There is no more impactful position in the postseason – or at any point of the NHL season – than goalie.
It will make or break your team, it can swing a series, and if you get great play at the position you are going to have a chance to win it all. If you get bad play at the position, your postseason trip will probably be disappointing no matter how good the rest of your team is.
With the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs just around the corner we wanted to take a look at each potential playoff team (teams that still have a strong chance to make it; so Winnipeg and Vancouver? Not included) and how they should feel about their goaltending situation as the playoffs approach.
So confident they should be arrogant about it
Tampa Bay Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s overall numbers this season are not quite on the same level as they have been in the past, but he is still the best goalie in the world and a proven superstar. Especially come playoff time. He has played every minute of their past two championship runs with a .932 save percentages in those 48 games. The Lightning always have a chance with him, and at any moment he can become a dominant game changer that just takes over a series. They are in a class all their own here at this position because of Vasilevskiy.
Extremely high confidence and no real concern
New York Rangers. Igor Shesterkin does not have quite the lengthy resume that Vasilevskiy has, and his play has dipped a bit over the past two weeks, so that puts the Rangers at the very top of this tier instead of the absolute top tier. This is the most hockey Shesterkin has played in a season and there might be some concern that he could run out of steam in the middle of a playoff run. But he has been the Rangers’ most important player this season and is not only a Vezina Trophy front runner, he is also a legitimate MVP contender.
Carolina Hurricanes. Frederik Andersen has been everything the Hurricanes could have hoped for him to be this season and more. What makes their situation especially strong is they have a very, very good backup in Antti Raanta. Neither player is a superstar, but they are both excellent.
Nashville Predators. Saros has been one of the NHL’s best performing goalies for three years now and is an excellent last line of defense behind a surprisingly good Western Conference playoff team. He almost single handedly dragged the Predators to a playoff spot a year ago and has been just as good this season (with a little better support around him).
Calgary Flames. The Flames paid a huge price to get Jacob Markstrom in free agency a year ago and he is rewarding them for their investment. Markstrom has a .924 save percentage this season and a league-best nine shutouts. Calgary plays a great defensive game under coach Darryl Sutter, has balanced out its forward lineup, and has a top-tier goalie this year.
Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche have arguably the NHL’s best defense (almost all of them impact players) and a loaded lineup that can dominate any opponent on any given night. They do not necessarily need a goalie that can steal them a lot of games. They need a goalie that will not lose them games. That is Darcy Kuemper, and just as an added bonus for them he is also capable of stealing a game when needed. Pavel Francouz is a strong backup as well.
Minnesota Wild. Cam Talbot is a perfectly acceptable NHL starting goalie, but Marc-Andre Fleury is the wild card here. He struggled in Chicago, but what goalie would not struggle behind that mess? He is still capable of being an impact player and is off to a very strong start with the Wild. Between the two of them they should be plenty good enough at this position to make some noise in the playoffs. The playoff meltdowns of years past are in his rear view mirror as he has a .922 save percentage in his past 62 playoff games dating back to the 2016-17 playoffs.
[NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Wild peaking at right time]
Their goalie has something to prove
Pittsburgh Penguins. Tristan Jarry had a nightmare postseason a year ago, a performance that played a significant role in the Penguins’ first round exit at the hands of the New York Islanders. He has bounced back in a big way this season and has been one of the better goalies in the league. But until he does it in the playoffs there is going to be that question mark looming over him. Very good season, but still mostly unproven.
St. Louis Blues. The Blues are probably having some second thoughts about that Jordan Binnington contract extension. After back-to-back playoff meltdowns Binnington has come back this season and had his worst season as a pro, currently owning a .899 save percentage on the season. The good news for the Blues is Ville Husso has stepped in to save the day. He has had a great year but he has very little NHL track record to base any projection on.
Boston Bruins. With Tuukka Rask retired Bruins fans are going to have to find a new scapegoat this season. His absence has been filled by the duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. They have been…. fine? Not liabilities. Not game-changers. Just…. fine. Swayman has been the better of the two overall this season but he has struggled since the beginning of March. The Bruins are a great defensive team with some impact players at forward so there is a lot of potential here. They just need the goaltending to be good.
Dallas Stars. The Stars opened the season with four NHL caliber goalies on their roster, and it has been a journey just keeping one of them healthy and in the lineup. Jake Oettinger has emerged as the starter, but he falls under the same category as Jarry, Husso, and Swayman. Fine performance, but not enough of a track record to really be 100% confident with what he is going to do in the playoffs. Assuming the Stars get there.
This is a cause for concern
Florida Panthers. Okay now things start to get really interesting. The Panthers have the best offense in the NHL by a mile. When Aaron Ekblad is healthy they have a very formidable defense. This has been the best full season in Panthers franchise history and there is every reason for fans to believe they have a team that can win it all. The only thing that can disrupt that is goaltending. And guess what just so happens to be a cause for alarm as the playoffs approach: goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky had a wonderful start to the season, but he has fallen off significantly in the second half and some of his previous playoff performances leave something to be desired. Spencer Knight is the future of the position in Florida, but he has not had the rookie season the Panthers may have hoped for. Since the start of February their team all situations save percentage of .894 is one of the worst in the NHL. This is a potential problem.
Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick is a two-time Cup winner and has some of the NHL’s best single season playoff runs on his resume. But he has not been that goalie for a few years now. As a duo, he and Calvin Petersen have been pretty average this season, and that has been good enough for a quickly improving Kings team that has exceeded expectations.
Vegas Golden Knights. The concern here is that Robin Lehner has not consistently been healthy this season, and when he has been on the ice his play has regressed from the past few years. If he is healthy and playing like we have seen in the past, they should be fine. But they have no Plan B like they did in recent years.
No confidence at all. This is a problem position.
Toronto Maple Leafs. The offense is great. Defensively they are probably better than their critics want to admit. But that goaltending is a real problem and the obvious weakness here. Jack Campbell has been awful since the start of December, as his .890 save percentage since Dec. 1 is 34th out of the 37 goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then (ahead of only Ilya Samsonov and Philip Grubauer). Petr Mrazek has struggled pretty consistently all season. This is going to be a problem.
Washington Capitals. The Capitals have two options in Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, neither of which has done anything to secure the starting job. Washington was unable to add a goalie upgrade before the trade deadline and seemed to be happy with Vanecek’s play. But that has tailed off in recent weeks and now the Capitals are set to enter the playoffs with no good (or proven) option.
[Related: Capitals goaltending situation could be big problem]
Edmonton Oilers. They stuck with the same goalie duo that was not good enough a year ago. They have the worst team save percentage of any playoff team, and teams with this level of goaltending typically do not win. The best option here might actually be Stuart Skinner, and not Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen.