Last year’s Vezina race wasn’t exactly full of drama. Carey Price won it by a landslide, taking home just about every other piece of hardware — including the Hart — that he was eligible for as well. And that’s saying something, considering the fact that there were plenty of goalies turning in strong efforts. Pekka Rinne was a human wall, as usual, revitalizing the Nashville Predators in the process. Devan Dubnyk spent the second half of the year saving the Minnesota Wild’s season. And Henrik Lundqvist was, well, Henrik Lundqvist.
It didn’t matter. Price posted insane numbers, and ran away with the votes. Entering this season, he was the heavy favorite again. And he hasn’t disappointed. In nine games, he has seven wins and a pair of shutouts, while posting a 2.01 goals against average and .936 save percentage. So much for dropping off.
Price hasn’t played yet this month though, due to injury. And while the entire city of Montreal is hopeful he’ll be back soon, his absence has opened the door — ever so slightly — for some other contenders to emerge. And here’s the crazy part: of the other early leaders in the clubhouse, only one has ever taken home the Vezina before.
Here’s a look at few names to watch though, it should be noted, none of these guys have put up better numbers than Price’s backup, Mike Condon…
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
(10-2-2, 1.69 GAA, .947 save %, 1 shutout)
Let’s just start with the one guy on this list who has already won the award before. King Henrik took home the Vezina in 2012, and has finished among the top six in voting every single year since the 2005 work stoppage. He’s been the NHL’s most consistently dominant goalie over the last decade, and he plays behind one of the best teams right now. That’s a pretty nice formula. It’s gotten to the point where we almost take his ridiculous numbers for granted, but we shouldn’t. Expect him in the conversation yet again this summer.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
(8-6-0, 2.01 GAA, .931 save %, 2 shutouts)
The Vezina is a regular season award, so it’s kind of surprising Fleury has never made a really strong push for it before. His struggles have been in the playoffs, not during the first 82 games. Then again, he looked pretty good in the Penguins’ first-round series last year. Maybe he’s turning a corner.
Pittsburgh’s netminder racked up 10 shutouts last year, and didn’t even finish among the top nine in the voting. In fact, he’s never finished higher than seventh (2011-12) in the balloting. He’s off to a pretty tremendous start this season though and, again, it’s coming on the heels of a nice — albeit quick — showing behind an injury-ravaged blue line in the playoffs last April. The Penguins are tied for 25th in scoring right now, yet they’ve won 10 of their last 12. That reflects well on the man between the pipes.
Braden Holtby, Capitals
(9-4-0, 2.01 GAA, .919 save %)
Holtby quietly finished fourth in last year’s race, meaning he was the first guy that didn’t get invited to Vegas for the Awards Show in June. His performance was unreal, as he appeared in a league-high 73 games to help navigate Washington into the postseason. And he was even better in the playoffs, delivering a 1.71 GAA over 13 hard-fought contests against the Islanders and Rangers.
None of that matters for this year’s race, of course. But it sheds a little light on how Holtby has gotten to this point. He’s a true workhorse, in an era when many clubs seem to be leaning on their backups more and more. His stat line is impressive once again this season, and the Caps are generating a lot of buzz as a legitimate Cup contender.
Jake Allen, Blues
(7-4-0, 1.91 GAA, .936 save %, 3 shutouts)
How good has Allen been? Well, he was pulled after surrendering three goals in 14:28 on Thursday… and that brought his goals against up to 1.79. His three shutouts have him tied for the NHL lead, and he’s been a major catalyst in the Blues’ ability to fight through injuries early on this season. With Brian Elliott also on the roster, Allen hasn’t made quite as many starts (11) as the other guys on this list. But the 25-year old is clearly emerging as the main guy in St. Louis.
Others: Pekka Rinne (Predators), Cory Schneider (Devils), Ben Bishop (Lightning)