NHL Playoffs: Handicapping Goaltenders
by Trevor Whenham - 4/13/2010
Handicapping goaltenders is always important in the NHL, but it is especially important in the playoffs. Playoff hockey is considerably more intense than the regular season, and the focus on defense intensifies, so goalies become the centerpiece of teams. Every year there are a few examples of teams that go farther than expected on the backs of their goalies. It's hard to know who is going to get hot and stay that way, but what we can do is look at the status of the goalies heading into the playoffs:
Jaroslav Halak, Montreal - Halak found his mojo at the Olympics when he carried Slovakia to the semifinals, and he hasn't lost it. That showed us that he is a big-game performer, and his play since has been more than solid. The defensive key to the Canadiens is Andrei Markov. When he and Halak are playing at the same time, as they will be in the playoffs, the team is an impressive 20-8-5. Halak will have to be absolutely brilliant against Washington, and he has the potential to be just that.
Tuuka Rask, Boston - Rask is the Rookie of the Year in my eyes, and he only reason why Boston managed to make the playoffs with their absolutely brutal offense. Rask led the league in goals against average and save percentage, and was particularly good down the stretch. The only real concern is that he is only 22, so the pressure could be too much for him.
Antti Niemi, Chicago - Another rookie, Niemi amassed seven shutouts in just 38 games, and helped ease the massive goaltending concerns this team had heading into the season. Niemi won his last six starts, so he is in good form. The nice thing here, too, is that the Blackhawks can actually score, so he doesn't need to be nearly as good as Rask does - at least early on.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix - There is perhaps no player who has done more for his team this year than Bryzgalov. He has been absolutely brilliant all year, and has stolen more than his share of games along the way. He has allowed more than three goals just twice in his last 14 games, so he is coming in in top form - as he will have to be if the Coyotes are going to have a chance.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit - This is the year of the rookie goalie - this is the third in this group. He may be the best of the whole group. He has played an incredible (for a rookie) 63 games, and has won 15 of 19 since the Olympics. We know that this team has the potential to make a goalie look very good in the playoffs - they have done it the last two years - so Howard is one to watch.
Jose Theodore, Washington - The Achilles' heel for an otherwise virtually flawless Capitals team might be their goaltending. He's in this group because he's an impressive 20-0-3 since Jan. 13, but he doesn't get nearly as much credit for that as he would if he wasn't behind ridiculous offensive power. The key stat - despite his success, he has the worst GAA of any starter in the playoffs.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo - Miller should win the Vezina Trophy, and he was a hero at the Olympics, so he has had a very good year. He hasn't allowed as many as four goals since Feb. 11, so he's in good form. The only real concern is that he hasn't played nearly up to his potential in 34 past playoffs games.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey - Brodeur hasn't been quite as good as he can be this year, but he's done so much in the playoffs that you can never count him out. Over his career he has been even better in the playoffs than the regular season, and always has the ability to kick things up another notch.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh - Fleury is only 25, but he already has the third most playoff experience of any goalie in the playoffs. He carried his team all the way to the Stanley Cup last year and the final the year before. He's only had a decent year, but you certainly can't count him out given what he has done.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver - Luongo doesn't have a pile of playoff success on his record, but he is still a big-game performer and he has a gold medal to prove it. This hasn't been his best year, though, and he allowed eight goals against the Kings on the first day of April.
Brian Elliott, Ottawa - Elliott is the starter more because no one else stepped up than because he is a great goaltender. He has the ability to get red hot - he had winning streaks of nine and six games - but he is equally able to disappear and disappoint. Pittsburgh s going to be a hard team to get hot against.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville - Rinne has the ability to be brilliant, but he can also turn his brain off and be frustratingly bad. He has had one game of each type against the Blackhawks, so it's hard to know which Rinne will show up. More than any goalie on this entire list Rinne would have to be perfect for his team to move on.
Brian Boucher, Philadelphia - He has the worst save percentage of any goalie in the playoffs, he would be the backup at best on virtually every contender in these playoffs, and he has very questionable defense ahead of him. It's hard to trust him.
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose - There's not a lot to complain about with Nabokov, though he has allowed five goals in a game three different times since March 21. The problem, though, is that Nabokov was terrible in the playoffs last year, and even worse at the Olympics for the Russians, so he is a long way from a good big game performer, and is the biggest question facing the West's top-seeded team.
Craig Anderson, Colorado - Anderson is why the Avs are in the playoffs, but he could also be why they go home. He faced more shots than any other player in the league, and far more than he has ever faced before, and there are signs that he is wearing down under the pressure. The top line of the Sharks can be relentless, so Anderson is going to be well challenged.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles - Quick is very talented, but he is young and he was overused this year - 72 games. That means that he's at risk of getting worn out, and they haven't developed a good alternative if he struggles.