Remember back in October when I broke down the issues goalies were having with intense traffic in front, numerous deflections and re-directions? Well, after the first week back from the Olympics, I can safely say we’ve witnessed an exact replica of what transpired in the first month of the season.
We’re literally back at square one. It’s déjà vu all over again, and not just with the goaltending. Hits to the head are also a hot issue, so with the GM Meetings taking place this week, it looks like changes are certainly on their way.
Ask yourself why Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur are struggling just like they were in October. Why was Cristobal Huet lit up against the Red Wings? Why are goalies getting pulled left and right again? The answer is clear and simple – traffic and bodies in front of the net are crowding the crease and forcing goalies to play deeper than they’d like. It’s a battle for space and positioning, and just like in October, the goalies are losing.
True to form, there will be a transition period over the next few weeks where the goals against will slowly start to drop. But right now it’s pure chaos out there and scoring is way up, so make decisions accordingly. Look for the goalies that have establish their positioning high in the crease, are controlling their rebounds and do a good job of looking around bodies in order to find pucks. That’s what it takes to be a successful fantasy goalie right now.
If you’ve watched Luongo’s games over the last week, his struggles have been an exact replica of the ones he had in October. Too many bodies and screens in front are forcing him to set up a step or two deeper in his crease than he’s comfortable playing. He will need to get some help from his defensemen, as they have to clear the bodies away and tie up sticks in order to eliminate those tips and deflections. For whatever reason, Luongo struggles with visual eye attachment when bodies are in the way and it shows in his demeanor and overall positioning. You can tell he’s fighting the puck right now, but it’s only a matter of time before the confidence returns and he’s back on track.
Probably the biggest fantasy goalie issue right now takes place in Chicago. Cristobal Huet’s weak performance against Detroit on Sunday has caused quite a ruckus with the fans. Although I’ve explained this many times before, let me just quickly reiterate that Huet does not fit in Chicago’s system, and he never will. He’s a goalie that thrives on being in a rhythm and that is rarely accomplished on a team where the shots and the starts are not consistent. He faces tough scoring chances and very few routine shots, so he’s often caught struggling in games where his timing is off or he just doesn’t tracking the puck effectively enough and ends up over-committing or over-reacting a lot.
To be honest, Huet’s not getting much help. Why Antti Niemi is chosen to start games in situations when it’s not needed is beyond me. If Chicago has any hope of going deep in the playoffs, they have to play Huet every single game from here on out. They can’t take away opportunities for him to get into a rhythm, otherwise he will continue to struggle with timing. Niemi is not a go-to goalie, so I don’t understand the logic behind starting him in the first game back from the Olympics. Chicago doesn’t need points, they need confidence. Every minute counts for a rhythm goalie, especially one that has a history of late-season hot streaks.
On the flip side, however, there are some goalies playing extremely well right now. Tim Thomas is all of a sudden playing with the same confidence he had last season. Why has it changed so suddenly? The best answer I have is that he’s having fun again. I’m sure the Olympics helped him realize this could be the beginning of the end of a great career, so now the only thing left for him to do is enjoy every minute. So regardless of the bodies and traffic, he’s embracing his traditional wild style. He’s moving and leaping out in whatever way it takes to stop the puck.
Thomas thrives when he combines a patient, stand-up stance with a scrambling style that is played more on his knees. To be honest, diving around, standing up or being on your knees more than usual is one of the best remedies to get around the traffic and screens. Sometimes goalies can’t worry about looking good and executing perfectly, they just need to play with a high level of desperation in order to make saves and control rebounds. That’s something Huet could stand to do more – play with more desperation and stop trying to look so pretty.
Ultimately, it all comes down to one vital characteristic that the successful goalies seem to have that the struggling ones don’t. Focus. That’s why Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Jeff Deslauriers are all playing extremely well right now. They all excel in the focus department. Miller is an obvious one, Anderson has benefitted from the rest therefore has looked like he did in October and Deslauriers just seems to have an air of confidence around him, which is a major reason why the Oilers are actually winning some games.
TOP-100 PROSPECTS UPDATE
I waited for the Trade Deadline to pass before making updates, so they are now complete. I appreciate your patience!
Tuukka Rask has graduated at the #1 spot and I think it’s safe to say he’s going to be a legitimate long-term keeper for a number of years. Niemi is the next to graduate, as he had 23 total starts heading into this past weekend. I’m not sold on him being a legitimate long-term keeper, mainly because of his age and raw skills, but the backup job in Chicago is his to lose and he has the potential to develop into a starter if he works extremely hard in the next year.
I also learned over the last month that Urpo Ylonen, Finland’s legendary goalie coach, is working with a few new goalies, including Predators prospect Atte Engren. He’s a bit of a long shot in the organization now that Pekka Rinne is re-signed, but because of this recent coaching, his game has greatly improved. Combined with the coaching ability of Mitch Korn, my expectations for Engren are much higher, and that has been reflected in the rankings.
Justin Peters is the other goalie that took a huge leap in the rankings, as his 3-1 record with the Hurricanes has been strong enough to have the inside track on being Cam Ward’s backup next season. Everything else is straightforward, including Matt Hackett breaking the Top-10 for the first time and older prospects like Scott Munroe, Nathan Lawson and Al Montoya continue to fall. Draft-eligible goalies like Jack Campbell and Calvin Pickard also slightly move up.
I’m also very impressed with Peter Mannino’s play over the last two months, as he has won a remarkable 13 straight games. Now that Kari Lehtonen is no longer the Thrashers’ future, Mannino is once again in a promising situation.