914 save percentage; 2.21 goals-against average
All Martin Brodeur does with each win and shutout (he led the league with nine last season and his 110 shutouts are most all-time) is rewrite the record book.
Yet, there are questions about the greatest goaltender in NHL history. Does he play in too many games? Does he need to lessen the amount of games played in order for the Devils to experience a long playoff run? Is he too old?
One can argue that these questions are fair. The 38-year old is entering his 17th season with Devils and, as St. Marher opined in 1225, time and tide wait for no man. It is also fair to ask whether Brodeur is a victim of his own success and the inflated expectations of fans and media.
4. Henrik Lundqvist
Team: New York Rangers
Final 2009-10 statistics: 35-27-10; .921 save percentage; 2.38 goals-against average
Career statistics: 177-110-44; .918 save percentage; 2.33 goals-against average
Even a most cursory inspection of the New York Rangers’ history will turn up a franchise replete with legendary goaltenders. By the time his career ends, and if he is able to continue playing at the level he has set, Lundqvist may go down as the greatest in the history of this Original Six franchise.
Early in the reign of Broadway’s King, it was suggested that he was not among the league’s elite because he benefited from coach Tom Renney’s preference for defensively responsible hockey. Renney was replaced in February 2009 by John Tortorella and his “safe is death” approach.
Since, the world has seen Lundqvist establish himself as a premier goaltender, not the product of a system. In a season-and-a-half under Tortorella, Lundqvist’s statistical numbers were virtually identical to those he compiled when Renney ran the bench.
3. Roberto Luongo
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Final 2009-10 statistics: 40-22-4; .913 save percentage; 2.57 goals-against average
Career statistics: 270-254-33-35; .918 save percentage; 2.57 goals-against average
The questions that hang over the heads of Luongo and his teammates are simple, yet arguably unfair: Is being “good” good enough? Can Luongo and the Canucks win the big one?
Vancouver has been among the league’s elite during the Luongo era, yet there is a sense of underachievement as the team has not advanced to the conference finals. Elimination has come at the hands of the 2007 champion Anaheim Ducks, the 2009 Western Conference runner-ups Chicago Blackhawks, and 2010 champion Chicago.
It should be underscored that Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur in goal and helped lead the 2010 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team to a gold medal.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
Final 2009-10 statistics: 42-20-6; .920 save percentage; 2.29 goals-against average
Career statistics: 120-96-25; .914 save percentage; 2.55 goals-against average.
The rise of the Phoenix Coyotes was the best story authored during the 2009-10 NHL season. Owned by the league and among the league’s lowest-payroll teams, the Coyotes finished last season as the second best team in the Pacific Division and the fourth-best team in the conference following a 2008-09 campaign in which only four other teams were worse.
Much of the credit deservedly goes to Bryzgalov. Playing behind a team that was 24th in the NHL in goals scored, his 42 wins were third most in the league. Bryz finished second in shutouts with eight. He was also sixth in goals against and save percentage.
1. Ryan Miller
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Final 2009-10 statistics: 41-18-8; .929 save percentage; 2.22 goals-against average
Career statistics: 187-104-1-33; .914 save percentage; 2.57 goals-against average
It seems inconceivable that the NHL’s best goaltender – and, arguably, the best in the world – was not a household name until the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Yet before Miller turned the world’s grandest sporting event into his personal stage, “Miller Time” was merely a beer slogan. Without him, there’s no guarantee that Team USA even medals, let alone wins a silver medal.
Miller was equally impressive for his primary employer. The Sabres’ franchise cornerstone ended the 2009-10 NHL season second in save percentage and goals against, fourth in wins and tied for fourth in shutouts.
On Twitter: @DenisGorman
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|Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 July 2010 09:24|