You can come up with a pretty convincing argument that says Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov have been the best three goaltenders in the NHL for the past several seasons. (Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Lundqvist, among others, might disagree, but for the sake of this, bear with me.)
Luongo has been the most dominant netminder in the league the past few years. Brodeur has won four of the past five Vezina Trophies. And Nabokov has been the backbone of the San Jose Sharks, annually one of the league’s best teams (in the regular season, anyhow).
The three goalies share another commonality this season: a lengthy stint on the sidelines due to injury. Luongo has been out for three weeks and counting with a groin strain; Brodeur will miss at least three months after elbow surgery; and Nabokov missed much of November with a leg injury.
Interesting that three of the league’s top goalies, all of whom have traditionally enjoyed good health, would all get hurt at the same time. Really, it’s the first injury of consequence for each of them, at least since turning pro. As a result, we get to evaluate how their team has fared without them and how the club is likely to perform going forward.
It looked bad real bad in the 10 days after Brodeur’s elbow injury in early November as the Devils lost five of six games without their all-world stopper.
But the Devils, who know a thing or two about team defense, reversed the losing trend with a five-game winning streak, and have gone 10-6-0 overall without Brodeur.
Backup Scott Clemmensen has stepped up, helped by his team’s penchant for suffocating defense, and the Devils remain a viable playoff contender.
It’s difficult to see New Jersey in the playoffs if the team is without Brodeur for most of the season, but never bet against Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.
In San Jose, the Sharks have been on a roll all season and barely missed a beat when Nabokov missed three weeks in November.
San Jose is loaded with talent at every position even in net as it turns out, with backup Brian Boucher near the top of most goaltending categories.
He’s not going to chase Nabokov out of town, but Boucher’s play in November allows the team to rest easy, knowing they’ve got a capable backup if the No. 1 goes down.
San Jose went 5-1-1 in the seven games Nabokov was out.
Finally, Luongo. With reports suggesting he may return to the Canucks crease within the next week or so it looks like Vancouver has survived being without the one player everyone thought they could not afford to lose.
The Canucks went 1-4-0 in the first five Luongo-less games, before a 2-0-1 streak improved their overall non-Roberto record to 3-4-1.
No, that pace won’t get you into the post-season but it’s good enough to keep Vancouver near the edge of the playoffs, and Luongo is good enough to carry any team the rest of the way.
Assuming good health, of course.
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