It was a tough news day for fantasy owners of two of the top goaltenders in the NHL on Thursday. Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky, who own two of the past three Vezina Trophies, both received some bad news.
Price's news was not surprising, but still felt like a punch to the gut to fantasy owners who, much like the Montreal Canadiens, have been holding on to hope for a second-half surge led by Price. In a state of the team talk on Thursday, Habs general manager Marc Bergevin announced that Price was likely still a month away from returning. Which, in the case of lower-body injuries, could change at any moment -- and not in a good way. These things tend to linger.
Just ask Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky pulled himself from Thursday night's game with a lower-body injury. It's speculation, but fairly safe speculation, that this is an aggravation of the groin injury that kept him out for 17 games since Dec. 8. It was just his second game back from the injury; he was supposed to return earlier this month, but suffered a setback. This certainly doesn't bode well.
Yet again we are reminded of the importance of stashing and stocking NHL goaltenders with fantasy relevance. Even if it's just a shred of it or a strong potential for it. It's a numbers game: The 30 teams can only start one goaltender each night, so there just aren't enough of them to go around.
Price owners will just have to hunker down and tough out at least another month. If you've waited this long, another month may not sound so bad. Hopefully, you've found an interim solution that is better than the Canadiens' real-life solution of Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens. The glimmers of strong play are only occasional from Condon and they don't make up for the bad times on his ratios. Bobrovsky owners may have jettisoned whatever backup plan they had been using for the past six weeks, but it's also possible you still have that option available, especially if you are familiar with Bobrovsky's troubled injury history.
If not, once again we will have owners scrambling for some relief in net. Here are some options if you're in that boat:
Cam Talbot, G, Edmonton Oilers: The least likely of the options to be available, Talbot is owned in 63 percent of ESPN leagues. Why? Because he's been good lately. Early-season struggles and then a hot streak by backup Anders Nilsson allowed Talbot to work out some kinks in his game without having to start every game. He has a .936 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average since taking the crease back over on Dec. 14, allowing as many as four goals only once in 15 starts since then.
James Reimer, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: Overlooked since his offense can't seem to score without James van Riemsdyk in the mix, Reimer is available in 49 percent of ESPN leagues. He missed a lot of time with an injury of his own, but since Nov. 1, his save percentage is an astounding .947 in 18 games. Reimer is playing like a stud, just not getting the support required for the wins of late. But is he keeps stopping pucks at such a rate, the wins will come.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks had no real reason aside from Markstrom's strong play to turn back to him on Thursday night, with Ryan Miller healthy again. That is a strong indicator that Markstrom's play during Miller's absence has earned him additional playing time going forward. While Miller should still get the lion's share of starts, Markstrom will play more than most backups based on his recent performance. Since being pressed into additional duty on Dec. 15, Markstrom owns a .932 save percentage and 2.07 GAA in 13 games. Only seven goalies have a better save percentage and nine a better GAA in that same span.
Eddie Lack, G, Carolina Hurricanes: As Lack has become so accustomed to in his career so far, he will step in as a full-time starter for the foreseeable future while his team's starter is injured. This time it's Cam Ward hitting the injured reserve with a concussion. Lack has been somewhat mercurial this season, as perfectly evidenced by his past two starts -- five goals allowed against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a shutout against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Split the difference, and you get a reasonable goaltender playing for a team that is quite strong defensively. He's available in 90 percent of ESPN leagues, and will surely accommodate your Price-less or Bobrovsky-less team better than Mike Condon or the Joonas Korpisalo-Anton Forsberg combination.
Week 17 Forecaster
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
Owners in weekly leagues will have already had their rosters locked in place as there are only games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the All-Star break. Those games will be lumped in with the previous week for the purposes of fantasy scoring.
As we profiled the Canadiens' and Blue Jackets' creases above, it's interesting to note the teams play a home-and-home series to kick off the week. That will be a good place to look for some scoring, with sketchy-at-best goaltending.
Of note, the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues don't play at all this week. Eighteen teams only play a single game.
Looking for skaters
With only three days of contests, you'll be looking for the teams with two games to find some help. There are only 10 of them.
David Pastrnak tops our list of free-agent targets, as he's available in 89 percent of ESPN leagues and the Bruins play twice. Pastrnak has three points in two games back from an injury, and David Krejci is back at center on the Bruins' second line.
Sam Bennett is right up there with Pastrnak. The Calgary Flames play twice, and Bennett has been on fire on the Flames' second line. He has a ridiculous eight goals in the past five games and is available in 85 percent of leagues.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Alex Tanguay is finally making good on his opportunities on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. He's posted five points in six games and is available in 97 percent of ESPN leagues.
Brandon Dubinsky is another option, as he's posted nine points in the past 10 games on a line with Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson. Dubinsky is available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues and, as mentioned, will likely get to try to score on Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens in two games.
A long shot would be Kevin Fiala, who is still playing on a line with James Neal and Ryan Johansen most of the time, though his ice time has been dropping since he debuted on the line with a goal four games ago.
Another shot in the dark for desperate owners would be Sam Gagner. With Sean Couturier nursing an injury, Gagner drew into the lineup and fired four shots from the second line on Thursday. He had six points in nine games in the AHL prior to being called up.
Looking for goaltenders
Again, with only three days of games we suggest targeting the back-to-back contests to try to squeeze out a nice start from a backup goaltender. In this case, Jonas Gustavsson and Calvin Pickard jump off the page. Both are likely to get a start this week and both have been quite solid in recent appearances, especially Gustavsson.