The goaltender with the lowest goals-against average in the 2011-12 NHL season is Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, at 1.31. He also leads in save percentage (.951), right above Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild (.938).
The fourth-best goalie in the NHL in that category? Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes at .936 in 20 starts; through 20 starts last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, his save percentage was .899.
At the bottom of the category? A few hacks named Ilya Bryzgalov, Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and Dwayne Roloson.
So yeah, it's a topsy-turvy, crazy mixed-up world for NHL goaltending right now.
The tricky thing about determining goalie greatness is separating hot streaks from annual consistency; strong goalies from average ones propped up by the defensemen and the systems played in front of them (and, conversely, whether that goalie makes the system work, writes the Brodeur fan); and whether some netminders are simply coasting on reputation rather than being assessed on today's results.
Who are the top five goalies in the NHL today?
For whatever reason, I've had this debate a lot in the last two weeks. Let's have it here.
1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Look, it's not my job to pump this guy's tires, but …
Thomas enters action on Saturday with a 12-4-0 record, a 1.93 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. That he's expected to improve on these numbers is an incredible yet reasonable expectation.
Does he benefit from having Claude Julien behind the bench and Zdeno Chara on the ice for upwards of 25 minutes? Who wouldn't? But he's also a goaltending ace in the Hasek tradition, using any means necessary to keep the puck out of the net. He has the intangibles too: the irritable streak that manifests itself in occasional assaults on opponents; the undeniable leadership he presents between the pipes.
One of the few questions about Thomas, besides his age, was his ability to take over in big games. After last June, he directs all of those concerns to a Mr. Conn Smythe.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
It pains to me as a Devils fan to acknowledge that Martin Brodeur is an average goaltender in 2011 and the Henrik Lundqvist is and has been the best goalie near the Hudson. But there you go.
Lundqvist is 10-4-3 with a 2.01 GAA and a .933 save percentage. He was fortunate to play behind some defense-oriented Tom Renney teams, and he's now fortunate to play behind one of the most underrated defense corps in the NHL (when healthy).
He's the backbone of a Rangers team that's among the best in hockey at the moment. Like a great MLB pitcher, he seems to get strong as the game goes on — fundamentally sound, plays very big in the net.
If there's a knock, it's postseason performance. Lundqvist is 15-20 with a .909 save percentage. But keep in mind that the Rangers have been offensively challenged in the playoffs for years, putting an extra burden on Hank.
He's No. 56 on the all-time wins list with 223, and turns 30 next season. How high can he climb?
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
There a number of reasons why Quick hasn't been hyped as elite yet, despite numbers that demand the label (11-6-4, 1.97 GAA, .936 save percentage and four shutouts in 21 starts).
He plays in Los Angeles, which means the majority of his games are played when the chattering class are in their pajamas — many of whom are still of the mind that Quick is just a placeholder for Jonathan Bernier, because Quick never played on the Canadian world junior team ...
He's also been slowly building to elite status through some inconsistent years, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Quick can sometimes lose focus, as The Goalie Guild explained in a scouting report last spring:
During the regular season, Quick allowed just 17 goals when trailing by one goal and only eight (8) goals when trailing by two. But when he was leading by one, he allowed 33 goals. And when leading by two, he allowed 12 goals. Furthermore, he allowed 42 goals in the first period, 52 in the second, but only 37 in the third. This reveals that Quick is prone to losing focus in non-pressure or comfortable situations. He doesn't seem to be as mentally sharp when the Kings are up by one or two goals, and he doesn't play as sharp in the middle frame."
But when he's locked in, he's technically sound and one of the best goalies in hockey. All due respect to Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard and Cory Schneider, but Quick might be the man in Sochi 2014.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
A goaltender that doesn't get the credit he deserves, even after a Stanley Cup title. This season he's 14-4-1 with a 2.11 GAA and a .923 save percentage.
He's not a Vezina candidate — too many games with three goals against, some flubs here and there. But he's never a liability, and oftentimes he can be a difference-maker. He's got better numbers in the playoffs than in the regular season. He's money.
As Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News wondered: Given the Penguins' success, can he catch Brodeur's wins record?
5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
This could have been Ryan Miller, but I'm not entirely sure we'll see him as good as he was in 2009-10 again. This should have been Roberto Luongo; maybe if he gets out of Vancouver it might be again. This could have been Carey Price or Jimmy Howard, but I think the Predators keeper is just a bit better.
Rinne is a special goalie, and that sometimes gets overlooked because of the team he plays for, the system he plays in, and the defensemen he plays behind. But Tomas Vokoun, Dan Ellis and Chris Mason were never nominated for the Vezina. None were in the conversation about the Hart. Rinne's the best goaltender this franchise has seen, and he's entering his prime.
He's struggled this year, posting a 2.57 GAA that might carry the weight of his new contract. But there was a reason he was given that new contract when previous Nashville goalies were allowed to skate away, and it's not just to be catnip for Shea Weber to re-sign. He's the real deal, and one of the Top 5 goalies in the NHL.
There were a few others to consider. Nikolai Khabibulin will come back down to earth; so will Brian Elliott. Niklas Backstrom is a good goalie made great by the systems in front of him. Ditto Bryzgalov. Miikka Kiprusoff can still take over a game. Price and Howard, as I said, are right there.
Who is in your top 5?