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The Goaltending Foxhole, Part Four

In Hockey on November 28, 2011 at 10:33 am

Now this is where things get fun. We’ve already looked at the first three levels of goaltenders. Please, feel free to go back and read them if you haven’t already. Today, we take a look at some of the game’s top goaltenders that have a quirk or have struggled in crunch-time. Some of these guys don’t fall into the “Talented But Unproven” category, simply because their talents have been on display for more than half of a season. Yet, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of them. This section will be called:

The Enigmas

Ondrej Pavelec
The man that has been tapped as the Jets’ goaltender of the foreseeable future, Pavelec has impressed me on more than one occasion with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise. He’s also made me shake my head on more than one occasion at his play. I know his team has been awful defensively since he’s been with the big club, but he’s been prone to bad goals as well.

If Sergei Bobrovsky is going to be an NHL number one goalie, it may not be in Philly

Sergei Bobrovsky
Bob came out of nowhere to be an early season stud for the Flyers in 2010. Then, it appeared that he got a little worn down by the longer NHL schedule, and he wasn’t near as strong in the latter part of the season. Played well overall, the Peter Laviollette decided to play hot potato with his goalies in the playoffs. Now Bobrovsky sits behind Ilya Bryzgalov in the Philly net. Tough breaks for Bob.

Ray Emery
The oldest member of the list, Emery has backstopped a team to the finals, battled injuries and personal demons only to fight his way back to form last year. Emery doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt here because of the amount of time he was on the shelf over the last few years. We won’t know if he can take a team to the Finals the same way he did with Ottawa in ’07. Unless someone loses each of their current goalies.

Craig Anderson
A guy that played a few pretty good seasons as a backup into a starting gig, Anderson was at his very best when he helped take Colorado back to the playoffs in 2010. The biggest problem for Anderson since then is the fact that he’s been playing for some of the worst defensive teams in the league in Ottawa and last year’s version of the Avalanche. Anderson’s numbers this year haven’t been great, but he’s stolen a few games for the Avs.

Michal Neuvirth is currently learning behind Tomas Vokoun in Washington

Michal Neuvirth
The only thing getting Neuvirth on this list is the fact that he was the guy last year in Washington. Neuvirth was great in the regular season and against the Rangers in the playoffs. But since the Tampa series, Neuvirth has been incredibly bad for a good team. If he’s going to be the guy going forward for the Caps, he’s got to show more.

Semyon Varlamov
The talent is there, without question. But injuries and the inability to get in a groove have held Varlamov back over the last few years. This season, the Avalanche gave up a ton to get him from the Capitals, and they’ve been rewarded with inconsistent play thus far. It’s been the story of his career. But, from reading The Goalie Guild (which had a big help in the inspiration for this list), the Avalanche don’t have a goaltending coach for Varly. Hopefully, he’s been listening to J.S. Giguere.

Without Brian Elliott, the Blues may be one of the league's worst teams

Brian Elliott
Before you call me an idiot for putting Elliott this high, hear me out. The guy has been a good goalie since he came into the league. Not great, but good. He helped get the Senators to the playoffs a few years ago with some great play. He was atrocious last year for two of the league’s worst teams in Ottawa and Colorado. St. Louis took a flier on him this year, and they’ve been rewarded with outstanding play from Elliott. Elliott helped take Wisconsin to a national title as a senior, and he was even playing well before Ken Hitchcock arrived in St. Louis. I can’t put him higher though, because I don’t know if this will keep up and the Blues go back to the guy they’re paying a lot of money to. Speaking of him…

Jaroslav Halak
What the hell happened, Jaro? He never had a chance to take the top spot in Montreal, takes the Habs on a magical playoff run two years ago, gets a chance in St. Louis to be the top guy last year and plays very well early. Then, the wheels fell off and Halak hasn’t been able to re-gain the form he showed at times in Montreal. He’s been victimized by bad goals, yet he makes a save or two per game that brings you out of your seat. I know he’s capable of getting white-hot, but that hasn’t happened for quite some time. Thanks, Jaro, but you can take a seat.

Cory Schneider
Yes, this choice does break the rules listed at the top. But it’s my list and I can do what I want with it! There’s no question the Schneider is going to be a number one goalie somewhere in the NHL. No one knows if it’s going to be in Vancouver or elsewhere though. He’s been lights-out this season playing in relief of Roberto Luongo. He was also great last year and was called upon to take over for Luongo in a clinching playoff game. If I’m any team that needs a plan in net for the future, I would get on the phone with Mike Gillis right now. I’m talking to you, New Jersey.

Tuukka Rask
Rask is being very patient behind Tim Thomas. He has the chops to be a top guy, and he took the Bruins to a series win in 2010. He was also in net for the team’s collapse against the Flyers that year too, so I have to dock him for that. He fits in above Schneider because we’ve seen more of Rask over the last few years.

Mike Smith is thriving in the Desert this season

Mike Smith
Now that he’s out of goaltending hell in Tampa, we’re finally able to see what Smith can do as a goalie. He’s healthy and he’s been great for the Coyotes this year. As good as he’s been this year, it has yet to be seen how he does over an entire season. He’s also fun to watch because of how well he handles the puck. Talk to me in a few months with Smith.

Corey Crawford
It took him some time, but Crawford now has a stranglehold on the Chicago net. He was a blast to watch last year, and he nearly won the team’s game seven in Vancouver last year by himself. He continues to get better, and it may not be too long before Crawford is one of the league’s elite goaltenders. My only concern is how quick his coach likes to give his goalies the hook. All it takes to possibly put Crawford back on the bench is a 4-5 game stretch of poor play.

Kari Lehtonen
I had an incredibly hard time trying to figure out where to put Lehtonen. He’s been great since he arrived in Dallas, nearly taking a lesser-talented team to the playoffs last year. He also got out to a great start this season for the Stars. From what I had been told, it was because he dedicated himself to getting in shape and getting healthy. That gives me the idea that he could give up if things are going south. He battled injuries and some bad hockey teams while in Atlanta, but was good the year he took them to the team’s only playoff appearance. He responded by getting abused by the Rangers in his only playoff action. So until he can prove that he’s worthy of being a top goalie, I have no choice but to put him here.

Jonathan Quick
Another guy that’s been great since he was handed the keys to his team, Quick is putting up great numbers for the Kings once again this year. He’s also got to deal with Jonathan Bernier behind him, who could take that spot at any time. My biggest issue with Quick is how badly he’s fallen apart in the playoffs. Yes, he stole LA’s two (nearly three) wins last year against the Sharks in the playoffs. But he was taken to the woodshed by Vancouver the year before, and had he not collapsed in game three against San Jose, who knows how that series ends. Yes, I was smiling the entire time I typed that. Perform in the playoffs, young man.

Jonas Hiller
When he’s good, he’s really good. But Hiller’s high points came the year he led the Ducks to a playoff win as an 8-seed (my smile is no longer present) and last year before he came down with vertigo. Hiller returned this year to what has turned out to be a pretty bad Ducks team, and his numbers have suffered. I’m not going to throw the guy to the wayside, he’s still plenty talented and can steal games if he gets hot. Catching with his right hand is also a different look for shooters. But I need to see him put together a long stretch before thinking about moving him up.

Antti Niemi is the only goalie in this section to have started for a Stanley Cup winner

Antti Niemi
While I had a friend tell me he thinks Niemi deserves to be an elite goalie, I can’t put him there yet. Yes, he’s won a Stanley Cup. Yes, he’s carried two teams to great seasons. But his Cup had more to do with the team in front of him than anything, and he’s been leaky in a few playoff series over the last two years (LA and Vancouver last year, at times against Philly in ’10). So until Niemi can put together a season AND playoff season where he’s lights-out, then his ascension to the elite could come quickly. For my own sanity, I hope it’s this season. The good news is that he’s been superb for the Sharks this season and is a big reason why they’re the top defensive team in the West as of right now.

Jimmy Howard
This guy is on the fast-track to an elite level. I even hate having him here. Howard took the league by storm as a rookie, but he regressed a little bit last season, posting less than impressive numbers. Howard erased any concern that his team had about him in the playoffs, posting solid numbers in 11 games. This season, he’s gotten off to a great start and has kept the Red Wings in the hunt for the top spot in the conference. The only issue I have, and this is based off the times I’ve gotten to see him the most (the playoffs against San Jose), is that he’s prone to giving up a bad goal that can swing some momentum. He appears to be the Red Wings’ guy going forward though, so all is good in Detroit’s net.

Ilya Bryzgalov hopes to get his game turned around in time for the playoffs

Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov just missed out on the elite level, and anyone that’s seen him play in Philly this year can understand why. He was outstanding in Phoenix for four years, posting great numbers for teams that aren’t as talented as others in the league. However, we could be seeing that those results were a product of Dave Tippett’s system since Mike Smith is having success. There’s no question Bryzgalov is a talented goalie. He’s openly said he’s had some confidence issues in Philly so far, and now we’re starting to see Sergei Bobrovsky get more playing time. He demanded big money, got it, and is slacking. It’s almost as if he’s using the more talented team in front of him as an excuse to let his guard down. That’s not how it works, in the end you still have to stop the puck, Breezy.

Well that covers it for The Enigmas. We’ve finally reached the elite. Come back tomorrow, when I reveal the one goaltender that I want in net for one game only.

And please, react to me! I enjoy the feedback.

The Goaltending Foxhole, Part Three

In Hockey on November 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm

This is where things start to get good. So far, we’ve taken a look at the goaltenders that, for the most part, we can all agree you would want nowhere near the crease in a must-win game. The reasons vary, but the fact remains.

As we plunge on, today we take a look at the old guard in net. Guys that are battle tested and know how to handle themselves in a big game, mainly because they’ve been in a few. Despite their experience, time is starting to catch up to these warriors of the crease, and their game has suffered because of it.

I shall call this group:

The Greybeards
(I know, not much for creativity. Deal with it.)

Brian Boucher played a big part in the Flyers' run to the 2010 Cup Finals

Brian Boucher
One of my favorite guys got quite some time. Boucher has fought to keep a spot in this league, and he’s been pretty good over the last few years.  Despite his performances in the last two playoffs with the Flyers, Boucher finds himself on this list. If you watched him at all during last year’s playoffs with a decent Flyers squad, it’s not hard to understand why.

Johan Hedberg
Another guy that I’ve enjoyed for quite some time. Hedberg made a big splash late in 2001 when he backstopped the Penguins to the East finals. Since then, Hedberg has been stuck playing on some bad teams. He went through some struggles after leaving Pittsburgh, but he has been sensational over the last three season in Atlanta and New Jersey. So as much as I like the Moose, he falls here.

Martin Biron
A guy that has been the ultimate teammate over the years, Biron now holds the clipboard on the Rangers’ bench. When he has gotten to play, however, he’s been great for the Rangers. He had the task of following Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, only to be the guy keeping the starting goalie seat warm for Ryan Miller. Has only been the guy in one deep playoff run, leading the Flyers to a surprising trip to the East finals in 2008.

The hockey world was introduced to J.S. Giguere in 2003.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Our first Cup winner to make any list, Giggy has rebounded this season with some nice play in Colorado. He’s easily the most decorated goalie that has been names thus far, although that’s going to change soon. He was at his best with the Ducks, winning a Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy for taking the ’03 Ducks (the worst Cup Finalists of all time) to within one win. Unfortunately, his game tailed off around 2008, and he’s struggled ever since in Anaheim and Toronto. He’s nearing the end of the career, and a mighty good one at that.

Evgeni Nabokov could get one more chance to take a team deep if the Islanders trade him.

Evgeni Nabokov
My old buddy. Nabby carved out a spectacular career in San Jose for 10 seasons. Then no one would offer him a contract, and his game went to garbage. He’s trying his best to get out of Long Island, but a current injury may prevent that for the time being. Nabokov was notorious for caving in big games throughout his time in San Jose, and that’s a label that he won’t be able to shed.

Nikolai Khabibulin
The second Cup winner on this list, Khabibulin is going through a resurgence of his own in Edmonton this season. He’s kept the young Oilers in the playoff chase, although I have to admit, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Khabbi hasn’t been very good since the lockout, and despite his current pace of play, I have to have him on this list.

Jose Theodore
Another goalie that’s having a great season for a surprising team. Theodore has also been through a lot in his career, and I think that he’s thriving in a place where the pressure level isn’t very high. He’s had some issues in the playoffs in his career, winning only three playoff series. Granted, Theo was the reason his teams won those series, he got lit up like a christmas tree in the second rounds. He’s currently keeping the crease warm for Jacob Markstrom, but it’s fun to see him playing well right now. In other words, my fantasy team is reaping the benefits.

Miikka Kiprusoff
The third San Jose draft pick on this list, Kipper has seen his game dip over the last few years. Playing in front of a few bad Calgary teams also hasn’t helped his stats. But we know that the guy is going to play a ton of games each season and keep the Flames in the payoff chase. However, the fact that Kipper hasn’t won a playoff series since taking Calgary to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2004. The way the Flames are set up this year, I don’t see him getting a chance to change that.

Dwayne Roloson
The NHL’s current ageless wonder. Roloson has been through a lot during his time in the league, and I thought that he was done heading into last season. He played well to earn a ticket out of Long Island, and he took the Lightning to within one game of the finals. He’s still trucking along this season, but he’s been leaky at times playing in front of the exciting Lightning. Come playoff time, I expect Roli to be back to his old self, but he still worries me.

He could be the greatest to ever play, but lately, Martin Brodeur has been just average.

Martin Brodeur
The first shocker in the list. Look, Brodeur is quite possibly the greatest goaltender of all time, but he’s had trouble staying healthy over the past few years, and his numbers have suffered as a result. I want to believe that Marty has one more deep playoff run in him, but there’s no way it can be in New Jersey. But if we’re going on past experiences, no one playing today has the resume Brodeur has. But Brodeur clearly hasn’t been the same guy over the last couple seasons, and I have n0 choice but to put him in this section.

That covers it for this section, be sure to check back in the next few days for the next installment of the list. And please, REACT TO ME.

The Goaltending Foxhole, Part Two

In Hockey on November 23, 2011 at 10:34 am

You had a chance to look at part one of this series, where we took a look at goaltenders that you just assume leave on the bench in a one-game scenario. If you haven’t considered me to be crazy just yet, then feast your eyes on part two of this series. Today, we look at goalies that are talented, yet haven’t been the go-to guy for a team for 1/2-to-3/4 of a season.

I’ll call this section:

The “Potentially Special Guy, but We Have No Way of Knowing Until He Plays More” Category

Mark Dekanich – In this case, we really have no idea about Dekanich. He’s been solid in the minors, but hasn’t been able to cash in on his chance in Columbus due to injury. The jury is out until we see him in net.

Ben Scrivens – Has gotten his chance to play in Toronto this year due to an injury to James Reimer. He’s actually ripped the top spot away from Gustavsson as of the time I type this. Chances are he ends up in the AHL again, but the Leafs may have something should Reimer falter.

Robin Lehner should be ready to take over in Ottawa in the next few years

Robin Lehner – He’s young, feisty, confident, huge, and skilled. Lehner was a blown icing call away from taking Sweden to the World Junior finals last year. He did take Ottawa’s AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup last year though. Has played a few games in the NHL, but is being seasoned in the minors for (presumably) next season. Only obstacle is the contract given to Craig Anderson last year.

Henrik Karlsson
Another guy that cut his teeth in the Swedish Elite League. Karlsson was drafted by the Sharks and signed by Calgary last year. Played well when called upon, maybe even better than Miikka Kiprusoff at times. Could challenge for more playing time this season. Plays well when given the chance.

Anders Lindback – Our third straight Swede. Lindback comes from the NHL’s current goaltending factory in Nashville, and he was sensational last year for the Preds when called upon. His size helps him, much like the man he backs-up in Pekka Rinne. But until I have a chance to see Lindback carry the load for a long period of time, I’m still not 100% sure of what kind of goalie Lindback can be.

Al Montoya needs to be given a chance to be the top guy on Long Island

Al Montoya – What a ride it’s been for Montoya. I had no idea he was still around until the Isles swiped him from the Coyotes last year. He has been great for the Isles, but he’s in the wrong spot for any goalie right now. Part of a three-headed monster, Montoya has played the best for the Isles this year. Despite this, Jack Capuano continues to play Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov. Now he’s hurt. Poor Al.

Thomas Greiss
I felt he paid his dues and deserved his chance to be the backup/starter last year. Instead, he was sent to Sweden. This year, we’ve had a chance to see more of Greiss than ever before. He’s been great when called upon for the Sharks, filling in for Antero Niittymaki while he’s hurt. With his play, he may make Nitty expendable. Still not comfortable to put him in a do-or-die spot.

Devan Dubnyk
I felt he was ready to start this year. Nik Khabibulin ripped that spot away from him early. Dubnyk is still a talented goalie, he just hasn’t had the chance to shoulder a heavy workload for more than half of a season. I’d also like to think he would be great with a decent defensive squad.

Jhonas Enroth
We’re getting to see what Enroth can do with Ryan Miller currently hurt. He’s been great for the Sabres, but this is Ryan Miller’s squad. My opinion of Enroth could easily change, depending on how long Miller is out.

Braden Holtby
Had a chance to play last year when Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth were hurt. And boy was he good. There’s been talk of Holtby being the goalie of the future, but he has been pushed into the minors in favor of Varly, Neuvirth, and now Tomas Vokoun. I have to think he’s going to get a look next season. Until then, he stays here.

Jonathan Bernier
Once the unquestioned goalie-of-the-future in LA, Bernier has been shown the bench thanks to some great play from Jonathan Quick. Despite that, the talk of dealing Quick has never gone away. I guess that’s to be expected based on his playoff resume. Bernier is loaded with talent, he just needs to get a break.

Jacob Markstrom is being groomed to be Florida's number one goalie

Jacob Markstrom
While I understand why he’s currently in the AHL , I feel like Markstrom is ready to play in the NHL right now. He crushed the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year old. He took Sweden to the gold medal game of the World Juniors. He had a chance to carry the workload for the Panthers this season when Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen were hurt, and he was spectacular. I know I’m going to have to wait, but I can’t wait to see him in the NHL for a full season. He’s athletic, a big body, and very confident. Yet I still can’t put him any higher than this. His time will come.

Josh Harding
Yes, he’s been in the league for the last four years. But he’s been held back by a slew of injuries and hasn’t had a chance to get on a roll. Oh, and Niklas Backstrom has been in his way. Now that he’s healthy, he’s had a chance to put his talent to use. He filled in when Backstrom was struggling, and he’s earned some more starts as a result. Still not totally sure what he can do for a full year, but he’s been great this season.

Once he gets health, James Reimer could be the NHL's next breakout goalie

James Reimer
I could see Leafs fans giving me hell for this, but Reimer has the best chance out of anyone on this list to break out. He was a revelation last year for a Leafs squad that couldn’t buy good goaltending. He’s a battler and he always seems to be in the right spot. Once he gets healthy, he could become the best Leafs goalie since Ed Belfour. I have faith in Reimer, and I have to think Leafs fans do too.

That concludes this part of the series. Don’t be afraid to react to me. Oh, and make sure to take a look at part three on Friday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!