Is there a more thankless job in the NHL than tending goal? The entire point of the game is to score on you, for one thing, and yet, every time somebody does, people get mad at you.
What's more, most of the time you make the highlight reel, it's as the guy that got beat. And even when you do make the highlight reel for something you did, some smartass out there is just waiting to point out that you wouldn't have had to make a highlight reel save -- to dive or stretch or reach back or scramble to recover -- if your positioning was better.
So let's say you have impeccable positioning, and your appearances on either end of the highlight reel are sparing as a result. Then you're accused of playing a boring style and nobody likes you.
Seriously, thankless. So let's take a moment to remedy that by appreciating some of the best moments in goaltending in 2012.
And here ... we ... go.
10. Martin Brodeur
Edit: turns out our original number 10, Cam Ward's robbery on Keith Ballard, is from the late stages of 2011 (Harrison, you fool!), which means it's disqualified and our number 11 pick, this scorpion-kick save from Marty Brodeur, finds its way into the top 10. Fine by us, since it's a beautiful stop.
9. Henrik Lundqvist
There wasn't a pretter suite of saves in 2012 than this trio from Henrik Lundqvist, who robs David Clarkson thrice in spectacular fashion. The first is standard Lundqvistian netminding, as he stands tall and gets his body in front of Clarkson's initial shot. But then he goes into desperation mode, and everything gets sexy. Clarkson goes around the net and tries to wrap the puck home, but Lundqvist reaches back and gets the paddle on it. (To really appreciate this save, you have to watch the super slow-motion replay from this compilation.) Then, Clarkson tries to flip the puck up over Lundqvist's glove, but by this point it should be clear that the puck is not going in. Impeccable netminding here.
8. Tomas Vokoun
As Lecavalier comes across the crease all alone, Vokoun stretches out in desperation, taking away the bottom of the net with his body and his paddle, then opening his glove wide and praying that, if Lecavalier gets the puck up, that's where it lands. Prayer answered. Check out the look on Lecavalier's face -- not to mention the dramatic swivel -- when he gets robbed.
7. Ondrej Pavelec
When Ondrej Pavelec signed a 5-year, $19.5 million contract extension with the Winnipeg Jets this offseason, it was largely for his ability to make incredible saves like this one. Check out the extension when he reaches back to absolutely rob Jakub Voracek. Wow! Give that man twenty million dollars.
6. David Aebischer
Frankly, either one of the saves in this clip could have made the list, especially since the video's title insists Aebischer has made the best two saves in hockey history. Now, I wouldn't go that far, but it is an incredible suite of stick saves. We'll give the edge to the second one, as Aebischer gets fully extended diving back to get the paddle on the shot at the side of the goal.
5. Ilya Bryzgalov
The Penguins/Flyers series isn't exactly remembered for its goaltending. No, it's remembered for quite the opposite, as well as for a steady stream of needlessly dirty plays (such as the crosscheck Matt Read gives Kris Letang immediately after this save). But there was at least one highlight-reel save in this series, courtesy Bryzgalov, who gets across after Sidney Crosby's perfect cross-ice feed to Letang and snags the shot right out of the air.
4. Martin Brodeur
The Toronto Maple Leafs' most potent trio orchestrates a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play, with Joffrey Lupul and Tim Connolly setting up Phil Kessel at the side of the goal for a tap-in. Instead, Brodeur reaches back with the paddle and perpetrates a robbery so beautiful you'd have thought it was mapped out by Danny Ocean. Just a ridiculous save.
3. Antti Niemi
My second-favourite thing about this clip: the look of disappointment on Patrick Kane's face after he's robbed by Antti Niemi, and the way Jonathan Toews comforts him with a little half-hug and a pat on the head. "It's okay, buddy. Maybe next time." Of course, my favourite thing is the save itself, as Niemi kicks across on the sudden two-on-one, then stretches out, reaches back, and snatches the puck out of mid-air to keep the game scoreless. I like that sort of thing.
2. Mike Smith
Mike Smith had a pretty good year, eh? Granted, he had some help, both from Sean Burke, whose goaltending tips are said to be pretty useful, and from Dave Tippett, whose system undoubtedly flatters his goaltenders. But there were times when it was all Mike Smith, such as when he stones Marian Gaborik on this penalty shot by stretching out to swat the puck away with his stick. At least, I think that's what he stops this puck with. The colour guy seems unsure. Maybe he stopped it with love?
1. Kari Lehtonen
True fact: Kari Lehtonen keeps a piece of cardboard in his car for breakdancing emergencies. Okay, that's probably not true, but after this save, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the Dallas Stars' netminder was one of the top backspinners in Texas. Lehtonen perpetrates some hardcore banditry on Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- in overtime, no less -- getting across, then kicking his leg and, fortunately for Dallas, the puck straight into the air to keep the game tied.