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The Vezina Revisited....
Last year's threesome enjoying mixed results in 2013
Three very worthy candidates were presented as finalists for the NHL's storied Vezina Trophy, the definitive award presented to the National Hockey League's superior goaltender at the end of every year.
Goalies are as crucial in the nip-tuck world of the NHL as quarterbacks in today's pass-soaked NFL, or a bonafide lock-down ace to take the ball every 5 days for a big league baseball club. Without one, an otherwise deep and talented team isn't a truly genuine contender for Lord Stanley's coveted Cup. Yet with a true stopper as your last line of defense, noticeable flaws, shortcomings and mistakes can be overcome or even erased with one lightning fast sweep or snap of the catching glove.
Last year's finalists, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne and eventual Vezina Winner Henrik Lundqvist represented a highly skilled triumverant, each uniquely talented in ways that defined their unmistakable style. Whether it was the clutch play of Quick, which propelled his LA Kings to an improbable Stanley Cup Title, the athleticism and positional brilliance of Lundqvist or the unusual blend of size and quickness that Rinne displays between the red pipes on a nightly basis, all three were instrumental in their clubs' playoff success and a major reason why they're perenially in the post season conversation.
As we find ourselves 1/3 of the way through this year's abbreviated schedule, let's look in on last year's finalists.
Jonathan Quick - plagued by very spotty play and precious little support from his teammates, the ironically named Quick got off to a start that was anything but, in this the Kings' maiden attempt to defend their franchise's long Stanley Cup Crown. Lowlighted by a 7-4 loss to the surprising Anaheim Ducks in Disney, a game in which the Quacks sent Quick to the showers less than 6 minutes in on a mere 3 shots, 2 of which found twine, Quick's save percentage in January was a feeble .907. With February more than halfway in the books, Quick is suffering through an even worse 2nd month of the year with a ghastly .891 SV% figure next to his name on the stat sheet. A recent 3-1 victory over Edmonton, a game in which Quick brick-walled 23 of the 24 shots he faced, has the LA faithful hoping that Number 32 has turned the corner. If not, the Kings will need to purchase a ticket in order to gain entry to the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
Henrik Lundqvist - Also falling victim to a suprisinlgy medicore start was King Henrik, a man saddled with the hopes of Blueshirt Nation, a fan base who believes that their time has come after last year's near miss and the offseason acquisition of superstar Rick Nash. Lundqvist candidly expressed concern about his overall sharpness out of the blocks after the lengthy NHL Lockout, and the early stages of the 2013 Campaign underscored his concerns. Lackluster play spread across Broadway like an epidemic, however this Ranger Team appears to be showing signs of reaching its potential as of late, and as usual it's Lundqvist that's now leading the way. With a 1.60 GAA and a SV% approaching .940 over his last 5 games, Lunqvist is rounding into form and like a workhorse running back, he seems to thrive on an increased workload. Ranger fans can expect the King to hold court on a regular basis for the foreseeable future, with the Rangers' next back-to-back contests not scheduled until March 7th and 8th.
Pekka Rinne - The 6'5" Finn, your author's choice for the Vezina in 2012, has simply carried the Nashville Predators thoughout the early stages of the 2013 Campaign. Burdened with an offense that ranks 29th in the League in scoring, Rinne has posted a sparkling 1.67 GAA to go with his 3 shutouts as the perenially competitive Predators attempt to grind out low scoring 1 goal victories on a nightly basis. Having already participated in 6 shootouts, the glorified skills competition appears to be Rinne's achilles heel, where he has posed a sub-par 2-4 record in games that culminate in breakaway fashion. Will the pressue of having to be perfect night in and night out eventually wear this blue chip netminder down? Only time will tell, but if he can maintian this level of play, the Vezina will he his to hoist in 2013.
The NHL Strike has certainly created an uneven landscape, one in which unpredictable scenarios reign supreme across the League. Although a 48 game season is a far cry from the normal 82 game slate, expect the elite goaltenders to emerge when all is said and done as the Kings, Rangers and Predators ultimately punch their tickets to the NHL Post Season Dance, due in large part to the masked men that perform their own brand of larceny on a nightly basis.