The World Cup is basically the shortest short tournament you can imagine. The busiest team will play a maximum of just seven games: Three in the opening round, a one-off semifinal, and then as many as three games in the finals.
And when you start dealing in short sets, weird things can happen. Florida, a mediocre team, had a nine-game winning streak last season. Montreal, which missed the playoffs, opened the season 9-0. Anaheim, one of the best teams in the league in the regular season, had a start in which they went 1-7-2 and later in the year had winning streaks of six and then 11 games separated by a week.
You can go on like this. Point being, hockey’s a weird enough sport already without giving out a trophy for theoretically going like 4-2-1 over a seven-game stretch.
And the biggest cause of teams going on inexplicable hot or cold streaks? It’s goalies going on inexplicable hot or cold streaks.
With this in mind, maybe it’s wise to give a little attention to all the goalies in this tournament, who may or may not be able to Hasek-in-96 their teams to World Cup… glory? I guess the word would be glory.
There are 24 goalies on World Cup rosters. Let’s go through ’em, baby!
24 – Ondrej Pavelec, Czech Republic
It really speaks to the Czech Republic’s problems en générale that Pavelec, one of the worst goalies in the NHL, even made the team. This is the worst roster in the tournament and if he’s between the pipes they’re losing every game by a dozen. Pretty simple, really.
23 – Philipp Grubauer, Europe
Yeah Europe is also bad and Grubauer isn’t an NHL starter, so…
22 – Jonathan Quick, USA
It’s tough to be enamored of America’s chances to get past the semifinals — the tournament’s format is effectively rigged to prevent the US from bombing out in the round robin — and of all American goalies they could use to advance, Quick gives them the worst possible chance. (He has, however, had a few bonkers playoff runs, but that was a few years ago now.)
21 – Pekka Rinne, Finland
Ooooo controversy almost right out of the gates because people think Rinne should maybe even start for the Finns. He shouldn’t. Rinne’s last three seasons are .910, .902, .923, .908. Which of those stands out as the outlier? Have we forgotten that he spent a huge chunk of last year as complete trash? He had as many months of .924-plus goaltending as sub-.898. Hard pass.
20 – Mikko Koskinen, Finland
This guy is in the KHL! Next!
19 – Jhonas Enroth, Sweden
Enroth is obviously a last-resort pick for the Swedes, who have a strong roster. If he’s getting time, something horrible has happened and Sweden is in worse shape than we could have possibly conceived.
18 – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Russia
Lots of ceiling on this kind, but he’s the third-string guy behind a former Vezina winner and a guy who was extremely close to winning it just a few years ago. It is generally acknowledged that there’s almost no defensive talent in front of goal, so if Russia does somehow luck into a World Cup (not bloody likely) it’ll be because they won every game 6-5.
17 – Thomas Greiss, Europe
See that thing about Grubauer from above. Greiss is a decent backup who was pressed into service due to injury last year and played well. But let’s be honest, he’s a good career backup.
16 – Braden Holtby, Canada
Okay people are going to be all upset with me here but I can’t rank any of Canada’s goalies highly. This list is goalies most likely to “steal” a World Cup. Canada winning would be the opposite of theft. It is already theirs and only through their own screwing up can they lose it. Such is their talent level. So of all the goalies of the Canadian roster, I frankly consider Holtby the most reliable at this point. Thus, if they win it with him in net, I really won’t be surprised at all.
15 – Petr Mrazek, Czech Republic
Here’s a better goalie on the absolute worst team, so that’s something. But what people forget about Mrazek is that as last year wore on, he turned to garbage. How about this for a split: .932 pre-All-Star break, .899 after it. Even if you’re splitting the difference, that’s not enough to drag a rotten team kicking and screaming through a tournament that’s going to feel a million games long for every sorry son of a gun who has to take a shift for them.
14 – Jacob Markstrom, Sweden
Sweden’s as likely a non-Canada candidate to win as you’ll find, but if Jacob Markstrom — a roughly average NHLer last season — is Your Guy, that’s a problem. That said, the D in front of him is certainly capable of making just about anyone look good.
13 – Jaroslav Halak, Europe
I like Halak but you could get 1996 Dominik Hasek in a time machine and forge his birth certificate to make him from Estonia or whatever. He still couldn’t make this Europe team all that competitive. If it somehow won gold, that would be unbelievable insofar as I literally would not believe it happened, but if anyone on their roster is gonna get them there, it’s Halak.
12 – Michal Neuvirth, Czech Republic
The Halak entry more or less applies here, but at least you wouldn’t have to forge time traveling Hasek’s birth certificate.
11 – Corey Crawford, Canada
I think I probably like Crawford more than most, but he is given to weirdly bad playoff performances. Not that I think it’s particularly likely, but it’s not-not likely. I’d mostly be surprised to see him win it because he’s gotta be their third-string option.
10 – Carey Price, Canada
Controversial pick here as well, because Price is one of the best goalies alive when he’s healthy. But I don’t know what almost a year off does to him. I don’t know if this is the best format in which to help him shake off the rust. So if Canada wins with him, I’d be reasonably impressed. Not enough to say he “stole” anything, but it would probably feel the most stolen with him in net versus the other two options.
9 – John Gibson, North America
The thing with the 23-U roster is that it has the talent level to actually win this thing if all goes to plan. And all three of their goalies are pretty good, all things considered. Seems like Gibson is very good, but his rotten playoff performance this year (albeit in two games) has me a little worried.
8 – Ben Bishop, USA
Bishop is very good but probably not good enough to get the US over the hump. Very few are.
7 – Sergei Bobrovsky, Russia
This is another guy capable of stealing the tournament, but he’s not the Russian starter, and he might not be healthy.
6 – Connor Hellebuyck, North America
This is a total “seen him good” pick, but Hellebuyck absolutely has the ability to flip a switch and just be absolutely lights out. I saw it all the time in college. Small sample and so on, but Hellebuyck played 14 actual playoff games in two years of NCAA hockey, and allowed 19 goals on 438 shots (a .956 save percentage). I really wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him enjoy similar success at the World Cup.
5 – Tuukka Rask, Finland
Finland is maybe the third- or fourth-best team in this tournament depending upon how you feel about the North Americans. They’d need help to win it all, but Rask is certainly capable of providing it. And yeah, I don’t love the Finnish defense, but he managed to make the Bruins somewhat competitive with Torey Krug as their No. 2 defenseman.
4 – Matt Murray, North America
I’m gonna say a hard yes to him being the starter, based on the whole “Just won a Stanley Cup” thing. If the US wins, it will likely be with Murray in net.
3 – Henrik Lundqvist, Sweden
I feel kinda bad putting Lundqvist this high because “being amazing” is kind of expected of him and how good the blue line is. But based on the Swedish forward group he’s still going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games. Like, if they win, he’s probably going to be the reason why, more so than anything or anyone else.
2 – Semyon Varlamov, Russia
Russia’s defense is really bad, as I said. If Varlamov can keep these games 6-4 instead of 6-5, he’ll have done more than anyone should reasonably expect.
1 – Cory Schneider, USA
I think this is the perfect nexus of Elite Goalie and Bad Team. If the U.S. wins, it’s because they ignored that Tortorella urge to start Quick or Bishop — who were both in the playoffs last season which shows how good they are!!!! — to start their actual best goalie. And then also that Schneider had like a .950 save percentage for two weeks. The “stopping 19 of every 20 shots he faces” will be crucial to America’s success.