Imagine being a goaltender in the strongest, most competitive division in the NHL. There are definitely no easy nights. These players all share one common theme: they’re difference makers.
Before we rank them, take a look at the group as a whole.
Look at the goal differential in Central compared to Pacific- pic.twitter.com/WVW5pIihVE
— Peter Tessier (@Teddier) February 11, 2015
When compared to the Pacific Division, the teams in the Central are scoring more and giving up less. Five of the six teams in the Central are at even or above in goal differential. The only team below, Colorado, is still within reach of the Mendoza line.
As for the Pacific, the best goal differential is Calgary, who doesn’t even break +20. The bottom two teams have been giving up generous amounts of goals this season.
The Central’s goal differential is even more impressive when compared to the rest of the NHL. Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville are the top three teams in the entire league. They score a lot, and they’re stingy on the back end.
So let’s rank the best goalies in this ultra-competitive division, and the guys really making a difference for their teams.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Simply put, Nashville would be a middle of the pack team without Pekka Rinne. Although the Predators went 4-2-2 in his recent absence, there’s no way they would be able to sustain it long-term. Luckily, Rinne only missed 8 games and after a rusty first game back, Nashville has won the next three. Look for Rinne to be among the finalists for the Vezina trophy.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
He’s a Stanley Cup champion and playing with as much confidence as he ever has. Although the Blackhawks haven’t had their best season, even struggling to score goals in recent weeks, Crawford has been the constant in net. He has kept the Hawks in games, often putting them within reach to steal a point or a win in the late minutes.
Last week he put his stamp on two critical road wins within the division. In Winnipeg, Crow was able to keep the game tied at 1-1 despite facing constant pressure in the third period. Chicago went on to win in overtime. Two days later, it was Crawford coming up with several huge saves in St. Louis, helping the Hawks finish the circus road trip on a winning note.
Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
Despite Jake Allen giving him some competition for the starting job, Brian Elliott has emerged as the starter in St. Louis just like coach Ken Hitchcock said. Last week, it was Elliott who stood tall when his team was getting out played at home by Tampa Bay. The Blues probably had no business winning that game, but Elliott made some incredible saves that kept his team close enough to tie the game, and eventually win it in overtime. Elliott also assisted on that game winner.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 4, 2015
Elliott’s best quality is one all goaltenders should have: a short memory. Elliott will be the first to admit when he gave up a bad goal, but what makes him good is his ability to put it behind him, especially in the middle of a game. It’s like a pitcher that gives up a home run, then forgets about it and continues to pitch well.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Dubnyk has simply been the difference in Minnesota. Since being traded to the Twin Cities, he has made 11 straight starts, the Wild are 9-1-2 in that stretch. They’re still in the heat of the playoff race because of this guy and it looks like he may have saved Mike Yeo’s coaching job.
Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) January 22, 2015
He’s a rookie goalie who is 3-1 against division rival Chicago this season. Perhaps the best move Paul Maurice and Jets management made at the start of the season is giving this guy a chance instead of the veteran Peter Budaj. Hutch is now emerging as the starter in Winnipeg over Ondrej Pavelec.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
After an ugly start to the season, Lehtonen had a solid December (8-3) and has been improving ever since. A major concern is letting in soft goals, especially ones that put his team out of reach in a game.
— NHL (@NHL) February 11, 2015
Lehtonen is coming off an impressive 41-save road win in Boston. Dallas fans are hoping for that kind of effort down the stretch, if they have any hopes of making the playoffs. The acquisition of Jhonas Enroth should motivate Lehtonen even more to hold on to his starting job. Last season, Kari went 9-6 with some huge wins after the Stars acquired Tim Thomas at the trade deadline.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
Varlamov and the Avs need to wake up fast, because their playoff hopes are fading. Colorado has gone 2-3-1 since the All-Star break including a current 4-game losing streak. Varlamov has been a workhorse since coming back from injury. He has started all but 2 games since Dec. 29th including the last 10 games (4-4-2).
It appears Varly could be wearing down. His team gives up a lot of shots per game, so he gets plenty of work in net. The Avs face a tough stretch coming up where they face LA, Chicago, Tampa and Nashville in one week. That looks like the point that could make or break Colorado’s season.