We're down to a dozen or less games for each team in the league. Playoff spots are up for grabs and teams are playing three to four games per week. Similar to last week's edition we're going to concentrate on teams where starts are up in the air and/or there are injuries affecting the rotation. If you own the likes of Pekke Rinne, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak, Miikka Kiprusoff, Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin Brodeur, Cam Ward and Corey Crawford - I'm elevating my pick for the ROY to this group - then you know to just keep rolling them. If you own the likes of Tomas Vokoun, Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj, better luck next season.
The Ducks remain in the playoff hunt with a critical game in Los Angles Saturday night. Ray Emery is coming off a 30-save performance in Wednesday's 2-1 win over St. Louis. Expect Emery to start though coach Randy Carlyle has a strict policy of not revealing his goaltender for the upcoming game. Dan Ellis will likely play Sunday at home against Calgary (unless Emery is both phenomenal and victorious on Saturday). All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller remains sidelined wih vertigo though he was able to particpapate in all of the drills during Friday's full workout.
Although Atlanta won't make the playoffs, their No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec remains a viable No. 2 fantasy goalie. Pavelec earned a big victory on Thursday over Philadelphia and three of his next five starts appear favorable for contending roto owners: March 24 at the Islanders, March 27 at home to the Senators, and March 29 at Montreal (he's 2-0 vs. MTL this season with a 1.46 GAA and one shutout). As we mentioned in last week's column, the Thrashers have been rejuvenated with the additions from the Boston trade (Wheeler, Stuart) and they will play the season out in a most competitive manner.
Eight days later and the story remains in effect - injuries on the blue line are negatively affecting both Tim Thomas owners and Tuukka Rask owners. Rask has lost the last two games for Boston while Thomas hasn't started a game since March 11 and he hasn't won a game since March 3. The good news for Thomas owners is that he'll face Boston on Saturday (he's 15-5-4 lifetime against them) and the B's expect top-four D-man Andrew Ference to be back in the lineup. Ference has missed the previoys nine games with a "lower-body injury". Ference is not flashy but he's steady, tough, and a very intelligent hockey player. Moreover, he's very popular in the dressing room and not just because he's their player rep with the NHLPA. He's just a great teammate. A few years ago Calgary traded him to Boston for Brad Stuart in an effort to shake things up in the Calgary dressing room and on the ice. The trade completely backfired, the Flames players were upset and Calgary's season went down in flames (pun intended). Ference is far from being Ray Bourque but his return should jump-start the B's and help pull them out of their current malaise. Tomas Kaberle's return to Toronto will get all the hype and media attention on Saturday in but Ference's return could have a bigger impact overall.
Steve Mason has done his part to keep the Blue Jackets in postiion to win games over the past week but the offense has let him down. Mason only allowed six goals in 184 minutes of play covering three games over the past week, all losses. His save percentages were .926 (vs. Detroit), .931 (vs. Boston), and .935 (vs. Carolina). Rick Nash hasn't scored in 11 games and he's killing both Mason owners and Nash owners. Backup Mathieu Garon may see a start this weekend as the Jackets have back-to-back games at Minnesota on Saturday and at home to New Jersey on Sunday.
Jonathan Quick was 1-1 in the past week with a 3.00 GAA and .903 save percentage against Detroit and St. Louis. Quick and not Jonathan Bernier will face the Ducks on Saturday even though Quick is coming off the four-goal loss to St. Louis while Bernier is 2-0 vs. Anaheim in his brief career with a 1.00 GAA and .957 save percentage. Bernier is 2-0 over the past week with a 2.00 GAA and .939 save percentage. Still, Quick may just ride out the season if victorious Saturday. Monday the Kings host Calgary and Quick is 2-0 this season over the Flames with a 1.92 GAA and .935 save percentage. Dustin Penner has six points in eight games with a plus-3 defensive rating as a King.
The Wild sit six points out a playoff spot with two games in hand on eighth place Calgary. Niklas Backstrom may sit out a game this weekend as the Wild play back to back: Saturday hosting Columbus and Sunday hosting Montreal. Backup Jose Theodore is 2-1-1 in his career vs. Montreal but allowed four goals on 25 shots in 37 minutes of work in his last apperance against them, in 2009-10.
The Al Montoya is now 7-3-4 with a 2.39 GAA and .920 save percentage. While the Islanders are stuck with Rick DiPietro, who will start Saturday vs. Florida for the first time since having his face re-arranged in a fight with Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson, next season Montoya deserves to be No. 1. The Isles have two sets of back to back games left so Rick D. may see two more starts this season, assuming he can remain healthy over that lengthy time frame.
Craig Anderson's most recent injury (undisclosed) has put Curtis McElhinney back in action and the career backup has responded well over the past week going 2-1 with a stellar 1.52 GAA and .953 save percentage. Yes, the sample size is minute (157 minutes) but the results are encouraging. Still, you'd have to be pretty desperate to be relying on McElhinney to win your roto league but he could prove useful if you're playing the role of spoiler. McElhinney gets Tampa Bay on Saturday to test his early pristine numbers as a Sen.
The Flyers are struggling without top D-man Chris Pronger and neither goalie can be accused of stealing any games of late. The 21-year-old rookie Sergei "Bob" Bobrovsky will start Saturday at Dallas in what should be a huge game for him. While Bob has been off his game backup Brian Boucher has failed to fully capitalize on the rookie's struggles. After an easy 4-2 win at Florida on Tuesday Boucher was unable to keep that momentum as the Flyers failed for the second time in a week to beat Atlanta, falling 4-3 to the Thrashers on Thursday in Atlanta.
Antero Niittymaki has not started a game since Jan. 13. Antti Niemi is 28-17-5 with a 2.46 GAA and .916 save percentage. The Sharks have a bit of a dilemma as they need to give Niemi a night off but they're fighting tooth and nail for the Pacific Division championship with Phoenix. With the Sharks having back to back games next week - March 23 vs. Calgary, March 24 at L.A. - look for Niittymaki to see his first start in over nine weeks. After next week the only back to back games left is a home and home vs. Phoenix to end the season.
After Jean-Sebastien Giguere started and lost 4-0 to Florida on Thursday he may not see the ice again this season. James Reimer has come back to earth after a strong start, as he's been pulled from two of his past six starts. Moreover, Reimer is just 2-3-1 over the last six contests allowing 24 goals in just 332 minutes which translates to a 4.34 GAA. Meanwhile Joffrey Lupul, who makes $4.25 million per season with two more years left on his contract, has but nine points and a woeful minus-9 defensive rating in 18 games a Leaf.
Braden Holtby has been great during his most recent callup but his time to shine may be gone now with Semyon Varlamov (knee) expected to return to practice next week and Michal Neuvirth coming off a shutout win in New Jersey Friday night. The Capitals next game is Tuesday vs. Philadelphia and Neuvirth should be starting that contest. If Neuvy gets beat bad then Holtby could possibly get back in on Friday in Ottawa so he may be worth holding onto for at least another week but don't hold your breath expecting him to dominate the goalie starts for Washington the rest of the season. The Caps need to figure out who's No. 1 entering the playoffs and they have a 10-game window to make their decision. Varlamov was the guy last year for the Caps in the playoffs and Neuvirth has won the AHL championship twice so when it comes to playoff experience as a professional hockey player Varly and Neuvy have a lot more than Holtby.