In The Crease: Rinne rises
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies
After Pekka Rinne's solid finish to 2008-09 as the Nashville Predators' unquestioned No. 1 starter, big things were expected for for him this season. But after struggling a bit through training camp, and sharing the goaltending duties with Dan Ellis for most of October, those expectations were tempered a bit. However, based on his work in the Preds' past three games, Rinne has re-established himself as the No. 1 guy. A three-win week with a 0.76 goals-against average and .968 save percentage -- while your time-share mate struggles in his limited action -- will do that. What's the difference? "I think it's more my confidence than anything," Rinne told The Nashville Tennessean. "Everything comes together after that. I was probably trying too hard and now I'm much more relaxed. It's just the little things. It's the confidence and patience."
Now that he's got his confidence back -- and has gone back to his dominant self -- the task becomes figuring out how he's going to fit into the fantasy goalie mix for the duration.
For Rinne, the key to crashing the gate of the club of elite fantasy tenders will be whether or not the Nashville skaters can continue to score above what their pace was through most of this season. Even with 10 goals in the past three games, the team's goals-per-game for the campaign is still just 2.08, and it will be tough to make up for Shea Weber's absence. Rinne will continue to contribute good numbers in the two ratios categories, and in fact those numbers stand to improve a bit now that he's got his mojo back, but there are some nights when the Preds seem to have adopted Beavis' melancholic refrain: "We're never gonna score!" Don't get me wrong, Rinne's still a legit low-end No. 1 option, but you might have to complement him with a guy like Miikka Kiprusoff to make up for the lack of wins. That, or you can wait for the team to acquire someone who can put some pucks in the other net.
Top 40 Goalies Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (1)
2. Martin Brodeur, NJ (2)
3. Ryan Miller, Buf (4)
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (3)
5. Roberto Luongo, Van (5)
6. Craig Anderson, Col (6)
7. Niklas Backstrom, Min (8)
8. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (9)
9. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (14)
10. Tim Thomas, Bos (7)
11. Jose Theodore, Was (10)
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (11)
13. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (28)
14. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (12)
15. Jonas Hiller, Ana (13)
16. Cam Ward, Car (16)
17. Cristobal Huet, Chi (18)
18. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (21)
19. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (23)
20. Jonathan Quick, LA (25)
21. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (15)
22. Marty Turco, Dal (17)
23. Carey Price, Mon (19)
24. Steve Mason, Cls (20)
25. Dan Ellis, Nsh (22)
26. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (24)
27. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (31)
28. Semyon Varlamov, Was (26)
29. Chris Mason, StL (27)
30. Ray Emery, Phi (29)
31. Ty Conklin, StL (30)
32. Antero Niittymaki, TB (NR)
33. Chris Osgood, Det (40)
34. Antti Niemi, Chi (32)
35. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ana (33)
36. Tuukka Rask, Bos (34)
37. Cory Schneider, Van (35)
38. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (36)
39. Martin Biron, NYI (43)
40. Mike Smith, TB (37)
Rising and falling
Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks (up five spots): We had Nabokov as the No. 18 tender in the draft kit, but he's steadily shown that in spite of the Sharks' offensive style, he can maintain very good ratios. Tied for the league lead in wins, with ratios that put him in the top dozen or so, Nabby won't finish the year as the No. 5 fantasy goalie (where he's ranked on the Player Rater now), but he could be in the neighborhood of the No. 9 ranking he earned last season, which is precisely where he sits right in my rankings now.
Chris Osgood, Red Wings (up seven spots): The Red Wings' offense hasn't been as dominant this season as in years past, and they sit at the 12-spot with 3.08 goals per game. Meanwhile, someone must've told the veteran Osgood, who hosed his fantasy owners in the 2008-09 regular season before turning it around in the playoffs, that this past weekend was April: He stopped all but one shot from the Calgary Flames, the league's No. 3 offense, and then blanked the Boston Bruins. Perhaps he's been motivated by all the talk of the Wings' potentially trading for a new goalie; Jimmy Howard certainly isn't motivating anyone. If Osgood can push his ratios back to their 2007-08 levels, he will be an extraordinary force. I'm a little skeptical based on just two good games, but if you were born and raised in South Detroit, don't stop believing: Take your chances now before he's scooped up by someone else.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Oilers (down six spots): The Oilers have been allowing a lot of shots this season: 33.9 per game, fourth-most in the league to be exact. Trouble is, a lot of them have been good scoring chances, and the veteran hasn't been able to stop everything (he's not literally a wall, in other words). "I think through the last five games Habby has stopped more shots than any goalie in the league. That's something we have to address as soon as possible," Oilers winger J.F. Jacques told the Edmonton Journal recently. Presented with the announcement that his fellow elevator occupant had used a taxicab air freshener as a personal hygiene tool, Ray Zalinsky told Tommy Callahan in "Tommy Boy," "Great, you've pinpointed it. Step 2 is washing it off." Even though the Oilers have identified themselves as a suspect defensive team, they may have to "wash off" that suspect defense by way of a trade in order for Khabibulin to ratchet himself back into the No. 1 fantasy goalie echelon.
Jose Theodore (35.2 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (89.2 percent), Capitals: First of all, be aware that this is a very different team without Alex Ovechkin involved. In their first game since losing the NHL's best player, the team was unable to generate enough of an effort to best the host New Jersey Devils. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had the rub in his postgame comments to The Associated Press: "The excitement level that he brings, the energy that he brings to the table, that wasn't there." With Ovechkin's status being listed as "week-to-week", the Caps' netminders take a hit in value. More troubling for Varlamov was the fact that opposing team scouts have found his weakness; in postgame remarks on MSG Plus, Niclas Bergfors -- who scored twice on Varlamov on Wednesday night, doubling his output on the season -- said that he was told to shoot high on the Caps' goalie, that he had a tendency to go down too quickly. Even so, and despite Theodore's better numbers on the season as a whole, the two will continue to split time for the foreseeable future. However, with the better ratio stats, Theodore is more valuable.
Jaroslav Halak (22.7 percent) and Carey Price (90.9 percent), Canadiens: Jacques Martin's little experiment to determine whether Halak could handle the rigors of starting several games in a row was a success: Halak backstopped wins for the Habs in four straight before being lit up and pulled in the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With that issue resolved, the team can feel confident trading Carey Price if they so desire; whether that actually happens or not is still unclear. But what is clear is that both men would benefit from the move: Price would get a fresh start away from the devastatingly critical Montreal press and fans, while Halak would be the unquestioned No. 1. Both men are worth rostering for the chances that this happens.
Dwayne Roloson (72.9 percent), Martin Biron (5.4 percent) and Rick DiPietro(4.5 percent), Islanders: Last week, the Islanders' Web site finally gave a timetable for DiPietro's return: It's going to be around Thanksgiving (Nov. 26). The Isles have four games that week, so if the timetable is accurate (a big "if"), he'll have his choice of opponent he'd like to debut against in 2009-10. As for the other two, the prevailing speculation has been that Biron will be the one moved once DiPietro returns, with the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres mentioned as possible destinations. That being said, until DiPietro does return, it'll continue to be an even split between Biron and Roloson, and both can be worth a spot start here and there; the Isles' offense has shown some zest over the past few games (save for being shut out by Ryan Miller on Wednesday), and the team has an improving defensive corps. If Biron gets sent to the Red Wings, he'll be in another time-share with Chris Osgood, but on a team that scores more than half a goal more per game. He's worth a pickup if you believe the rumors.
Jonas Gustavsson (64.6 percent) and Vesa Toskala (1.7 percent), Maple Leafs: Since picking up his first NHL win -- also the Leafs' sole win this season -- on Oct. 26, Gustavsson has taken three straight overtime losses. The good news is he's improving as he gets his feet wet in the NHL; the bad news is this is not a team in front of him that will be winning a ton of games, as we all know. The only question here: How many times will Leafs coach Ron Wilson trot Vesa Toskala out there as the starter? He's on pace to finish with career lows in the ratio categories, and even with Phil Kessel injected in the lineup, no team can regularly score enough to bail out a goalie that's giving up 5.13 goals per contest. Gustavsson could eventually provide some nice ratios once he's fully adjusted to the NHL game, but unless something drastically changes, you're going to punt wins just about every time you start him.
Where's the love?
Debuting a new section here as the column continues to grow this season. Here I'll be listing guys who are under-owned, and why you should pick them up.
Antero Niittymaki, Lightning (30.0 percent): Niittymaki -- whose name sounds like a delicious sushi roll in spite of the fact that he's from Finland -- was supposedly signed this season to act as a spot starter behind Mike Smith. Based on the comparative stats of the two men, Smith should not be allowed anywhere near the ice, especially when the Lightning are on the road. During his four road starts this season, Smith is 0-3-1 with a 5.38 GAA and an impressively horrid .756 SVP. On the flipside, Niitty has started five games total this season, generating a 3-1-1 record with a 1.95 GAA and .940 save percentage. Those numbers put him in the No. 7 slot among goalies on the season-long Player Rater, and he's gotten a vote of confidence from Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, who told the Tampa Tribune that "he's playing really well and he's winning, you keep playing him." The problem for Niittymaki is consistency; although he had good numbers last season, he made only 29 starts as he was in a time-share with Biron in Philly. That being said, perhaps he can duplicate those solid numbers as long as he is spelled by Smith from time to time. Feel free to use him as a solid No. 2.
Ondrej Pavelec, Thrashers (25.1 percent): Since last week, Kari Lehtonen's return has been pushed back even further. Lehtonen was in Rochester, New York, on Friday to undergo back surgery; during the procedure, edges of bone that were applying pressure to nerve roots in his back were removed, and he's going to miss another six to eight weeks. Luckily for the Thrashers, Pavelec is playing very well this season, even when he loses his mask. Pavelec faced 51 shots in the team's game against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, and stopped all but one. He didn't have a great statistical game against Montreal this week, but did pick up the win as his offense bailed him out. That's a key point to remember with Pavelec: Even with Ilya Kovalchuk out of the lineup, this team can score, based on the small sample we have, and the offense will obviously be even better once he returns. With a save percentage near the top of the league, a reasonable goals-against average and an offense that will allow him to pile up W's, you've got a three-category stud in the making. Moreover, with the continued uncertainty related to Lehtonen's being able to even walk without back pain, Pavelec should be getting lots of starts to keep proving himself. This is a goaltender on the cusp of No. 1 fantasy status, folks. Get him while you still can.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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