Tomas Vokoun denies Nicklas Backstrom (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
During the 2009-10 regular season, 1,249 goals were scored against Southeast Division teams. That's an average of 3.05 per game and 4.5% more than were scored against any other division (the Northwest's 1,195 were second most, the Central's 1,132 the fewest).
Supremely talented scorers like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos contributed to that high total. So too did the Division's overall lack of talented defensemen. And, of course, the last lines of defense - the goalies - played their parts.
As we head into 2010-11, some of those netminders are no longer calling the Southeast Division home, and a couple of new names have been imported. Just who are the masked men who will try to keep pucks out of Southeast Division nets in 2010-11? Let's count down the top ten...
Five teams, two goalies per team... someone had to be tenth. (It was tempting to put Jacob Markstrom or Braden Holtby here, but if you had one NHL game to win tomorrow, you'd probably want Peters in net... probably.)
Smith's 2009-10 won/loss record was similar to his previous year's numbers, but his GAA ballooned by nearly half a goal per game and his save percentage dropped by .016 to finish below the goalie's Mendoza Line of .900 (but thank goodness for rounding to the nearest thousandth, eh, Mike?), thanks in large part to being simply atrocious (3-6-1/3.41/.886) after January. But hey, he's had save percentages of .912, .901, .916 and now .900 in his four NHL seasons, so expect a rebound... and for someone to score on it. Zing!
The good news? Pavelec's GAA dropped by one-third of a goal and his save percentage shot up by .026 in 2009-10. The bad news? These improved numbers are still mediocre at best. For a while, Pavs looked like he might be the Thrashers' goaltender of the near-future, but now he looks like a kid who needs a bit more time before taking the reins. A 2-1-2/1.77/.944 run right before getting lit up by the Caps in the season's last game gives a glimpse of what the 2005 second-round pick is capable of.
Winner of back-to-back Calder Cups, Neuvirth will get a chance to compete for the job of back-stopping last year's Presidents' Trophy winners. In his brief NHL career, Neuvy has posted solid numbers with a few hiccups along the way, and as a 2011 Restricted Free Agent, now is his time to show the Caps what he's got. [For more on Neuvirth's 2009-10 season, check out his Rink Wrap.]
The only Iowan in NHL history, Clemmensen's season got off to a shaky start that left him with a 3.52 GAA and a .888 save percentage through December. Twenty-one consecutive Tomas Vokoun complete games later, Clemmensen got back on the ice and finished out the season on a 4-3-2/2.29/.934 run that looked more like the netminder that posted stellar numbers a year earlier when filling in for Marty Brodeur in Jersey.
5. Dan Ellis (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The first of three former Predators to make this list's top-five, Ellis was simply out-played by Pekka Rinne in Nashville and landed in Tampa as a free agent this summer, where he'll try to find some of the magic that helped him post a 23-10-3/2.34/.924 mark in 2007-08.
4. Semyon Varlamov (Washington Capitals)
This is a big year for Varly, and not just because he's playing for a new contract and fighting for a job while having to prove himself durable and able to carry the burden of the tremendous expectations weighing on his team. Nevermind - it is because of all of that. It would shock no one to come back a year from now and chuckle about how low Varly is on this list.... or wonder how he placed so high. [For more on Varlamov's 2009-10 season, check out his Rink Wrap.]
3. Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes)
Cam's got the Cup. He's also got back-to-back seasons with a save percentage of .916 or better, one of only eight goalies who can make that claim. So don't let that record fool you - Cam Ward is still a very solid netminder.
2. Chris Mason (Atlanta Thrashers)
The second former Pred on the list, Mason spent the last two seasons in St. Louis where he went 57-43-15/2.47/.915 for a mediocre team. In fact, toss out a sub-par 2007-08 season, and Mason is 97-63-1-20/2.44/.918 since becoming a regular NHLer. With a solid defense in front of him in Atlanta, look for a good year out of Mace.
1. Tomas Vokoun (Florida Panthers)
Quick: which goalie has the best post-lockout save percentage in the League (minimum 75 games played)? That's right, it's Vokoun, who turned in another good season for a bad team last year. Sure, he led the NHL in losses and OT/SO losses, but with five consecutive seasons with a save percentage at or above .919, Vokoun (the third former Predator) is as sure a bet as there is in the NHL these days. The 34-year-old Czech will be a free agent next summer, and is sure to be someone's prized acquisition some time before the trade deadline... and likely worth the high price it will cost to land him.
There's our list. Let's hear yours in the comments.