Commentary

In The Crease: Chasing wins

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: March 18, 2010, 6:21 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

NHL teams are down to their last dozen or so games, which means about 85 percent of the games are in the books. For rotisserie owners, depending on how far ahead or behind you are in goals-against average or save percentage, these next few weeks won't be that exciting for you from a goaltending standpoint. But as Sean Allen noted in his "Open Ice" column this week, there is still time to make up some ground in wins if you're willing to sacrifice the other categories a bit.

On the season, the top 5 goalies from a wins standpoint are Martin Brodeur, Jonathan Quick, Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov and Roberto Luongo. You will not find these men on your waiver wire, and the trade deadline is probably long gone, too. But looking at games in March, there are some gems available. Jimmy Howard (72.9 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) has six wins this month, Jaroslav Halak (40.0 percent) also has six, Jose Theodore (46.1 percent) has five and Jonas Gustavsson (55.9 percent) has won all four of his starts. The other consideration in targeting 'tenders to help out with wins is how well their team is scoring, so if you're focusing on improving your position in that stat alone, it's best to leave the guys from Ottawa and Edmonton inactive, along with Steve Mason and Jonas Hiller.

For those who play in head-to-head leagues, and are either knee deep in the playoffs or set to start the postseason, it's important to look at two things on the schedule. First, how many games are left on the docket for certain players, and second, how difficult is their remaining slate of games. When it comes to goalies, we're not overly concerned with opposing win-loss records; what we are concerned with is opponents' goals-per-game and shots-per-game. Taking a look at those rates on the season and for the month of March, some teams stick out as having particularly difficult roads ahead, and a few teams will be on easy street (comparatively speaking). Taking an average of all 30 teams' remaining opponents, the relevant rates are a 2.77 goals-per-game clip on the season, 2.94 this month, with 30.33 shots against per game on the season, and 30.37 this month.

The team with a clear advantage in this regard is the Buffalo Sabres, whose remaining opponents score at a 2.58 goals-per-game clip on the season, and 2.72 this month (and with shot rates of just 29.66 on the season and 29.21 for the month). This doesn't really help anyone, though, since Ryan Miller is universally owned. Another team with a favorable schedule down the stretch is the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, neither of their two netminders is inspiring a great deal of confidence, and Cristobal Huet is currently out with the flu anyway. There's potential there, given the matchups, but there hasn't been a very strong correlation this season between playing poor competition and performance; in other words, no matter who the team plays, a stinker is just as likely as a gem.

All of this brings us to the Philadelphia Flyers. Michael Leighton, who, as regular readers of this column know, had been tearing it up this season, is "day-to-day" with a left ankle sprain, and could be out for weeks (read: the rest of the regular season) according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer. That means it's Brian Boucher time again, and Jeremy Duchesne has currently been called up to be the backup. (Johan Backlund will switch spots once he is over a groin issue.) Boucher has not been very stellar this season, and hasn't started since Dec. 21. But he does have some things going for him: The Flyers' remaining opponents are scoring and shooting well below the mean (2.78 and 29.06 per game in the month of March in goals and shots, respectively), and the team playing in front of him has been pretty effective at putting goals on the board as they scratch and claw for a playoff spot. Owned in just 2.4 percent of ESPN leagues, Boucher could be a difference-maker down the stretch if you're willing to take a risk.

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. Martin Brodeur, NJ (3)
3. Roberto Luongo, Van (2)
4. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (7)
5. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (5)
6. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (8)
7. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (9)
8. Jimmy Howard, Det (11)
9. Craig Anderson, Col (6)
10. Jose Theodore, Was (18)
11. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (4)
12. Niklas Backstrom, Min (12)
13. Tuukka Rask, Bos (13)
14. Jonathan Quick, LA (14)
15. Antero Niittymaki, TB (29)
16. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (15)
17. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (19)
18. Antti Niemi, Chi (25)
19. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (10)
20. Jonas Hiller, Ana (17)
21. Brian Boucher, Phi (NR)
22. Semyon Varlamov, Was (20)
23. Tim Thomas, Bos (21)
24. Chris Mason, StL (22)
25. Cristobal Huet, Chi (27)
26. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (38)
27. Manny Legace, Car (23)
28. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (39)
29. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (24)
30. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (34)
31. Martin Biron, NYI (NR)
32. Vesa Toskala, Cgy (NR)
33. Steve Mason, Cls (28)
34. Carey Price, Mon (30)
35. Johan Hedberg, Atl (33)
36. Brian Elliott, Ott (26)
37. Marty Turco, Dal (35)
38. Mathieu Garon, Cls (36)
39. Cam Ward, Car (37)
40. Dan Ellis, Nsh (32)

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (up four spots): Earlier this season, when the excitement of Marian Gaborik on Broadway was still high, I got a little carried away and projected Lundqvist to be one of the top 'tenders for the season. He's currently in the 11 spot on the Player Rater, so I wasn't way off, but he did have some rough patches. All that said, the stretch run for Hank could be huge. The Rangers' opposition is under the average for goal-scoring from a short- and long-term perspective, but their per-game shot averages are high. What does that mean? Henrik will benefit from a save-percentage boost. (More shots equals more saves, as long as he's not hung out to dry.) Wins might be an issue, as the Blueshirts are near the bottom in goal-scoring, but head-to-head owners will still reap the benefits of the two ratio categories, and two out of three ain't bad, according to Meat Loaf. For leagues that count shutouts, be aware that both of Henrik's 2009-10 shutout victims (Boston and New Jersey) are on the remainder of the Rangers' schedule.

Jose Theodore, Capitals (up eight spots): For all intents and purposes, it appears the goalie time-share in Washington is about done, with Theo emerging as the victor. He has not been razor-sharp lately, relenting three goals in each of his last three starts, but he won them all. With that offense providing support, and the lowest goals-per-game rate for remaining opponents (2.60), Theodore is a great option for the stretch.

Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks (down seven spots): Nabby has been atrocious in his past three starts, but that's not the main reason for the downgrade. The problem here is that not only are there signs that the Sharks have begun their annual playoff swoon a month early this season (I blame it on global warming), but the remaining schedule presents an interesting situation: The Sharks are playing teams that score higher than average, but have significantly fewer shots-on-goal than average. That's a bad combo for save-percentage purposes. The talent is still there for San Jose to rip off a streak of wins, so Nabby is valuable there; it's just that the other two categories might take a hit. In other words, for the roto folks looking for wins, don't downgrade him much; for the head-to-headers, watch your step.

Antero Niittymaki, Lightning (up 15 spots): I've harped on this on multiple occasions this year, and it's been a career trend for Niitty: The Finn is an incredibly streaky player, and when he's hot, you want him active no matter what format you play in. Antero is 3-for-3 in quality starts over the past week -- with a .959 save percentage to boot -- in spite of just one win to show for it. The schedule for the Lightning is looking better over the final few weeks, but that doesn't seem to matter for Niitty: He allowed just two goals apiece to the Capitals and Penguins in recent games. Owned in just 37.8 percent of ESPN leagues, he's worth starting for the next few games while the streak continues.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames (down eight spots): Is Kipper going down in flames? Not exactly, he's allowed only 10 goals total in his last five starts. But the Flames' schedule is one of the most tumultuous down the stretch (fifth most difficult, by March goals-per-game for their opponents), and Vesa Toskala -- yes, the man traded twice this season -- has looked, get this, passable as an NHL netminder in his three Calgary appearances. Don't take that the wrong way, as there doesn't appear to be a goalie controversy in Calgary. However, part of Kipper's value is that he has been a workhorse, and any missed starts take away from that.

Time-shares

Tuukka Rask (48.0 percent) and Tim Thomas (97.7 percent), Bruins: In an important Monday night game this week, Thomas was given the start when the B's traveled to New Jersey, but he was pulled after just one period. Rask came on in relief at the start of the second and stopped all 16 shots he faced. The Bruins face a pretty tough schedule down the stretch (including the return game against the Penguins and Matt Cooke on Thursday), and are still fairly impotent on offense. That said, Rask has been a bit of a revelation at times, and I think he'll be quite valuable in the final few weeks. Thomas is best left inactive; that outing in the swamp might be final proof of that.

Dwayne Roloson (78.6 percent) and Martin Biron (3.7 percent), Islanders: The situation on Long Island has become a true time-share as the season winds down, with each man getting some final chances to show off. One important consideration with Biron is that he'll be a free agent this summer, so these last few weeks are an opportunity to show off. Based on seasons past, there's nothing to suggest that he's better when he's playing for a new contract, however it's something that could be on his mind this spring. The Isles have the third-easiest schedule down the stretch from an opposition scoring standpoint, so either man is a good start. This is especially true given that the team has found a scoring touch as of late, so wins aren't as difficult to come by as they were earlier this season. Given the split, Biron is a worthy candidate for a pickup for the final few weeks, and Roloson should continue to be started as well.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.

Tim Kavanagh

Fantasy and Insider
Tim Kavanagh is an associate editor for ESPN Fantasy and Insider, with specific responsibility for NHL and fantasy hockey coverage in addition to other sports.

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