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Wednesday, January 19, 2011
In the Crease: Hung out to dry?

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

Across the league this season, power plays are scoring at an 18.3 percent clip, up ever so slightly from the 18.2 percent success rate in 2009-10. Allowing an opponent to go a man up does not mean it will automatically score, but it does happen once every five or so times. In other words, the teams that go short-handed more often put themselves -- and their goaltenders -- at a disadvantage. This is not exactly breaking news. As we know, facing a lot of shots isn't necessarily a bad thing (it can help the save percentage, after all), but facing a lot of quality scoring opportunities is a bad thing.

But let's take a little bit deeper look into how we can make special-teams statistics work for us in assessing fantasy goalies from here on out. I've created a statistic that provides a ratio for the percentage of a team's goals allowed that came on the power play. The teams with the top six figures -- whose goalies suffer the biggest relative hit to their goals-against average thanks to malfeasance by the team in front of them -- are found in the chart below.

Legend: GP = games played, PPGA = power play goals against, TSH = times shorthanded, PCT = penalty-killing percentage, PPGA/GP = power play goals against per game, TSH/GP = times short-handed per game, GA = total goals against, PPGA/GA = percent of total goals against that came on opposing power play, TSH/DEC and TSH/JAN = times short-handed per game in December and January, respectively.

Looking over the trends here, three of the teams (the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers) remained pretty static in their rate of going a man down during games in the past month and a half, while the other three (the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers) have seen a significant downturn in their rate. Likewise, the stocks of Ilya Bryzgalov, Kari Lehtonen and the Philly duo have been strong lately (in spite of Tuesday's bump in the road for Bryz). In fact, Lehtonen and Bryz are Nos. 2 and 6 on the Player Rater for the past 15 days (before Tuesday's game; Bryz is now No. 19), respectively, and though Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher are 12 and 25, respectively, an amalgam of the two -- Brergei Bouchovsky -- would have a 7-1-0 record and a .923 save percentage this month. Meanwhile, Ondrej Pavelec has faltered recently -- he's 2-3-1 with a 4.34 goals-against average and .881 save percentage in January -- and while Nikolai Khabibulin has been low on our radar for a while now, going 0-6-0 in January (he's on a nine-game losing streak altogether) with a 3.90 goals-against average and .869 save percentage won't earn him a spot back at the grown-ups' table.

The bottom line here: Clearly, you shouldn't be looking at just which teams are relinquishing the most opposing man advantages. Astute readers surely noticed that I didn't mention the Avs' Craig Anderson in the previous paragraph. This is because despite a lack of improvement by the team in giving up opposing power plays, his stats for the month of January (a 2.18 goals-against average and .933 save percentage) are beyond what we expected out of him at season's onset, and much improved over what he'd done from October through December.

But generally, looking at power plays allowed can be a useful aid in finding out which teams are putting their goalie (and his all-important goals-against average) in harm's way more often. I've provided a snapshot of how these trends do (and sometimes do not) change, and how this can affect the goalies in question (but may not always). By finding teams that are trending in a positive direction in these terms, this can be a piece of the puzzle in figuring out which goalies to target in trade or free-agency pickup, depending on whether you believe the trend will continue.

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. Roberto Luongo, Van (1)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (3)
3. Carey Price, Mon (2)
4. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (8)
5. Ryan Miller, Buf (5)
6. Jonathan Quick, LA (4)
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (6)
8. Jonas Hiller, Ana (10)
9. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (7)
10. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (9)
11. Jaroslav Halak, StL (11)
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (15)
13. Jimmy Howard, Det (13)
14. Cam Ward, Car (12)
15. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (18)
16. Martin Brodeur, NJ (17)
17. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (21)
18. Niklas Backstrom, Min (14)
19. Semyon Varlamov, Was (16)
20. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (20)
21. Corey Crawford, Chi (22)
22. Brian Boucher, Phi (26)
23. Antti Niemi, SJ (29)
24. Craig Anderson, Col (27)
25. Dwayne Roloson, TB (23)
26. Tuukka Rask, Bos (25)
27. Michal Neuvirth, Was (24)
28. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (19)
29. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (28)
30. Brian Elliott, Ott (30)
31. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (40)
32. Jonathan Bernier, LA (NR)
33. Anders Lindback, Nsh (32)
34. Mathieu Garon, Cls (33)
35. Steve Mason, Cls (34)
36. Cory Schneider, Van (37)
37. Dan Ellis, TB (39)
38. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (NR)
39. Kevin Poulin, NYI (NR)
40. Rick DiPietro, NYI (NR)

Rising and falling

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (up four spots): Lundqvist took the No. 3 goalie spot on Puck Prospectus' Player Power Rankings this week, and he allowed just five total goals in three starts over the past calendar week. Within the write-up for the rankings was an interesting fact: Over the past three seasons, the only two netminders to finish in the top 10 of GVT (the Puck Prospectus metric measuring value against a replacement-level player) are Lundqvist and Tomas Vokoun. In other words, Lundqvist's strong play is neither surprising, nor should we expect it to slow down. The reason why I didn't have Lundqvist previously ranked as high as some other elite options was his win total, which has been skewed because of the Rangers' lack of offense. Importing Wojtek Wolski will help (and has already), but I also think the slump that has befallen Marian Gaborik will also subside at some point. With more goals on the board, Lundqvist will be able to rack up more wins down the stretch.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (down two spots): Though Quick had a nice bounce-back game on Tuesday night -- a 24-save, two-goal win over the St. Louis Blues -- he allowed 14 goals in his previous four starts. This wouldn't be too disconcerting if it weren't for the other Jonathan, Jonathan Bernier, who has long been thought of as the franchise goalie of the future. Though Bernier had a fairly brutal start to the season, he's looked sharp in the past two games, and the stats back it up: 49 saves on 53 total shots (a .924 save percentage) in notching a win over the Edmonton Oilers and a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. I don't think this is headed to a time-share; however, given that the Kings consciously want to limit Quick's starts to keep him fresh for a playoff run, this diminishes his value.

Scott Clemmensen, Florida Panthers (up nine spots): For whatever reason, Clemmensen has started five out of the Panthers' nine games in January (he had only six in the previous 35). As our mantra here goes, value in fantasy goaltending is all about opportunity and producing when one has that opportunity. So has Clemmensen produced in January? He's allowed 12 goals on 174 shots in the five starts plus one relief appearance, which computes out to a .931 save percentage. His record is 3-1-1. So whether Vokoun gets traded or not, it appears that Clemmensen will get some more work, and he's a solid spot-start when that happens.

Kevin Poulin, New York Islanders (debuting at No. 39): The good news for Poulin: He's gotten the nod to stay with the big club over Nathan Lawson, and he's backing up the oft-injured Rick DiPietro, so he may get more opportunities than other backups. The bad news: He showed his limitations in a five-goal nightmare against the New Jersey Devils (who, in spite of a recent hot streak, are still below two goals per game for the season). I haven't seen anything to convince me he's on the road to NHL stardom yet, but that scant possibility is the reason why he's ranked one ahead of DiPietro, who's once again showed us that he is who we thought he was (3.43 goals-against average, .892 save percentage). For very deep leagues, Poulin could be worth a spot start, depending on the matchup and your other options.

Time-shares

Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi has the edge in the San Jose Sharks' goaltender platoon.

Antero Niittymaki (53.0 percent) and Antti Niemi (61.5 percent), San Jose Sharks: The tide has definitely turned in San Jose, as Niemi has finally eclipsed Niittymaki in save percentage and also has been getting a commanding portion of the starts. Going back to Dec. 29, Niemi has eight starts to Niittymaki's three, and the statistical comparison is staggering. In those eight starts, Niemi has four wins, 17 goals allowed and a .932 save percentage while Niittymaki has lost all three of his starts, allowing 12 goals with a .838 save percentage. It's a natural correction from earlier this season, when Niittymaki was playing much better; as we know, he's been a maddeningly streaky player throughout his career, so the fact that the other shoe finally dropped recently is not surprising. Furthermore, I don't expect the time-share to be as Niemi-sided as it has been as the season continues, and I also expect Niittymaki to get back to his old self. Therefore, both men are worth owning, but keep Niittymaki on your bench until he gets back on another inevitable hot streak.

Semyon Varlamov (99.2 percent) and Michal Neuvirth (61.2 percent), Washington Capitals: In this space on Jan. 5, I recommended floating Varlamov as possible trade bait, seeing as how he had just been named the NHL's first star of the week, and played impressively in the Winter Classic, the league's biggest midseason spectacle. Moreover, Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau remains committed to operating a time-share with his goalies until later this season. However, after starting Tuesday's game against the Flyers, Neuvirth was unable to continue after the first period, and is now day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post has reported that Neuvirth was icing his left hip and groin area after Tuesday's morning skate, an area that he's had issues with previously this season. Should these issues prove chronic, Varlamov will continue to get more of the starts, and his value will rise accordingly. Maybe it's time to trade for him.

Mathieu Garon (8.9 percent) and Steve Mason (33.3 percent), Columbus Blue Jackets: Garon hit a wall in late December, and hasn't really recovered since (though a two-goal, 22-save shootout loss Tuesday isn't too shabby). In his past six starts, he's allowed 25 goals with a .849 save percentage. Fortunately, it doesn't look like he was active in too many leagues over that span. His young counterpart has not fared much better, allowing 16 goals in his past four starts, with a .857 save percentage. Mason has sustained a minor lower-body injury, and will undergo more examinations on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. Whether this injury is the root cause of his recent struggles is up for debate; however the question of whether either of these men should be active in fantasy right now is clearly not. Each is worth a bench slot in deep leagues -- remember, Garon was among the league leaders in the ratios in October and November -- but they're best kept there until we see some positive results.

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