Shots on Goal: The Replacements
What is happening to starting goalies this season? Well, injuries and poor play is happening to many of them. If you're like this writer you were extremely bullish on Washington acquiring Tomas Vokoun. How's that working out for you? Then there's the case of Jaroslav Halak, another Czech goalie that we were handicapping to be a solid No. 2 fantasy goalie, worthy of a seventh round selection in 12-team leagues that start two netminders. Suffice to say that there have been some significant developments league wide that have turned goalie rankings upside down. It's sort of like what's happened in the NFL this season at quarterback. In September would you have thought that guys like Tyler Palko, Caleb Hanie, Matt Leinart and Vince Young would be starting games Week 12?
We're adding an extra bonus feature in this week's column. Why? Well, because we're good people. Actually the real reason is because we've found ourselves overly preoccupied with depth defensemen lately dues to the fact that Tobias Enstrom or Ryan Whitney is on virtually every one of this writer's roto squads this season. Thus, this week's theme - the replacements - encompasses both changes between the pipes and injury replacement opportunities for those needing some blue line help due to injuries to studs like Mike Green, Alex Goligoski, Chris Pronger, Andrei Markov, Tyler Myers, Tobias Enstrom, etc.
Jhonas Enroth continues to see all of the starts for Buffalo with Ryan Miller out at least another 10-14 days due to a concussion. Enroth's play has dipped a bit of late, with three goals or more allowed in three of his last four starts. Buffalo has significant injuries outside of the crease as well (Myers, Regehr, Ennis, Kaleta, Boyes, Stafford, Weber, McCormick) and this could be having a negative effect on Enroth's peripherals. If you are looking for a depth D-man, both Jordan Leopold and Marc-Andre Gragnani are worth a look. Leopold has five goals already after posting a career-high last season while Gragnani is getting the second highest amount of power-play time on the Sabres after Christian Ehrhoff.
After seven straight losses that saw him post a 4.17 GAA and .847 SV %, Semyon Varlamov finally won a November start on Saturday against Edmonton while stopping 31 of 33 shots (.939 SV %). Jean-Sebastien Giguere is 2-2 in four November starts with a 1.75 GAA. Varlamov has 16 starts to JSG's seven and we like that ratio (70% of total starts going to Varlamov) to remain relatively consistent throughout the season.
Stefan Elliott, a superstar defenseman in junior hockey with 241 points in 282 games with a ridiculous plus-104 defensive rating, played over 19 minutes Saturday in his first NHL game and scored the game-winner vs. Edmonton. Pick him up ASAP if you need a D-man, as he just may be like this year's Kevin Shattenkirk.
Steve Mason remains concussed while Curtis Sanford has been a huge surprise with his stellar play. Sometimes we get caught up in the promise of a blue chip prospect (like Mark Dekanich) and we ignore the steady veteran backup. Sanford played well for Vancouver in his last chance in the Big League, three years ago and he's starting to make us doubters reconsider our possible rush to judgment. The 32-year-old backup journeyman is 3-0-2 in six appearances with an insane 1.27 GAA and .950 SV %. While he can't possibly maintain those stats, he is the No. 1 goalie in Columbus for the immediate future. Moreover, with Columbus finally starting to play some decent hockey, he's actually worthy of being used as a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy goalie these days. If you're thin on defense take a gander at Fedor Tyutin, who has been playing well of late (three points in last four games) and has a regular gig on the Jackets' first power play unit across from James Wisniewski. Another defenseman to consider is Nikita Nikitin, who has four assists in his last six games and is third on the Jackets in power play time amongst defensemen.
Kari Lehtonen has a groin injury and you should immediately pick up Andrew Raycroft. While the extent of Lehtonen's injury remains unknown we do know that he's had numerous groin injuries over the course of his NHL career. Yes, Raycroft's stats this year are horrendous, but he's only seen the ice five times and teams often circle the wagons and rally around the backup when the No. 1 goes down with injury. Speaking of injuries, top defender Alex Goligoski has missed eight games already and likely won't be back until around Dec. 10. Nobody misses Goligoski more than Sheldon Souray, who has failed to register a point since Goligoski was injured Nov. 11 at Pittsburgh. Their other top defenseman, Stephane Robidas, has just one point since Goligoski went out.
While Nikolai Khabibulin is No. 1 in Edmonton, and clearly outplaying Devan Dubnyk, injuries are starting to mount. Not only is half of their starting top-six on defense injured - Cam Barker (ankle surgery), Corey Potter (sprained ankle), Andy Sutton (groin injury) - but no they've lost Taylor Hall to a shoulder injury. If you need some defense Tom Gilbert has really picked up his play over the last five games with five points, three on the power play, along with four PIMs and a plus-4 defensive rating.
This writer continues to be amazed at 35-year-old Jose Theodore. Theodore just keeps winning, and with Jacob Markstrom getting shelled Saturday and Scott Clemmensen battling soreness after just one start (albeit a shutout), Theodore seems safely entrenched as the No. 1 goalie on a competitive upstart Panthers team. As such we are adjusting our estimate for starts for Clemmensen from 25-30 starts to 15-20 starts.
Josh Harding got another chance to shine when Niklas Backstrom briefly left the team for personal reasons. Harding went 2-1 but lost his last effort, 4-2 to Edmonton. Backstrom, who is 3-0 in his last three starts, should get that start on Sunday when they host Calgary. On defense, with Marek Zidlicky out with a concussion, defenseman Jared Spurgeon is seeing an increase in power-play deployment. Spurgeon has three assists in his last six games, all on the power play. Moreover, he's averaged over 5 minutes with the man advantage over his past two games.
Patience is a virtue and Al Montoya owners have finally been rewarded for being virtuous. Montoya, a superior talent to Rick DiPietro, may have finally taken over as No. 1 on the Island. With Evgeni Nabokov out indefinitely and Rick D. the stiff that we know he is, Montoya actually started and won a game this weekend.
Sergei Bobrovsky is getting more starts than we anticipated heading into the season. Bob has a 5-2-1 record but his 2.82 GAA needs to come down for him to be an effective No. 3 roto goalies. Similarly, Ilya Bryzgalov (8-5-2) has to bring down his 2.89 GAA. They each have a .900 SV %. What makes it harder to get that GAA down for both is the lack of depth on defense. When Chris Pronger is out, as he is from time to time, they are really thin and inexperienced on defense. Andreas Lilja is out indefinitely and they have had to bring up reinforcements from their AHL team (Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall). The situation is further exacerbated by the injury to promising D-man Erik Gustafsson (wrist surgery), who's out until January.
Backup Brian Elliott continues to play outstanding hockey for new Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. Jaroslav Halak owner will have to wait until Elliott cools off before Halak returns to the No. 1 spot. As goalie starts are hard to come by, Halak owners should be targeting the likes of Raycroft or Sanford for the short term (assuming that Elliott is not available in their leagues).
Dwayne Roloson has taken a backseat to Mathieu Garon. Garon started and won both games in their home-and-home weekend series against Florida. Garon stopped 47 of 49 shots in the process - a .959 SV %. Pick up Garon if you have goalie starts to spare, as this is a legitimate time-share with Roloson for the foreseeable future and Garon has the current advantage.
James Reimer has been practicing and should be back by mid-December, perhaps even earlier. Jonas Gustavsson has won three in a row, which has us astounded. He could make it four in a row Sunday at Anaheim but we still (stubbornly?) have little confidence in his long-term proficiency. While we continue to doubt the ability of Gustavsson as a No. 1 NHL goalie, we are coming around when it comes to Toronto as a team. The Leafs are a viable team for the 8th playoff seed if Reimer comes back before Christmas. They have more depth at forward than since they had Sundin, Thomas, Roberts, Tucker (aka Krusty the Clown). On defense, Mike Komisarek getting hurt was a blessing, as Cody Franson has all the tools, as does the kid Jake Gardiner. The Swede in goal, though, is a mirage. Franson may be worth considering if you're in dire need of blue line help, as he has three points in his last four games. Just don't expect many shots on goal because he's only got one in four games.
Roberto Luongo is on the bench due to an amazing run by backup goalie Cory Schneider. Initially it was a Luongo injury that pressed Schneider into service and he did not fare well in his first start while allowing five goals in a loss to Chicago. However, since that loss Schneider has gone 4-0 with a 0.74 GAA and .975 SV %, including two shutouts and a fantastic 43-save effort at the Shark Tank. Schneider should get the next start, Tuesday against Columbus. Luongo and his owners will have to wait until Schneider cools down before Bobby Lou can get back between the pipes.