In the Cage: Finland's trifecta has best fantasy value

Thursday, 02.06.2014 / 12:00 PM
Justin Goldman  - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, a regional goalie scout for USA Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in NHL.com's weekly segment: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.

A total of 19 NHL goalies are heading to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including all three goalies for the United States, Canada, Finland, and Sweden. Two NHL goalies are found on Slovakia's, Russia's and Switzerland's rosters, and one more is found on the Czech Republic. As a result, there will be plenty of pristine puck-stopping talent on display over the next few weeks.

Many countries already have a clear-cut projected starter, but interestingly enough, up to four "powerhouses" may have to wait a few games before their starter is revealed.

Canada's brewing duel between Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks) and Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) is capturing the goaltending spotlight.

Luongo, who has four losses in his past five games, has experience on his side after winning the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. As a result, many believe it's his job to lose in Sochi, but Price has widely been considered the stronger goalie so far this season.

Not only does Price have two shutouts in his past four games (and 94 saves on his past 98 shots), but he also has Luongo beat in every major statistical category except goals-against average. That also includes even-strength and power-play save percentages.

Although anything can happen in the next few days, it's expected Luongo and Price will split Canada's first two games against Norway (Feb. 13) and Austria (Feb. 14) before a starter is chosen.

The United States may also need a few games to determine their starter.

Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) led the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and was awarded as the tournament MVP for his efforts. Despite giving up 10 goals on his past 61 shots, he still ranks tenth in the NHL with a .923 save percentage behind one of the League's weakest teams. Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) has four straight losses and only five wins in his past 15 games, so the inside edge currently belongs to Miller.

Russia's tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche) could arguably be the hottest duo heading into the Olympics, while Finland has an embarrassment of riches in goal with Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins), Antti Niemi (San Jose Sharks), and Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars). Both countries may also need time before a true starter is established.

But which country with three NHL goalies on its roster has the best collective fantasy value?

Finland's goalies have a decided edge, as they are a combined 74-40-19 with a .919 save percentage (3,504 saves on 3,814 shots) and 10 shutouts. Canada's goalies are 62-47-20 with a .917 save percentage (3,601 saves on 3,925 shots) and eight shutouts. The United States' goalies are 40-47-14 with a .916 save percentage (2,812 saves on 3,068 shots) and five shutouts. Finally, Sweden's goalies are just 35-33-11 with a .913 save percentage (2,136 saves on 2,339 shots) and three shutouts.

In terms of an NHL goalie's individual proficiency in the Olympics, success stems from two main areas.

First is the ability to transition to the wider ice surface. Getting comfortable with the changes made to angles, depth, positioning, and being more patient on plays that develop from outside the faceoff dots will be a different process for everyone. That being said, the focus for all 19 NHL goalies is to make those subtle technical adjustments as efficiently as possible, but without altering their game too much.

Secondly, there's the dynamic of a goalie's style.

Canada's goalies cover the entire spectrum of positioning and depth. Price is a bit more aggressive than Luongo when it comes to their initial depth, but they're not nearly as conservative as Mike Smith, who plays very deep in order to utilize his size and minimize his movements.

There's also a drastic difference between the styles of Quick and Miller. Quick relies on his athleticism and flexibility to surprise shooters with his unpredictability, and by attacking angles in order to eliminate a shooter's time and space. On the other hand, Miller relies on his positional poise and patience; he makes tough saves look effortless. Both styles have advantages, but Miller may have the edge in Sochi.

There will be no shortage of goaltending storylines in Sochi, especially when you consider this could arguably be one of the deepest and most talented pools of Olympic goalies in tournament history.

*Editor's Note: This will be the last edition of "In the Cage" until after the Olympic break. It will return on Thursday, Feb. 27.

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets), Czech Republic: With a win Tuesday over the Carolina Hurricanes, Pavelec is now 7-2-0 since Paul Maurice took over as Winnipeg's coach.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets), Russia: In his past two games, Bobrovsky has stopped 69 of 72 shots. This comes after an 8-2-0 record, 2.31 GAA, and .926 save percentage in the month of January.

3. Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers), Sweden: Allowing just six goals on his past 120 shots, Lundqvist enters Thursday with four straight wins. He posted a .927 save percentage in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks), Switzerland: After winning his first five games in January, Hiller and the Ducks have cooled off. He has lost five of his past six games, with four of those losses on home ice. But in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Hiller almost single-handedly defeated Canada (44 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss) and the United States (42 saves in a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals).

2. Jhonas Enroth (Buffalo Sabres), Sweden: Although he's considered Sweden's third goalie and unlikely to play in the Olympics, Enroth has allowed 19 goals on his past 175 shots, a .891 save percentage.

3. Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), United States: As mentioned earlier, Quick enters the Olympics on the downswing after losing four straight games and giving up seven goals on his past 43 shots, an .837 save percentage.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Kristers Gudlevskis, Latvia: For those of you in keeper leagues, be sure to watch the 6-foot-3 Tampa Bay Lightning prospect. After posting a 1.83 GAA and .925 save percentage in 11 games in the ECHL, he earned a promotion to the American Hockey League, where he is currently 11-8-2 with four shutouts for Syracuse.

TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and GAA and SP%. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.

1. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (same)

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (same)

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (same)

4. Carey Price, Canadiens (same)

5. Antti Niemi, Sharks (same)

6. Ben Bishop, Lightning (+2)

7. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (-1)

8. Jonas Hiller, Ducks (-2)

9. Jaroslav Halak, Blues (same)

10. Steve Mason, Flyers (+1)

11. Roberto Luongo, Canucks (-1)

12. Kari Lehtonen, Stars (+1)

13. Jonathan Bernier, Maple Leafs (-1)

14. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (+3)

15. Ryan Miller, Sabres (-1)

16. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (+2)

17. Cory Schneider, Devils (-1)

18. Jonathan Quick, Kings (-3)

19. Mike Smith, Coyotes (same)

20. Anton Khudobin, Hurricanes (same)

21. Craig Anderson, Senators (same)

22. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (IR)

23. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets (+1)

24. Darcy Kuemper, Wild (+2)

25. Ben Scrivens, Oilers (-3)

26. Martin Brodeur, Devils (-3)

27. Braden Holtby, Capitals (-2)

28. Tim Thomas, Panthers (same)

29. Antti Raanta, Blackhawks (-2)

30. Kevin Poulin, Islanders (-1)

NR: James Reimer, Maple Leafs (30)

IR: Josh Harding, Wild (9)

IR: Cam Ward, Hurricanes (28)

IR: Pekka Rinne, Predators (10)

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