Shots on Goal: Opportunity Knocks
With the season over thirty percent complete, goalie starts (and goalie wins) are becoming scarce out there. However, there are at least a trio of opportunities possibly coming up in Phoenix, Tampa Bay, and, perhaps, Columbus. More on that each team section...
The concussion issue has taken over the discussion in hockey these days. With the number of talented individuals missing (Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Chris Pronger, Jeff Skinner, Marc Staal, Al Montoya, Joni Pitkanen, Andy McDonald, Nathan Gerbe, Peter Mueller, etc) is it any wonder? Ideas, some practical and some not, have been offered up. Here's my two cents: I have a three-pronged plan…
1) Soften up the shoulder pads. Its body armor right now.
2) Get rid of the trapezoid and let the goalies play the puck anywhere
3) Introduce no-touch icing
Oh, and forget about banishing fighting from the game. It's not going to happen. It is the season of giving so we'll try to provide a few nuggets for your roto stocking, like two IR suggestions if you're planning on making a roster move soon and you aren't using your IR spot and could use a D-man - Buffalo's Tyler Myers will be back in days and Calgary's Anton Babchuk in 10-14 days. Have a safe and happy holiday season.
It has not been a great year for Ryan Miller or the Sabres but they are hanging in the Eastern Conference standings despite the massive injury list. Moreover, both Brad Boyes and Tyler Myers should return to the lineup after Christmas. Boyes, who's been a huge disappointment this season for fantasy players with a third line role and zero goals in 11 November games, may get a chance to redeem himself if he's given a second line center gig. The problem for Boyes in Buffalo is that he's the third best right wing on the team after Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford. Should he be moved to center he could prove roto-worthy again while playing with Stafford and one of Luke Adam or Tyler Ennis (assuming his ankle injury doesn't keep him out too long). With Nathan Gerbe (concussion symptoms, out indefinitely, Ville Leino (lower body, out indefinitely), Jochen Hecht (lower body, out indefinitley), and Ennis all hurt, top-six minutes and power-play minutes should be available to Boyes upon his expected return Dec. 26.
Backup Ray Emery's five-game winning streak ended in Pittsburgh Tuesday with a 3-2 loss. Corey Crawford drew the next assignment, home to floundering Montreal on Wednesday, and won easily 5-1. The Hawks will now enjoy four days off before they play Monday at home to Columbus. That begins a five-day spell where they play three home games. It will be interesting to see who draws the Monday game. Emery owners will gladly take any start, except perhaps Friday's game against Detroit.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere has temporarily taken over as top dog in the Colorado net. I'm calling it temporary because, despite his four-game winning streak where he's allowed just six goals in 248 minutes, there's no way that he can possibly maintain a 1.79 GAA and .934 SV %. Thus, at some point he will get beat badly and Semyon Varlamov will get another chance to show his stuff. JSG owners should enjoy the ride while it lasts but be realistic about the lifespan of his current run. Owners of either goalie must also consider the tepid Colorado offense as another factor working against them. Even in the current four-game streak, they've only averaged 2.5 goals per game. Hence, JSG's margin of victory has been slim nightly, with each of the four wins decided by just a single goal.
Curtis Sanford's 2.66 GAA isn't bad considering the team playing in front of him. However, the fact remains that Sanford is just 2-4-1 in seven December starts. What's worse is that he's allowed four goals or more in four of the seven starts. After missing a month of action Steve Mason is 1-2 in December with a 3.33 GAA. Splitting up Rick Nash and Jeff Carter has helped the offense as they've scored nine goals in their last two games. Unfortunately, they allowed six goals in each of those games and lost both. This team needs a shakeup and with GM Scott Howson apparently unwilling to fire coach Scott Arniel, a trade seems a strong possibility.
If Richard Bachman were Cinderella, it would be nearing midnight, as Kari Lehtonen is back practicing with the team and hopes to return Dec. 31 vs. Columbus. Bachman, who stopped 34 of 37 shots Friday against Nashville, has gone 5-2 while starting the last seven games. Lehtonen owners have to be chomping at the bit, what with top D-man Alex Goligoski back in the lineup and starting to heat up. Speaking of heating up, captain Brenden Morrow has awoken from a season-long slumber with four goals, four assists and 18 PIMs in eight December games.
Nikolai Khabibulin is 2-3 in December with a 2.38 GAA while Devan Dubnyk is 1-3 in December with a 3.48 GAA. The Oilers are still trying to find their identity. After a great start to the season injuries wracked their lineup and they're still searching for their identity.
Reality is catching up to Minnesota. Once the top team in the league's standings they have now lost six straight games. They simply do not have the best team in the league and need to play their sleepy trap game and get great goaltending in order to win. Niklas Backstrom and backup Josh Harding certainly do their part but it’s unrealistic to expect Backstrom to be a No. 1 fantasy goalie with the Wild's unimpressive group of defensemen and forwards, especially when one considers the fact that three top-six forwards are out of the lineup: Mikko Koivu (expected back after Christmas) left wing Guillaume Latendresse (concussion symptoms again, out indefinitely), and top-six winger Devin Setoguchi (lower-body injury, out until January).
Al Montoya is out with a concussion and Evgeni Nabokov has lost the two starts since Montoya went down. We don't have a lot of confidence in Nabokov but he could be a useful fantasy goalie if you spot start him and deploy him as no better than your third roto goalie. The recent return of veteran defenseman Mark Eaton can only help an Islanders defense that has been painful to watch at times this season.
No. 1 goalie Mike Smith is out with a groin injury and backup Jason LaBarbera has gone 1-1 with a 3.02 GAA so far in his place. The Coyotes are calling up Curtis McElhinney from the AHL and sending back down former Carolina goalie Justin Pogge. Smith isn't supposed to be out long but groin injuries can linger. Should Smith be out for an extended period of time management may consider trading for a goalie.
If you're in need of goalie help you should strongly consider picking up Antero Niityymaki because the Sharks have called him up after a three-game conditioning stint in the AHL. There are a few cogent points to consider here: the Sharks have six games in 12 days between Dec. 26 and Jan. 7 then they play another five games between Jan. 10 and Jan. 17. They are going to play Niittymaki to showcase him for a trade. If he fares well he could be starting for Phoenix or Tampa Bay before the trade deadline. The Sharks cannot send down either Niittymaki or Thomas Greiss (4-4 with a 2.37 GAA and .918 SV %) without exposing them to waivers where they could be claimed by another team. We don't expect them to carry three goalies for too long. Something will have to give and it’s worth it to grab Niittymaki and hold onto him until the situation plays itself out. Even if he stays in San Jose as the backup he'll have some value, if you can afford the roster space for a backup (I'm now holding four backups – Rask, Schneider, Emery, Niittymaki - in one experts league so I'll be looking/hoping for a resolution to this by late January or sooner).
Okay, we're no longer calling Brian Elliott the backup goalie. Elliott started and lost 3-2 Tuesday at Colorado. There are two things significant about this. One, it was only the second time all season that Elliott's given up more than two goals in a start. Second, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock went right back to him the next game, Friday at Phoenix, where he responded with 24 saves on 26 shots in a Blues win. Look for Elliott and Jaroslav Halak to split the next two starts, as the Blues have back-to-back games Monday at home to Dallas then Tuesday at Detroit. How about Jason Arnott? He's been moved up to the third line and has scored three goals in his last four games. The 37-year-old is having a great December, especially for a non-top-six forward, with three goals and seven points (four on the power play) in nine games.
The Lightning could be in the market for a goalie. Would they bring back former Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki? Could they pry Steve Mason from Columbus? Or is it time for GM Steve Yzerman to call up Dustin Tokarski from their AHL affiliate? The 22-year-old Tokarski is 11-7 in the AHL this season with a 2.50 GAA and a less than impressive .896 SV %. Dwayne Roloson has been a huge disappointment while Mathieu Garon has been at least decent at times. Garon is 3-4-1 in December but he's allowed 4 goals or more in three of the eight starts. If Yzerman doesn't pull the trigger on a goalie trade, after the Christmas no-trade period, then he should strongly consider picking up a legitimate top-four defenseman for they are in short supply of them in Tampa Bay.
The window of opportunity for Cory Schneider to usurp Roberto Luongo has been firmly shut. Luongo has only allowed only eight goals combined over his past five starts. Moreover, he's 7-2-1 in December while allowing more than two goals in just three of those starts. The best us Schneider owners can hope for is one start every 10 days (barring an injury to Bobby Lou).