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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
In The Crease: Miller time again

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

As much as I promised not to mess up the house too much while covering for our goalie expert for two weeks, here I am looking at a mess on Tim Kavanagh's rug and having to explain it.

And that rug really tied the room together, did it not?

Not only did I mess with Tim's top-10 rankings, I shifted the No. 1 spot (maybe I got shift happy, as I did the same thing with the No. 1 spot in Front Line this week). In the No. 1 spot he has occupied on many a week during the past year is Ryan Miller and down to No. 3 is Jimmy Howard. Tim Thomas slides up a spot to No. 2.

First we look at Miller. If you use the ESPN Player Rater and look at the goaltenders in an ever-narrowing window of time, you can watch Miller rise to the top. For the season he is ninth among goaltenders; during the past month he is fifth; over the past two weeks Miller is third; during the past seven days he is first. Don't forget Miller has missed some time due to injury this season, so his numbers could actually be higher compared with the others. The Sabres still qualify as an unstable team when it comes to offense, but all it takes is a couple players to spot Miller a couple goals and a win is in sight.

Thomas has much better numbers than Miller, but also has a much bigger shadow lurking in the wings looking for starts. It's a credit to how great his goals-against average and save percentage are that Thomas forces such a high ranking despite a goaltending battle always ready to heat up in the Boston Bruins' net. Nobody can argue his potential to carry this start through to season's end (he accomplished exactly that just two seasons ago). The No. 1 focus for Thomas owners right now should be attempting to secure a trade for Tuukka Rask as a matter of insurance. You never know.

Howard's win total is epic and will continue to be deserving of such an adjective. The Detroit Red Wings are a machine and Howard is the beneficiary with 15 wins in 20 tries this season. However, wins do not make a fantasy goaltender. Howard is 15th in goals-against average this season (2.52). Dwayne Roloson and Corey Crawford rate better for the season. His save percentage of .916 also places him 15th in the league. It's hard to consider him the top goaltender when he is smack dab in the middle of the pack for both ratios. His consistency, job security and wins will keep him as a top-five goaltender, but with Thomas and Miller doing what they do, he can't be No. 1.

Maybe I'm wrong and Tim Kavanagh returns the rankings to how he had them next week when he returns. As I discussed last week, I did restrain myself from wild swings in the rankings based on my own opinion. Tim is the expert around these parts and I'm sure he'll at least have plenty to gripe about as he cleans up my mess (that's right, I decided to just leave it for him). In the meantime, let's look at some of the other goaltenders who moved in the ranks.

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 (2)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (3)
3. Jimmy Howard, Det (1)
4. Roberto Luongo, Van (5)
5. Carey Price, Mon (6)
6. Jaroslav Halak, StL (4)
7. Jonathan Quick, LA (7)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (8)
9. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (9)
10. Martin Brodeur, NJ (10)
11. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (11)
12. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (14)
13. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (19)
14. Niklas Backstrom, Min (12)
15. Cam Ward, Car (13)
16. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (18)
17. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (20)
18. Craig Anderson, Col (17)
19. Semyon Varlamov, Was (22)
20. Michal Neuvirth, Was (15)
21. Jonas Hiller, Ana (21)
22. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (24)
23. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (16)
24. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (28)
25. Brian Elliott, Ott (26)
26. Steve Mason, Cls (27)
27. Mathieu Garon, Cls (23)
28. Tuukka Rask, Bos (29)
29. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (30)
30. Corey Crawford, Chi (39)
31. Dan Ellis, TB (32)
32. Anders Lindback, Nsh (37)
33. Chris Mason, Atl (33)
34. Brent Johnson, Pit (25)
35. Michael Leighton, Phi (34)
36. Peter Budaj, Col (31)
37. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (35)
38. Marty Turco, Chi (36)
39. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (46)
40. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (42)

Rising and Falling

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (up six spots): Fleury probably belongs in the top 10, but since I still haven't heard a reasonable explanation for the egg he laid in the entire month of October, I don't want to be the one to put him there. We know he is as solid a goaltender as they come and he is playing for an offense that can win every night; what we don't know is why he was a revolving door for pucks until mid-November. Now he hasn't allowed more than two goals in seven straight games. It was likely just a bad run of luck combined with some soft play in front of Fleury to begin the season. The Pens have tightened up their game in all facets and are soon to get their best two-way player, Jordan Staal, back from injury. Things look good from here on out.

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues (down two spots): Halak came back down to earth in November and now is showing his true colors. He is a decent goaltender who is more valuable in fantasy due to his stranglehold on a starting job than for his performance. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him finish with an average save percentage (currently .910), a slightly better goals-against average (currently a solid 2.36) and a subpar win total (currently 11 of 21 starts). Halak is on the right pace. Why does he drop two spots? He didn't really. Roberto Luongo and Carey Price simply passed him. Still, temper expectations for Halak's win total as the Blues struggle with injuries to almost all the players they rely on for goals.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (up nine spots): If Crawford was only preparing the coffin for Marty Turco last week, it appears he started putting nails in it this week. Crawford extended his win streak to six games and even though he allowed five goals in one of those contests, the Hawks rallied in front of him for the win. Turco also got a start this past week. He allowed three goals on just 15 shots to the Vancouver Canucks in a loss. Crawford is coming on in such a strong way he needs to be grabbed in every league (which means owners in 60 percent of leagues need to look at their free-agent list). He is the team's goalie of the future, and that future appears to be now.

Time-shares

Semyon Varlamov (71.7 percent) and Michal Neuvirth (94.4 percent), Washington Capitals: Well, Neuvirth did about the worst thing he could have done over the past week. He lost two games including a high-scoring affair to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Semyon Varlamov also lost a game for the Caps, but it is a bit more excusable to do so against the red-hot Atlanta Thrashers these days. It's a pretty evenly matched duel at this point, with an advantage to Varlamov at the moment, but neither goaltender has any tricks to pull out of his back pocket. This will be a battle of consistency to be won by the goaltender who can string together solid starts. You need to own both right now if possible. If it has to be just one, go with Varlamov, as Neuvirth hasn't won since Nov. 17.

Pekka Rinne (90.2 percent) and Anders Lindback (10.9 percent), Nashville Predators: Rinne didn't cede starts to Lindback through poor play, but rather through a knee injury. Lindback possibly has until early January to run with the starting job while Rinne recovers. If you pick your spots between now and then, Lindback has shown enough talent this season already to be trusted with spot starts. If you need a ratio boost over the next few weeks (I wouldn't stream him for wins given the team's offense), consider Lindback.

Antero Niittymaki (79.5 percent) and Antti Niemi (37.6 percent), San Jose Sharks: I don't think the actual story here is the goaltending battle as both players have had their ups and downs. Niitty and Niemi are both guilty of some bad starts lately and while Niemi leads in recent good showings, Niittymaki's numbers for the season destroy Niemi's. I think the problem is the injuries afflicting the defense for the Sharks. Defensive guys like Jason Demers, Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin have all missed time over the past couple weeks and left the Sharks defensively weak with some green players in their stead. Don't overreact to the situation. If you have Niittymaki, hold on to him and see if you can add Niemi as insurance. If you play in a shallow league, I think Niemi can still be left alone on the free-agent pile. If you play in a deep league, now might be the time to stash Niemi on the bench.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.