Carey Price is going to win the Vezina Trophy this season. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Well, unless he abruptly retires in the next week to pursue an acting job or something. But that’s not happening, so go ahead and pencil him in as the odds-on favorite to take home the highest honor bestowed upon NHL goalies. In fact, he might even have the inside track on the Hart Trophy as the league MVP – if Alex Ovechkin would stop scoring goals every single night.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other goalies putting together phenomenal seasons though. Some are stopping a ton of shots, some are making big saves when it matters most and others have simply picked up the pace considerably as the games have become more important in the stretch run. With that in mind, here are the five netminders that will push Price if he stumbles at all in the final five weeks of the regular season…
1. Pekka Rinne, NAS (35-13-3, 2.13 goals against average, .926 save percentage, 3 shutouts)
Well, he’s lost his last five decisions. Actually, he’s won just one of his last eight. in retrospect, maybe that’s not the best headline for his resume. Before the drought, however, Rinne was a dominant force between the pipes. His .926 save percentage is tied for No. 4 in the NHL, his 2.13 GAA is good for No. 3 and his 35-13-3 record is second only to Price.
Even with their recent swoon, the Predators still lead the Central and own one of the best records in the league – and it all starts with Rinne. His injury last season destroyed Nashville’s playoff chances, and his return this year has triggered arguably the biggest turnaround by any team in the league. If you had to pick any goalie to win you one game, Rinne would be on the short list.
2. Devan Dubnyk, MIN (27-9-3, 2.11 GAA, .927 save pctg, 6 SO)
This is where things get a little crazy. Up until Jan. 14, Dubnyk was the backup in Arizona. That’s basically the halfway point of the season, yet he’s been so insanely good in the second half that he just might end up in Vegas as a Vezina finalist anyway. Last season was a long, drawn out struggle for Dubnyk, who saw his four-year run with the Oilers end in extremely disappointing fashion. When the dust had settled, he had spent time in Nashville and the AHL, and was looking for a fresh start.
He got it in a big way with the Coyotes, who helped resurrect his career by having Sean Burke mentor him. His numbers with the Coyotes were fine, but his numbers with the Wild have been remarkable. Since arriving in Minnesota, he’s started 23 consecutive games, won 18 of them, posted five shutouts, and delivered a mind-boggling 1.60 GAA and .940 save percentage. Not only has he revived his career, he’s saved the Wild’s season.
3. Braden Holtby, WAS (32-16-9, 2.15 GAA, .925 save pctg, 7 SO)
Holtby has flown slightly under the radar, but he’s a major reason why the Capitals have a legitimate shot at making some noise in the playoffs for once. Yes, it all starts with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom up front, but postseason success hinges on strong goaltending. Holtby has given Washington that all year, and he’s done so while being exceptionally durable. His 58 games played lead all goalies, and his seven shutouts are second only to Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins (and tied with Price, of course). Holtby doesn’t steal headlines, but he was in the running for a spot on Canada’s Olympic roster a year ago. And now he’s showing why.
4. Cory Schneider, NJ (24-24-6, 2.18 GAA, .928 save pctg, 4 SO)
In many ways, Schneider is Holtby – except he doesn’t have the goal support in front of him. The Caps put up 2.94 goals per game for Holtby to work with, the Devils supply Schneider with a meager 2.23 (No. 27 in the NHL). Other than that, their numbers – and value to their respective teams – are strikingly even. And Schneider has even gotten better as the season has worn on, posting a 1.66 GAA and .947 save percentage since Jan. 14.
5. Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (30-14-6, 2.16 GAA, .924 save pctg, 9 SO)
Considering the way the last few playoffs have ended for Fleury, just being on this list is impressive. He has persevered through the tough times, and now leads the NHL with nine shutouts. Considering the talented lineup in front of him – and his past postseason struggles – Fleury’s success won’t really start getting measured until mid-April. But he has looked more stable under the tutelage of goalie coach Mike Bales. And he has the bulky contract to prove it.
Carey Price, MON (37-13-3, 1.89 GAA, .936 save pctg, 7 SO)
It just didn’t feel right making him the front-runner without at least offering a little insight as to why. His 37 wins lead the entire NHL. His .936 save percentage leads the entire NHL… by a considerable margin. And his 1.89 GAA leads the entire NHL by an even more considerable margin. In fact, his GAA is so far ahead of everyone else that it’s almost like he’s playing a different game. And maybe he is. The Canadiens are a solid team on their own. With Price, they’re a legitimate Cup contender.