Fleury's rates unsustainable
Nearing the quarter-pole of the NHL regular season, it's no surprise that Marc-Andre Fleury has been a productive fantasy option. In spite of a bump in the road early on in the 2010-11 season, he's generally been a strong early-season performer during his career. Following his 29-save blanking of the New York Islanders on Monday night, Fleury is second in the league with 11 wins, seventh overall with a 1.90 goals-against average and 12th with a .930 save percentage (SV%). Merge those three components and we've got ourselves an elite fantasy option. So what should we make of the Flower's latest big start? Will he continue to post elite numbers or is a precipitous drop-off waiting up around the bend?
Although shutting out any NHL team is an impressive feat, there's a lower degree of difficulty when that team is the Islanders, the league's most feeble offense this season with just 1.94 goals per game. Furthermore, Fleury has been a bit of an Isles killer over the past five seasons, so this result was not unexpected. In 16 appearances against the Islanders since the start of the 2007-08 campaign, Fleury has posted an 11-1-2 record, with a .947 SV% and 1.57 GAA. This season, he's won all three of his starts against John Tavares and friends, with just two goals allowed on 81 shots total.
Against non-Islanders foes this season, Fleury is 8-3-1, with a .918 SV% and 2.22 GAA, stats which would put him 11th in wins, 18th in SV% and 15th in GAA. Those numbers aren't too shabby, either, but bear in mind that the Penguins will be going against the Islanders just three more times during the course of the season, while they have 61 games against other teams with more extensive offensive firepower.
An ongoing theme of the column this season has been the hidden indicator of save percentage on the penalty kill, or more specifically, netminders who have posted inflated rates in that phase of the game. The first victim, er, example was Kari Lehtonen, whose early-season rate of .944 on the penalty kill has dipped to a more reasonable .873, as his overall numbers have also corrected themselves. Following Monday's game, Fleury has posted a .963 PK SV%, stopping 54 of 56 shots while the Penguins are down a skater. It's impressive that he's sustained this level of performance after this many games, but such a rate would dwarf any put up by a regularly starting goaltender in the post-lockout seasons. Moreover, Fleury's PK SV% numbers over the four previous campaigns have been .889, .891, .884 and .848. Even the most ardent Fleury supporter would allow that there's going to be a drop-off here, and penalty kill performance accounts for about 20 percent of the overall numbers.
You may have heard that a certain player returned to the Penguins' lineup on Monday night. So how does Sidney Crosby's presence affect Fleury? Aside from the obvious emotional lift of having one of the sport's best players -- and the team captain -- back on the ice, not as much as Fleury's fantasy owners would like. Sid's primary contributions are on the offensive end of the ice, and the effect on Fleury's fantasy value in that regard is thus somewhat minimal: He's already among the league leaders in wins, as noted above. As for the other categories, don't expect to see much of a change. To wit, with a largely similar roster last season, Fleury's GAA rose only 0.07 (from 2.28 to 2.35) after Sid went down, while his SV% was .918 both before and after the injury.
So, what to make of all this? Fleury is a highly skilled backstop playing behind one of the league's best teams. Barring injury (either to the netminder himself or one of his high-flying teammates), he'll continue to be among the league leaders in wins. As for the two other categories, I expect a regression in both rate statistics, though he should remain somewhere in the Nos. 10-15 range in each. A surefire -- but not elite -- No. 1 option in fantasy, it's worthwhile to float his name in a trade offer during the current Crosby craze and see what kind of offers you can generate; his perceived value may not get any higher.
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 (2)
2. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (3)
3. Tomas Vokoun, Was (1)
4. Jimmy Howard, Det (4)
5. Tim Thomas, Bos (6)
6. Carey Price, Mon (10)
7. Roberto Luongo, Van (5)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (8)
9. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (7)
10. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (9)
11. Jonathan Quick, LA (11)
12. Antti Niemi, SJ (13)
13. Corey Crawford, Chi (14)
14. Niklas Backstrom, Min (19)
15. Ryan Miller, Buf (12)
16. Jaroslav Halak, StL (18)
17. Martin Brodeur, NJ (15)
18. Cam Ward, Car (17)
19. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (20)
20. Jonas Hiller, Ana (16)
21. Mike Smith, Pho (27)
22. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (24)
23. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (21)
24. Josh Harding, Min (25)
25. Brian Elliott, StL (28)
26. Dwayne Roloson, TB (22)
27. Craig Anderson, Ott (30)
28. Jose Theodore, Fla (26)
29. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (37)
30. Semyon Varlamov, Col (23)
31. Al Montoya, NYI (29)
32. Johan Hedberg, NJ (32)
33. James Reimer, Tor (31)
34. Tuukka Rask, Bos (33)
35. Mathieu Garon, TB (34)
36. Cory Schneider, Van (35)
37. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (36)
38. Michal Neuvirth, Was (38)
39. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (NR)
40. Ray Emery, Chi (39)
Rising and Falling
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (up four spots): It's been a bit of a roller coaster for Carey this season. He's allowed four or five goals on four occasions, and he's relented one or zero goals in seven of his starts. Of course, most of those bad outings came early on this season; during the past 11 starts, he's allowed just 16 goals total, posting a .943 SV% and 1.45 GAA and adding seven wins to his total. The ship appears to be righted after the early storm, and he'll be a top option from here on out.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (down two spots): The Stanley Cup finals hangover has been rough for Luongo thus far; he's posted very un-Luongo rates (2.97 GAA and .896 SV%), and has allowed two or more goals in all but three of his 13 starts. In addition, he was sidelined this past week due to an upper-body ailment, with his return uncertain. Backup Cory Schneider has been effective but not outstanding in lieu of Luongo, and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes Luongo's job security is in question anyway. I'm confident that Luongo's considerable talent will pull him out of the funk -- I don't believe that he forgot how to play at an elite level over the summer -- so stay patient. In the meantime, keep him on the bench.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (down three spots): As the debate over goaltender protection rages, the acute catalyst for the conversation remains inert, and Miller has now missed the team's past four games. After the most recent game, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said that his star netminder is "still not quite right but doing better," according to the Buffalo News. Though Miller's recovery in real life is far more important than any fantasy hockey considerations, those who rely upon him in the roto corner of the world are certainly distressed by Ruff's lukewarm update. Given the uncertain timetable for Miller's return -- and his equally uncertain goaltending acumen when he does return -- his ranking takes another dip this week, while that of Jhonas Enroth gets a lift.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (up eight spots): Having started the past 11 games for the Jets, it's clear that Pavelec has earned head coach Claude Noel's trust to be the team's workhorse netminder. As the starting streak has continued, Pavelec appears to have regained the confidence with which he played in the early portion of 2010-11 as well. In nine November starts, Pavelec has added four wins to his total, posting a 2.75 GAA and .911 SV%. Those aren't outstanding rates, but remember that in 25 games played in the months of November and December combined last season, he had a 2.09 GAA and .936 SV%, so we know he's got talent. He's owned in only 51.9 percent of ESPN leagues as of this writing, and is worth stashing on the bench as we find out whether the 24-year-old can take the next step in his career development this season.
Niklas Backstrom (100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Josh Harding (36.8 percent), Minnesota Wild: A massive drop in Harding's ownership percentage this week (he was rostered in 63.7 percent of ESPN leagues seven days ago) is likely due to the fact that Backstrom continued his dominant play while starting two of the three games since last week's column. There's more to Harding than just being a thorn in the side of Backstrom's fantasy owners, though, as demonstrated by the fact that he's 5-1-1, with a 1.79 GAA and .945 SV% this season. If Harding starts only one out of every three of the Wild's contests from here on out, he still provides more value for our purposes than a player with a higher volume of starts, but of lower quality.
Al Montoya (40.1 percent), Evgeni Nabokov (6.2 percent), Rick DiPietro (1.6 percent) and Anders Nilsson (0.0 percent) New York Islanders: As if the Islanders' goaltending situation wasn't confusing enough prior to this past week, everything is even more muddled now, with both Nabokov and Montoya on IR. I find it quite telling how quickly DiPietro was lifted during Saturday's contest against the Boston Bruins (he was replaced by Nilsson after the first period), as well as the fact that Nilsson got the nod for Monday's game against the Penguins, and was not removed in spite of giving up four goals through two periods. To put it another way, any value that DiPietro did have seems to be waning. It's obvious that Montoya is the best bet of the bunch, though his return timetable is unclear, given the general uncertainty associated with hamstring strains; as a result, he can be sacrificed if you need the roster spot. As for the other three? They have no business on a fantasy hockey roster at this time.
Semyon Varlamov (47.9 percent) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (36.0 percent), Colorado Avalanche: While Varlamov began the season putting up performances befitting a man of his talent, the script has been flipped recently, as the Avs turned to Giguere for some veteran guidance. While Varlamov has been busy losing his past six games, the veteran has looked like the Giguere of old, surrendering just eight total goals in five games played this month, good for a 1.76 GAA and .924 SV%. I don't get the feeling that Giguere is now the No. 1 goalie in Denver; likewise, I don't feel that Varlamov is, either. Currently, I'd allow that Giguere provides a bit more value, as the team may continue to ride the hot hand. I do have faith that Varlamov has more value from a long-term standpoint this season, though it remains to be seen when he'll get his next shot at redemption.
Jaroslav Halak (92.9 percent) and Brian Elliott (87.7 percent), St. Louis Blues: After the first three games of the Ken Hitchcock reign in St. Louis, the combined goaltending monster Jaroslian Halliott was 2-0-1, with a 0.65 GAA and a .971 SV%. One week later, the overall record improves to 4-0-2, and the tandem posted a combined 1.30 GAA and .947 SV% in the most recent trio of contests. After his hire, one of Hitchcock's first actions was putting his trust in Halak as his No. 1 goalie, and it's been four starts to two so far in support of that claim. The split seems to be working out well for everyone involved, so even though Elliott is not in action as often as he was during the Davis Payne era, he's still a viable fantasy option. As with Josh Harding, one start per week from Elliott can be more valuable from a fantasy perspective than two or three from a lesser 'tender.
Interesting tidbit here from the Elias Sports Bureau: Following Cam Ward's work this season, he's now 11-5-3 against Western Conference teams in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined. On most nights, starting Ward is not a tough decision, but this is an important fact to keep in mind on the evenings when you've got multiple options for limited active slots. Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer remains on the shelf with concussion-like symptoms. As for finding a replacement option more adept than Jonas Gustavsson or Ben Scrivens, Leafs general manager Brian Burke told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun this past week that "nothing has tickled our fancy yet" on the trade market. However, given that Burke also categorized the team's search as finding a netminder to "bridge the gap" while Reimer recovers, I'd expect that No. 34 will slide back into his No. 1 role once he's healthy. For those in the Jacob Markstrom fan club out there, his most recent promotion to the Florida Panthers may be just a temporary one, as usual Jose Theodore backup Scott Clemmensen is suffering through a "core injury," according to the Bergen Record. Once that malady has cleared up, it'll be back to the AHL for Markstrom. He may get one start this weekend, however, as the Panthers have games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on back-to-back nights.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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