by John Toperzer
As the playoffs near, games seemingly become more and more critical by the night. Accordingly, we'll take a look at the last week of netminding around the league.
Anaheim: Jonas Hiller has played once in the last month. After practicing Tuesday he said nothing hurts, but that he just doesn't feel right. Enter Dan Ellis. Acquired for Curtis McElhinney in a deadline deal, Ellis has looked the part of a starting tender with a win and a tie in two starts for Anaheim. While Ellis bears little resemblance to Gump Worsley, he's worth a waiver-wire look. Ray Emery has yet to appear for the Ducks since his recall on February 23 and the team doesn't play back-to-backs until March 19-20.
Atlanta: Young defenseman Zach Bogosian didn't go anywhere at the deadline, as had been rumored. Not sure that matters much at this stage of his development. Franchise goalie Ondrej Pavelec has won three games (3-10-4) since January 7 and has no timetable for a return from a wrist injury. Backup Chris Mason holds a .943 save percentage since taking over for Pavelec, but at this point in the fantasy season his risk isn't worth the reward.
Boston: Lester Patrick came out of retirement to play goalie at age 44, leading the Rangers to their first Cup in the 1920s and 75-year-old Eddie Johnston - the last NHL netminder to go maskless - might win a few games the way the Bruins are playing. Tuukka Rask won four starts during a six-game road win streak, giving Tim Thomas a bit of a break. It was tough enough on opponents with Thomas playing so well, but now even Rask is playing like it's 2009-10.
Buffalo: Patrick Lalime is the only NHL goaltender to lose five games without a win in 2010-11. Jonas Enroth is probably a better backup, even at this young stage of his career. It all comes down to Ryan Miller. Miller is 3-0-1 in his last four starts for his brand new owner, but the Sabres are currently on the second game of a seven-game road trip that will go a long way toward determining whether Buffalo plays past mid-April. Miller has faced the fourth-highest number of shots on goal among tenders, important if for no other reason than the title of this column. Actually, it's hard to believe that there are three other goalies who have faced more shots.
Calgary: Miikka Kiprusoff continues to lead Calgary toward a surprising playoff berth. The 34-year-old Finn has recorded back-to-back shutouts, giving him three blankings in his last five starts. There was a buy-low opportunity on Kiprusoff early in the season -- actually it was a buy low on the entire team -- but new GM Jay Feaster has found the Midas Touch.
Carolina: Cam Ward wins this week's honorary "Shots On Goal" title. Why? Ward leads all goalies with 1841 shots on goal, nearly 200 more than the next netminder. Unfortunately, that means his 2.70 GAA and is more heavily weighted. Even then, Ward holds a .920 save percentage. What does it all mean? The Hurricanes will continue to lean heavily him in hopes of a Cup run similar to 2005-06. We can all dream, can't we?
Chicago: Wouldn't it be ironic if Marty Turco emerged in the playoffs and led the Blackhawks past the Red Wings? That might help to make up for years of nightmares from the vet tender. Corey Crawford won't let that happen, though. The Calder Trophy frontrunner continues to get better by the month. Crawford went 7-2-1 in February with season-bests in both goals-against (1.96) and save percentage (.932). The playoffs might be another story for the untested goalie, but for now he's on a roll.
Colorado: It's hard to shake the image of Brian Elliott repeatedly getting torched in Canada's capital city. At some point he might become a cheap fantasy sleeper, but it's not going to happen this year. Elliott has lost his first three starts for the Avs, who are still too young and too injured to compete. Pass.
Columbus: Have the Blue Jackets ever made the playoffs? Those who believe the team is on the cusp of the postseason will want to continue deploying Chris Mason as he's been on fire, going 7-1-1 in his last nine decisions. Columbus is on the road for its next three games, however, and is due for a come-uppance.
Dallas: It's hard to say what's going wrong, but the Stars are winning -- three in a row, to be exact. The recovering Jamie Benn won Tuesday's tilt with a goal at the end of overtime. For most of February, the "L" in Lehtonen stood for "loss", but the whole team is breathing easier after the non-trade of Brad Richards and the passing of the trade deadline in general. Dallas is back in the playoff hunt after a month off and Lehtonen has returned to form. The schedule remains difficult, with three road games against California-based teams in the coming week.
Detroit: Votes of confidence in hockey typically mean that the coach is going to get fired in the next week. Jimmy Howard got his vote of confidence in the form of a two-year, $4.5 million contract extension in late February. Howard leads the NHL with 31 wins, but his 2.82 GAA ranks 30th among qualified goalies. Detroit's front office knows its players better than anybody else, but it's surprising the deadline passed without a move.
Edmonton: Nikolai Khabibulin inked a four-year, $15 million deal in July of 2009. That contract looks worse by the day but it's a sunk cost the Oilers can do little about. He pronounced himself ready Wednesday after battling an eye problem. Devan Dubnyk has outplayed Khabibulin but has lost his last two starts (including eight goals against), opening the door for the veteran.
Florida: Tomas Vokoun is still a member of the Panthers, to the chagrin of fantasy owners hoping for a change of scenery (Detroit anyone?). As it stands, he'll likely battle with his coach and split time with Scott Clemmensen. Florida moved defenseman Dennis Wideman at the deadline, but that might help its goalies numbers. Both netminders lost 2-1 decisions in the last week and there's no reason to expect that trend to change from here on out.
Los Angeles: The Kings goalies played forgettable hockey Monday, with the Jonathan's surrendering seven goals -- Bernier (1 goal on 3 shots) and Quick (6 goals on 24 shots) -- to the Red Wings. Los Angeles has scored 22 more goals than it's allowed (178 to 156) -- fourth-best in the West. Only the Predators and Bruins have yielded fewer goals, a tribute to the rock-solid play of Quick.
Minnesota: Niklas Backstrom has been money for the Wild lately, but he gave up three goals in little over one period in Wednesday's loss on Long Island. Backstrom, who's lost three straight after a fantastic February, could give way Thursday to Jose Theodore in the second of back-to-backs. Theodore has earned whatever starts he gets after a resurgent 2010-11.
Montreal: Carey Price returned to action Tuesday, stopping 40 shots in a 3-1 victory over Atlanta. The Canadiens are hoping that a week off re-energizes Price. The Montreal goalie, who has seen more shots (1664) than any netminder other than Cam Ward, holds the best goals-against average (2.39) and save percentage (.921), among the seven goalies who've faced the most shots.
New Jersey: Johan Hedberg won eight straight starts in February and then lost one. His reward? Well, he's back to riding the pine as Martin Brodeur's backup. Brodeur has won two games in a row and faces a weakened Pittsburgh squad Friday. Brodeur shut the Pens out in New Jersey the last time the two teams played and represents a solid play. Wouldn't it be something if the Devils end up in the playoffs?
New York Islanders : The Rangers took Al Montoya with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft - at least one New York team is getting value from him. Montoya has started six of the Isles' last seven contests and helped to beat the Wild, 4-1, Wednesday night with 34 saves. He figures to get the nod three times in the next four games - all of which are at home.
New York Rangers: Not only does Henrik Lundqvist have to be the King, he has to be the King, his court, and maybe even a jester after a season-ending injury to backup Martin Biron. Rookie Cam Talbot might make his NHL debut in the coming week as New York plays three games in four days, starting Friday. The Rangers have 17 games left on the docket and Lundqvist will likely start in 14 or 15 of them. He lost two homes starts in the last week, but fantasy owners know what to expect from the Swede.
Ottawa: Peter referred to the Sens' recent strong play as a "dead cat bounce" last week, even though pucks don't bounce high off the ice. Since then, Craig Anderson has helped to knock off the Flyers, 4-1, and allowed only one goal to the Bruins in a 1-0 defeat. Anderson might actually be worth a start, based upon matchups. Just don't let his start determine your fantasy season after six months of hard work.
Philadelphia: The Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup with Michael Leighton steering the ship last season. This year, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher are reaping the benefits of a stacked and deep Philadelphia squad. Goalie Ron Hextall won the playoff MVP in a losing cause back in the 80s, but the Flyers' biggest question mark always surrounds its netminders. From a short-term fantasy perspective, the team plays three of its next four games at home against Toronto, Buffalo and Edmonton. Whichever goalie starts figures to pad his stats.
Phoenix: Coyotes goalies have had a rough stretch of four games, surrendering 20 goals (19, not including the shootout loss). Prior to that, Ilya Brzgalov rattled off nine consecutive victories. Bryzgalov might be the best goaltender the casual NHL fan has never heard of. The team plays only three times in the next seven days, however, and two of those games are against Detroit and Vancouver.
Pittsburgh: Starter Marc-Andre Fleury lost his best defenseman, Brooks Orpik, back on Feb. 23 and hasn't allowed fewer than three goals ever since. The Flower posted his weakest peripherals since October last month, but a barrage of injuries certainly didn't help his cause. The Penguins finish travel to both New Jersey and Boston over the weekend. It might be wise to keep Fleury on the bench for those games.
San Jose: The Sharks are the hottest team in the NHL, going 16-2-1 over their last 19 contests. Antti Niemi, who battled Antero Niittmaki the first three months just to get on the ice, has 15 of those wins. In theory, Niemi fits the description of a sell-high candidate. Still, it's always easy to tell someone to sell the hottest goalie in the NHL than it is to actually do it.
St. Louis: Ben Bishop blew up like a grenade in Monday's 6-0 loss at Calgary. Bishop was thought to be a prospective heir apparent for the Blues several seasons ago, but that never materialized. St. Louis waived backup Ty Conklin during the past week. Jaroslav Halak is supposed to be near a return, but that's what the team said last week. Until Halak actually does make it back, it might be best to steer clear of the goalie situation in St. Louis.
Tampa Bay: When Dwayne Roloson is good, he's really good, and when he's bad, well, you can figure out the rest. Fortunately for the Lightning (and fantasy owners), Rollie the goalie has showed himself to be strong in the net more often than not. It seems like he's always battled another goalie for playing time, like a Manny Fernandez in Minnesota, but he's finally getting his due at age 41. Roloson has won three of his last four. Tampa Bay travels to Boston on Friday and then plays four at home.
Toronto: James Reimer has turned the Maple Leafs into a playoff contender. Whether the team actually makes it into the postseason remains to be seen, but the rookie goalie has given Toronto hope. That said Reimer and the Leafs play Philadelphia two times in its next four games and once against Chicago. In other words, it might be safer to consider alternative options for the young and improving Toronto squad.
Vancouver: The Canucks were resolute in their stance of keeping both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider at the trade deadline. Vancouver has yielded a .500 record since injuries began wiping out its defensive corps. Since February 7, the team hasn't put together a two-game winning streak. As the Canucks' health situation improves, so too will the team's win totals.
Washington: Semyon Varlamov is battling an injury, big shocker there. Michal Neuvirth has played surprisingly well in his stead. Without the backing of a supercharged Washington offense, the Caps have held opponents to fewer than three goals in four of five games. Of course the Rangers lit Neuvirth up for six scores, but he rebounded with 31-save performance the next night in a 3-2 win over the Islanders. Washington picked up a pair of defensively-responsible players in Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm at the deadline to go along with blueliner Dennis Wideman. Surprisingly, defense hasn't proved to be a challenge - the offense has never gotten untracked.