28 Mar 2007: Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) allows the puck to slip between his pads for a goal by Panthers Bryan Allen (not shown) during first period action in the Atlanta Thrashers versus the Florida Panthers NHL game at the BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL.

Here’s the second of two articles covering the Eastern Conference goaltending.  A look at what to expect in the upcoming season.  Let’s go:

 

Atlanta
Starter:  Kari Lehtonen
Back up:  Johan Hedberg
Outlook:  Lehtonen had a career year with 34 wins, 2.79 goals against average, .912 save percentage and four shutouts.  Combine that with the fact he was named Best Goalie at the last World Championships and the second overall pick from the 2002 entry draft should improve upon last season’s breakout performance.  Back up Johan Hedberg is well respected by his team mates and provides reliable goaltending when Lehtonen needs a night off.  The goaltending situation in Atlanta is stable.

Boston
Projected Starter:  Manny Fernandez
Projected Back up:  Tim Thomas/Hannu Toivonen (Dobber's note: since traded, after article submitted)
Outlook:  Fernandez should enter the season as number one, but if his knee problems persist or he doesn’t get the job done, a split with either Thomas or Toivonen is possible (Dobber - not anymore!).  The Thomas/Toivonen situation bears watching as having three goalies around can be a distraction.  A trade is one possibility (Dobber - indeed it is!).  The Bruins signed Tuukka Rask last season and he will apprentice in the AHL this year.  Toivonen could be sent down to work with his fellow Finn Rask.  With new coach Claude Julien, the Bruins will be a better coached team and are likely to improve defensively.

Carolina
Starter:  Cam Ward
Back up:  John Grahame
Outlook:  Now entering his third NHL season, bigger things are expected from the 2006 Conn Smythe winner.  Ward is only 23 years old and will be looking to bounce back from a less than stellar year.  The wins will likely be in the 30-35 range, but the goals against average (2.93) and save percentage (.897) clearly need to improve.  Veteran John Grahame will again provide back up services.

Florida
Starter:  Tomas Vokoun
Projected Back up:  Craig Anderson
Outlook:  Vokoun is a proven quality NHL netminder.  Florida’s offence received a minor boost with the recent signings of Richard Zednik, Brett McLean and Radek Dvorak.  Craig Anderson will be a very capable back up when, I mean if, Vokoun ends up on the injured list.  Anderson started only three games last season for the Panthers.  His numbers in recording one win, one overtime loss and one loss were an excellent 2.21 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

Montreal
Starter:  Cristobal Huet
Projected Back up:  Jaroslav Halak/Carey Price
Outlook:  Huet will be the No.1 guy this year, with Halak settling into the back up role.  Carey Price looked stellar last year in helping Canada win gold at the World Junior Championships and the Hamilton Bulldogs win the AHL’s Calder Cup.  He was the tournament MVP and Top Goalie at the World Juniors, CHL Goalie of the Year and the AHL playoff MVP.  Price is the youngest player ever to win the AHL playoff MVP trophy.  The soon to be 20 year old will likely spend at least one full year apprenticing in the minors.  This guy is going to be a star in the very near future.

Ottawa
Starter:  Ray Emery
Back up:  Martin Gerber
Outlook:  With his recent playoff performance, Ray Emery has earned the right to be called the number one guy.  However, in the unlikely event that Emery struggles, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Gerber take some starts away from Emery.  Ottawa will be a strong team again this year and they need to be confident that their starting goaltending can take them all the way.  No matter how well Emery plays in the regular season, the real test will be for him to lead the Sens to another Cup Final.

Tampa Bay
Projected Starter:  Johan Holmqvist/Marc Denis
Projected Back up:  Marc Denis/Johan Holmqvist/Karri Ramo
Outlook:  Anticipate a battle royale for the starting job at training camp.  Give Holmqvist a slight edge based on his play last year.  Marc Denis will be looking to rebound from a sub-par year.  Odds are the 21 year old Karri Ramo will spend another year starting in the AHL.  There is hope for Ramo though, team management has said that it will keep the best two goalies on the NHL roster, regardless of contract or draft status, etc.  Although sending Denis and his almost $2.9 million salary to the minors would seem ludicrous, especially considering Ramo would be better served as the number one guy in the AHL for another season.

Washington
Starter:  Olaf Kolzig
Projected Back up:  Brent Johnson
Outlook:  The 37 year old Kolzig just keeps on chugging along.  The Caps figure to be a much improved team this year.  Along with the free agent signings the Caps have made, there is the much anticipated debut of Nicklas Backstrom to look forward to.  Brent Johnson will again check in as the back up.  Washington recently signed their goalie of the future, No.1 pick (23rd overall) from the 2006 draft Semen Varlamov.  Kolzig is likely there to bridge the gap until young Varlamov is ready for prime time.

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