We've ranked and filed the Southeast's top skaters (centers, wings and blueliners), now it's time to turn our attention to the guys who represent the last line of defense in stopping these scorers - the goalies.
More was expected of Montoya in 2011-12 after he posted a 9-5-5/2.39/.921 line the season before, but a mid-season concussion and, well, the Islanders did in his campaign. He should rebound some in the 'Peg, but don't expect much.
Take his shutout of the Caps away from his 2011-12 record and he was 1-3-2/2.94/.926. Take away all of his career work against Washington and his 11-11-3/3.23/.900 line balloons to 9-10-/3/3.40/.896. At 26-years-old, his upside is limited, but perhaps still there.
Clemmensen has become a quintessential NHL backup, posting a save percentage of .911 or better in each of the last four seasons while averaging 27 starts per campaign and winning more games than he's lost over that span. Not bad for just over a million bucks per year.
Followed up a fantastic 2010-11 (27-12-4/2.45/.914) and the impressive playoff run that followed it with a disappointing 2011-12 that included injuries and inconsistent (at best) play. And while he's confident - and should be - about his prospects going forward, he's also going to be feeling some pressure in a way that he hasn't yet felt it as an NHLer. Expect him to respond positively.
6. Jose Theodore (Florida Panthers; ranked 6th last year)
Since leaving Washington after the 2009-10 season, Theodore has a 2.55 GAA and .916 save percentage, and led the Panthers to a Southeast Division title (and, unlike when he was a Cap, he was actually good in the playoffs for the Kitties). But he's 36 now, and his best years - and his best comeback years - are likely behind him.
5. Jacob Markstrom (Florida Panthers; honorable mention last year)
The highest-ranked Panthers goalie on this list and their best hope for the future at the position started the 2011-12 season in the NHL and had a 2.05 GAA and .944 save percentage in five appearances before being returned to the AHL where he ran off a 17-12-1/2.32/.927 line. Markstrom is 6'6" and a trip or two to Five Guys away from 200 pounds, but once he settles into his lanky frame, he could be a tough guy to face for years to come.
Brought in to be The Answer (for now, at least), Lindback has played second fiddle to Pekka Rinne for two years in Nashville, going 16-13-2/2.53/.914. Of course, Tampa doesn't have the defense that Nashville had, so the second-consecutive 6'6" Swede on this list will have to be every bit as good as advertised. (And you can bet that Steve Yzerman thinks he is, considering how much he gave up for Lindback.) Fun fact: Lindback and Markstrom were teammates for Brynas in the SEL, where the former was also briefly a teammate of Nicklas Backstrom's.
3. Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals; ranked 8th last year)
If Holtby continues to put up stats like those he's accumulated thus far, he'll not only be atop this list, but broader rankings of elite goaltenders as well. Seriously, the numbers are eye-popping. Of course, they're likely to come back to Earth at some point, leaving the Caps with an young, athletic, confident netminder who has a bit more been-there-done-that than most his age. Expect some bumps in the road... but it'll be a long - and hopefully rather scenic - road when it's all said and done.
2. Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets; ranked 4th last year)
Got a new five-year deal this summer that'll pay him just under $4 million per, which is an impressive commitment by an organization to a guy who's never posted particularly good numbers. But there's a sense that he's better than his stats, on the rise or whatever, and a 29-game stretch from the beginning of December through mid-February in which he posted a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage indicate that he might be. Of course, Caps fans hardly need convincing - Pavs was 4-1-1/2.12/.926 against Washington in 2011-12.
1. Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes; ranked 2nd last year)
Carolina's workhorse netminder topped 67 starts for the fourth time in the last five seasons and righted the ship after a disastrous start to the 2011-12 season, finishing 20-9-8/2.31/.929 over his final 38 appearances of the season. Take that, an impressive 2010-11 (37-26-10/2.56/.923) and his Conn Smythe together and it adds up to the Division's best goalie.