Shots on Goal: Early Returns
by Peter Maingot
While it is far too early to make any drastic moves to your roto rosters, it's still important to keep an keen eye out for any changes in goal, whether they be short-term or longer in their implications. In this week's column we will address most teams, whether it's news in the nets or news outside of the crease that impacts what's happening between the pipes.
Tony Lydman to the rescue! "Loods" has already made a significant impact since he joined the lineup two games ago, scoring two goals while going plus-2 and blocking four shots. Coincidentally the Ducks took three points from the two games. Andreas Lilja has also joined the Ducks' defense, which was overwhelmed in the first four games of the season as the team allowed 16 goals. Sunday's 3-2 win, along with the additions of Lydman and Lilja, offer hope to Jonas Hiller's owners who have taken a hit with Hiller's 3.70 GAA. With defenseman Brendan Mikkelson lost to Calgary after their waiver claim and veteran D-man Andy Sutton out until late November, it is looking more and more likely that rookie Cam Fowler will spend the entire season in the NHL and not be returned to junior hockey powerhouse Windsor of the OHL.
Chris Mason is getting all of the work with Ondrej Pavelec still out with concussion symptoms. So far Mason is 3-2 with a 3.00 GAA and .920 SV %. Some good news for Pavelec owners: he's been medically cleared to practice. Though no specific time frame has been revealed (and how can it be when we're dealing with concussion symptoms?), he'll obviously need time to get back into game shape and will practice with the team before returning to the lineup. After a winless preseason, which was puzzling after several pundits pegged them as a possible playoff sleeper, the Thrashers have played fairly well for a team that's still just getting to know each other after so many offseason moves (Byfuglien, Ladd, Modin, Eager, Dawes, Sopel, Burmistrov). Saturday's 5-2 win at San Jose especially caught our attention, as the line of Ladd-Little-Stewart often dominated play when they were on the ice.
We mentioned here last week that while Tuukka Rask was amazing last year and entered the season as the No. 1 goalie in Boston, the fact remained that Tim Thomas played hurt last year and won the Vezina the previous season. Four games into the season and Thomas has three wins and a shutout while Rask lost his only start. No matter who ultimately gets more starts than the other, Thomas should be in owned in all leagues.
Marty Turco's owners have seen mixed results this far as Turco adjusts to life in a new hockey city. The 35-year-old is 2-1-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .914 SV %. The defense misses Brian Campbell tremendously. Corey Crawford is 1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and .903 SV %. Based on the first six games and Turco getting 2/3 of the starts that projects to 55 starts for Turco and 27 starts for Crawford.
Kari Lehtonen has been healthy and productive as the Dallas top net minder. Lehtonen is 4-0 with a 2.39 GAA and .932 SV %. Backup Andrew Raycroft has yet to appear in a game.
We didn't discuss Detroit in last week's time-share edition of SOG because it's out belief that Chris Osgood is not to be trusted as any kind of positive fantasy presence nor should he be considered as a credible threat to Jimmy Howard's job. Unless you are feeling risky or desperate, Osgood's 20 starts aren't worth a roster spot. Now that Brian Rafalski is out for another three weeks Osgood's even less palatable for fantasy purposes.
While Nikolai Khabibulin looked good in his first two starts in going 2-0 he subsequently followed that up with two straight outings in which he allowed four goals in each contest. Overall the numbers look good - he's 2-2 with a 2.53 GAA and .925 SV %. Reading between the lines we can see that Khabby is a No. 3 fantasy goalie at best and it would be prudent to only play him when the matchup seems favorable.
Tomas Vokoun has come out swinging, as he looks to either get a new contract from the Panthers organization or continue to audition for another team to move to before the trade deadline. Vokoun has posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4 of the Florida schedule. Perhaps, instead of rebuilding ad infinitum, the Cats should trade Jacob Markstrom (drafted 31st overall in 2008) or current backup Scott Clemmensen and re-sign Vokoun.
Jonathan Quick has retained the title in L.A. for now, as young upstart Jonathan Bernier lost in his first appearance of the 2010-11 campaign. Still, Kings' coach Terry Murray says Bernier will get one start per week for the foreseeable future. That projects to about 24 more starts this season for Bernier. Meanwhile, Quick is en fuego at 3-0 with a 0.97 GAA and .963 SV %.
Pekke Rinne has taken a back seat to rookie Anders Lindback lately due to injury. Lindback started the last three games and did well posting a 2-0-1 record with a 2.41 GAA and .921 SV %. Rinne owners can relax, though, as he was back in the lineup on Tuesday against Calgary and stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Preds' 1-0 overtime loss. Rinne should get the overwhelming majority of starts in nets going forward but Lindback has at least proven that he's NHL worthy and roto worthy should Rinne get hurt again.
The Isles have played much better than anticipated with both Mark Streit (six months) and Kyle Okposo (two months) out of the lineup. They've also been without top gun Jonathan Tavares for one game (concussion symptoms) and top defenseman (with Streit out) James Wisniewski for two games (league suspension). Meanwhile kids like Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau have acquitted themselves very well (though Bailey is now out with a hip flexor injury). Dwayne Roloson is 2-1 with a ridiculous 1.65 GAA and .942 SV % while Rick DiPietro has gone 1-0-2 with a 3.53 GAA and .869 SV %. Though these are very early returns, the trends agree with us - Roloson is the Islanders goalie to own, if you want to be there.
With the Blue Shirts missing a third of their offense from last season due to injury (Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal, and Chris Drury), these are trying times for Henrik Lundqvist owners. Spot-starting King Henrik may be prudent until Gaborik returns to the lineup.
Once again Pascal Leclaire is injured and he's not expected back for a couple of weeks at the very earliest. This presents another opportunity for Brian Elliott. However, the Sens are sputtering right now, with Alex Kovalev failing to score and the defense looking shaky at best. Perhaps we underestimated the loss of Filip Kuba, who's out until early-to-mid November (broken leg). Kuba averaged 22:51 of ice time last season and has 68 points in his last 124 games. Sens' No. 3 goalie Robin Lehner will likely get a start this week, if you want a speculative play. Lehner, a 19-year-old Swede drafted 46th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, has only played a total of 34 minutes in the NHL and just three games in the AHL so he's very green. Lehner was 27-13-3 last season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL with a 2.80 GAA and .918 SV%.
Sergei Bobrovsky is 2-1 with a 2.67 GAA and .910 SV % while Brian Boucher is 0-1-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .898 SV %. While this is not a lot of data to work with, the younger Bobrovsky is the clear upside play, as he's just starting his NHL career at 22, while Boucher has essentially established himself as a credible backup at 33. Bobrovsky should remain a viable No. 2 or 3 fantasy goalie until Michael Leighton returns in December, at which point the Flyers will have a difficult decision to make regarding Bobrovsky. If he's playing lights out then he'll likely enjoy at least a time-share with Leighton. If the kid is just playing decent hockey he'll likely be sent down to the AHL to get more work once Leighton has had a few positive starts.
Brent Johnson, in a surprising twist, has at least temporarily usurped Marc-Andre Fleury as No. 1 Steel Town with three consecutive victories and counting. MAF owners should pick up Johnson before it's too late, for this situation could linger for a while. Johnson's win streak is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Brooks Orpik (groin) has missed the last five games while Zbynek Michalek (shoulder, out 2-4 weeks) has missed the last four contests.
This time-share has begun rather oddly. Antti Niemi wins the season opener and Antero Niittymaki loses the next game. Then in the Sharks' home opener, on Saturday night, Niemi surrenders four goals in San Jose's 4-2 loss to Atlanta. Meanwhile Niittymaki is 17-0 lifetime against Atlanta. Next up is Carolina on Tuesday and despite losing the previous game Niemi starts again and loses 5-2. Meanwhile, Niitymaki is 8-2-2 lifetime vs. Carolina. If Niittymaki doesn't start the next game, it will be truly bizarre, regardless of his record vs. Los Angeles.
Like San Jose, this is looking like a true time-share with Mike Smith and newcomer Dan Ellis. The early returns have Smith starting three games and winning all three while Ellis has had two starts including getting pulled after just 15 minutes at Florida after allowing three goals on 15 shots. Neither Smith's 3.41 GAA nor Ellis' 3.99 GAA are helping anyone. Expect Smith to start Thursday at home against the surprising Islanders. With back-to-back games on the schedule Ellis may get a quick shot at redemption Friday at Atlanta.
It seems that virtually every season Roberto Luongo starts the season poorly, causing high anxiety to Luongo owners. Luongo, who only stopped 12 of 18 shots in the Canucks' 6-2 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday, has now surrendered 14 goals in his last three games. It should be noted that both Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis were out of the lineup on Tuesday. Luongo owners may want to pick up backup Cory Schneider, as he's likely to see more starts than originally anticipated this early in the season. Nevertheless, we'd call this an aberration and we still expect Luongo to start around 60 - 65 games this season.
With Sergei Varlamov starting the season on the injured list it's been good times for Michal Neuvirth owners - that is until Tuesday, when he left the game vs. Boston after allowing two goals on seven shots! No, he wasn't injured nor was he pulled from the game by coach Bruce Boudreau. Neuvirth left because he was feeling weak due to the flu. The flu? Either play the game or don't. Varlamov mopped up and allowed one goal on 14 shots. It seems highly likely that Varlamov will start the return match at Boston.