Who’s leading the great Canadian goaltending race?
If the inconsistent goaltending Canada is currently getting over in Sweden -- Zach Fucale's strong outing Tuesday versus the USA notwithstanding -- is any indication, there is no heir apparent to the Canadian goaltending throne.
Granted, there isn't really anyone on the throne, either.
Although you can't speak of the throne without mentioning for Roberto Luongo, for obvious reasons.
The selection of the Canadian men's Olympic team is drawing ever nearer, and while there are plenty of questions surrounding this crew -- most notably, how in the hell will Steve Yzerman sort through this abundance of riches -- the largest question remains in goal.
Yzerman was likely looking for one of his goaltending hopefuls to come bursting out of the gate, so that he could be selected for the squad while he was in top form. That hasn't really happened. Roberto Luongo, the incumbent starter, has been good for the Canucks, with a 2.24 goals against average and a .920 save percentage, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that he's the best Canadian goalie available.
Still, while he hasn't re-asserted his place as the guy, I think he's done enough to get the first crack at things, for much the same reason Martin Brodeur got the first start back in Vancouver: seniority.
But if there's anyone knocking on his door, it's Carey Price, who's probably out in front of this race. He has better numbers -- a 2.06 GAA and a .932 save percentage -- while facing a higher volume of shots. The Canadiens are one of the league's stingiest teams, allowing just 2.15 goals per game, but it's not overly difficult to test Price -- he faces 29.8 shots against per game, on average. It's just difficult to beat him. For my money, he's Canada's best goaltender, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him scoop the job before the elimination round.
Either way, I think it's reasonable to assume those two are going, barring some kind of surprise, or, say, a setback in Roberto Luongo's recovery from a lower-body injury that appears to be minor.
But who else is knocking on the door?
• I picked Josh Harding as my third-stringer because I think he's played his way onto the team this season. But there are, of course, questions about his health. He's answered most of them, but they're still there. And one wonders if he wouldn't appreciate an actual break at the Olympic break. He did recently step away to get his medication adjusted. He might relish a few weeks off before resuming the Wild's push for the playoffs.
• Mike Smith is an option, although I personally hope he's not selected. He's a very good goaltender, but he's in pretty much the perfect situation right now. The Coyotes do wonderful things for a goaltender's stats, and Dave Tippet's system is built around Smith's style of play. Mike Smith's gonna Mike Smith regardless of the team he plays on, and I envision a doomsday scenario where he's caught out of the net for a big goal.
• Marc-Andre Fleury is an option, to his credit. He certainly wasn't at the end of last year. And personally, I see the Penguins' as the anti-Phoenix, a team that makes its goaltender look just dreadful, when maybe he's not quite so bad. Pittsburgh's system simply doesn't flatter Fleury. But even still, Fleury doesn't tend to flatter Fleury all that often either. There's no question that he can win, especially with a stacked roster in front of him, but his track record doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence.
• Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goalies of all time, but he's fading, 41, and can't beat Cory Schneider for the starting job in New Jersey. Considering the most important thing here is to beat the Americans, taking a guy that can't beat the American seems counterintuitive.
• Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have both been incredible this season, and that's with a bad team in front of them. What about with a good team? Or is it possible that their play is always in direct inversion to the quality of the team they play for? Do you want to take that chance, Canada? More than that, do you really want Olympic gold in the hands of the goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs? What if Canada gets up 4-1?
• Cam Ward was a name that was thrown about earlier in the year. Brian Burke even said he'd pick the Hurricanes' net minder. But Ward has struggled this season. When Jim Rutherford said Monday, "A handful of players are not playing to their potential," it was a safe bet he was including Ward in said handful. Ward might find himself wearing another jersey in 2014, but by virtue of a trade out of town, not an Olympic selection.
• Braden Holtby is another name that's mentioned from time to time, I think just because he's Canadian, and his career is new enough that we haven't had time to pick him apart. But with a goals against average of 3.00, he's not instilling a whole lot of confidence.
In short, picking three Canadian goalies is tough, and tougher still when I don't really know much about goaltending. You probably don't either, and there's no shame in admitting that.
Even John Tortorella admitted it earlier this year: "I try not to assess the goaltending," he told the media. "I don’t know enough about it.”
Fair comment. But I do know that Canada's one-two is good. It's not a guaranteed victory, but there's no such thing anyway, and it's good. It's just as good as any other tandem in the tournament, and while there isn't a third-stringer I'm completely confident in, I'm confident that the third-stringer won't see any action anyway, so it won't even matter.