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Vezina Trophy Watch: Predicting the unpredictable position

Tim Thomas holds a .20 lead in GAA and a 10-point lead in SP on the rest of the goalies in the NHL. (Getty Images)

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Tim Thomas holds a .20 lead in GAA and a 10-point lead in SP on the rest of the goalies in the NHL. (Getty Images)

Goalies are an interesting breed.

Aside from the fact they stand alone and are naturally separated from the rest of the team - yet hold the most influential position in the lineup - they are also incredibly difficult to project.

From 2000 to 2004, 14 goalies were taken in the first round, three of which went in one of the top two slots. When you make a pick in the first round, you’re expecting that player to be of the impact variety at the NHL level. However, of the 14 goalies, only half of them are still in the NHL and only four are starters: Rick DiPietro (and that’s a stretch), Kari Lehtonen (ditto due to injuries), Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury. If an NHL management team had a 50 percent or less success rate drafting in the first round, they wouldn’t have jobs for long.

And perhaps NHL teams are starting to draft according to the more offensive-minded age than we had at the start of this decade. In the past four drafts, only four goalies have gone in Round 1. In fact, in 2007 and 2009 no goalies went in the opening round. Prior to ’07, the last time that happened was during the tail end of another offensive era, in 1991 and 1992, when goalies were shutout of Round 1 as well.

With injuries such a defining issue in the career of a netminder, the fog of war clouds how clearly you can project these players at a young age. And at the NHL level, it’s difficult to even predict who will be in the running for the Vezina from one year to the next.

Who thought Tim Thomas would win the 2009 Vezina? And who thought he’d be topping the list again in 2011 after such a bad 2010? When Jaroslav Halak was traded to St. Louis after a surprise playoff run with Montreal, who thought Carey Price would be the more serious goalie of the year candidate? After Ondrej Pavelec collapsed on the ice at the start of the season, who could have foreseen his ascension? And who would have thought Ryan Miller, after such a strong 2009-10, wouldn’t be in the discussion less than a year later?

So while it continues to look as though no one will catch Tim Thomas this season, remember you’re talking about the most volatile position in the game. And also remember Tuukka Rask is starting to get more time.

GAME OF THE MONTH: After allowing 14 goals in four games and appearing to slow down at least a little, Price came back with a 31-save win over the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout followed by a 27-save overtime win over Thomas and the Bruins; two clutch wins to stay close in the division race.

RISING: Roberto Luongo hasn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 5 and has turned aside 106 of his past 109 shots faced. In fact, the only losses Luongo had in the past month and a bit were of the overtime and shootout varieties to the Detroit Red Wings.

FALLING:
The shine is starting to come off Sergei Bobrovsky, who hasn’t won since Dec. 15 and has been playing backup to Brian Boucher more often then not lately. Rebound control remains an issue.

THE HOCKEY NEWS VEZINA TROPHY WATCH
RK.
TEAM
PLAYER
MAKING THE CASE

1

Boston Bruins

Tim Thomas

Still way ahead in GAA and SP, despite not winning a game since Dec. 28.

2

Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price

Everyone eventually hits a cold streak, but the Vezina contenders are separated by their ability to find their magic again, just as Price has done recently.

3

New York Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist

Rangers are middle-of-the-pack in shots against and have endured a number of injuries to key defensive players this season. The reason why? The NHL’s shutout leader (tied with Thomas and Vokoun), of course.

4

Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne

Injuries have held his games-played down, but Rinne is still among the leaders in shutouts with three. His 2.16 GAA is one of the best as well and he seems to be hitting his stride, allowing four goals in his past four games for the hard-charging Preds. Nashville is fourth in the West despite having the NHL’s 25th-best offense.

5

Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick

His 2.15 GAA is one of the best in the league, but it’s aided by a strong team defense. Quick has been cold of late, allowing 15 goals in his past four decisions. How he rebounds will play a large part in his Vezina case.

6

Atlanta Thrashers

Ondrej Pavelec

Even with Norris candidate Dustin Byfuglien and his responsible partner Tobias Enstrom on the blueline, Atlanta allows the most shots against per game. A a bit of a cold stretch aside, Pavelec is holding Atlanta in the East’s top eight.

7

Pittsburgh Penguins

Marc-Andre Fleury

Through Nov. 6, Fleury had an .853 SP and 3.54 GAA in eight games. Needless to say, this Stanley Cup champion is back on track with a .919 SP and 2.29 GAA.

8

Florida Panthers

Tomas Vokoun

Tied for league lead in shutouts despite being behind one of the worst defense corps in the NHL. Will be a hot commodity come Feb. 28.

9

Anaheim Ducks

Jonas Hiller

The only team that allows more shots than the Ducks are the Thrashers, yet both sit in playoff spots. Hiller is quietly putting up the best season of his career and has recorded back-to-back shutouts.

10

Vancouver Canucks

Roberto Luongo

Finally settling into a groove for the top team in the West, allowing more than two goals only once in his past nine appearances.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Jimmy Howard has the tendency to be really hot (as he was against Vancouver Saturday night) or really cold (he’s allowed three or more goals in four of his past five starts.) His win-loss record is impeccable, but is aided by Detroit’s No. 2-ranked offense. His 2.68 GAA is 28th in the league and is no better than anyone in our current top 10. Other notables: Cam Ward, Corey Crawford, Niklas Backstrom.

DROPPED OUT:
Ilya Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky, Jaroslav Halak.

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