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Breaking Down the NHL's Top Goalies

As the old adage says, as your goalie goes, so goes your team’s hopes for success. Each season, the best goalies in the NHL tend to separate themselves from the rest of the pack by the time we approach the All-Star break, and while a few perennial over-achievers are represented in this group, the list is not without a few surprises as well.

Let’s give pause to contemplate who this year’s top tendies are and what we might expect from them and their respective teams going forward. Our baseline qualifications for this fun little study are 35 or more games played, goals against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). We’ll also examine shots against, in order to get a feel for their respective workloads.

Breaking Down the NHL’s Top Goalies

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Naturally, every puckhead worthy of the moniker would assume Carey Price would once again be leading the charge for the Canadiens, dashing the hopes of would-be goal scorers across the league. While he may yet get that chance, this season has not been kind to the best hockey player – at any position – in the NHL.

Last season’s Vezina, Jennings, Hart, Conacher, Lindsay and Lou Marsh winner has taken his game to a whole new level with a brand of goaltending that leaves even the most ardent anti-Habs hockey fan in awe of his acrobatics. Price’s level of composure despite the circumstance, his near-perfect positioning and uncanny ability to battle and make the desperation save are all second to none. While there are runners-up to his title, Price is simply without equal. Only injury itself has defeated him, leaving this crop of Canadiens scrambling for solutions. While the interim goaltending has been arguably NHL-caliber, if not spectacular, clearly, Price’s influence impacts the way the group ultimately performs.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

In his stead, Holtby has emerged as the top head-turner to don the pillows thus far in the 2015-16 season.There are similarities between Price and Holtby. Both are larger men, standing at 6’3’’, and both are extremely disciplined in their respective approaches to puck-stopping. Holtby is about as “all-in” as one could possibly be, in terms of compete and commitment to his craft. His eccentric rituals, which range from an intense in-the-crease-shuffle to an unusual eyeball-training regimen involving squirting a water bottle and following the stream’s trajectory are well-documented. Both keepers are apparently impervious to external pressures, and are decidedly low-key off the ice. They are  also self-starters, and neither ever gives up on a shot. The ability to block out all the noise around them and commit fully to the task at hand has meant the difference on many nights, and their respective teams count their contribution to the cause as immeasurably important. The Capitals minus Holtby are still a very good team, but are they divisional final-worthy? And if so, how far do they get without their star netminder?

Many would argue that given the tough year Price has had to date, Holtby is a virtual lock for the Vezina award, and with a sparkling 1.99 GAA and a .931 SV%, across 37 outings, it’s hard to argue against Holtby at this point, who is poised to lead his crew toward a deep and successful post-season run over the next few months; one that could very well culminate with a Stanley Cup victory. Holtby has faced 1024 shots thus far, and is tops in all goalie stat categories.

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

While the Devils may sit on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, goaltending certainly cannot be faulted. With just 101 goals for thus far into the campaign, only Philadelphia (98) and Anaheim (88) have scored less. Nevertheless, Jersey has just 110 goals against, and of the 1310 shots the team has faced, Schneider has personally tended to 1077 of those. Facing the fourth-most shots of all NHL goalies, Schneider should be on the receiving end of innumerable free steak dinners for his hemp-hive heroics, posting a very impressive 2.03 GAA and a .929 SV% over 39 games.

On a fairly pedestrian team with a 5-5-0 record over the past ten games, Schneider has been a stud. Will it be enough to catapult the Devils out of the abyss and into a playoff position? If they don’t find the back of the net with a little more regularity, I wouldn’t bank on it.

Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

In the midst of all the controversy surrounding Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning have quietly crept up the ladder in the Atlantic division, sitting comfortably in second place behind their Sunshine State cohorts, the Florida Panthers. Of all keepers with 35 games under their belt, Bishop has the second-best GAA in the league to date at 1.97 across 35 contests, and  a flattering .927 SV%.

Tampa routinely faces the seventh-most shots against on average at 28.3, which equates to 1273 over the course of the first 45 games played. Credit Bishop with facing 934 of those shots. With his body of work to date, Bishop has the trust of his teammates and the respect of the league’s top shooters. There is little doubt that “Big Ben” will lead Tampa in another long playoff run, and the dogfight to come in the Eastern Conference will pit some of the game’s best goalies against each other. Bishop absolutely thrives under this kind of pressure, and will not disappoint.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Jumping to the Western Conference, Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford battle for goalie supremacy, to the surprise of absolutely no one. Often the unsung hero, Crawford is regularly left out of these conversations, but the numbers just don’t lie. One thing “Crow” is really good at is winning hockey games, and with a league-leading 1144 shots directed his way, the Blackhawks star goalie boasts an excellent .929 SV% across 38 games played, while his 2.17 GAA is nothing less than stellar. Crawford has that combination of poise and experience, as well as the unwavering trust of his teammates that has made him one of the winningest goalies in the game, and clearly, a heavy workload doesn’t scare him.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Rival Quick boasts some of the best legs in all of hockey. His ability to extend his limbs and take away the bottom of the net is absolute artistry to behold. A wide, low stance is driven by an exceptionally powerful and agile lower body which allows him to move laterally and pop in and out of his butterfly with absolute control and unreal speed.

In 37 starts, Quick boasts a GAA of 2.10 along with a .923 SV%. L.A. averages over 28 shots-against per game, with 1242 directed at their nets so far this season. Quick has faced 1009 of those shots. With a nice mix of savvy vets, highly-skilled youth and upper-echelon goaltending, the Pacific division’s top dogs are sure to make some noise once again as the playoff race heats up. Only Washington has a better goals-against record with 97 as compared to the King’s 99. If goaltending wins championships, it will be a familiar clash of the titans between Chicago’s Crawford and L.A.’s Quick that could ultimately determine the victor in the west.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

Rounding out the list, you just have to feel good for Panthers veteran keeper Luongo. To a man, the move to Sunrise would represent  the hockey-equivalent of being put out to pasture… or so we may have thought. The sun-kissed darlings of the Atlantic Division have been blessed by the hockey gods with a group that has come together in near-perfect synchronicity to manage their goals-against with enviable efficacy while boasting a healthy +18 goal differential.

While the team averages 29.6 shots-against, the 7-2-1 over the last 10 games Panthers can thank Luongo for his 2.17 GAA and .927 SV% across 36 contests – a key factor in their rise to respectability and the top spot in the Atlantic this season. Turning aside 979 of the 1056 shots he has faced, the veteran goalie seems far from finished. Should the double Olympic Gold medalist/Jennings/President’s Trophy recipient find a way to add Lord Stanley’s mug to his assortment of awards and accolades, “Lou” will be one happy camper by the time he ultimately enters the twilight of his career. Is this his year to win it?

The Omissions

There are plenty of great goalie stories this season, and, as mentioned, a few eyebrow-raisers. The absence of both the aforementioned Price is as big a story as the omission of Henrik Lundquist of the New York Rangers from the top-six crop.

“King Henrik” has been effective in his 37 starts, but the workload he has faced this year (1037 stops VS. 1126 shots) has caused his stock to slip, even if just slightly. Cause for alarm? Hardly. Not when the Blueshirts sit 5th in the conference, and with a veteran battler like Lundquist, his experience and composure should equate to a deep playoff run, good health permitting.

You will no doubt notice that both Nashville Predators keeper Pekka Rinne and Boston Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask are also absent from the top six as well, and while both are having respectable seasons, they’ve proven to be just a grade below their counterparts named herein.

So, with all variables considered, here are my personal goaltender rankings. Who ultimately emerges as the league’s top tendy four and a half months from now is anyone’s guess, but it will almost certainly be one of the six names below. I’ll go out on a limb here and anoint Holtby as the ultimate victor, and, dare I say, Stanley Cup winner. Who gets your vote?

  1. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
  2. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
  4. Johnathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
  5. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
  6. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

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