The National Hockey League’s Northwest Division has some very good goaltenders.
All five teams have at least one, and four have experienced backups more than capable of being a starter themselves.
Here are my rankings of the starting goaltenders in the Northwest Division.
No. 5 – Nikolai Khabibulin/Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers. Khabibulin is a veteran with a lot of experience on both losing and winning teams. He won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and was a big part of the Chicago Blackhawks run to the Western Conference finals in 2009. However, he his 38-years-old and has been declining since 2004. It may be time for the Oilers to look at the future and Dubnyk is it. He is quick and smooth when going into the butterfly and back to his feet. He has very good size at 6-feet-6-inches tall and has good lateral quickness, but is still raw and inconsistent. Khabibulin may be the opening day starter, but don’t be surprised if Dubnyk takes over by midseason.
No. 4 – Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche. The former first round draft of the Washington Capitals was acquired in a trade during the offseason. He was brought in to solidify the Avalanche’s muddled goaltending situation. The Avs hot not had consistent goaltending since Patrick Roy retired in 2003. He has quick reflexes with a good poke check and positioning. He also displays a calm demeanor on the ice, but has a tendency to lose focus and allow bad goals. He did not take control of the No. 1 job in Washington because of inconsistency and injuries.
No. 3 – Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks. The yearly Vezina Trophy candidate has good size and plays off his reputation, but has some major holes in his game. The two big ones are rebound control and positioning. He usually positions himself well to make the easy saves, but has a tendency to get too deep in his crease in traffic and allow good shooting angles. The other issue, rebounding control, would be a bigger issue if not for his defensemen clearly the front of the net. The other two flaws are puck handling ability and communication with his defenders. He makes a lot of mistakes when he leaves the crease to get a puck behind the net. Despite having those flaws, he still posts very good numbers. Last season, he led the division goaltenders in wins (38), goals against average (2.11) and save percentage (.928).
No. 2 – Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild. The veteran may be the difference between the Wild making the playoffs and missing for a fourth straight year. He is a positionally and technically sound goaltender that makes the easy save. However, he has a tendency to rely too much on his positioning. Also he lacks the lateral quickness to make consistent spectacular saves.
No. 1 – Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames. He is a big part of the reason the Flames are consistently in the playoff hunt. His defensive unit has been inconsistent at best in front of him and he still posts outstanding numbers. He is a workhorse playing in all but 11 games last season. He is a competitor that calm and keeps his cool between the pipes. He can get rattled, but it takes a lot. The only negative I see in him is that he wears down at the end of the season leading to goals allowed in bunches. How much of the wearing down is attributed to his workload? That is the question.