In the NHL today attention is primarily focused on who can score the most goals, or who may have the most assists. But, in reality championships are won thanks to great goaltending. Heading into the 2012-2013 season all 5 teams in the SouthEast Division have a legitimate chance of winning the division title, but it will all come down to who has the best goaltender night in and night out. We will now review the top 3 goaltenders heading into this year.
Number 3: Florida Panthers – Jose Theodore
Jose Theodore accomplished something with the Florida Panthers last season which no netminder has been able to do in the past decade in the Sunshine State – Get the team into the playoffs.
Theodore joined the Panthers after General Manager Dale Tallon signed him to a 2-year contract last off-season. He had posted a 15-11-3 record with a 2.71 GAA and a .917 save percentage with the Minnesota Wild the previous season. Known mostly for his days with the Montreal Canadiens the 35-year old, Quebec Native proved that he is still a good calibre goaltender in the NHL today, as he posted a 22-16-11 record this past year.
Going into next season, Theo will once again lead the charge alongside Scott Clemmensen and youngster Jacob Markstrom just a call up away in San Antonio. Panthers’ fans will look to Theodore to have another solid season as he aims to become victorious in 25 or more game this season to once again help the Panthers claim first in the Southeast Division. In 633 career games, Theodore has posted a 282-248-36 record.
Number 2: Winnipeg Jets – Ondrej Pavelec
After the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to become the Winnipeg Jets last season, many fans thought that the team had no chance of being in contention due to long travel time between conference and division rivals. But this proved not to be the case as Winnipeg remained in the playoff hunt until the final few weeks of the regular season. A big part of this is thanks to goaltending by none other than Ondrej Pavelec.
Pavelec, who was playing in just his 2nd full season as a starter in the NHL put up a 29-28-9 record through 68 games last season with a 2.91 GAA and a .906 save percentage. The 24-year old Kladno, Check Republic Native enjoyed his first season in Winnipeg as he quickly proved to be the teams number one netminder, taking the reins from Chris Mason.
On June 25th, the Jets rewarded Pavelec with a brand new 5-year contract extension which will see him play in a Jets uniform until the end of the 2017 season. If the Jets are to continue making strides this season, Pavelec will be looked upon to step up and carry his team into the post-season, bringing playoff hockey back to Winnipeg for the first time in nearly two decades.
Number 1: Carolina Hurricanes – Cam Ward
When the phrase “Franchise Goaltender” comes to mind, a short list of names quickly formulate in my brain; a list which always includes the same guy – Cam Ward. The 28-Year old Saskatoon native has made a name for himself in todays’ NHL as one of the elite netminders. Last season, despite missing the playoffs, Ward posted a 30-23-13 record through 68 games with a 2.74 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Undoubtedly, going forward Ward is the backbone on this Carolina Hurricanes team, as he knows what it takes to win. In 2005-06 when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, Ward was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs after posting a 15-8 record.
Now, with a new look Hurricanes team heading into the season, Ward appears as though he is poised for another breakout season. No doubt the additions to the Carolina lineup such as Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin will make life that much easier this season as the Canes not only look to compete for a playoff birth, but a deep playoff run that leads into June.
There is no doubt in my mind that all three teams will be in a tight race for the Southeast division crown at the end of next season, but whatever goaltender can hold his composure the longest, and pull out that one extra victory, will be the team sitting at the top come April.
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