New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP, REUTERS/Darryl Webb)
NEWARK - In one net, you have the aging champ, a sure-thing Hockey Hall of Famer trying to claim a fourth -- and likely final -- Stanley Cup of his stellar career.
In the other crease there is one of the true rising stars of the game, a kid putting up astounding numbers throughout an unlikely playoff run.
Martin Brodeur vs. Jonathan Quick is one of the richest story lines of the NHL's championship round this spring, a series that continues with Game 2 Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
But in a broader sense are the two combatants poster boys for the changing face of big-time goaltending in today's game?
If the favoured Los Angeles Kings are able to claim a franchise-first title it would be the third consecutive year a non-Canadian goaltender -- Quick is a native of Milford, Conn. -- has won the Cup.
Quick's outstanding regular season makes him full value for being a contender for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. His fellow finalists in Vezina voting are a Swede, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and a Finn, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators.
There's no denying that struggles at the position have been the main reason for Canada's failure to win recent world junior championships.
There's a chance it could just be cyclical, especially if more goaltenders like the Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Smith emerge during the next few seasons. But based on where Canadian goaltenders have been taken in the draft in recent years, there is certainly a lull in promising youngsters being developed in the country.
So who is to blame? Former NHLer Ron Tugnutt, who know works as Hockey Canada's goalie consultant, believes you can start with the Canadian major junior hockey infrastructure.
"Too many junior teams are taking the easy way out by bringing in European goaltenders and not giving Canadian kids the chance to develop," Tugnutt said Friday in a telephone interview. "Who is to say the next Marty Brodeur or the next Patrick Roy is here but just isn't getting the chance to play?
"These kids have such a short time to make an impact and that short time is being taken away from them."
Tugnutt said 24 non-Canadian goaltenders were on the rosters of teams in the three major junior leagues this past season, putting Canadian kids at a huge disadvantage. The retarded development has certainly shown itself in recent NHL entry drafts as Canadian players slide down the board. In 2011, Jordan Binnington was selected in the third round and was the top Canadian netminder to get picked. Five goaltenders from various countries went ahead of him.
Just once since 2006 has a Canadian goaltender been the first selected at his position.
The lack of exposure at junior is a huge problem, one that Tugnutt says is happening because those teams are "scared" to take the time to nurture a young teen for a couple of seasons. It's much easier to bring in an older European who quite likely would be better prepared to perform at the junior level immediately.
More and more it appears that are some flaws in the system before the youngsters even reach junior age. There is a school of thought that players are overcoached to the point that creativity has abandoned the position in too many prospects.
"There is no doubt that Canada isn't producing top-flight goaltenders at the rate they were as recently as a decade ago," a Western Conference scout told QMI Agency this week. "There's a lot of pressure on these kids and a lot of coaching at a very young age."
Former pro goaltender and current coach Robb Stauber believes overcoaching is a very real threat and could be a byproduct of the Canadian system where coaches aggressively pursue young talent.
"Canada has a rich hockey tradition and it only makes sense there are so many goalie coaches there," Stauber said Friday. "To me, goaltending is not all about a system. Goaltending is about athleticism and creativity. It's a position that has always been like that.
"My guess is that Hockey Canada would want to look at that and at some level dig a little deeper to find out what it is."
In his role with the organization, Tugnutt is doing just that, including a camp next week in Calgary with 16 under-20 goaltending prospects. He also believes that individual style is at times being sacrificed.
"You can't make a goalie a robot, he has to have a personality," Tugnutt said. "When a game is on the line, it's the personality that comes out, not the robot."
In the U.S., Stauber, who runs a goaltending school in Minnesota, says young goaltenders don't seem to be beholden to such a rigid approach.
"What I find (at the goalie school) is we are getting athletes who aren't necessarily from hockey hotbeds and they come here so energized, so open to suggestion and so determined," Stauber said.
Quick's athletic style would be a good example. While fundamentally sound -- and thus clearly well-coached -- Quick has retained the creative side to his game, much like his counterpart in the series.
Brodeur, who made an outstanding stacked-pad save on Drew Doughty in Game 1 -- a play you don't see nearly so often in today's NHL -- appreciates what he has seen of Quick.
"What I like about him is he's an athlete," Brodeur said before the series. "He's not a goalie who is going to make saves and not move. The puck's not just going to hit him. He's spectacular to watch."
Brodeur is as well, of course. But what about the next generation preparing to stand on guard for thee?