Pittsburgh Penguins’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma stated last week that he has the best goalie tandem in the league with Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun. When referring to the regular season, Bylsma has a solid argument. Fleury and Vokoun led the Pens’ to a number-one seed in the Eastern Conference last season.
Sidney Crosby echoed a similar confidence, ”I think we’re in pretty good shape in between the net for sure. Those are two guys that are very capable of doing the job for us and were lucky to have that.”
Although it was announced Saturday that Vokoun is out indefinitely with a blood clot, the confidence displayed by the Pens’ in their goaltending duo got me thinking.
Which team has the best goaltending tandem in the league?
League-wide, the quality of goaltending tandems has declined compared to a season ago. Some great goaltending duos have parted ways. Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, along with Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo, are examples of great goaltending pairs who’ve split up since last season.
Only a handful of teams have the luxury of starting either one of their netminders while still posing a serious threat to win every game. Below are the five best goaltending tandems in the NHL.
5. Corey Crawford & Nikolai Khabibulin
The Blackhawks had one of the best goaltending tandems a season ago with Ray Emery and Crawford. Emery was unbeatable going 17-1, and surrendering only two goals in his lone loss. A hot commodity, Emery was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers this summer. The Blackhawks found a comparable replacement in Khabibulin. What other team carries two Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders? Khabibulin can hold up his end of the bargain as a back-up. The only question is whether Khabibulin can stay healthy at the age of 40.
Crawford proved to the hockey universe that he’s in the elite category of goaltenders. He was a major question mark and the culprit of criticism anytime the Blackhawks lost a game. Crawford went toe-to-toe with Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask, out-dueling them in the playoffs. The Blackhawks play a very fast-paced and wide-open style. The fact that Crawford finished the season with a goals against average under two goals per game is an amazing feat.
4. Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak
The lockout shortened season was not kind to Elliott and Halak. By no means were these two net-minders liabilities, but they didn’t see the same type of success as they did in 2011-12. That year, Elliott led the league with a .940 save percentage and 1.56 GAA. Halak was just as good with a .926 SV% and 1.97 GAA. Their struggles last season were a mere bump in the road. They’re poised to have another strong campaign.
Both are savvy veterans and know what it takes to bounce back. With a team that has a “defense first” mindset, Elliott and Halak will once again be towards the top of all statistical categories for goalies. Both net-minders have one year remaining on their contracts. They’ll be looking to perform at a high level to earn top dollar in the off-season. Expect to see both goaltenders shine.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury & Tomas Vokoun
Fleury may be dealing with playoff issues, but he’s done a commendable job in the regular season. Until the shortened season a year ago, Fleury had 35 wins or more for four consecutive seasons. Last season, he was one of the league leaders in wins and had the second fewest losses. To compliment Fleury, the Pens brought in Vokoun at the beginning of last year. Vokoun was 13-4 in 17 starts.
Critics love to bash the Pens goaltending, but the Pens haven’t been a defensive-minded squad since Bylsma took over as the coach. Fleury and Vokoun have to account for more defensive lapses than a lot of other goaltenders in the league. Remarkably, these goaltenders set a franchise record by not allowing a goal in 208:24 last season. Vokoun set a personal best, and Penguins’ franchise record, with a scoreless streak of 162:42. This was done in the midst of back-to-back shutout performances during the Pens’ 15 game winning streak. The Pens will have to cope without Vokoun until he is cleared to return from a blood clot.
2. Jonas Hiller & Viktor Fasth
Before last season, Hiller and the Ducks were searching for a way to bounce back and return to one of the league’s elite teams. Ducks GM Bob Murray hired Bruce Boudreau to induce change, and found a goaltender from Sweden named Viktor Fasth. Few people had heard of Fasth. Not only did he help shoulder the goaltending responsibilities, but his spectacular play created a goaltending controversy. Fasth started the season 8-0, and is the third rookie goalie to accomplish such a feat.
Hiller and Fasth were a great combination and led the Ducks to the 2nd overall seed in the Western Conference. Hiller posted great numbers with a .913 SV % and 2.36 GAA. Fasth, considered the back-up on paper, was better statistically (.921 SV% 2.18 GAA) while playing one less game (25) than Hiller (26). The Ducks goaltenders have the possibility of becoming even better with another year under Boudreau.
1. Martin Brodeur & Cory Schneider
Brodeur is the greatest goalie to ever throw on pads. He isn’t as sharp as he was in his prime, but he’s still good enough to carry the New Jersey Devils as shown by his recent Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He’s been performing a solo act in Newark for the past two decades playing in an NHL record 1,220 games. Brodeur is 41 years old, and the knock on him has been that his play falters towards the end of the season from playing in too many regular season games.
The acquisition of Cory Schneider will put this theory to rest. Schneider has proven he can play at a very high level. He is comfortable in the role that he will play for the Devils having done so for the Vancouver Canucks. His presence will help preserve Brodeur’s career. Brodeur can play in fewer regular season games and be fresher for the stretch run. With Brodeur’s days numbered, Schneider will transition into the starter. If Brodeur shows signs of decline this year, Schneider may be the starter sooner rather than later. No matter what transpires, the Devils have the best one-two punch in the league.
The Carolina Hurricanes drastically improved their goaltending situation with the signing of Anton Khudobin. He and Cam Ward are a great duo. If Ward has more injury problems, or doesn’t play up to snuff, Khudobin has shown he’s a talent in the nets.
Since the majority of teams play one goaltender during the playoffs, most weight was given to regular season play when developing the list of best goaltending tandems in the league.