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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In the Crease: Maximizing late games

By Tim Kavanagh
ESPN.com

Around the NHL, teams have between four and seven games remaining on their schedule. For fantasy owners, that makes it all the more important to be checking the matchups, especially in rotisserie-style leagues with game limits fast approaching. In an effort to aid in this regard when it comes to goaltenders, I've compiled the goals-for and shots-for averages over March and April for the entire league, and identified some of the teams to avoid playing against, and some of the teams to target for starts against.

The kind of team that can wreck a fantasy owner's night when it comes to their goaltending is obviously one that scores a lot (increasing goals-against average and decreasing the chances of a win), but also one that does so with few shots, as this also ruins a goalie's save percentage. In the Western Conference, two teams that fall into that category are the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers. Over the March-April stretch, Dallas has scored 2.86 goals per game (seventh in the league) on 25.4 shots per game (29th in the league); meanwhile, Edmonton has scored 2.55 goals per game (15th in the league) while registering the league's fewest shots over that span (25.3 per game). Going through the schedules, 10 different teams play Edmonton or Dallas over the final stretch, including two apiece for Anaheim, Minnesota and Vancouver. This is bad news for those who have Jonas Hiller, Niklas Backstrom or Cory Schneider at their disposal, though it doesn't necessarily mean that these three shouldn't be started: for example, Backstrom has been superb against the Oilers thus far (the team he'll face twice more), earning two wins in two starts, with 1.50/.939 ratios. Hiller has the Oilers twice more, and he stopped 27 of 28 shots in a win earlier this season. As for Schneider, he's played well against the Oilers, but struggled against the Stars, and will face each team once more (unless Roberto Luongo gets the nod on those nights).

Carey Price
Carey Price has picked a bad time for fantasy owners to go into a slump.

In the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals fall into this "efficient scoring" category for March and April, and there are 10 teams who face one or more of them in the final span of the schedule. The leaders in this regard, however, are Ottawa and Montreal, who have three games left against teams in this group. Montreal's Carey Price has had his issues with Toronto this season (1-3-0, with a 4.12 GAA and .840 save percentage), but has played well against Tampa Bay and Washington (3-1-0, with 2.46/.905 ratios against those two); he's got a game apiece against each opponent left. Meanwhile, Ottawa's Craig Anderson has gone 1-2-0 in one start against each team thus far, with a 2.35 GAA and .918 save percentage; he faces Washington twice and Toronto once.

With the cautionary tales out of the way, there are some opposing teams to target as well; these teams are not scoring very much, but are landing an immense number of shots on goal. Out West, this includes the Phoenix Coyotes -- 25th in scoring in March and April at 2.32 per game, ninth in shots at 30.5 per contest -- and the San Jose Sharks -- 18th in scoring (2.48 per game), first in shots (33.0 per game). There are 11 teams that take on one of these two over the final stretch, but only one club has multiple dates: the Los Angeles Kings, who have two left against San Jose. Though Jonathan Quick has improved as of late -- "Too little, too late?" wonder his fantasy owners -- he had a rough outing against the Sharks the only time he's faced them this season, allowing three goals on 12 shots in 28:24 of work. Jonathan Bernier allowed just one goal on 14 shots in relief that night, and picked up the win two nights later, stopping 20-of-22. Bernier -- owned in just 28.2 percent of ESPN leagues -- is a strong option for a spot-start if he is tabbed for either of the remaining tilts with San Jose.

Meanwhile, in the East, three teams that fit into the "shooting blanks" description over this final stretch are the Carolina Hurricanes (22nd in scoring, second in shots), New Jersey Devils (last in scoring, 11th in shots) and New York Rangers (27th in scoring, sixth in shots). Peering over the remaining slate, 12 teams play these clubs at least once, but three teams have them thrice: Florida, Philadelphia and the Rangers themselves (who have two left against New Jersey). Florida's Jacob Markstrom was superb in his one game against the Rangers this season, stopping 44 of 45 shots en route to a win, and the Panthers have the Blueshirts twice more. Markstrom picked up an OT win against New Jersey -- the Panthers' other contest from this group -- in his lone outing against the Devils (two goals allowed on 26 shots). Markstrom is owned in a mere 26.7 percent of ESPN leagues as of this posting.

As strong as Markstrom has played against his remaining foes from this group, Philly's Ilya Bryzgalov has played that poorly: in eight contests thus far against the Rangers and Devils, he's gone 2-6-0, with a combined 3.13 GAA and .876 save percentage. On the bright side, he's gone 2-0-0 against Carolina this season, with 2.97/.920 ratios. If you had planned on starting Bryz -- and that would be a little bizarre given how he's produced as of late -- it might not be the best idea against the Devils or Rangers. As for Lundqvist, his fantasy owners are unlikely to bench him anyway, but the numbers against the Devils -- against whom he has two games remaining -- as well as the Hurricanes -- one more contest -- shouldn't sway anyone away, either. Against New Jersey, he's gone 1-1-0, with 2.54/.906 ratios, while he won both starts against Carolina, posting a 0.96 GAA and .975 save percentage along the way.

As with any other factor used to make lineup decisions, the strength or weakness of the remaining opponents is just one piece of the puzzle. Furthermore, as noted in the paragraphs above, it's not always the best indicator of how a particular goalie will fare, either, as matchups can play out in different ways. However, when making a final decision over the next two weeks, it pays to take a little extra time to check out the opposing side for all of your options.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking from last week is indicated in parentheses.

1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (3)
2. Antti Niemi, SJ (2)
3. Tuukka Rask, Bos (4)
4. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cls (13)
5. Cory Schneider, Van (6)
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (7)
7. Carey Price, Mon (1)
8. Jonas Hiller, Ana (5)
9. Jimmy Howard, Det (11)
10. Corey Crawford, Chi (9)
11. James Reimer, Tor (15)
12. Craig Anderson, Ott (12)
13. Braden Holtby, Was (10)
14. Brian Elliott, StL (35)
15. Ray Emery, Chi (16)
16. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (8)
17. Niklas Backstrom, Min (18)
18. Jonathan Quick, LA (14)
19. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (20)
20. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (17)
21. Mike Smith, Pho (25)
22. Richard Bachman, Dal (NR)
23. Tomas Vokoun, Pit (21)
24. Roberto Luongo, Van (29)
25. Ryan Miller, Buf (22)
26. Jonathan Bernier, LA (28)
27. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (23)
28. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (33)
29. Viktor Fasth, Ana (24)
30. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (31)
31. Martin Brodeur, NJ (19)
32. Ben Bishop, TB (27)
33. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (NR)
34. Jake Allen, StL (26)
35. Joey MacDonald, Cgy (NR)
36. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (30)
37. Dan Ellis, Car (34)
38. Semyon Varlamov, Col (36)
39. Anton Khudobin, Bos (37)
40. Ben Scrivens, Tor (38)

Rising and Falling

As my colleague Sean Allen alluded to in this week's edition of Front Line, with so few games remaining, players that are currently riding a hot streak are liable to stay hot for the duration of the short span of games left on the docket. As a result, there are some big swings in the Top 40 list.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets (up nine spots to No. 4; team games left: 5): Identified this preseason as a sleeper, Bobrovsky didn't immediately jump on the scene as a dominant fantasy force, but his work over the past several weeks has resulted in his placement on the Player Rater as the No. 5 overall fantasy hockey commodity. He added another NHL star of the week award to his shelf with his work over the past seven days; during that time, he went 3-0-0, with a 0.97 GAA and .971 save percentage. The Blue Jackets have Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Dallas and Nashville remaining, all teams against whom Bobrovsky has had relative success this season (including a shutout against the Sharks).

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (down six spots spots to No. 7; team games left: 6): Price may have single-handedly lost some fantasy owners their playoff matchup this past week. His statline for three starts: 0-3-0, 6.59 GAA, .800 save percentage. Twice in three games, he was pulled in favor of Peter Budaj. As the Habs continue to fight for the No. 2 seed in the East, their franchise goalie is going through one of the worst stretches of his season, and has a tough schedule remaining, as noted in the section above. If you managed to survive into the next round of the playoffs (or continue to battle in your roto league), it's time to consider other options.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (down seven spots to No. 15; team games left: 4). There are a number of factors working against Rinne for the final run here: The Predators have won just one game out of his eight starts in the month of April (and just 6 of 22 in March and April combined); personally, he's been inconsistent, allowing one goal on some nights, four or five on another; lastly, the Preds have just four games left, the fewest of any team. That final quartet of games is against Chicago, Calgary, Detroit and Columbus, and has struggled against those four this season, with a 3-7-2 record, 2.87 GAA and .905 save percentage combined. Don't automatically bench Rinne, but certainly consider other options for the last few games.

Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues (up 21 spots to No. 14; team games left: 7): During Elliott's late-season surge -- which began, coincidentally on April Fools' Day -- we've been waiting for the other proverbial skate to drop, and it simply has not. In total this month, he's gone 5-1-0 with a 1.05 GAA and .959 save percentage, and his one loss came when he stopped 24 of 26 shots against the Blackhawks. The Blues are one of seven teams that have seven games left, and two of their matchups are against Colorado, who appear to have mentally checked out on this season. With Jaroslav Halak still about a week away from returning, the St. Louis crease belongs to Elliott right now, and he's a strong option for the final stretch.

Richard Bachman (debuting at No. 22; team games left: 6): The other netminder who was honored as an NHL star of the week for this past seven days, Bachman is not a complete stranger to those who've read this column in seasons past. Last season, he posted a 2.50 GAA and .917 save percentage in 12 appearances in December and January in place of Kari Lehtonen, before losing much of his value after the Finn's return. Bachman was an afterthought again during the first three months of this season, but following another Lehtonen injury on Apr. 9, he's been pretty sharp again: in four games, he's gone 3-1-0, with a 1.88 GAA and .936 save percentage. Lehtonen is closer to a return than Halak, but it's unclear exactly when he'll be back. Bachman is a significant risk for those playing for a title right now, but the reward is also very high if he can replicate what he did over his first three starts in place of Lehtonen.

Timeshares

Ryan Miller (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN leagues) and Jhonas Enroth (1.9 percent), Buffalo Sabres (team games left: 5): Despite their status as sellers at the trade deadline, the Sabres remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and it appears that the coaching staff feels comfortable using their young ace in the hole netminder as the fight continues. After replacing Miller for the final 20 minutes of a loss to Montreal on Apr. 11, Enroth was tapped for the ensuing two starts for Buffalo. Over the course of 119:57, he allowed just one goal on 62 shots, generating an absurd 0.50 GAA and .984 SV%. Enroth had his moments last season as well -- finishing with a 2.70 GAA and .917 SV% -- and it appears that the organization may want to see what they've got in the 24-year-old before making their decision on Miller's future with the team this offseason. Enroth won't be that good every night, but he's another high-risk, high-reward candidate for the final weeks; keep an eye on the newswire for word on when he'll be the one in the crease.

Corey Crawford (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Ray Emery (93.4 percent), Chicago Blackhawks (team games left: 6): Last week, the big news was that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hinted that he could continue his goaltending platoon through the playoffs, and that this obviously meant that the duration of the fantasy season would see both Crawford and Emery deployed a lot. That trend has been true over the past week, with each 'tender getting two starts (and two wins). The message here from a fantasy perspective remains the same: either man is worthy of starting for just about any fantasy team in daily lineup format, and the trick is keeping an eye on which one is getting the start in real life. For those in weekly lineup leagues, it comes down to deciding whether a strong start or two from Crawford or Emery is worth more than three or four from a lesser player.