The Goalie Report: Risers & Fallers

The Goalie Report: Risers & Fallers

Even if you have the best goalie in the league, it's always nice to have a backup plan. This couldn't be truer this season. Though scoring is up league-wide, the number of starters who have struggled has been very surprising.

These aren't 1B goalies who are struggling, either, but big-name goalies with big-time contracts who are losing playing time because they're either battling injuries or playing far too poorly. This week's goalies feature plenty of backups looking to take the limelight.

Trending Up

Spencer Martin, Canucks (6-2-1, .900 Sv%, 3.21 GAA)

Thatcher Demko suffered a knee injury Friday against the Panthers and is expected to miss up to six weeks. That puts Martin, who had already forced his way into a timeshare given Demko's poor play this season, into the starting role. As you can gleam from Martin's record, he's been a winning goalie despite allowing a lot of goals. That's because the Canucks' offense (13th in GF/GP, 7th in PP%) is as good as their defense is poor (30th in GA/GP), and they're either winning high-scoring games or getting blown out.

However, given how unpredictable goalies have been this season — at least more so than usual — Martin is worth at minimum a bench stash for fantasy managers who have some room. Martin's road to the NHL has been very atypical, once having gone four seasons without a single appearance, but showed he had the chops to be a capable backup last season and he's been the

Even if you have the best goalie in the league, it's always nice to have a backup plan. This couldn't be truer this season. Though scoring is up league-wide, the number of starters who have struggled has been very surprising.

These aren't 1B goalies who are struggling, either, but big-name goalies with big-time contracts who are losing playing time because they're either battling injuries or playing far too poorly. This week's goalies feature plenty of backups looking to take the limelight.

Trending Up

Spencer Martin, Canucks (6-2-1, .900 Sv%, 3.21 GAA)

Thatcher Demko suffered a knee injury Friday against the Panthers and is expected to miss up to six weeks. That puts Martin, who had already forced his way into a timeshare given Demko's poor play this season, into the starting role. As you can gleam from Martin's record, he's been a winning goalie despite allowing a lot of goals. That's because the Canucks' offense (13th in GF/GP, 7th in PP%) is as good as their defense is poor (30th in GA/GP), and they're either winning high-scoring games or getting blown out.

However, given how unpredictable goalies have been this season — at least more so than usual — Martin is worth at minimum a bench stash for fantasy managers who have some room. Martin's road to the NHL has been very atypical, once having gone four seasons without a single appearance, but showed he had the chops to be a capable backup last season and he's been the Canucks' best goalie this season. Third-string Collin Delia has just as little experience with 32 career appearances, but since he has yet to play and prove himself in a Canucks uniform, Delia will likely get limited playing time until Demko's return. The Canucks' immense offensive talent will at least provide Martin with a few wins.

Pyotr Kochetkov, Hurricanes (4-1-3, .916 Sv%, 2.30 GAA)

Rod Brind'Amour pulled Antti Raanta after two periods in his most recent start, which again shows how little patience the Hurricanes have in their veteran. Kochetkov has quietly taken the starting role, and he's done an excellent job of keeping the Hurricanes at the top of the standings. The problem, strangely, is that the Canes have really had trouble providing goal support, ranking a paltry 25th in GF/GP. Their 6-4 win against the Blues on Thursday was the first time they scored more than three goals since Nov. 10, and hopefully it's a sign that their offense has come alive.

The Canes' possession analytics remain exceptional, with the team ranking sixth in expected goals at 5-on-5 according to naturalstattrick.com, which means the goals might start pouring in soon. Kochetkov is rostered in only 32 percent of Yahoo leagues; his lack of name recognition in a smaller market makes him a fantastic under-the-radar fantasy option.

Dan Vladar, Flames (2-4-1, .913 Sv%, 2.70 GAA)

It's been a tough season for the Flames amidst sky-high expectations following their blockbuster trade with the Panthers, and they've completely fizzled after a hot start. Starter Jacob Markstrom has struggled for most of the season, and his inconsistent play has forced Darryl Sutter to start giving more playing time to Vladar. Sutter had said he hoped to play Vladar once a week to manage Markstrom's workload, but it didn't really work out that way. The Flames kept starting Markstrom, hoping he'd turn a corner, but the situation has become rather dire with the Flames sitting out of playoff position entering Saturday's contests. Vladar has now started three of their past five games, and while it's still a little early to bench Markstrom, this may be shaping up to be a 1A-1B situation.

The Flames can be streaky and fantasy managers should at least roster Vladar as an insurance policy if they already have Markstrom on their team. If not, Vladar is a speculative hold just in case Markstrom continues to struggle.

Spencer Knight, Panthers (7-3-3, .919 Sv%, 2.61 GAA)

For the past month, Knight has been the Panthers' starter. He's outperformed Sergei Bobrovsky all season, and it looks like the reckoning in the Florida net has finally come. Aside from Bobrovsky's 39 wins last season, he has been the $10 million elephant in the room — an overpaid starter who also owns a career .901 Sv% and 3.13 GAA in the postseason. Paul Maurice has quickly and smartly recognized that Knight is the present and future in the Panthers' net.

The problem with rostering Knight is that the Panthers don't have a deep defense and rank 21st on the penalty kill. They've allowed at least 35 shots in six of Knight's 12 starts, making it difficult to win games. If the Panthers can get on track, Knight will start pulling in more wins, but right now his biggest fantasy upside is his save percentage.

Cam Talbot, Senators (4-6-0, .919 Sv%, 2.50 GAA)

Talbot's losing record is misleading because he's been otherwise very good for the Senators, saving 4.50 goals above average with a quality start percentage at 80 percent, according to hockey-reference.com. His season was delayed by an injury, but Anton Forsberg's mediocre play has paved the way for Talbot to be the undisputed starter. He's now started six straight games and has some soft matchups coming up — San Jose, Anaheim and Montreal — and the Sens have just two back-to-backs until the end of the calendar year. He should be rostered in all standard leagues and is good enough to be a No. 2 goalie on most fantasy rosters on a very talented offensive team.

Trending Down

Martin Jones, Kraken (12-4-2, .893 Sv%, 2.90 GAA)

That Jones' GAA is still under 3.00 is pretty amazing considering his below-average save percentage. Jones has now won five straight games even though he's allowed four, five and eight (!) goals in three of those wins. His 12 goals allowed was the highest total over the past week and his .813 save percentage was the lowest among starters. It's a precarious game to allow so many goals, even if he's getting the win. In most fantasy leagues, wins are much easier to accumulate than trying to improve a save percentage or lower a GAA.

True, Jones is playing better than he did last season, but what happens when his goal support stops? The Kraken rank third in GF/GP but 29th in shots per game, which means they've been exceptionally efficient in finishing. Their shooting percentage is a league-best 13.1 percent, the best ever in the cap era. In most seasons, the best teams struggle to even eclipse 12 percent. The smart money is on a regression, which means we might see the Kraken start sliding soon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Chen
Jason won the 2021 FSWA Hockey Writer of the Year award, and was also a finalist on 2019. He joined RotoWire in 2013. Jason has also written for Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, The Hockey News, The Hockey Hall of Fame's Legends Magazine, and Centre Ice Magazine.
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