Vezina Trophy Watch, Part 2, Antti Niemi Leading The Way

Before the season started, I put together a short Vezina watch post together and listed eight potential Vezina candidates coming into the season. You can find it here. Now, most teams have played around 10 games this season, and it’s time to take a look at the top goalies so far this season that would likely find themselves in the Vezina talks if the season ended today.

Goalies are an odd breed. No offense to all the goalies out there, I’ve never met a goalie who wasn’t super nice, but they’re odd. Just quirky people. When I realized this one day, I dove into thought over the subject. Playing goalie is a mind game as much as it is a physical act. This is no different from playing forward, or playing back on defense, the mental part of the game is just as important, if not more important to the physical aspect of the game. But, have you ever noticed how superstitious goalies are?

Confidence can take an average player and make him great. Confidence is the biggest aspect of the mind game that is quietly sidelined from hockey talk in the media. Going hot and cold throughout the season, not always, but could be pointed back at the mental make up of the player at the time. Sometimes, the puck just doesn’t bounce your way for a game or two, it happens to everyone. Other times, you can have every opportunity to do what you’re supposed to do, whether it be scoring, or keeping the other player from scoring, and you can’t finish your job.

I’ve always thought goaltending was 90% mental. If you know the position, and you have the experience at the position, it’s all about the mental part of the game after that. This is what I concluded, and why I came to believe that maybe that’s the answer to why goalies are just so friggin weird.

  1. Antti Niemi has been great so far this season for the Sharks, and I fully believe if the season ended right now, that Niemi deserves the Vezina over all other competition, and right now (there still isn’t a very big sample size) there are a lot of goalies playing really well. Niemi has played in every minute of every Sharks game so far this season. He’s helped them to a record of 8-1-1 with his goals against average sitting pretty at 1.68. Niemi has faced 232 shots this season, and has a save percentage of .927%. He’s held them into games when he’s needed to, and wasn’t handed his first pointless loss of the season until the 24th of October. If Niemi can continue to be as solid as he has, and the Sharks defense can continue making things extremely difficult for the opposing offense, Niemi could go home with a Vezina, and maybe even more next summer.
  2. Tuukka Rask had a lot of expectations coming into this season after what he did last year in Boston, especially in the playoffs. Rask has lived up to every one of those expectations and gone even beyond. Rask has taked the net in eight games this season and holds a record of 6-2. He ‘s the main reason the Bruins sit atop the Atlantic Division at the moment. Rask has given up more than one goal twice this season. He gave up two goals to the Florida Panthers in a 3-2 win, and gave up three to the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-2 loss. This all shows in his ridiculous goals against average of 1.26 and his save percentage of .957%. Rask is going to be in talk for the Vezina I’m sure of that, but it’s hard to think that these numbers will stick for much longer. The Bruins are good, and Rask is sensational in net, but something’s gotta give for opposing forwards… Right?
  3. Carey Price has played in nine games this season and holds a record of 5-4, which does not show exactly how phenomenal Price has been to start the season. The Canadiens are going as far as Price can take them this season, but at some point, the offense has to put a foot down for a few games to get a little bit of the weighted pressure off of his back. Price has allowed 2.13 goals a game so far this season, and has an even more impressive statistic in that he’s faced the third most shots in the NHL, and the only two goalies ahead of him have appeared in more games than he has. Despite all of the shots, Price is still sitting on save percentage of .936 this season.
  4. Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid in net for the Penguins this season. As hard as it is for me to admit it (I’m not a believer), Fleury has been great for the Pens in the absence of Tomas Vokoun. Fleury has played in eight games this season and has a record of 7-1, the only loss coming in a game against the Colorado Avalanche, when the Avs beat the Pens 1-0. Fleury has been impressive in net, and all of his numbers back it up. His goals against average is 1.74, and he holds a save percentage of .930%. Now can he do that for the rest of the season? I’m not sure, as I said, I’m not a believer, but if he can take back control of the Penguins net this season even after Vokoun returns, and he can play this well into the playoffs… I may just start believing.
  5. Semyon Varlamov has been as consistent as they come. He’s played in only six games this season, but he’s been solid for the Avs so far. Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere make a deadly combonation in net for Patrick Roy and company. The Avs have tore through the NHL so far, losing only one game. Varlamov has a record of 5-1 in his six starts, with a goals against average of 1.68, and a save percentage of .950%. Varlamov is playing in a contract season and is making a really good case for a nice pay increase at the end of the season.

Tags: Antti Niemi Boston Bruins Carey Price Colorado Avalache Jean-Sebastien Giguere Marc Andre Fleury Montreal Candiens Patrick Roy Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks Semyon Varlamov Tomas Vokoun Tuukka Rask

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