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Cullen: Rangers, Bruins, Blues top team goaltender rankings

Scott Cullen

2/8/2012 5:08:40 PM

At this stage of the NHL season, it's becoming evident what teams have and what they need.

Scott Cullen ranks team goaltending for all 30 NHL teams.

When it comes to evaluating team goaltending, obviously the starter is the most important factor but, since this is a ranking of team goaltending -- and not individual goaltending -- the performance of backups has to be taken into account. Where some teams have improved, in fact, is that they have better backups after injuries or demotions forced roster changes.

While the common refrain these days is that goaltending is an easy commodity to find, it's also clear that there is a decided difference in the performance between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom.

It may not be easy to predict which teams will land at either end of the spectrum from one year to the next (ask Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford, for example, about the fickle nature of the position), it's not too surprising that the teams that are getting strong goaltending this season are generally faring well in the standings. If they aren't, it isn't because of the work from the guys in the custom painted masks.

It goes without saying that, like any rankings, these could change as performace changes, but it should give a decent idea which teams ought to be satisfied and which teams ought to be looking to improve their goaltending.

1. NEW YORK RANGERS
Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.4
Save Percentage: .933
Comment: Not only has Lundqvist been great -- he's currently the top-rated player in the TSN.ca NHL Player Rankings -- but Biron has been outstanding in the backup role, posting a 1.95 goals against average and .924 save percentage, both of which are career-bests for him.

2. BOSTON BRUINS
Goalies: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.2
Save Percentage: .931
Comment: There's nothing wrong with the Bruins' tandem either, but Lundqvist's slight advantage over Thomas and a recent decline from Rask over his last three appearances is enough to leave the Bruins' goaltenders in second spot.

3. ST. LOUIS BLUES
Goalies: Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott.
Shots Faced Per Game: 26.0
Save Percentage: .927
Comment: Certainly the Blues' defence plays a role in their success, allowing a league-low 26.0 shots per game, but Halak and Elliott have little wiggle room considering the limited offensive support they receive, so they are integral to the Blues' success.

4. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.3
Save Percentage: .922
Comment: Since a miserable October, Roberto Luongo has posted a .930 save percentage, facing more than 40 shots in four of his last six starts, so he's in fine form. Schneider and Rask may be the two best backups in the game, capable of starting for the majority of teams in the league, but stuck behind elite starters.

5. LOS ANGELES KINGS
Goalies: Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.1
Save Percentage: .929
Comment: The Kings offer even less offensive support and Quick has been sensational this year, but the team goaltender ranking is hurt somewhat by Jonathan Bernier's subpar (.896 save percentage) results in the backup role.

6. MINNESOTA WILD
Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Matt Hackett.
Shots Faced Per Game: 32.4
Save Percentage: .924
Comment: With Harding healthy after a season on the sidelines due to a torn ACL, the Wild have a strong tandem, which has been necessary since Backstrom hasn't been entirely healthy this year. In a short stint, Hackett offered some promise, stopping 84 of 86 shots in three appearances.

7. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Goalies: Pekka Rinne, Anders Lindback.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.4
Save Percentage: .918
Comment: Rinne has been typically great -- Sunday's loss to Vancouver ended his 11-game winning streak -- but Lindback hasn't been as effective as he was during his rookie season.

8. SAN JOSE SHARKS
Goalies: Antti Niemi, Thomas Greiss.
Shots Faced Per Game: 28.5
Save Percentage: .919
Comment: Niemi has been good, maybe even very good, but Thomas Greiss has been a revelation in the backup role after spending a year in Sweden. Getting a 1.98 goals against average and .925 save percentage out of the backup is pretty sweet.

9. DETROIT RED WINGS
Goalies: Jimmy Howard, Ty Conklin, Joey MacDonald.
Shots Faced Per Game: 27.5
Save Percentage: .913
Comment: Obviously this is with a healthy Howard. Right now, with Howard nursing a broken finger, the Red Wings are in trouble, hoping that 31-year-old journeyman Joey MacDonald can hold the fort because Ty Conklin has struggled, allowing three or more goals in seven of his last nine games.

10. CALGARY FLAMES
Goalies: Miikka Kiprusoff, Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.6
Save Percentage: .913
Comment: Kiprusoff has bounced back, with a .920 save percentage and, as usual, he's handled a heavy workload, with backups Irving and Karlsson combining to play in 10 of 53 games with less-than-stellar results.

11. PHOENIX COYOTES
Goalies: Mike Smith, Jason LaBarbera.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.5
Save Percentage: .918
Comment: It's possible that the Coyotes' system works well for goaltenders because Smith is enjoying success while last year's starter, Ilya Bryzgalov, is enduring a disastrous year in Philadelphia, yet only four teams have allowed more shots per game, so Smith deserves a measure of credit too.

12. DALLAS STARS
Goalies: Kari Lehtonen, Richard Bachman, Andrew Raycroft.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.6
Save Percentage: .910
Comment: Lehtonen continues to play well when healthy -- the story of his career, for the most part -- and the Stars upgraded their backup situation when they replaced Raycroft with Backhman.

13. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Goalies: Carey Price, Peter Budaj.
Shots Faced Per Game: 28.3
Save Percentage: .909
Comment: Price has been good, but not as good as he was a year ago so even if Budaj has been a little better than expected, the Canadiens' goaltending ranks only a little above average.

14. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Goalies: Evgeni Nabokov, Al Montoya, Kevin Poulin, Rick DiPietro, Anders Nilsson.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.9
Save Percentage: .906
Comment: Now that Nabokov is healthy and capable of fulfilling the starter's role, the Islanders are in much, much better shape between the pipes. Montoya has played well, when given the chance and Poulin offers promise for the future. The injury to DiPietro actually helps matters, since the Islanders can't feel obligated to play their highest-paid goaltender, even though 2006-2007 was the last season that he posted a save percentage over .902.

15. COLORADO AVALANCHE
Goalies: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Semyon Varlamov.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.2
Save Percentage: .904
Comment: Considering the first-round price they paid to get Varlamov, the Avalanche can't be thrilled that his subpar play has forced them to give Giguere more time in the cage. Fortunately, Giguere has excelled, posted a career-best .923 save percentage.

16. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Goalies: Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.1
Save Percentage: .909
Comment: Aside from his November slump, Vokoun has posted a .931 save percentage in all other games this season, so he's playing at a high level, which can't be said for Neuvirth, who was splitting time for a while, but has had his performance tail off.

17. FLORIDA PANTHERS
Goalies: Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen, Jacob Markstrom, Brian Foster.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.4
Save Percentage: .912
Comment: Theodore was surprisingly good before he got hurt and is ready to return to the lineup, but the Panthers received solid work between the pipes from Clemmensen and Markstrom in Theodore's absence.

18. WINNIPEG JETS
Goalies: Ondrej Pavelec, Chris Mason.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.5
Save Percentage: .909
Comment: Pavelec struggled early, but has been terrific (more or less) since the beginning of January, posting a .926 save percentage in his last 24 games. Mason has also rebounded to provide better than average performance in a backup role.

19. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Johnson.
Shots Faced Per Game: 26.5
Save Percentage: .905
Comment: Fleury has played well enough, with a .913 save percentage, but Johnson has struggled. Considering they face the second-fewest shots per game, the numbers could be better.

20. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Goalies: James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.7
Save Percentage: .907
Comment: Reimer appears to be rebounding, winning his last three starts, and recapturing the starter's role that he had surrendered to Gustavsson at times due to his concussion and ensuing subpar play. Gustavsson played well when given the starter's job in January after uneven results pretty much throughout his NHL career.

21. EDMONTON OILERS
Goalies: Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.6
Save Percentage: .907
Comment: Khabibulin started the season spectacularly, but has an .894 save percentage since the beginning of January, giving Dubnyk the chance to take over. It doesn't help playing behind the Oilers' defence corps, that has also been hit hard by injuries, but some blame has to fall on the goaltenders too.

22. ANAHEIM DUCKS
Goalies: Jonas Hiller, Dan Ellis, Jeff Deslauriers, Iiro Tarkki.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.2
Save Percentage: .902
Comment: Hiller was a mess all season until he rattled off a .944 save percentage in 11 January games, but overall the Ducks' goaltending just hasn't been good enough and it shows how much better he was last year before he was sidelined by vertigo.

23. CAROLINA HURRICANES
Goalies: Cam Ward, Brian Boucher, Justin Peters.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.9
Save Percentage: .907
Comment: Ward went through a rough stretch in November and December (.885 save percentage), but he's rebounded since and has been as good as any goaltender in the league since the start of January.

24. BUFFALO SABRES
Goalies: Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth, Drew MacIntyre.
Shots Faced Per Game: 31.5
Save Percentage: .907
Comment: This season can only be described as a disappointment for Miller, who has played better very recently (3-0-1, 1.17 GAA, .959 SV% in his last four games), but unless that holds for the rest of the season, it's probably too little, too late, which is unfortunate for the Sabres because Jhonas Enroth has played well in the backup role.

25. OTTAWA SENATORS
Goalies: Craig Anderson, Alex Auld, Robin Lehner.
Shots Faced Per Game: 32.2
Save Percentage: .904
Comment: Anderson may collapse under the workload -- he's played a league-leading 51 games -- but January was really the only month in which he's put up better than average numbers. Given Auld's mediocre play, the Senators could look for a better backup to bolster their playoff chances.

26. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg.
Shots Faced Per Game: 27.3
Save Percentage: .899
Comment: Brodeur's season overall has been poor, but he's allowed a total of 17 goals in his last nine starts, possibly an indication that he's poised for a strong finish. He had a good second half last year too. Hedberg remains one of the better veteran backups in the game.

27. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Goalies: Curtis Sanford, Steve Mason, Allen York.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.3
Save Percentage: .892
Comment: The Blue Jackets decided they would give Mason another chance as the starter and he just hasn't been able to perform at that level. Mark Dekanich was expected to be the backup, but has been injured all year, leaving journeyman Curtis Sanford to take the reins and Sanford has been very good; so good that he might have some value on the trade market as the deadline approaches.

28. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Goalies: Ilya Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.0
Save Percentage: .901
Comment: The Flyers decided to spend big money on a free agent goaltender to solve one of their longstanding problems and it hasn't gone well. Looking for positives, Bryzgalov has allowed one or zero goals against in five of his last seven starts, but he's allowed four or more goals in 14 of his 38 appearances. Bobrovsky has been okay; not quite as good as he was as a rookie, but he's a viable option if Bryzgalov doesn't get his game straightened out.

29. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Goalies: Corey Crawford, Ray Emery.
Shots Faced Per Game: 29.5
Save Percentage: .899
Comment: Crawford's second NHL season hasn't been nearly as solid as his rookie year, so the Blackhawks have been inclined to give Ray Emery several chances to take the ball and run with it, only Emery hasn't been able to perform consistently either. If the Blackhawks don't look at external options before the deadline, they could hope that Alexander Salak plays well enough in the AHL to warrant a shot, but for a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations, the Blackhawks need better play between the pipes.

30. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Goalies: Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson.
Shots Faced Per Game: 30.7
Save Percentage: .889
Comment: No team has been undermined by their goaltending quite like the Lightning and, even if Mathieu Garon has won five of his last six games, the Bolts aren't likely to gain ground on playoff teams without markedly better performance.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.