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One has to wonder whether the future is now in the NHL. It's been quite the season already when it comes to goaltenders who have long been touted as the future between the pipes for their respective NHL teams. Pekka Rinne, Steve Mason, Ondrej Pavelec and Cory Schneider all have had a chance to get their licks in this season, to varying degrees of success. Simeon Varlamov, who has long been considered the long-term solution for the Washington Capitals, made a spectacular debut Saturday night. Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 shots against the always-challenging Montreal Canadiens for a 2-1 Washington victory.
The goaltending situation in Washington can be described as anything but stable. After flashing his former Hart Trophy form in Colorado last season, Jose Theodore was handed a multimillion-dollar contract to be the Washington's No. 1 netminder. Unfortunately, Theodore has looked nothing like his former self in Washington so far and injured a hip flexor during Friday's morning skate. Backup Brent Johnson has been good, but not as consistent as he needs to be for a team that is truly ready to compete. Things got so iffy Friday that one of the team's Web site producers, Brett Leonhardt, dressed as Johnson's backup because Varlamov hadn't arrived in time for the game after being recalled from the AHL. The Capitals need a stabilizing force in net, and Varlamov certainly appears ready to fight for the job.
Varlamov is one of the best goalie prospects to come out of Russia in several years, and the Capitals selected him in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft. This is his first season in North America, and he is making the transition quickly by going 10-3 with a 2.34 goals-against average in the AHL. You just know he must love playing on a team with some bright Russian stars like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
You might think that recommending him as a pickup after just one decent start (in which he posted the same numbers as Johnson did the day before) might be a bit premature, but goalies like him are pegged as future stars for a reason. They are that good and just need an opportunity to shine. We hyped Cory Schneider quite a bit in the wake of Roberto Luongo's injury, and you may be disappointed about how we recommended you use that roster spot, but if you talk to a Steve Mason owner, you'll get a different perspective on how a young goaltender can perform.
Varlamov might play like Mason, or he might play like Schneider. Or, he could be sent back down to the minors soon. Still, you want to be on top of any potential goaltending change for a team that has offense like the Capitals do. Besides, if we know one thing about coach Bruce Boudreau, it's that he isn't afraid to give young players a chance. (Mike Green anyone?)
Hopefully you've stayed far away from Dany Sabourin while Marc-Andre Fleury has healed. Sabourin, who is definitely an NHL backup, received a 6-3 torching from Philadelphia that quickly erased any benefit from a stretch of decent games he had earlier this month. Fleury watched the six goals go past Sabourin from a spot on the bench. He'll be back between the pipes for the Penguins' next game and can be activated in all leagues. Scott Hartnell scored a goal for Philly in the win, his fourth goal in two games after notching a hat trick the last time out. Remember that when Hartnell gets hot, he gets real hot. In January, the last time he got hot, he had 17 points in 13 games. It's becoming apparent that Kimmo Timonen is only as good as the Flyers' power play. He had four assists, all with the man advantage, to give him 13 power-play points for the season. He has 18 points overall. If power-play points are what you need, Timonen is your answer.Erik Ersberg stopped 33 of 34 shots in the Kings' 3-1 win over Minnesota. The team keeps trying to mix in Jason LaBarbera, but it seems to come back to Ersberg to stabilize things. He clearly is the Los Angeles goaltender to own in deeper leagues. Pascal Leclaire, who? The Blue Jackets beat the Islanders 3-1 as Steve Mason reacted to his first back-to-back losses in the NHL by posting back-to-back one-goal performances. It's criminal that he is owned in only 53 percent of ESPN.com leagues. David Krejci's nine-game point streak was snapped on Wednesday, so he recorded five assists in a home-and-home with Atlanta on Friday and Saturday. Three of the assists came Saturday in the Bruins' 4-2 win. Krejci is owned in only 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but given his 20 points in his past 12 games, his low ownership numbers might be a bigger felony than Mason's. Phil Kessel had two points to extend his equally impressive points streak to 15 games. I wasn't kidding when I mentioned him in this same space last weekend as a true point-per-game player going forward. One more note from the game: Zdeno Chara fought with Thrashers defenseman Boris Valabik in defense of Kessel. Talk about a clash of the titans, as Valabik stands 6-foot-7 to Chara's 6-foot-9.
Thomas Vanek scored twice in the Sabres' 4-2 win over New Jersey. That gives him 25 goals this season, and he's on pace for 66. Will he score that many? On a Sabres team that flows almost all its offense directly through him, 60 sounds very reasonable. I would caution anyone against selling high. Drew Stafford also had a goal for Buffalo, his 10th point in nine games. Those in deep leagues need to pick him up.
Cam Ward returned to the net for Carolina for the first time since Nov. 30 in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers. He looked relatively sharp and can be deployed as a No. 2 fantasy goalie again. Don't look now, but Martin Gerber is making a bit of headway in what earlier looked like a lost battle with Alex Auld for playing time. Gerber has started two of the past three Senators games and managed a 2-0 shutout of Tampa Bay on Saturday. Shutting out the Lightning is nothing to brag about, but holding the Blackhawks to just one goal (the other was an empty-netter) on Wednesday is something to be proud of. Coach Craig Hartsburg seems determined to play a defensive game of hockey, despite what he has at his disposal, so whichever goaltender is playing more is certainly worthy of attention. Auld has been too good to cede the fight after two games, but he can be just as streaky as Gerber. Martin St. Louis was clipped by a linesman's skate and needed eight stitches, but with the team off until Thursday, he shouldn't miss any action. Dan Ellis is certainly under fire in Nashville as the team's No. 1 goaltender, mostly thanks to Pekka Rinne's strong play. A 3-0 shutout of Dallas on Saturday should help Ellis regain his footing. He has a 0.98 goals-against average in three December starts, so don't stop using him as a No. 2 tender just because Rinne is gaining ground. Are Chris Osgood owners still defending him as a top fantasy goaltender? All he does is win games, and you need to combine his ratios with a Henrik Lundqvist type of goaltender to benefit. He went 5-0-2 in November but had a goals-against average of 3.01 and save percentage of .878. After a 5-4 shootout win over Phoenix on Saturday, he hasn't lost in three December starts, yet has a 3.26 GAA and an .855 save percentage. Sell Osgood for his name value. After a terribly slow start that saw him dropped in more than 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Ed Jovanovski has 11 points in 10 games. Get back on the Jovo Cop bandwagon if he is available, and float a trade offer for him if he's not.
Curtis Sanford was the loser in Vancouver's 3-0 loss to Edmonton. Look for Cory Schneider to have another chance to take things over on Sunday. I'm not done believing in him, and his window of opportunity opened wider with Luongo suffering a setback in his recovery from a groin injury.
OK, OK. Just who the heck does B.J. Crombeen think he is? The supposed fourth-line grinder made a name for himself with a late-season debut in Dallas last season by getting 39 penalty minutes in eight games. The Blues picked him up off waivers last month, and in the past five games with St. Louis, he has scored six goals. Consider that he also has two fights in those five games, and you can see where he becomes an intriguing asset. He is bound to cool off sooner or later, but you cannot be faulted for picking him up and plugging him in. Right wing is one of the tougher positions to fill this season. Besides, you could do a lot worse than a guy who has 52 penalty minutes this season.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.