In the Crease: Legace heating up late
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies
A recent hot streak has made Manny Legace the cover boy for ESPN.com's latest edition of the NHL power rankings, so let's take a look at whether he's going to have an impact -- one way or another -- for your fantasy team down the stretch. We're screaming toward the playoffs in head-to-head leagues and there's only a little more than a dozen games left for most NHL teams, so every start counts.
The Carolina Hurricanes signed Legace back in November when Cam Ward suffered a leg injury. They still need quite a bit of help to make the playoffs, but they have gone 8-1-1 over their past 10, and 5-0-1 in Legace's starts since he took over for Ward again in February. In those six starts, Legace has given up 12 goals total with a .931 save percentage and a shutout of the Atlanta Thrashers. Overall this season, he's 9-5-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. But he's been inconsistent, as only six of his 17 starts overall have been "quality" (that's 35.3 percent), compared to Ward, who has 18 quality starts out of 40 (45.0 percent). Still, that run of a half-dozen games has been pretty good overall for the very few folks who had him active in their lineup.
He's currently owned in 2.8 percent of leagues, and that number could go up. A hot goalie can have a lot of sway down the stretch (way more important for head-to-head leagues than roto ones, where it's difficult to make up much ground at this point), plus many fantasy owners react quickly to the hot hand.
On the other hand, there are some mitigating factors as to why it shouldn't. First, Ward will begin skating on Thursday, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. Trying to determine when or if Cam will be back full-tilt this season is like reading tea leaves. His back is his current issue, and while it can feel great one day, everything can come undone the next. Plus, NHL teams are famously vague with hard news on player injuries.
But another issue is the man who was brought up to replace Ward on the roster, Justin Peters. Peters has been no slouch in four starts since Ward's latest bout with the injury bug, going 3-1-0, allowing seven goals and posting a .943 save percentage. More importantly, Peters is 23 while Legace is 37. Although the elder has been as reliable as his near-namesake in the automotive world (the always-steady Subaru Legacy), which player do you think has a better future for this retooling organization? With that in mind, I expect Peters to earn at least half the starts down the stretch -- he'll be the one in net on Thursday, per the News and Observer -- to see if he can truly be relied upon as Ward's caddy (or trade bait) for the future. Remember, this franchise also has former World Junior Championships MVP Justin Pogge in the pipeline, as well.
Those time-share issues aside, how will Legace do down the stretch in the games he is asked to start? Of the remaining teams on the schedule, only the Washington Capitals have stymied him (along with the Ilya Kovalchuk version of the Thrashers, who put a quintet of pucks past him in November). Using his performance against the relevant foes from this season as a guide, I'll pencil him in for a 2.45 GAA and .918 save percentage down the stretch, and another six or seven wins, depending on playing time. It's a slight correction from what he's done lately, but definitely good enough for head-to-head owners to consider him for spot-starts down the stretch, especially if you've got an underperforming stud.
Rising and falling
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. Ryan Miller, Buf (1)
2. Roberto Luongo, Van (2)
3. Martin Brodeur, NJ (3)
4. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (4)
5. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (6)
6. Craig Anderson, Col (5)
7. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (8)
8. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (7)
9. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (13)
10. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (9)
11. Jimmy Howard, Det (10)
12. Niklas Backstrom, Min (14)
13. Tuukka Rask, Bos (11)
14. Jonathan Quick, LA (16)
15. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (12)
16. Michael Leighton, Phi (19)
17. Jonas Hiller, Ana (15)
18. Jose Theodore, Was (26)
19. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (20)
20. Semyon Varlamov, Was (22)
21. Tim Thomas, Bos (24)
22. Chris Mason, StL (25)
23. Manny Legace, Car (NR)
24. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (33)
25. Antti Niemi, Chi (17)
26. Brian Elliott, Ott (23)
27. Cristobal Huet, Chi (18)
28. Steve Mason, Cls (27)
29. Antero Niittymaki, TB (28)
30. Carey Price, Mon (29)
31. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (21)
32. Dan Ellis, Nsh (30)
33. Johan Hedberg, Atl (31)
34. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (35)
35. Marty Turco, Dal (36)
36. Mathieu Garon, Cls (37)
37. Cam Ward, Car (32)
38. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (38)
39. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (NR)
40. Alex Auld, NYR (40)
Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens (up four spots): "But Tim," you might be saying, "Carey Price has started more games for the Habs since the Olympics!" Correct, but if it wasn't clear before the break that Halak was emerging as the dominant option, it is certainly clear now. Price backstopped a one-goal against victory versus the Boston Bruins to get things going again, but the wheels came completely off against the Anaheim Ducks this past Sunday, allowing three goals in one period. Halak was perfect in relief in that one, and won his two other starts this month. The Slovak 'tender should be in line to start most of the games down the stretch, and the Habs have a comparatively easy schedule. He will be a difference-maker, and might still be available in some fantasy leagues (he's owned in just 36.5 percent of ESPN leagues as of now).
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (up two spots): It's true, Backstrom has certainly declined a bit this year, and if you were one of the folks who grabbed him as your No. 1 goalie (and kept him active this whole time), you're probably not doing so well, unless you got lucky on some players that overachieved this season. As of right now, Backstrom is No. 33 among goalies on the ESPN Player Rater, and his save percentage -- usually a sterling hallmark of his value to us in fantasyland -- is a pedestrian .904. But there is hope: In his four March starts, he's got a 1.69 GAA, .934 save percentage and one shutout. A sign of things to come? Maybe, but I'm only pushing him up a couple of spots because the teams he played over that quartet -- Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames (twice) -- are in the bottom five of the NHL in scoring this season.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (up two spots): Quick had been banking wins at a torrid pace this season, but his ratios were a bit lacking. He still leads the league with 37 wins, but he's just 12th in GAA (2.48) and a distant 24th in save percentage (.909). However, in five March starts, he's turned that around a bit, with a 1.99 GAA and .929 save percentage. I expect a correction to those ratios, but with the league's seventh-best offense in front of him, he has a chance to win every night.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (down three spots): In three March starts, MAF has picked up two wins, but was also chased after giving up four goals in 32 minutes to the New York Rangers, a team that has had some scoring issues. Looking at the Penguins' remaining schedule, they'll play some of the league's top scoring teams, and some of the most impotent, so I don't expect consistency. It might be best to play the matchups with MAF, but this upcoming week (starting Sunday) will be an especially good one: with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes on the docket. Things get rougher after that, however, hence the lowered ranking.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto Maple Leafs (down six spots): The first two starts following his reunion with Brian Burke and goaltending coach Francois Allaire went swimmingly: two 30-save shutouts. Since then, it's been five straight losses, and these haven't been tough-luck losses, either. Jiggy's given up 17 goals over that stretch, with a save percentage of .883. What's more, it looks like Jonas Gustavsson is going to be in at least an equal time-share with Giguere from here on out. Giguere is not worth your time anymore.
Cristobal Huet (97.2 percent) and Antti Niemi (28.5 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com doesn't think this battle will be over until April, based on what happened last spring with Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin, as well as the fact neither Niemi nor Huet has truly stepped up to grab the job yet. Niemi did well in a 28-save OT win on Wednesday, but he was pulled after just 22 minutes against the New York Islanders earlier this month. As for Huet, the nation watched in horror as he allowed four goals on just eight shots in the second period against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. What's a fantasy owner to do? As we've seen, the occasional meltdown is just as likely as an occasional gem for either of these guys, and it doesn't matter who they're playing. As we gear up for the playoffs in head-to-head leagues, one bad outing can wreck an entire matchup, so these guys should not be on your radar.
Semyon Varlamov (85.1 percent) and Jose Theodore (42.4 percent), Washington Capitals: Varly made his return over the past week, but as anyone who started him for those games knows, it was ugly: seven goals allowed on just 55 shots, that's a save percentage of just .873, folks. Meanwhile, Theodore had a clean sheet against the New York Rangers before allowing three goals in a win against Legace and the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. Add a one-goal-against win over the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the month, and Theo is officially on a little hot streak. Based on this small sample, one has to like Theo's chances at winning this goalie battle. On the other hand, based on what we know of him this season and throughout his career, his next brutal outing is just around the corner. Do you want to ride a goalie down the stretch while waiting the entire time for the other shoe to drop? It's not a fun feeling. But if you don't mind the risk, Theodore can reward you greatly in the meantime.
Tuukka Rask (46.4 percent) and Tim Thomas (98.5 percent), Boston Bruins: Just a week ago, it looked like we could write Thomas off completely. Rask had overtaken him prior to the Olympic break, and in spite of a forgettable performance in the first game after the break, it looked like Tuukka Time in Beantown. But with Rask's knee acting up, Thomas has started the past four games for the team, going 2-1-1, allowing 10 goals and sporting a .922 save percentage. It looks like Rask will take his job back this weekend, but if his knee acts up again, Thomas would take over. Either man will be good only for his ratios, as the Bruins' offensive woes were only made worse with the Marc Savard injury. As Sean Allen referenced in this week's "Front Line," there's a chance he could be out the rest of the season; without their main man up front, this team will continue to have trouble scoring, therefore Rask or Thomas might have to win games all by themselves. In other words, for roto owners who are looking to make up ground in the wins category in the last month, focus elsewhere.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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