Shots on Goal: Madness
By Peter Maingot | RotoWire.com
"I have finally seen the light, and I have finally realized"
(All stats through Friday, January 25)
This is no ordinary season; it's a mad dash with 48 games in 99 days. The normal rules don't apply here. It's all about maximizing your games played at each position, including goalie. In my Experts league I've already made 13 moves and currently roster three backup goalies. I've always been a high volume player so this crazy truncated season just plays into my strengths. This may sound nuts to the more conservative roto types, but I've won this Experts league twice in six seasons with two second-place finishes, one third-place finish and one fourth-place finish so it can work if you have the zeal. With that mind we'll take a run through each team in our 2013 opening edition of SOG.
Early results for Jonas Hiller are less than stellar, despite the 2-1 record, as he's sporting a 4.00 GAA and .864 SV %. The Ducks made some moves on defense in the offseason to shore up their spotty D but the early results show little difference from last season. We can't blame Sheldon Souray, though, as he's a plus-3 with three points thus far. Backup Viktor Fasth, a 30-year-old NHL rookie from the Swedish Elite league, has yet to play a game. Hiller remains a serviceable No. 2 roto goalie while Fasth is not one of the more compelling backups to own.
Tuukka Rask has been outstanding thus far for a Bruins team that has come flying out of the gate with seven points earned in four games. While it's real early in the new campaign Rask's 3-0-1 record with 1.96 GAA and .925 SV % has the B's Nation feeling no dismay over Tim Thomas' sabbatical. The Bruins brought back their top five D-men and rookie Dougie Hamilton (thanks, Toronto) has been rock solid with three points, eight hits, and 11 shots on goal in four games. Backup Anton Khudobin should get a start either Monday or Tuesday when the B's play back-to-back games against Carolina and New Jersey. He's worth a speculative "pick up and play" the way this team is playing.
Ryan Miller has found his "A game" already, racking up a 2-1 record with a 1.67 GAA and .952 SV % in three starts. While the Sabres are 2-2 overall they have shown an improved offense and young center Cody Hodgson has really clicked with first line wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Backup Jhonas Enroth got shelled in his only start allowing five goals, reminding us of the risks inherent in playing backups. However, unless you own two top-15 goalies, the benefits of spot starting backups with favorable matchups outweighs the other option of sitting on your hands doing nothing, playing scared and not trying to maximize your goalie starts.
While the Flames are considered by many pundits to be a non-playoff team this season two points should be made: first, despite his early struggles - he's winless in three starts with a 3.59 GAA and .876 SV % - Mikka Kiprusoff is still a top-15 goalie who will start 38-40 games and second, until second line newcomers Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler play a few games we won't know how good this Flames team is. Cervenka, who turned 27 last month, is widely considered to be the best forward yet to play an NHL game. That could all change Saturday when Calgary plays their provincial rivals Edmonton. Cervenka bagged 54 goals and put up 100 points in 105 KHL regular season games between 2010 and 2012 and another 16 goals and 30 points in 32 playoff games. Blood clots have kept him sidelined since mid-December but he's finally skating with his new team. Cervenka is projected to center the second line with his friend and countryman Hudler riding shotgun. Offensive defenseman Anton Babchuk, who was often a healthy scratch under last year's regime after posting 35 points the previous season, could see new life under first year Flames coach Bob Hartley. He, too, has yet to play a game. Kipper owners need to stay patient as this Flames team remains a work in progress.
Cam Ward has not enjoyed a good start to the new season posting a 4.72 GAA and .845 SV %. The caveat that's still incredibly early merits mention here, as does the fact that he's still expected to start 40 games despite backup Dan Ellis' phenomenal performance Friday stopping 40 of 41 shots at Buffalo.
Backup Ray Emery saw 27 starts and appeared in 34 games last year, as Corey Crawford struggled with inconsistent play. The new season has been an entirely different affair as Crawford is playing far better and enjoying playing in front of a formidable team that's rolling solid four lines and three puck moving defensive pairings. Crawford is 3-0 with a 1.98 GAA and.923 SV % while Emery has had one start thus far, a 6-4 win at Phoenix where he allowed four goals on 29 shots (.862 SV %). Emery remains a top-15 backup and plus in and play purposes, due to his team's strong play and deep lineup.
Semyon Varlamov was dominating the KHL while the lockout was dragging on. Has he maintained that form now that he's back playing the world' best hockey league? Yes! Varlamov is 2-1 with 1.68 GAA and .949 SV %. Like every other starting goalie mentioned in this column it's a small sample size but the early returns are most encouraging. 35-year-old backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere received 30 starts last season but his usage rate of 37% will drop heavily this season if Varlamov remains healthy. We don't see more than 10-14 starts barring injury. Keep JSG on your watch lists but he's not worth rostering, save for the plus in play option if you know when he's going to see a rare start and deem the matchup favorable.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the No. 1 goalie in Columbus with Steve Mason likely to get 15-20 starts. We cannot recommend either goalie for wins, though the team's defense is reasonably NHL worthy. The forwards lack firepower and GM Scott Howson lacked the patience and fortitude to procure a top prospect from the Rangers when he gave them Rick Nash. One can't help but to have empathy for those hockey fans that support this terribly run franchise. Can new President John Davidson save this team like he did in St. Louis? Only time will tell but for now avoid this team for roto purposes, with the two exceptions being American blueliners Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski.
The Stars upgraded their offense in the offseason in a big way. They traded away effective second line center/irritant Mike Ribeiro to Washington but also traded for former Sabres' No. 1 center Derek Roy. While losing Steve Ott in the Buffalo deal hurt, they also signed two old yet still effective vets in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. Most importantly they just signed Jamie Benn, who's yet to play a game. The main point here is that this team is still in its early infancy of development and they've treaded water reasonably well so far. Dallas is 2-1-1 while No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen is 2-0-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .942 SV %. Lehtonen's new backup is Cristopher Nilstorp, who lost his first start yet was quite impressive nonetheless in stopping 31 of 32 shots at Minnesota.
After the Red Wings got blasted 6-0 in their opener the panic button was hit, with many pundits calling the 21-year playoff streak over and Jimmy Howard in trouble. Yes, the defense is going through both change - Lidstrom retiring - and adversity - Ian White (2-3 weeks) and Jonathan Ericsson (day-to-day) are hurt - but this is Detroit we're talking about. Head coach Mike Babcock deserves the benefit of the doubt here based on his track record. He's already split up star forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and the dividends were immediate in a 5-3 win Friday against the much-hyped Minnesota Wild. Datsyuk's line was dominant - Pavel had a goal and two assists while Todd Bertuzzi (guess he's not done after all) bagged two goals and Valtteri Fippula had two assists. Zetterberg's line with fellow Swedes Johan Franzen and Damien Brunner had a power play goal and an even-strength goal. Life won't be easy for Howard with their patchwork defense but it helps that their top checking line is back to full health. There will be some ugly nights for sure but the Wings should have their defensemen back by mid-February. In the meantime we'll get a good look at future top-four D-men Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl. The downside is Wings fans may have to endure two or three more weeks of Kent Huskins and Brian Lashoff.
Devan Dubnyk came into the season on a roll, having led a Team Canada squad to a Spengler Cup championship over the Holiday season. The defense in Edmonton, however, is not as talented as the one that he played in front of in Switzerland. Thus while the young and talented Oilers are 2-1 their issues on the back end remain. Dubnyk has a 3.70 GAA and .883 SV %. Nikolai Khabibulin (hip) has yet to be cleared for activation. Once he does join the active lineup he'll see weekly duty. Now 40, Khabibulin's peripherals last year weren't bad - 2.65 GAA and .910 SV % - considering the team that he was playing on.
Jose Theodore and the Panthers may be 1-2 but he's been arguably their best player in posting a 2.35 GAA and .939 SV %. The defense has been lacking, partly due to the fact that top-four D-man Dmitry Kulikov missed their one-week training camp and first game while negotiating a new contract. Kulikov is a minus-4 in three games. Moreover, 36-year-old Ed Jovanovski was rested when the Panthers played their third game in four nights. The depth just isn't there on the blueline. After the top five (Brian Campbell, Filip Kuba, Kulikov, Mike Weaver, Jovanovski) the talent level drops off considerably with the likes of Keaton Ellerby, Tyson Strachan, and Michael Caruso (now out with a broken arm). Backup Scott Clemmensen lost his only start while allowing four goals on 29 shots. Clemmensen is a backup to keep an eye on, as he won 14 games in 25 starts last year. Another goalie to put on your watch list is Jacob Markstrom (drafted 31st overall in '08), as impending free agent Theodore could be traded if Florida finds itself out of the playoff picture in late March-early April.
It's been a brutal start for the Kings, going winless in their first three games. The offense has been pitiful with just four goals in the three contests. Jonathan Quick has a 3.33 GAA and .891 SV %. If they continue to struggle for wins, the Kings' management may be tempted to trade promising backup Jonathan Bernier for forward help or for a defenseman, as Matt Greene (back) is out indefinitely. Willie Mitchell (knee) is also out of the lineup but expected back soon. Bernier has yet to see action.
It looks like we have a time share in Minny, as Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have each started two games while posting nearly identical stats. They're each 1-1 with Backstrom posting a 2.52 GAA and .906 SV % and Harding posting a 2.56 GAA and .902 SV % (including a shutout). The Wild have received a lot of ink for their offseason signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter but the Western Conference is deep and there's certainly no guarantee that this team makes the playoffs. One youngster to keep an eye out for is 19-year-old Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin. Taken 10th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Brodin just joined the team and recorded an assist and 19 minutes of ice time in his first NHL game.
Carey Price has been in fantastic form the first week of the season. Price has posted a ridiculous 1.34 GAA and .953 SV % even with top-four D-man P.K. Subban inactive due to contentious contract negotiations. Price figures to start 40 games this year and should be placed permanently in any roto team's lineup.
Most pundits would agree that, fantasy-wise, Pekka Rinne (0-1-2 so far with a 2.53 GAA and .912 SV %) is a top five goalie to own. We would add that backup Chris Mason is a top 10 backup to own. Mason is in his second tour of duty having played his first 135 NHL games for the Preds between 1998 and 2008. There's no acclimatization required here. It's basically the same team with many of the same key players, the same coach, and the same style of play. You could see that in his first start where he won at Minnesota while stopping 29 of 30 shots.
You know that old saying - "The more things change the more they stay the same"? Well, it's applicable in New Jersey. Yes, the Devils lost Zach Parise in free agency but they're still basically the same team. They play a tight checking stifling brand of hockey that's dull to watch but often effective. They're 3-0 and they seem to have enough offense without the departed left-winger. 40-year-old and Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur has been exceptional with a 0.98 GAA and .958 SV % while backup Johan Hedberg has yet to receive a start. Hedberg started 23 games last year, winning 17 games and recording four shutouts. We expect about 12-15 starts this season for the 39-year-old, making him a top-10 backup goalie to own.
New York Islanders
Evgeni Nabokov is 2-1 with a 3.02 GAA and .907 SV %. He's a useful No. 2 roto goalie with no real threat behind him and a young up and coming squad in front of him. Backup Rick DiPietro lost his one start while posting a 4.14 GAA and .852 SV %.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are just 1-3 in their first week of play. Henrik Lundqvist has a 3.47 GAA and .895 SV %. King Henrik didn't play during the lockout and appears to have some rust. We don't think this will continue much longer. Ditto for the top three on defense (Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal) who are a combined minus-seven. Backup Martin Biron is a top-10 backup to own, if you can afford the roster spot. Biron won 12 of his 20 starts last season with a 2.46 GAA, .904 SV %, and two shutouts.
The Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov will have to play far better this season than he did last season if the team is to make the playoffs. Why? The Flyers' offense is not as strong as last season, nor is their defense. Gone from the forward ranks is Jaromir Jagr (Dalls) and James van Riemsdyk (Toronto). In addition first line left wing Scott Hartnell is out for at least a month, and possibly two months, with a broken left foot. Daniel Briere has yet to play a game but could be back by next week. No Jagr, no JVR, no Hartnell. The recent signing of 40-year-old Mike Knuble doesn't come close to addressing the Flyers' problems up front. Meanwhile the defense has been decimated by injury. Currently out are Chris Pronger (concussion, career likely over), Andrej Meszaros (out a month), Marc-Andre Bourdon (concussion, out indefinitely), Matt Walker (back/groin/abdomen, out indefinitely, and Erik Gustafsson (foot, week-to-week). With Meszaros out the current top four consists of Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn and Nicklass Grossman. After the top four the D consists of Kurtis Foster and Bruno Gervais along with 37-year-old Andreas Lilja. Bryzgalov is 1-3 with a 2.52 GAA and .910 SV %. Unlike last year when Sergei Bobrovsky was around, Bryz's owners don't have to worry about a backup stealing too many starts, as this year's backup is Michael Leighton. Leighton has started one NHL game since the 2009-10 season.
No. 1 goalie Mike Smith has been by his own admission terrible the first week of the season. Smith has a pathetic 4.62 GAA and horrid .836 SV %. Now he's day-to-day with a lower body injury. Jason LaBarbera started their last game and lost to San Jose while stopping 30 of 34 shots. Reality may have finally set in for the desert dogs, as this team is thin up front and mediocre on the back end. Anyone who drafted Smith as their No. 1 fantasy goalie could be in for a long (short) season.
If you drafted Marc-Andre Fleury, you better have drafted Tomas Vokoun also. The team expects to experience a protracted playoff run in the spring and, as such, they plan to give 20+ starts to Vokoun. They each have two starts thus far. Fleury is 1-1 with a 3.01 GAA and .882 SV % while Vokoun is 1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and .908 SV %. Fleury starts the next game, Sunday at Ottawa.
The Sharks have a veteran laden team whose window to win a championship is closing. They are not wasting their time, though, as they've looked cohesive and dangerous in their first week. This is impressive when you factor in that they're missing two of their top six on defense - Brent Burns and Jason Demers. Burns has yet to play a game and was recently put on IR with a lower-body injury while Demers hurt his wrist in the final of the Spengler Cup tournament in Switzerland while playing for Team Canada over the holidays. Demers has been out for four weeks and the initial prognosis was a four-to-six week recovery period. Meanwhile Antti Niemi has been solid with a 2.34 GAA and .927 SV %. Backup Thomas Greiss will get his first start of the season on Saturday.
If you drafted Jaroslav Halak it was also wise to draft Brian Elliott. Halak has been very good in the first week with two shutouts at home mixed in with one poor outing on the road where he was pulled and replaced by Elliott. Owners will forgive the bad outing considering his 1.18 GAA on the season. Elliott is 1-1 with a 1.98 GAA and .925 SV %. This team is a bona fide Stanley Cup contender if they stay healthy. They roll three scoring lines and have a deep defense filled with puck-moving blueliners.
Anders Lindback has never been a No. 1 NHL goalie before. He's gone 2-1 in his first week but the caveat is the 3.67 GAA and .900 SV %. With his lack of experience and low usage rate (18 games played last year NHL/AHL combined, 26 the year before), Lindback won't be starting 35+ games in 99 days. As such Mathieu garon is a top 10 backup goalie to own. Garon is 1-1 so far with a 1.00 GAA and .972 SV %. Garon won 23 of 44 starts last year. At that rate, if he can get 20 starts he can post 11 wins.
James Reimer or Ben Scrivens? We could quote Dirty Harry on this, "Do you feel lucky?" but you may already know how mediocre the Leafs defense is. They managed to blow a three-goal lead in the third period on Thursday to the Islanders. Scrivens is 1-2 with a 2.96 GAA and .881 SV % while Reimer is 1-0 with a 2.43 GAA and .921 SV %. Just like last season we're leery of any Leafs goalie with that defense in front of them.
It's been a difficult start to the new season in Vangroovy but Friday's 5-0 shellacking of Anaheim is a good indicator that better times are here already. Corey Schneider got the shutout and his stats look all the better for it - a 2-1 record with a 2.78 GAA and .913 SV %. Roberto Luongo lost his only start but has a 2.44 GAA to go along with a .909 SV %. We still expect Luongo to be traded by February for a top six forward.
The Capitals have been a huge disappointment thus far and goalie Braden Holtby leads the way. Holtby is now in danger of losing his No. 1 job already, just four games into the season. Michal Neuvirth has started the last two games and he'll make his third successive start on Sunday vs. Buffalo. Holtby sports a brutal 5.02 GAA with a .863 SV % while Neuvirth has a 3.37 GAA and .877 SV %. The Caps remain winless but if Neuvy wins Sunday it could be curtains for Holtby owners.
Ondrej Pavelec has started all four games in the first week with an impressive 2-1-1 record, 2.21 GAA and .932 SV %. This is all the more impressive when one considers that he's missing his No. 3 defenseman in Zach Bogosian. "Bogo" is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery but could return to the lineup sometime in February. Friday's comeback win at home against Pittsburgh was impressive, as was winning in Washington while playing their second game in two nights. Pavelec owners have to be smiling.