Squeezing out those stats over the final few weeks can be crucial to the overall results in your fantasy league. It's difficult enough to dig out a forward or defenseman to chip in a few more points, but what about a goaltender? There are hundreds of forwards and defensemen, but there's a maximum of 60 goaltenders who can accrue statistics on a nightly basis. Of those 60, more than half are already owned in a majority of leagues and another 10 aren't worth your time. That leaves a fluid pool of about 20 goaltenders who are possibly available. But how do you sort through the mess?
I'm going to go the extra mile with the Forecaster this week to look at goaltenders who are available and could slide in a win or two in the coming week despite the fact that they are not fantasy regulars. I'll explain my thought process to hopefully leave you with the tools to do the same over the course of the season's final few weeks. It's all about the extra stats you can pile on at this point. Believe me, if your competition is serious, they are trying to stretch things as well, so even if you feel secure with your team, a preventative free-agent pickup can help.
Patrick Lalime, G, Buffalo Sabres: Lalime has started the first game both times the Sabres were scheduled for games on consecutive days this month. Although he lost both contests, it's not like he was out to lunch (both were 3-2 games). This coming week has the Sabres playing Friday and Saturday, with the first game scoring a perfect 10 defensive rating in the Forecaster. Even more interesting are the personal feelings at play, as Lalime surely would love to beat the Ottawa Senators, given the way he left town a few years back. The Sabres also are in a position in the standings where they can afford to rest Ryan Miller a bit more for the playoffs. Look for Lalime to get the start Friday and perhaps have an impressive showing.
Vesa Toskala, G, Calgary Flames: As Tim Kavanagh noted in Thursday's In the Crease, Toskala has looked quite passable in three appearances with the Flames. He allowed just two goals in his two starts and was perfect in relief of Miikka Kiprusoff in the other. Kavanagh gave Kipper the benefit of the doubt, but as an outspoken Kiprusoff critic, I'm not so fast to agree. One thing is playing on my mind: the Flames' precarious position in the standings. Currently sitting outside the playoff picture at ninth in the Western Conference, the Flames can't afford to lose games. If Kipper slips one more time and Toskala doesn't falter, we could see Toskala get a chance between the pipes. You might call me crazy, based on his performance with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but this is a guy who had a 2.34 career goals-against average with the San Jose Sharks before he was moved to the Leafs. Was Toskala that bad, or was it the Maple Leafs? We might find out. The week ahead has games against the Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars: If you are willing to give him a break and discount his first two appearances of the season due to rust, Lehtonen could be an asset going forward. In fact, he looked downright fantastic in a 45-save, 8-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and was no slouch in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The Stars aren't likely to make the playoffs, so tossing the majority of starts Lehtonen's way can't hurt for the future. The schedule has the Stars against the Nashville Predators, in a rematch with the Sharks and in a contest with the Los Angeles Kings this week. None of the games rates well on the Forecaster, but it's not like the Predators are an imposing team on offense, so if Lehtonen gets the start, it is as good a game as any to try him out.
Josh Harding, G, Minnesota Wild: With Niklas Backstrom on the sideline nursing his groin, Harding has slipped into a rhythm between the pipes for the Wild. After dropping a 5-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings, he rolled off three straight wins before another hiccup against the Preds. The consistency is not there, but Harding has the stuff to be a starter in the future, and I compare his development to that of Jimmy Howard: He just needs the opportunity to play full time. Perhaps this brief period of starting will be enough to put him in the right frame of mind. It's a tough week on tap, against the Sharks, Flyers and Red Wings, but if Harding remains on his game, I see no reason not to take advantage of his streak.
Jaroslav Halak, G, Montreal Canadiens: Six straight wins for Halak almost makes me forget to bother mentioning him because I think he should be owned universally, but he's still a free agent in a majority of ESPN fantasy leagues. I know Halak plays outside the description of a low-level goaltender you are squeezing starts out of, but he bears mentioning again as a possible option. The Canadiens have a four-game week on the way against four teams in the bottom half of the league in scoring.
So there are a few examples of the different ways to look at the Forecaster and recent goaltending trends to try to extract a quality start. You can use the same thought process in future weeks to find a few more.
O (offense) and D (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as its opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T/H) and lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's matchups.
Ride the Rangers: Matchups against the Islanders and Leafs (with a game against the New Jersey Devils in between) next week mean the New York Rangers have plenty of options. First have a look at Sean Avery, who has three goals and 21 penalty minutes over the past three games. He's catching some power-play time, too. Chris Drury has been playing with Avery both on and off the man advantage, and putting up some points. Over his past four games, Drury has five helpers, three of them on the power play.
Kings rolling three lines: Over the Kings' past seven games, the first line has nine points, the second line has 12 points and the third line has nine points. Of the players on those lines, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus, Fredrik Modin and Wayne Simmonds are available in at least 85 percent of ESPN leagues. Williams in particular could be a sneaky addition, as he has been back for just three games and is on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth again. Remember, they were the most potent trio in the league for the first month. A four-game week has the Kings facing the Colorado Avalanche twice, the St. Louis Blues and the Stars. All four games rate a six or better on the Forecaster for offense.
Rask cruising: Three above-average defensive games on the schedule with a day off in between means Rask could start and win all three contests for the Boston Bruins this week. Tim Thomas had a chance to reclaim the starting job but faltered and even got the hook for Rask in his last appearance. Rask is back doing his thing and should be started in every league, including the 52 percent in which he is a free agent.
Late-week Sens surge: This would be an easier call if Brian Elliott hadn't coughed up six goals against the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday, but with a close eye, you can still pull off some late-week stats with whichever Senators goaltender gets the nod. It could even wind up being a combination of Pascal Leclaire and Elliott who earn the quality starts, as the Sens have a pair of back-to-back games Monday/Tuesday and Friday/Saturday. The early-week games are the ones to be avoided, with both rating as average on the Forecaster, but if you can get a tip on who is starting Friday against the Sabres and Saturday against the Florida Panthers, put them in your lineup.
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.