by PuckStopsHere on 12/14/10 at 04:51 PM ET
Every year I pick out a team that could be a solid contender if only they had goaltending. Last year I picked the Ottawa Senators, a team that did not solve their goaltending issues and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
My choice this year could not be more obvious. It is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa has the second lowest shots allowed per game at 27.1. They also have the worst goals against average in the league at 3.47. Their goaltenders Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have the two worst saves percentages in the league at .876 and .872 respectively.
Tampa has two of the best offensive players in the league this season in Steve Stamkos and Martin St Louis. This offence will be even stronger when Vincent LeCavalier is healthy. If that was coupled with good goaltending, this team could make a strong run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Part of their problem keeping goals out is probably also related to weak defence. Tampa does not have any all star calibre defencemen. Victor Hedman has potential, but he is yet to put it together. Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund were likely once at that level, but they no longer are. Tampa’s goaltending problems (as shown by a low saves percentage) is related to a team that is allowing high quality shots. That isn’t to say that a strong goalie cannot help to solve the problem. Neither Ellis nor Smith has played well. This leads to rumors that any available goalie is Tampa bound. Evgeni Nabokov may be available since he has his KHL release, so the rumor mill immediately has him heading to Tampa. Of course Nabokov must clear waivers before entering the league this season, so it is unlikely that any team will sign him, because he is unlikely to clear waivers to stay with that team. Tampa will more likely have to acquire a goalie who is already in the NHL or try Cedrick Desjardins, who is in the AHL. If they go to the playoffs with Ellis and Smith playing at this level they will be first round fodder (if they make the playoffs at all).
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