Nothing is constant, nothing is pure, nothing comes easy and nothing is for sure. In almost every game so far this season, goalies have been prone to more bad bounces, heavy collisions, puck mishandlings or lop-sided shot totals than I care to remember. Whether it was Craig Anderson battling with Patric Hornqvist in Nashville, Mike Smith being nearly decapitated by Jamie Langenbrunner’s knee, the “Khabi-boo-boo” mishap against Calgary or Carey Price punching a hole in the wall after a 7-1 loss in Vancouver, I’ve learned it’s time once again to expect the unexpected.
Although I’ve enjoyed watching the elevated pace and speed of these games, it has terrorized goalies. Without any statistical evidence to back me up, it leads me to believe that scoring is slightly up so far. There’s more traffic around the net than usual and a lot more re-directed shots coming from players standing on either side of the posts. Players aren’t afraid to just throw the puck on net and force rebounds against rusty or unsuspecting goalies. As a result, it has opened Pandora’s Box for fantasy managers because the decisions on which goalies to start are tougher than ever.
One of the reasons for this is due to the Olympics. More backups will play on a more consistent basis this year because minutes will be managed more effectively with the elite starters. Another reason decisions are tougher is because more teams are relying on two goalies to win games on any given night. Whether it’s the tandem in Nashville, Florida, Anaheim or Ottawa, coaches are not afraid to prove the fact they actually have two #1 goalies.
But instead of looking at this dynamic as a negative thing, I’ll help you twist it into a positive and take advantage of lazy or incoherent managers. I’ve already benefitted from situations in which I read a goalie’s rising momentum over the course of two or three games and then adjust my roster and daily lineup accordingly.
To be as straightforward as possible (which is impossible for me, I know…), instead of just drafting or acquiring the highest-ranked goalie or the one expected to play the most and then riding him through thick and thin, I think it’s more effective to track capable backups and jump from one to the next throughout the course of the season.
By tracking, I simply mean that you reserve a certain number of moves strictly for goaltenders. As one lesser-known goalie rises and another falls, you catch and release accordingly. Think of it as jumping from peak to peak, as opposed to riding waves up and down over the course of a season. You might already be strong at tracking goalies effectively, but regardless, there’s always room to improve your decision making process.
A lot of your strategy will depend on your league’s setup. Do you have enough (or unlimited) moves to acquire maybe 4-5 different goalies each month? Do you already have one quality elite starter that will provide consistency all season long? Do you find yourself saying, “I only have one starting goalie and I need to trade for another…” already? If so, it’s time to try this strategy and salvage your studs. You’d be surprised how many good goalies are available in a number of deep leagues, so let’s look at the most crucial aspect of tracking goalies – momentum.
Momentum for a goaltender is defined as a strengthening of focus, technique and confidence over the course of time and through the development of events. This amorphic ingredient of a goalie’s game is the toughest to acquire and the easiest to lose. It can take weeks to build up and it can come crashing down in an instant…and getting it back is even tougher. Nevertheless, many goalies are constantly strengthening their abilities by gaining momentum, meaning your goal is to find the ones that are moving in the right direction and providing positive results on the open market.
JON QUICK – Last week I preached patience with Quick because he only showed a lack of focus, not a lack of skill. Hopefully you paid attention, because Quick has steadily improved since then. Although his overall stat line is pretty weak, his save percentage in his last three games has risen from .862 to .897 to .967 with his latest 2-1 win over the Blues in St. Louis. I’ve watched all of his games and I can tell you that the confidence is increasing, so for all you roto managers out there, this might be a good time to slide Quick into your lineup. Don’t be discouraged by his numbers.
JONAS HILLER – Last week I said that regardless of Hiller’s first game, you should ride him as if that game never happened. Sure enough Hiller has rebounded with two excellent wins and is now gaining momentum with each passing moment. He’s currently 2-1-0 with a .934 save percentage and should continue to play well as he gets into a nice rhythm this week. The Ducks only play on Wednesday and Friday this week, so Hiller should start them both.
I’d also like to point out that Jason LaBarbera, Brian Elliott and Tuukka Rask have started off the season on the right foot and with some great momentum. All three goalies look sharper and in better shape than I’ve ever seen before, especially LaBarbera. I used to rail on this guy when he was with the Kings because he had great size but very slow footwork. But I watched him make 37 excellent saves on 39 shots against red-hot Ryan Miller and the Sabres and was surprised by his improved footwork and overall net coverage, so he’s a viable option for most fantasy teams.
Also keep in mind that Elliott is expected to play more than LaBarbera, but there will be weeks when it will be the other way around. Also, Rask is surprisingly starting two games in a row for the Bruins, so this is an excellent opportunity to jump on a goalie that is hardly owned in most Yahoo leagues. The same goes for Antero Niittymaki, but that is mainly due to Smith’s run-in with Langenbrunner. Nevertheless, Niittymaki, who looks very healthy and is moving laterally without any type of hindrance, should be able to build on his strong start to the season.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
I’m shocked at some of the ownership percentages I see right now in Yahoo! Fantasy leagues. Of course every league has a different number of teams and most of you already have one or two stud goalies, but for those of you that aren’t too sure where to turn for a third, or those ready to start tracking goalies, let’s seek out where the wild things are sleeping in the shadows. It’s crucial to know not only when they might be starting, but overall ability.
I raved all summer long about the tremendous asset Mathieu Garon will be for the Blue Jackets regime this season. Sure enough, the goalie with the best save percentage in shootouts got his first start in Phoenix on Saturday night and made 36 saves for the 2-0 shutout win. He’s only owned in 2% of leagues, which is a joke if you ask me. This guy is a legitimate starting goalie on maybe 15 teams and with Steve Mason not expected to play 70 games, there will be many more solid outings from Garon as the season rolls along.
Alex Auld showed tremendous poise and great mobility in his first game of the season against the undefeated Calgary Flames. He was consistent and didn’t allow or cause any goals that came from bad clearing attempts or turnovers. Marc Crawford has had Auld as a goalie before, in Vancouver, where Auld played the most games in his career. Auld has a whopping 5% ownership in leagues, so here’s another legitimate goalie falling below the radar. Track him closely and use your starting goalie resources to see when he’ll play more than once a week. Acquire, ride and release when it comes time to jump to the next streaking backup.
Elliott also has a 5% ownership in leagues and has also started off the season on the right foot. Well, let me clarify that he allowed two goals in the first period against the shifty Thrashers before shutting the door in the final 40 minutes. That’s a confidence booster for sure, so expect Elliott to continue where he left off last season with a ton of consistency when he’s in the net.
I’ll leave you with one last interesting statistic. Below are the top five goals against averages in the league (through Sunday night). And as you can see, three of these teams have already seen both goalies play.
- BUFFALO .98
- NASHVILLE 1.62
- PHOENIX 1.75
- COLORADO 1.96
- CHICAGO 2.16