We've looked at the centers of the Southeast. We've counted down the wingers. We've ranked the defenseman. Now it's on to the last line of defense, the lunatic fringe of the Southeast Division: the goalies. And away we go...
After riding starting goalie Cam Ward into the ground the last couple of years, the Hurricanes decided it was time to get him a legitimate NHL backup - so they went out and got Brian Boucher, who just about fulfills that requirement. Boucher's bounced around a bit in his career and has yet to find a consistency to his game, but he provides Ward with his best reliever since Martin Gerber. Maybe.
It's no surprise that Clemmensen's 31 starts last season were the second-most in his career considering a good portion of that career was spent in New Jersey...a team that's been pretty set in net for a few years. He did a decent job backing up Tomas Vokoun last season, however, by also compiling the second-lowest GAA he's ever posted and a respectable (if not stellar) save percentage.
Last year very few people outside the Caps’ organization – and parts of Saskatchewan – had heard of Braden Holtby. But within months of making his NHL debut, he had some people actually questioning whether he shouldn’t be the man between the pipes for a Stanley Cup hopeful. After a somewhat rocky start in his first callup, Holtby worked out some kinks and made the second one count, posting eye-popping numbers (in an admittedly small sample) to remind us that the future of Caps' goaltending is in very good hands.
With two years in Columbus under his belt (where he achieved the somewhat unusual feat of having better numbers than the starting goalie), Garon heads south to help Tampa continue to shore up what was once their most vulnerable position. His three shutouts last year, including back-to-back goose eggs in early November, were the most he's had since the '07-'08 season.
6. Jose Theodore (Florida Panthers)
Last year's rank: N/A
One of many familiar faces for Cap fans on the new-look Panthers, Theodore heads to South Florida fresh off a season that saw him earn his lowest GAA in four years...and his best save percentage since before the lockout.
5. Michal Neuvirth (Washington Capitals)
Last year's rank: 7
After winning pretty much everywhere he'd played, Neuvirth came into training camp and made a statement when he essentially stole away the starter's job that was believed to be Semyon Varlamov's to lose. A few inconsistent performances and injuries aside, Neuvirth's rookie season was an excellent one - and from the sound of it, he's determined to challenge Vokoun for every start he can, hero worship be darned.
Despite a scary start to the season, Pavelec was impressive for the Thrashers last year and continued to establish himself as one of the League's better young goalies. He set career highs across the board, including doubling his shutout total from a season ago. Of course, two of those shutouts came against the Caps, a team against whom he posted a 3-1-0 record, a 0.984 save percentage and a GAA of 0.55. Ruh roh.
3. Dwayne Roloson (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Last year's rank: N/A
One of these days he's going to start playing as if he's in his forties...right?
2. Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes)
Last year's rank: 3
Nobody appeared in more games last season (and by extension faced more shots) than Cam Ward, and all he did over the course of that marathon was put up the best save percentage in the division while posting four shutouts to boot. You can argue whether or not he should be considered "elite" using the truest definition of the word, but he frustrated the hell out of some of the division's best snipers while keeping his team afloat - and that has to count for something.
1. Tomas Vokoun (Washington Capitals)
Last year's rank: 1
He's still got the best save percentage in the League since the lockout (a mark he shares with reigning Vezina winner Tim Thomas), along with the fifth-most shutouts and the tenth-highest win total during that span, despite playing on a team that consistently finished the season out of the playoffs. His six shutouts - including two against the Caps - were the most in the Southeast last season and tied him with the likes of Martin Brodeur, Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne. Now let's see what he can do with a contending team in front of him...