It’s still quite early in the season, but it’s never too soon to look at some early contenders for the NHL’s award for best goaltender.
My candidates are chosen based on a small sample size, and the Vezina can be awarded based on other factors like career achievement in addition to the current season’s body of work, but let’s take a look at nine of the NHL goalies who have performed the best so far in the shortened season.
Craig Anderson had a nice season for the Senators in 2011-12 (63 GP, .914 SV%, 2.84 GAA). His stellar play in the playoffs (7 GP, .933 SV%, 2.00 GAA) kept his team within striking distance before they fell to the Rangers in a tight Game 7.
This year, Anderson has picked up right where he left off last spring. With the exception of his last game against Buffalo where he gave up three goals, Anderson hasn’t dipped below a .938 save percentage in his league-high nine games played. He was named the NHL’s first star of the month for January.
The Canadiens have been the surprise of the year so far, starting the season 6-2-0. They’ve scored 3.25 goals per game, good for fifth-best in the league, but Price has also been fantastic. The Canadiens have won their last six games with Price in net, and they’ll keep winning with Price at his current level.
It feels strange to put Luongo on this list, since Cory Schneider was supposed to be Vancouver’s starter. However, if Luongo continues his incredible play, Schneider will have to settle for the moniker of “Vancouver’s goalie of the future,” because Luongo very much looks like Vancouver’s goalie of the present.
Since coming into the game in relief of Schneider on January 19 against Anaheim, Luongo has earned a 3-0-2 record, with no losses in regulation.
Unfortunately for Luongo, it’s to be expected that the minute he struggles even slightly, Schneider will get a chance to earn the starter job back. Still, Luongo has forced a new kind of discussion in the Vancouver goalie saga with his composed start to the season.
Crawford’s great run this year has come as a shock to most. The 28-year-old, who struggled last year (57 GP, .903 SV%, 2.72 GAA), has yet to lose a game in regulation in any of his starts. It’s too early to tell if it’s a fluke or the real deal, but the Blackhawks are enjoying their goalie’s early success, racking up an impressive 8-0-2 record in the season’s first 10 games.
5. Antti Niemi – San Jose Sharks – 8 GP, .927 SV%, 2.06 GAA
Niemi often doesn’t get the credit he deserves, for whatever reason. His numbers have been more than solid for several years now, but this year he’s off to an especially hot start.
Since signing a new two-year deal with Edmonton, the 26-year-old Ukrainian has been doing his best to prove he deserves to be a starter in the NHL. Edmonton doesn’t make it easy for him; he has faced an average of 33 shots per game, but Dubnyk has lived up to the challenge so far, even with very little goal support. Edmonton has scored an average of 2.3 goals per game, ranking 22nd in the league, but thanks to Dubnyk’s strong play, they have a healthy 4-3-2 record.
Lehtonen’s team has provided him with a league-worst 1.9 goals per game of support, but the 29-year-old Finnish goalie has kept his team in the running at 4-5-1. Like Dubnyk, Lehtonen has also faced a large number of shots. Dallas is ranked second-to-worst in shots against, with 33.8 per game. Their current model isn’t sustainable, but Lehtonen has done a good job of holding down the fort while his team has struggled on offense.
8. Pekka Rinne – Nashville Predators – 8 GP, .923 SV%, 2.02 GAA
After a bad 1-2-3 start for the Predators through no fault of his own, Rinne has won his last three starts, allowing just one goal in each, and helping his team improve to a 4-2-3 record. Rinne was awful in the KHL (22 GP, .897 SV%, 3.08GAA) during the lockout, but his struggles haven’t followed him back to the States. Of the three Vezina nominees from last year, he’s the only one who’s back in the mix so far in the early goings for this season.
The 2009-10 Vezina runner-up and top 5 Hart Trophy finalist seems to have rediscovered the magic that earned him those honors, coming off a difficult first year with Philadelphia. He’s done it with little help from the depleted Flyers defense, and with the sixth-worst offense in the NHL, explaining his 4-5-0 record. For most of the shortened season so far, Bryzgalov has been the team’s best player. The Flyers will be hoping that continues, as their offense tries to get going.
Looking at Last Year’s Other Vezina Finalists
Henrik Lundqvist – New York Rangers – 8 GP, .900 SV%, 2.83 GAA
It’s been rarely discussed, but last year’s Vezina Trophy winner has looked pretty lackluster in his first eight games, cracking the .900 mark in just three of his starts. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt, since he’s been so excellent in the recent past, but his slump is something to watch as the season progresses. Lundqvist’s poor play has contributed to the Rangers’ meager 4-5-0 record, but the Rangers’ fourth-worst offense (2.22 goals per game) has not done Lundqvist any favors.
Jonathan Quick – Los Angeles Kings – 8 GP, .897 SV%, 2.62 GAA
Last year’s playoff MVP Quick got off to a rough start, allowing five goals in LA’s opener against the Blackhawks. Though he strung together a few good games, he was pulled on February 2 against the Ducks after allowing two goals on three shots. Quick had back surgery during the lockout, and there’s no question he’s had some “off” moments to start out the year, but as with Lundqvist, it’s too early to panic.