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Shots on Goal: Stringing together backup goalies

by | Rotowire.com
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Is it feasible, or even possible, to stream backup goalies in order to max out goalie starts and take advantage of favorable matchups?

Just this week, backups such as Brian Elliott (now option 1A in St. Louis), Mathieu Garon (now option 1A in Tampa Bay), Chris Mason, Martin Biron, Matt Hackett and Richard Bachman all won at least one game.

This doesn't come without risk of course. You may be wondering: "What's the worst that can happen?" For an idea of what the worst possible scenario could be look no further than Ray Emery's Nov. 19th start for Chicago at Edmonton, where he allowed seven goals on 27 shots in 48 minutes.

If he had been your only goalie deployed that day you'd be registering an 8.84 goals-against average for the day and a .741 save percentage, essentially killing two of your four goalie stats for your roto squad -- all for chasing one elusive goalie "W."

Hey, no one said this was a perfect science. However, if you watch the schedule and stay informed opportunities can arise. Mason starting against Carolina Friday is a classic example, as the Hurricanes were playing their third game in four nights on a grueling road trip. Moreover Mason had already been announced as the starter two days prior to the game -- giving owners enough time to pick him up.

The icing on the cake was the announcement late in the afternoon that the Canes' best forward this season, Jeff Skinner, would be scratched due to the flu. Mason stopped 23 of 25 shots in Winnipeg's 4-2 win. Saturday night presented another favorable situation for backup duty in Buffalo where former Sabre Martin Biron would be starting for the Rangers.

A quick glance at the Blueshirts' schedule saw a back-to-back weekend with games at Buffalo on Saturday and home to Florida Sunday. This writer picked up Biron Thursday figuring to cover either possible day. Biron stopped 32 of 33 shots in Saturday's 4-1 Rangers win.

Sometimes, if you don't have two good matchups on a given day, it doesn't hurt to leave a top backup in your lineup - even if he's not starting that night. Leading backup goalies Tuukka Rask and Johan Hedberg each won games this week when they relieved their starting goalies.

Another stud backup, Cory Schneider, came in and relieved a temporarily injured Roberto Luongo vs. Colorado and stopped all 20 shots he faced in 36 minutes of play. Schneider didn't get the win but his play helped my overall goalie stats that night.

This strategy can help you maximize your goalie starts, provided you're willing to do the legwork. Now let's take a look at some teams who have varying degrees of goalie drama.

Buffalo

Jhonas Enroth's loss on Saturday just reaffirms Ryan Miller's utter dominance as the starter. Enroth is now waiver wire fodder until the next set of Sabres' back-to-backs, which is next weekend. However, the second game is at Pittsburgh so be wary of using Enroth against the Penguins despite his earlier win against them. Of course it will also be important to see if Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang are back for that game.

Chicago

While Corey Crawford is undeniably the No. 1 goalie in Chicago right now, his peripheral statistics -- a 3.00 goals-against average and .896 save percentage, are hurting his owners. Worse, he's been pulled in two of his last three starts while allowing 11 goals in just 131 minutes. Since Ray Emery's meltdown in Edmonton on Nov. 19 he's allowed just four goals (1.33 goals-against average) on 70 shots (.943 save percentage) in 180 minutes of play. Emery draws a tough start Sunday vs. San Jose but if he can win that game his share of the team's goalie starts will surely rise in the near term. Be ready to pounce if he prevails.

Colorado

Colorado has scored two goals or less in 15 of 30 games. As such one cannot depend on Semyon Varlamov as anything more than a No. 3 Fantasy goalie. Things don't get any easier this week for the Avalanche, for they tangle with San Jose in a home and home series Tuesday-Thursday. Jean-Sebastien Giguere still has a goals-against average under 2.00 (1.95) but he's only received one start since Nov. 20.

Dallas

Kari Lehtonen remains out with a groin injury but Richard Bachman and not Andrew Raycroft is the only Dallas goalie to manage to win a game this past week. Bachman won his first NHL start on Saturday in a 2-1 Stars win over the Kings and merits a pickup in most leagues for at least two reasons. One, Lehtonen is still at least two weeks away from a possible clean bill of health. Secondly, Raycroft has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts. There is some good news for Dallas fans, as both captain Brenden Morrow and top defenseman Alex Goligoski have returned to the lineup. However, it may be a while before the left-handed Goligoski gets full leverage on his shot for it was his left thumb that he broke. Perhaps the best news for the Stars' faithful is that Jamie Benn finally scored a goal Saturday against Los Angeles, thereby ending a six-game goalless streak and a five-game pointless streak.

Edmonton

Since Nov. 29th, Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk each have three starts. Khabibulin is 1-1-1 with a 2.32 goals-against average while Dubnyk is 1-2 with a 3.41 goals-against average. The Oilers' blue line remains a revolving door with Andy Sutton now suspended for eight games Corey Potter (sprained ankle) is expected back within a week. That should be good news to a power play that is still waiting for Ryan Whitney to play like Ryan Whitney. The highly talented yet oft injured defenseman has just one point in 13 games this season and none on the power play after registering 11 power-play points in his first 54 games as an Oiler, between 2009-11. Sam Gagner, currently playing left wing on the first line with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, has started to score again but it's hard to recommend picking him up because Taylor Hall will be back soon enough thus likely dropping Gagne out of the top six again (unless Ryan Smyth continues to flounder).

Florida

Jose Theodore's shutout of Boston this week puts a temporary "hold" on my former "buy" recommendation for backup Scott Clemmensen. Clemmensen is worth keeping on your watch list, however, as Jose is 35. Clemmensen could also become trade bait after the Christmas no-trade freeze with the Panthers' goalie of the future, Jacob Markstrom, sitting on their AHL farm team.

Minnesota

Josh Harding can't seem to catch a break. Every time Niklas Backstrom leaves the lineup, for whatever reason, Harding shines but eventually gets hurt. It happened again and this time it was their No. 3 goalie, Matt Hackett, who took advantage. Hackett, the nephew of former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett, set an NHL record with no goals allowed in his first 112 minutes of NHL play. Backstrom was back between the pipes Saturday, though, leading the surprising Wild to another victory. The Wild keep winning despite missing key players such as fan favorite and penalty killing ace Cal Clutterbuck (leg), top offensive defenseman Marek Zidlicky (concussion symptoms gone, should return in 7-10 days), second-line left wing Guillaume Latendresse (concussion symptoms gone, should return in 7-10 days), and top-six winger Devin Setoguchi (lower-body injury, out at least two weeks). Kyle Brodziak has stepped up his play and now has 10 goals.

N.Y. Islanders

Al Montoya is a useful fantasy asset these days, as long as you don't get greedy. Case in point, I didn’t start him Saturday against Pittsburgh (six goals allowed) and here's hoping you didn't either. This week they are at Montreal on Tuesday, home to Dallas Thursday then head to Minnesota for Saturday. If you're in a weekly league it's a mixed outlook. If you're in a daily league, Tuesday's start looks best as Montoya's career home peripherals (1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) are appreciably better than his road peripherals (2.87 goals-against average, .916 save percentage).

Philadelphia

Sergei Bobrovsky is worth picking up if he's somehow available in your league. Why? On Saturday night, with less than 13 minutes in the game, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette pulled Ilya Bryzgalov in favor of Bob. The reason -- Bryzgalov had suffered a lower body injury. Sunday morning's hockey talk has been dominated by news of Claude Giroux's head injury so this is still relatively unknown. Go get Bob.

St. Louis

Backup Brian Elliott is really a backup in name only. Saturday's shutout of San Jose reaffirms his place alongside Jaroslav Halak as goalie 1A in St. Louis. Meanwhile mega bust power forward Chris Stewart has been dropped to the third line. Stewart was pegged by many pundits for 30 goals/60 points this season but it's just not happening as he currently is tied with two others for eighth in team scoring with just four goals and 10 points in 26 games.

Tampa Bay

The Lightning are in a freefall, losing six of their last seven games and playing without team leader Martin St. Louis, who's out for several weeks with facial fractures. Dwayne Roloson continues to lose starts to Mathieu Garon. Garon is 1-3 in December with an alarming 14 goals allowed (3.49 goals-against average) while Roloson is 0-1 with a 4.12 goals-against average in December. To make matters worse, veteran defenseman Mattias Ohlund's rehab from October surgery to both knees has hit a snag and his return is now unknown. Another veteran defenseman, Pavel Kubina (lower body,) is listed as day-to-day after suffering the injury Dec. 3 vs. the Rangers. Until St. Louis returns and the defense heals up playing either goalie successfully will be a challenge.

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Player News
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News: Frederik Andersen (knee) will likely be the Ducks' No. 1 goalie when training camp opens, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
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