Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.

Southeast division:

Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team.  If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.

Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything.  Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.

Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.

Atlantic division

This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.

The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.

The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.

New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.

Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.

Northeast division

If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.

Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland.  Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.

Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

The Carolina Hurricanes seemed like they would return to the post season until late in the season. They were playing well, Eric Staal had remembered to turn on his personality circuit for the All Star weekend, and the Carolinas were swept up in Beibermania Skinner-Mania as the youngest player in the league skated into the hearts of millions and the NHL Awards show for the Calder Trophy. Even the butchering of the national anthem by Clay Aiken couldn’t dampen spirits in Raleigh. Unfortunately for fans of the wayward Whale things were not meant to be. With the influx of new young talent, and also Tomas Kaberle and Brian Boucher, the Canes are clearly gearing up for something.

High Card:

This one couldn’t be simpler even if the team had a third star quality skater. Eric Staal is far too often overlooked as a player, and yet given the level of talent he’s had around him most of his career he’s still put up some impressive numbers. For my money he’s the most driven athlete in the entire division, and leads his hugely talented draft class in goals and points.  If he has a great season the teams odds of reaching the playoffs are pretty good.

Wild Card:

Cam Ward had the best sv% of his career across a record high number of games played. If he be that dominant again, he’s more than done his part. Unfortunately his .923 sv% is well above not just any other year he’s had but far enough outside his career average to make people nervous about him coming back to earth this season. With new members of the blueline, and some larger more mobile forwards in front of him he may find his job easier this season, or not. It will also be interesting to see how he reacts to having a man who has been considered a #1 goaltender in other cities sharing duties with him.

Almost all the stories in this game were answered in the first period.  The Bruins jumped on the board 30 seconds in, and then thirty three seconds later the game winner was scored. Chara and Krejci lit the lamp to open things up and the Flyers never managed to look like a playoff team. Odd as it sounds Boucher and Bobrovsky were the two best players on the ice for Philadelphia all night.

Jeff Carter played a lukewarm 19 minutes, with four shots and an abysmal 17% faceoff showing. McQuaid and Pronger as most expected did not play and probably had just as much positive impact on the game as two thirds of the Flyers roster.  There was little effort up and down the lineup as evidenced by Mezaros and O’Donnell being the two most visible Flyers skaters all night. After Horton had his goal and assist O’Donnell was kind enough to provide Horton with the clincher for his Gordie Howe hat trick where Horton controlled space and got the take down.  Mezaros kept his team from shutout, but not much else can be said for the Flyers.

Nathan Horton and Daniell Paille both scored to in the second to send Brian Boucher back to the bench. Bobrovsky didn’t see much rubber but was kind enough to let the Bruins score on a 5 on 3 after his teammates took not one but two senseless, bushleague penalties with less than two minutes left in the game. The first was hauling Bergeron down from behind just half a step before he would have had a clear shot on the empty net, the second was a mugging of Marchand by Coburn in the corner that got entered in the books as a cross check.

Zero effort from the Flyers leads to owning zero wins after three games.

Tonights game was almost as much about who wasn’t on the ice as who was. Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger would not play at all removing a scoring threat up front, an then tons of gamesmanship, acres of snarl and boat load of minutes on the backend. Brian Boucher would be injured by a Johnny Boychuck shot in the second and spend the rest of the period in the lockerroom before surprising everyone with his return for the third period. Adam McQuaid proved the only thing in an NHL arena that could hurt him was the arena by missing what promised to be an enormous check on Mike Richards, he went head first into the boards and lay very, very still for almost a minute before getting to his feet and being helped off the ice by Chara and Lucic.

With Andrew Ference pinching in low in the offensive zone the puck popped out to Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk who wasted no time getting up ice. Johnny Boychuck would attempt to take away the pass by going down on the ice as the only Bruins player in front of  Tim Thomas. van Reimsdyk was good enough to get the goal anyway. This was the Flyers first shot. Eight minutes later the Bruins were on the penalty kill. Campbell was in the box for holding, and after almost a minute of scrambling in front of the crease JVR would strike again. Less than ten minutes in the Flyers were up two nothing.

After scrambling, opportunism, and snatching the puck from Flyers right and left, Chris Kelly would get an “ugly goal” from in close with the puck going in a half breath before the net was dislodged. A couple shifts later Patrice Bergeron would make space for himself, draw the attention of four Flyers defenders. He then shifted position slightly, passed the puck to Brad Marchand who had his snap shot set on stunning would tie the game less than ninety seconds after the Chris Kelly goal. That’s where the scoring would stay until very late in overtime when David Krejci would stretch the twine with a goal that brought half the roster onto the ice, but would not be counted as a good goal until over a minute and a review later.

Tim Thomas was the story of the game, more than fifty saves including a third period that saw him stonewall the Flyers twenty two times. By comparison, Roberto Luongo faced just seventeen shots in game one of the Canucks series against the Predators.