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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Still plenty of decent goalies to be had

If your fantasy team's goaltending results have been disappointing so far this season, help is still available in many league setups. Even if you missed out on Boston's Tim Thomas and Columbus' Steve Mason, digging a little deeper and taking a calculated risk can prevent your goalie stats from becoming a lost cause.

For instance, Capitals goalie Jose Theodore seems to have rebounded from a bad start and is now earning the big free-agent contract he signed in the offseason. He stopped 31 shots and picked up his fourth consecutive victory Tuesday night in Washington's 4-2 win over Buffalo.

In comments to the Washington Post on Monday, Theodore indicated his confidence has improved, while coach Bruce Boudreau's confidence in him has also increased lately.

"Since the beginning of the season, I've been feeling good for a couple of games, then I have one bad game, and I was anxious to get back in there, and I didn't get the call right away," Theodore, who is 12-6-1 with a 3.08 goals-against average and .889 save percentage, told the Post. "It's kind of tough. Like any position, when you have a bad game, you need to play again and bounce back right away and get on a roll. When you have a bad game and you get [benched], that's when you start to doubt yourself and start thinking more."

Theodore is never going to be a Hart Trophy candidate again, but with the Capitals scoring a bunch of goals, getting healthier and pulling away from their Southeast Division rivals, Theodore deserves to carry the load during what should be a lengthy run.

Although he's owned in 95.5 percent of leagues, you might still be able to spring a trade from a skeptical owner who is still skittish over Theodore's 8-6-1 record, 3.26 GAA and .883 save percentage prior to the past four games.

Mike Smith is still undervalued in many leagues, as shown by his availability in 56.3 percent of leagues. He nearly got his fourth consecutive victory, but it wasn't his fault the Lightning lost to the Canadiens in a shootout. Amidst all the Lightning's troubles, Smith's save percentage and goals-against average were solid, and more wins will follow with a resumption of the goal support he experienced during the streak.

Ty Conklin was spectacular, stopping 36 shots from the hottest team in the league as the Red Wings stopped the Blackhawks' winning streak at nine with a 4-0 home victory.

Detroit's No. 1 goalie, Chris Osgood, is recovering from a strained groin but practiced Monday and served as Conklin's backup. Conklin's starts will soon decrease, but Tuesday's performance shows he deserves a chance to go for his second consecutive Winter Classic victory on New Year's Day for the second round of the home-and-home series with Chicago. Conklin was in net for Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout victory over the Sabres last Jan. 1 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. If you need some safe goaltending help, Conklin is available in 61.8 percent of leagues.

ESPN Fantasy Hockey colleague Tim Kavanagh rightly pointed out Sanford's peculiarly underowned status, but now those Sanford owners will have to consider other options after the goalie aggravated a groin injury and was placed on the injured list after the Canucks lost 3-2 to the Flyers.

Jason LaBarbera
Consider Jason LaBarbera a sleeper in Vancover with Roberto Luongo and Curtis Sanford out.
Another possibility is Jason LaBarbera, who the Canucks obtained from the Kings on Tuesday in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick. LaBarbera, 28, was 5-8-4 with a 2.83 GAA, .893 save percentage and two shutouts for the Kings, and will compete with rookie Cory Schneider until Curtis Sanford or superstar Roberto Luongo return from their groin injuries.

In Philadelphia, more performances like his 29-save game against the Canucks on Tuesday will boost interest in Martin Biron, who is owned in 71.3 percent of leagues. Biron, who won for the first time since Dec. 13, had been outplayed by Antero Niittymaki recently.

Going back to the Labarbera trade, it makes Kings call-up Jonathan Quick a more realistic option after the rookie's impressive play of late, which included two shutouts, a 1.72 GAA and .937 save percentage.

"We think Quick is at the level where he can be able to do at least the backup role," Kings GM Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times. "We thought this would take a little longer for him, but we think we can accelerate things."

For a young, rebuilding team, Los Angeles is an impressive eighth in GAA (2.65 per game), one spot behind Vancouver (2.55). Quick will compete with Erik Ersberg (8-5-2, 2.38 GAA and .903 save percentage), and although the wins will be scarce, they won't hurt you in the other categories.

New Jersey's Scott Clemmensen won his 13th game in the Devils' 4-3 victory over the Blues. His 2.19 GAA and .923 save percentage through 20 games prove he deserves to be owned in more than the amazingly low 59.1 percent of leagues.

And although he was on the bench for Boston's 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh, Bruins backup Manny Fernandez has had more starts than Thomas since Thanksgiving. That and his 12-2-1 record, 2.02 GAA and .930 save percentage should help his nearly 90 percent ownership climb.

Ice chips

Toronto's 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta was Curtis Joseph's first victory of the season and the 450th of his career, but that's not enough to include him with the above fantasy options in net. He still plays for the Leafs, after all. … I'm by no means jumping off the ever-growing Milan Lucic bandwagon, but his demotion to the third line Tuesday is something to keep an eye on. Winger P.J. Axelsson looked good while notching two assists against the Penguins after moving up to the top line alongside Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Boston Herald it was more about sparking both lines instead of targeting Lucic. "Maybe it's something toward me," Lucic told the Herald. "Maybe right now, I've gotten back to trying to be too cute and maybe a little overconfident. So now I just want to simplify things and be a hard player to play against. I think that's where I'm at right now: [I] just want to go out and control the things I can control. Just play hard." Skating with Stephane Yelle and Chuck Kobasew, Lucic had no points, one shot, two hits and was a minus-1. But he picked up seven penalty minutes late in the third period by taking out his frustrations on Tim Wallace, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Axelsson deserves a longer stay on the top unit, but Lucic is too proud and determined for this to be a permanent demotion. … Johan Franzen scored twice in Detroit's victory, giving him three goals in the past two games and 17 goals in 31 games. … Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk had a goal to extend his point streak to eight games (seven goals and nine assists during that time). … Red Wings defenseman Niklas Lidstrom sat out for the second consecutive game because of an ankle injury. … Capitals forward Brooks Laich had a goal against the Sabres, giving him three goals in his past two games and six in his past nine games. … Caps rookie Chris Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, scored his first NHL goal. … Washington's Alex Ovechkin went without a point for the second time in his past 11 games. … Jeff Carter (27th goal) and Scott Hartnell (14th goal) remained hot for the Flyers, who lost forward Simon Gagne to an upper-body injury 15 seconds into the game after a hard check by Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. … New Jersey's Zach Parise keeps rolling along; his two goals Tuesday gave him 21 on the season and eight in his past 13 games.