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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
In the Crease: Replacing Jimmy Howard

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

Through the All-Star break, Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard had racked up an impressive stat line, one that put him in the No. 3 slot for the season on the ESPN Player Rater. After winning two straight during the Wings' subsequent jaunt through Western Canada -- stopping 50 of 54 shots overall for a .926 save percentage -- he emerged from the second of those games with a broken right index finger. Given that this is the hand with which Howard holds his stick, that's a problem.

Jimmy Howard
Jimmy Howard leads the NHL in wins but how long can he stay on top while injured?

Initial reports indicated that Howard would miss the two remaining games on the Red Wings' road trip, and he has: Ty Conklin got the start against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, while Joey MacDonald got the nod on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes. However, the timeline for Howard's return has been adjusted, and it's now believed he'll miss anywhere from two to six weeks. At the low end of that range, he'll miss the Wings' next four games; at the high end, the next 17. In the end, it'll probably be somewhere smack dab in the middle.

So how does one replace a superstar netminder such as Howard? One doesn't. In my Top 40 list released just prior to the All-Star break, Howard had slid into the top spot: I felt that his combination of wins and solid ratio stats would continue while the team jockeyed for position in the Western Conference standings. His owners -- who would've been in good position -- are left scrambling for alternatives. The Red Wings are in a similar jam. Prior to the injury, Howard had started 44 games this season, compared to just nine for Conklin. Over the past three seasons combined, the Red Wings are 106-44-18 in games that Howard has started, but only 20-22-8 when one of his backups (Chris Osgood, Conklin or MacDonald) has been tabbed, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Not surprisingly, both Conklin and MacDonald are widely available in ESPN fantasy leagues. The former's ownership percentage shot up 9.4 points over the past week, but is only at 10.5 percent. The latter has been added in 3.3 percent of leagues since his call-up. So should everyone else be buying in on them as well? Not necessarily. It appears that this is going to be a bit of a timeshare during Howard's absence, and unlike the first-half split in St. Louis (where both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have been quite valuable), neither is going to set the world on fire with their performance. A part-timer who is neither putting up good ratios nor assured of notching a win when he gets the start? I'll pass. Sure, the Wings' offensive exploits should provide Conklin and MacDonald with the opportunity to pick up some W's, but as was the case in the first two games with Howard shelved, the replacements did not deliver.

Instead, the Howard owner facing an extended break from the Ogdensburg, N.Y., native must consider non-Detroit alternatives. Two options that are sitting on a vast majority of fantasy waiver wires right now are Oilers backstop Devan Dubnyk (available in 79.0 percent of ESPN leagues) and Ray Emery of the Chicago Blackhawks (86.2 percent). Dubnyk has quietly put together a reasonably strong 2012 calendar year. Though the past three games have been rough -- 13 goals on 116 shots combined has generated a 4.26 GAA and .888 save percentage, sullying a 2-1-0 record -- his 2.37/.926 split in January, coupled with a 4-2-1 record, made him one of the more valuable under-the-radar assets during that timeframe. Dubnyk put in some of his best work of the 2010-11 season in March and April (2.28/.928 in 10 starts), which led many to believe he would be the team's starter to begin 2011-12. Though it's taken some time, it appears that the pendulum has swung in his direction, and backstopping a team with as much young firepower as the Oilers will offer him a good chance at winning on most nights, as evidenced by the fact that he won two games over the past week while allowing four goals on each occasion.

As for Emery, it's a bit more complicated. The Blackhawks are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and the goaltending has been a big reason for it. Nevertheless, coach Joel Quenneville's comments when naming Emery the starter for Tuesday night's contest against the Colorado Avalanche -- his second start in a row -- may give us an indication that the bench boss is leaning toward Emery for the foreseeable future. "[Emery has] played very well basically every time he's been in the net for us," Quenneville explained, per ESPNChicago.com. "He's been consistent, he's been solid, predictable, dependable. The guys played well in front of him the other night. He earned another start."

Not exactly beaming praise, but when coaches use words like consistent, solid, predictable and dependable, this is a good sign (and perhaps a bad sign about ostensible No. 1 Corey Crawford?); at least for the short term, Quenneville is hoping that Emery can plug the leak that has developed in Chicago's defensive end, and he may get an extended string of starts to try to gain some momentum. Given the Hawks' prowess at potting goals on the other end -- they're tied for fourth in the NHL with 3.11 per game this season -- he's in a good place to nab some wins as long as he doesn't implode.

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. Roberto Luongo, Van (3)
3. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (6)
4. Tim Thomas, Bos (5)
5. Jonathan Quick, LA (4)
6. Jaroslav Halak, StL (7)
7. Jimmy Howard, Det (1)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (10)
9. Tomas Vokoun, Was (8)
10. Mike Smith, Pho (9)
11. Antti Niemi, SJ (12)
12. Martin Brodeur, NJ (15)
13. Cam Ward, Car (22)
14. Craig Anderson, Ott (11)
15. Jonas Hiller, Ana (16)
16. Niklas Backstrom, Min (21)
17. Tuukka Rask, Bos (13)
18. Carey Price, Mon (17)
19. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (18)
20. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (25)
21. Ryan Miller, Buf (26)
22. Brian Elliott, StL (14)
23. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Col (19)
24. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (20)
25. James Reimer, Tor (37)
26. Ray Emery, Chi (29)
27. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (24)
28. Semyon Varlamov, Col (27)
29. Jose Theodore, Fla (28)
30. Corey Crawford, Chi (23)
31. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (30)
32. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (31)
33. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (NR)
34. Cory Schneider, Van (34)
35. Josh Harding, Min (32)
36. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (33)
37. Al Montoya, NYI (NR)
38. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (35)
39. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (36)
40. Richard Bachman, Dal (40)

Rising and Falling

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (up two spots): Through Jan. 19, Fleury had allowed more than three goals in a game only once, and hadn't been pulled early from any of his starts. In the six contests since, he's allowed four goals twice and was removed in the second period of Sunday's loss to the New Jersey Devils. Seems counter-intuitive that he'd be climbing the rankings list, then, eh? Perhaps, but there's an important factor to consider: Though Sidney Crosby's return remains uncertain, fellow pivot Jordan Staal is on track to make his return within the next 5-10 days. Staal doesn't provide the same level of offensive wizardry as his teammate, but he's one of the better two-way forwards in the league, and his presence in the defensive zone will do wonders for Fleury both at even strength and on the penalty kill.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (up nine spots): Ward is one of the league's true iron men, with the only significant missed time due to injury was a freak accident in 2009-10, when Rick Nash's skate lacerated his leg in a November game that season. However, during the first three months of this season, the Alberta native's value in the fantasy realm was limited to leagues that use counting stats like shots and saves as categories; his record in those months was 13-15-5, and he posted ratios of 3.24 and .896. Once the calendar flipped to 2012, he's gone 7-3-3, with a 1.60 GAA and .951 save percentage. No one is going to mistake the Hurricanes for a Stanley Cup contender, but Ward's work has been a pleasant surprise. Time is certainly running out to acquire him at a discount, but pointing out his overall mediocre numbers this season (2.76/.913) may help.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (down three spots): As December ended and January began, Anderson rattled off wins in 10 of 12 starts. During that stretch, he posted a GAA of 1.67 and a save percentage of .949. He's lost all six games since that sparkling dozen, while registering 3.53/.891 ratios. Obviously, the real Anderson is somewhere in between those two extremes, and though he takes a bit of a tumble in the rankings this week, it's more of a correction on earlier optimism. Let's face it, the Sens are going to sink or swim with Anderson (unless they make a trade), considering that Alex Auld is his primary backup and top prospect Robin Lehner is not quite ready for the big club yet at just 20 years of age. For now, keep him benched until he works his way out of the funk.

Timeshares

Jose Theodore (80.6 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Scott Clemmensen (13.0 percent), Florida Panthers: For the Southeast Division leaders, the goaltending has been somewhat suspect throughout the 2011-12 campaign, and I'm not certain that Theodore's return from his latest injury will provide any help on that front. Prior to his initial right knee injury sustained on Dec. 31, Theodore had posted 2.47/.918 ratios; his two-game return in mid-January included two losses, posting a 3.43 GAA and .894 save percentage. Clemmensen hasn't exactly been elite, either, as his 8-3-5 record belies his pedestrian ratios of 2.73 and .912. In any case, Theodore is on the cusp of returning again, as he's accompanied the team on their trip to Washington, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and could be ready to go again at some point this week. Based purely on performance, Theodore should get a larger portion of the starts if he's healthy, but that remains to be seen in the coming days. Keep Clemmensen in hand if you need the help in the wins category, and can afford the ratios hit.

Jonas Gustavsson (56.8 percent) and James Reimer (73.0 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: With Reimer possibly still battling the after-effects of a concussion sustained earlier this season, Gustavsson was tabbed for all but one of the starts for the Leafs in the month of January. For the most part, he delivered: His record in those 11 games was 7-3-1 (including three shutouts), and he finished the month with a 2.08 GAA and .926 save percentage. As February has gotten underway, Leafs coach Ron Wilson has gone back to Reimer, and the Manitoba native has not let him down. He recorded a shutout in the first two games (stopping 25 off Penguins sticks and 49 from the Sens) before allowing his first goal of the month 21 seconds into the team's contest against the Oilers on Monday; he did battle back to get the win, though. It was Reimer's play over the course of the 2010-11 season's final four months that earned him his three-year contract extension this past summer, so the club may lean on him again as they push to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt this season as well. We'll get a better sense of the split over the next couple weeks. For now, Gustavsson retains some value, since this could remain a platoon to some degree; however, if and when Reimer grabs more of the workload, the Swede's fantasy value will quickly deteriorate.

Ice Chips

Mathieu Garon has steadily wrangled control of the Tampa Bay Lightning crease away from Dwayne Roloson as the season has continued, but does it really matter in fantasy? Not really. Sure, Garon has won five of his last six starts, but his ratios over that span have been just 2.30 and .909. That's an improvement over his season-long stats, but nothing that is going to have a great impact for our purposes. … Has Ilya Bryzgalov finally turned the corner? Over his past seven appearances, he's put up 1.96/.932 ratios. It's been feast or famine, naturally, seeing as he allowed 9 of the 13 goals in this stretch in just two contests, and some were certainly of the questionable variety -- Marian Gaborik's at the end of the second period on Sunday was particularly deflating. That inconsistency has plagued Bryzgalov throughout his first campaign as a Flyer, and is a stark contrast from his work for the Phoenix Coyotes. With his value currently high, it could be time to see if anyone will take Bryzgalov off your hands in exchange for someone a little more reliable.

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