Shots on Goal: Reflections and Decisions
With the New Year now upon us we're all expected to have New Year's resolutions. Before deciding on any major resolutions it never hurts to do some reflecting. That's the theme in this week's column, as we reflect on the fluid to semi-fluid goalie situations around the league and try to make some decisions on what to do.
Reflecting on one's fantasy team, its strengths and weaknesses, can also make one reflect on your own methods of engagement. Are you keeping players you should dump based on pride, a sense of loyalty to a former producing player, or maybe he plays on your favorite team? I have a soft spot for power forwards and Shane Doan is killing me this year. Why don't I drop him? There's always the fear that as soon as you drop the guy he'll go on a scoring tear. Normally I have no problem letting a guy go if I think there's a better replacement available or if a more pressing team need can be found on the waiver wire but the old war horse is hard to let go of. Heck, at least he's firing 2.8 shots on goal per game!
Backup Ray Emery gets a chance to play again after successive losses by Corey Crawford but he draws the formidable Flyers on their own home ice Thursday. Even without Jaromir Jagr, the Flyers have plenty of firepower, including the league's leading scorer Claude Giroux (tied with Vancouver's Henrik Sedin at 46 points). With Emery's weak track record vs. Philly – he's 2-3 with a 3.38 GAA and .889 SV % - he's not the most appealing start. The Hawks play at home the next night, Friday against Colorado. Crawford will get that start, the easier start of the two. Then they host Detroit on Sunday. It's looking like two starts for Crawford and one for Emery this week.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere ended 2011 with a New Year's Eve win over floundering Anaheim. It was a relatively sleepy 18-save, 4-2 win for JSG. Semyon Varlamov won the next game, an impressive 2-1 shootout-win over Los Angeles. With the Avs playing back-to-back this coming weekend at Chicago and at St. Louis, look for both goalies to get a start. This is a time-share folks and neither goalie can be counted as anything more than a No. 3 or No. 4 roto goalie. The loss of center Matt Duchene could nearly cripple what was already a low-scoring hockey team.
Curtis Sanford's injury has allowed Steve Mason to start four straight games. In those four starts Mason has gone 1-2-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .910 SV %. Those aren't terrible numbers but at this point in his oh-so-disappointing career, does anyone have any confidence in Mason? Moreover, with James Wisniewski (broken ankle) out until late February, an already weak defensive group is now weaker. Wisniewski is a lightning rod for frustrated Blue Jackets fans, as he was given a ridiculous contract (six years, $33 million) then missed the first eight games due to a preseason hit on the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck. The Wiz has been brutal in his own end, he' a minus-18 in 29 games with just two goals and 17 points. He's being paid like a 15-goal, 50-point defenseman but he's not producing like one. Amazingly, Rick Nash has only 27 points in 38 games. He's tied for the team lead in scoring with Vinny Prospal, who seems to be fading these days after a strong start to the season.
The ship is sinking fast in Columbus but, if you're short on goalies like many of us, keep a eye on Mark Dekanich. The Jackets' top goalie prospect is working hard in Springfield and should get a couple of AHL starts soon. Dekanich could be in the goalie rotation in Columbus within 10-to-14 days.
The Oilers have quite a busy start to 2012 with four games in the first seven days of the New Year. Nikolai Khabibulin may have a 2.33 GAA for the season but he's allowed four goals or more in each of his last three starts, all losses. Injuries are piling up on the blueline (haven't they almost all season?) with Tom Gilbert and Alex Plante the latest to go out. They join Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker. Devan Dubnyk was fantastic Monday, Jan. 2, in stopping 39 of 42 shots in the Oilers' 4-3 win at Chicago. That was a huge improvement over his last two starts of 2011, in which he allowed four goals in each game and lost them both. Expect Dubnyk to start to get a bigger share of goalie starts in the near future but don't expect anything too exciting our of either Edmonton goalie, as the defense is racked with injury and they are also missing Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Nugent Hopkins (shoulder injury).
With Jose Theodore (knee injury) expected to miss at least the next two weeks, many managers have been picking up backup goalie Scott Clemmensen. While Clemmensen has talent the Panthers schedule in the next while is quite tough with games against the Rangers, Devils, Canucks, Penguins and the Bruins between Jan. 5 – Jan. 16. Adding to the challenging schedule is the fact that the team is saddled with six injuries at forward – Mikael Samuelsson, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Marco Sturm, Jack Skille, and Marcel Goc. By the end of the next five games we'll know whether it's Clemmensen or future Panthers No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom (drafted 31st overall in '08) that's the best Florida goalie to own while Theodore remains out of the lineup. If you can, hold off until after the five-game span to make your pick amongst the two of them.
Evgeni Nabokov has really picked up his play of late. He's won three straight games while stopping 94 of 99 shots, good for a 1.66 GAA and .949 SV %. As the Isles are young and inconsistent one cannot expect these recent results to be regular. Nabokov remains a solid No. 3 fantasy goalie to spot start when the circumstances appear favorable. Al Montoya is still out with a concussion. It's never good to see an athlete hurt but you have to especially feel bad for a late bloomer like Montoya. The former 2004 first-round pick, chosen sixth overall, didn't record his first NHL win until April, 2009, and has but 37 starts in his career.
No. 1 goalie Mike Smith is back from his groin injury and backup Jason LaBarbera has gone back to the bench while Curtis McElhinney has been returned to the AHL. Smith owners must temper their enthusiasm with the freality that the Yotes are in dire straits offensively with their top center Martin Hanzal injured (lower body) and their captain in a horrendous slump. Shane Doan has one point in his last eight games and two goals in his last 17 contests. The team has just 13 goals in their last six games. With attendance a joke and the league controlling their purse strings, don't expect Phoenix to do much, unless it's extremely cost effective.
The Sharks have 12 games in the next 21 days so they will have to give a start or two to either Thomas Greiss (4-4 with a 2.37 GAA and .918 SV %) or Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki has not played an NHL game this year but he was 12-7-3 last year for the Sharks with mediocre peripherals (2.70 GAA, .896 SV %). The best bet for Niittymaki prospectors is a trade, as Niemi is a young goalie who's proven that he can handle a heavy workload.
Don't look now but Jaroslav Halak may be beginning to separate himself from Brian Elliott in the Blues goalie pecking order. Halak is 3-0-1 in his last four starts with a 2.24 GAA while Elliott is 1-3 in his last four starts with a 2.76 GAA. As legendary former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Meanwhile at forward the top six is in flux again with Alex Steen the latest NHL scorer to be sidelined with a concussion. David Perron, with 13 points in 14 games, slides up to the first line while first-liner Andy McDonald (concussion) has yet to pass his baseline test.
The misery in goal continues for the Lightning. After a decent run by Mathieu Garon where he went 3-01 with a 1.99 GAA, he was pulled in the second period of his last start at Toronto after allowing four goals on 21 shots in 34 minutes. Dwayne Roloson will draw the next start, Thursday at Ottawa. Though highly unlikely, this could present Rollie with a chance to go on a little run of his own. Of course he would have to play lights out because the team is giving up far too many scoring chances and shots on goal. Nevertheless, with Tampa's intriguing offense, its always tempting to pick and play a Lightning goalie.
James Reimer has given up 10 goals on his last 77 shots in his last 146 minutes of play over his last three starts. Got that? That produces a 4.11 GAA and .870 SV %. Not pretty. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson is actually 6-2 over his past eight starts but he's only had two starts since Dec. 6. Gustavsson won against Tampa Bay on Tuesday and could be a lot busier in the New Year than he was in December (two starts). Still, we're leery of any Leafs goalie with that defense in front of them.