From 1 to 30, here’s a ranking of the one-two combos between the pipes for the 2011-12 NHL season. 1. Boston Bruins Starter: Tim Thomas; Backup: Tuukka Rask
Thomas' 2010-11 season was arguably the best performance we've seen from any goaltender in league history. On top of that, Rask, who is good enough to start on a lot of teams, is as good as any backup in this league. The duo finished second only to Vancouver in the Jennings Trophy race last year.
2. Vancouver Canucks Starter: Roberto Luongo; Backup: Cory Schneider
Pundits and fans love to jump on Luongo, but he always puts up good numbers in the regular season. Like Rask, Schneider could start for a handful of other teams. Luongo and Schneider teamed up to win the Jennings and should challenge for it again in 2011-12.
3. New York Rangers Starter: Henrik Lundqvist; Backup: Martin Biron
Don’t overlook the Rangers’ one-two combo in net. Lundqvist is one of the most talented netminders in the world, while Biron was solid in his first season with the team. When Biron went down to injury late in the year, Lundqvist carried the Blueshirts to the playoffs.
4. Washington Capitals Starter: Tomas Vokoun; Backup: Michal Neuvirth
Goaltending hasn’t necessarily been a strength for the Caps in recent years. After signing Vokoun, though, for the biggest bargain in free agency history, Bruce Boudreau won’t have to worry about his goaltending. Behind the steady Vokoun is the up-and-coming Neuvirth, who started 45 games in 2010-11.
5. Los Angeles Kings Starter: Jonathan Quick; Backup: Jonathan Bernier
Is there a better young goaltending tandem in the NHL? I think not. Quick is 25 years old; Bernier will be 23 next month. Both of them raised their games midway through 2010-11 when the Kings offense went dry. Quick ranked fourth in the NHL with a 2.24 goals-against average.
6. Nashville Predators Starter: Pekka Rinne; Backup: Anders Lindback
We all know what kind of year Rinne had; if it weren’t for Thomas, Rinne would have run away with the Vezina in a landslide. He makes unreal saves on a nightly basis. His backup, Lindback, came through in the clutch when needed early on last year.
7. Philadelphia Flyers Starter: Ilya Bryzgalov; Backup: Sergei Bobrovsky
Wait a minute – the Flyers have a legitimate starting goalie? Yes, yes they do. Bryzgalov, who was a big part to Phoenix’s success the last two seasons, signed a nine-year deal in June. He will team up – for the mean time – with Bobrovsky, the Russian youngster.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury; Backup: Brent Johnson
A lot of people ignored Fleury’s stand-out campaign with the Penguins in 2010-11. When going got tough, Fleury stepped up in a big way. Johnson has been a solid backup in the league for the last handful of years; he complements Fleury well.
9. Buffalo Sabres Starter: Ryan Miller; Backup: Jhonas Enroth
Miller took a big of a step back after his banner season in 2009-10, where he won the Vezina and led the U.S. on a thrilling Olympic run. He needs to show more consistency year-to-year, but having a better backup in Enroth should provide some much-needed relief.
10. San Jose Sharks Starter: Antti Niemi; Backup: Antero Niittymaki
Niemi and Niittymaki played musical chairs in the crease before mid-January; then the crease was Niemi’s. Niemi posted a 2.10 GAA after the All-Star break, sometimes carrying the Sharks to wins on their way to another division title.
11. New Jersey Devils Starter: Martin Brodeur; Backup: Johan Hedberg
Brodeur and Hedberg are a combined 77 years old and may not have much left in the tank. Their effectiveness for this upcoming season may hinge on who the team hires as its new coach. Is Brodeur in the midst of a career downward slope, or will he bounce back?
12. Anaheim Ducks Starter: Jonas Hiller; Backup: Dan Ellis
Before Hiller went down with season-ending vertigo (essentially), GM Bob Murray had to scramble to patch things together. However, when Hiller is on his game, he’s one tough goalie to beat. Ellis will be a pretty good backup behind the Switzerland native, but can never be a starter.
13. Carolina Hurricanes Starter: Cam Ward; Backup: Brian Boucher
The 2006 Conn Smythe winner had an up-and-down 2010-11 season for the ‘Canes, but posted a .936 save percentage in his final 18 games. Ward will be better supported this season now with Boucher on board; Justin Peters just did not cut it as backup.
14. Montreal Canadiens Starter: Carey Price; Backup: Peter Budaj
Price exceeded expectations in 2010-11, overcoming the pressure of Montreal. He played well enough to get nominated for the Vezina, but fell just short. Once again, though, the weight will be on Price’s shoulders as they signed Budaj, known to be a sieve from time-to-time, to back him up.
15. Calgary Flames Starter: Miikka Kiprusoff; Backup: Henrik Karlsson
Because Kiprusoff has started in excess of 70 games every season since the lockout, some are just waiting for him to wear down. It hasn’t happened – yet. He’s still a good No. 1; maybe not world-class like years past. The 6-foot-6 Karlsson will serve as his No. 2 again.
16. Minnesota Wild Starter: Niklas Backstrom; Backup: Josh Harding
Under Jacques Lemaire, Backstrom had a 2.24 GAA and .923 save percentage in three seasons. Since then, those numbers have taken a hit (2.69 and .909), showing he’s not as effective without the trap system. The Wild did well bringing back Harding (if he can stay healthy).
17. Tampa Bay Lightning Starter: Dwayne Roloson; Backup: Mathieu Garon
Roloson was a shrewd pickup for the Bolts at the trade deadline, posting 18 wins and a 2.56 GAA in 34 games after Jan. 1. He also excelled in the playoffs, which was the real reason GM Steve Yzerman brought him in. ‘Roli’ is back in the fold, joined by the newly-signed Garon.
18. Dallas Stars Starter: Kari Lehtonen; Backup: Andrew Raycroft
In his first full season in Big D, Lehtonen put together the best season of his career with a 2.55 GAA and .914 save percentage. But will he be able to stay healthy two years in a row? Raycroft is an underrated backup when called upon.
19. St. Louis Blues Starter: Jaroslav Halak; Backup: Brian Elliott
Halak, the 2010 playoff hero in Montreal, underperformed in his debut season in St. Louis. He showed signs of greatness, but those moments didn’t come often enough. Halak doesn’t have the best support this season; either Elliott or Ben Bishop will be the No. 2.
20. Detroit Red Wings Starter: Jimmy Howard; Backup: Joey MacDonald
Howard had almost the exact same playing time in 2010-11 as his rookie season, and once again racked up 37 wins. However, his save percentage was down and his GAA inflated considerably. Is a bounce-back season in store? Considering his backup, it better be.
21. Chicago Blackhawks Starter: Corey Crawford; Backup: Aleksander Salak
Crawford had a solid campaign in his first full NHL season, posting a 2.30 GAA and holding his own in his first (real) postseason experience. He will have to prove in 2011-12 that he can repeat his success. If not, the backup Salak has two career games in the NHL.
22. Colorado Avalanche Starter: Semyon Varlamov; Backup: J.S. Giguere
GM Greg Sherman is taking a risk by relying on Varlamov and Giguere, two injury-prone ‘tenders, to get the Avs back to the playoffs. There’s no denying Varlamov’s potential, but he has to stay healthy. Same for Giguere, who is on the down side of his career.
23. Winnipeg Jets Starter: Ondrej Pavelec; Backup: Chris Mason
It was a tale of two halves for Pavelec (2.44 first half GAA; 3.33 second half). He showed a lot of potential in November and December when the Thrashers were the story of the NHL; but consistency is a major issue. Mason hasn’t quite been the same since leading the Blues to the playoffs in 2009.
24. Ottawa Senators Starter: Craig Anderson; Backup: Alex Auld
Anderson returned to his top form after moving over to Ottawa in February (11-5-1, 2.05 GAA). The jury is still out whether he can repeat that success, though. Big and bald Alex Auld is a journeyman backup who arguably had his best NHL season with the Sens in his first stint in 2008-09.
25. Florida Panthers Starter: Jose Theodore; Backup: Scott Clemmensen
Theodore was signed during the frenzy by GM Dale Tallon, presumably to be the 1A starter. Since the lockout, Theodore possesses a 2.88 GAA and .902 save percentage. Not terrible, but not very good. Clemmensen, the 1B, has been steady for a backup in two years with Florida.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs Starter: James Reimer; Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Reimer whet the appetite of Leafs fans when he captured 20 wins in 35 starts after a mid-season promotion from the AHL. If he can prove himself during a full season, it will go a long way. Gustavsson, though, is not reliable.
27. Phoenix Coyotes Starter: Mike Smith; Backup: Jason LaBarbera
Though the potential is there for Smith to succeed under former coach Dave Tippett, he is a downgrade after seeing Bryzgalov exit stage left. Can the Coyotes really hang their hat on Smith and LaBarbera to backstop them to a third straight playoff appearance?
28. Edmonton Oilers Starter: Nikolai Khabibulin; Backup: Devan Dubnyk
Dubnyk still has room to grow his game, but Khabibulin’s tenure in Edmonton has been dismal. For the Oilers to take the next step, these two will have to up their game, or management will need to find an upgrade.
29. New York Islanders Starter: Al Montoya; Backup: Rick DiPietro
Montoya, a former first-rounder of the Rangers, quietly put together a quality 18-game cameo at the end of the year for the Isles. However, the duo between him and the oft-injured DiPietro is incredibly shaky.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets Starter: Steve Mason; Backup: Mark Dekanich
This has to be the worst tandem in the NHL. Mason has underachieved mightily since winning the Calder Trophy in 2009, while Dekanich has 50 minutes of NHL experience. The Jackets think they’re a playoff team now… but with this duo?
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