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The early goings: No need to start panicking

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer

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The early goings: No need to start panicking
NHL.com takes a look at some players that are off to surprise starts, some crucial injuries and the ongoing goaltending battles.
We all know Martin Brodeur is struggling (0-2-1 with a 4.13 GAA in three contests), and yes, the entire Anaheim Ducks' line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan has been held pointless in their first three games. Heck, even Nicklas Backstrom has been held pointless in his first three games, despite teammate Alex Ovechkin having five points.

On the other hand, Nikolai Khabibulin has returned to the NHL to win his first two games while allowing just two total goals. Derek Roy leads the league with four goals and Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin, John Carlson and John-Michael Liles are tops among defensemen with four points.

Take a deep breath, it's extremely early. We're only six days into the 2010-11 NHL season, and while there has been plenty of interesting fantasy notes to analyze, just remember this one thing: it's too early to expect these sluggish or hot starts to continue at this pace. Players balance out, and of course some of them will have those amazing surprise seasons (see Chris Stewart) and some will turn out to flop (see Alexei Kovalev last year), but the point is, most of them end up somewhere near what we expected.

Let's take a look at some of the big surprise starts and some important injuries, as well as a detailed look at the ongoing starting goaltender battles around the League:

• Again, Brodeur is obviously off to a brutal start, but have faith in the guy. Last year he gave up eight goals in his first two starts -- both losses -- and we all know how the rest of his season turned out. If you don't have Brodeur on your squad and his owner seems to be panicking early on, make a trade offer. Now will probably be the only buy-low window to acquire the future Hall-of-Famer.

Brian Rafalski fantasy owners took a major blow today when the Red Wings announced that the veteran defenseman underwent arthroscopic surgery -- he's expected to be out 3-4 weeks. While Doug Janik was called up to replace Rafalski, expect Niklas Kronwall to move into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart for the Wings, and to see time on the top PP unit alongside Nicklas Lidstrom.

• In a standard Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey league, here are the current top 10 ranked skaters: Marian Hossa, Alex Ovechkin, Derek Roy, Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, Jordan Leopold, Brad Richards, James Wisniewski, Doug Weight and Kristian Huselius. It's quite obvious that you can't read into the stats too much at this point. Guys like Hossa, Ovechkin and Richards are clearly legit stars, but the other seven names are almost certain to fall. If you can sell any of these less-known players, have at it -- it's inevitable that a regression is coming for them.

• Sabres right wing Jason Pominville left Monday's game on a stretcher after being hit from behind by Chicago's Nicklas Hjalmarsson. Pominville suffered a concussion, and while it's unclear how long he'll be out, this is a definite blow for his fantasy owners. He's a consistent 60-plus point scorer (he's had four straight seasons with at least 20 goals and 62 points), and as Buffalo's top right wing, this also has the potential to hurt the value of Derek Roy. The latter is currently off to a tremendous start with four goals and an assist in three contests, but he will definitely miss his usual linemate. On the flip side, Drew Stafford will get the bump up to the top line. The 24-year-old forward is off to a solid start -- a goal and two helpers in three games -- and should be a nice pick up in deep leagues.

John Tavares also suffered a mild concussion and will miss Wednesday's and Friday's games at Washington and Pittsburgh, respectively. He missed Monday's matinee against the Rangers, but Tavares did take part in the team's non-contact skating session on Tuesday. Hope for the youngster to return to the lineup on Saturday. With Tavares out, the Islanders turned to former first-round draft choice, Josh Bailey, who is off to quite the start with a goal and three assists in his first two games. If Tavares is out for an extended period of time, Bailey could be a nice addition to any fantasy squad.

• As stated earlier, the three "big" Ducks have been held scoreless in three contests. Do not worry, they are all extremely talented and will snap out of this rut. Same goes for superstar Nicklas Backstrom. Three games aren't enough to jump ship and give up on your superstars; show a little patience and you will be rewarded. Enough said in regards to any proven star that's off to a slow start (see Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Daniel Alfredsson, Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, Mike Green and Jonathan Toews).

Nikolai Khabibulin has been arguably the most popular in-season pick-up thus far. He has started and won both of Edmonton's games -- one game was a 37-save shutout and in the other he allowed just two goals. Granted both wins came against teams that struggled to score last year (Calgary and Florida), but the Oilers are a team on the rise, and Khabibulin could be a big reason for that.

• There are several goaltending battles going on right now. Most of them are still unclear on who will emerge as the team's No. 1, but let's have a look at some of the more interesting bouts:

Bruins - Tuukka Rask vs. Tim Thomas
Rask was declared Boston's No. 1 netminder and started the opener -- he surrendered four goals on 36 shots. In the Bruins' second game; they turned to the veteran Thomas, who turned in a 29-save shutout, proving he is completely healthy from his off-season hip surgery. If Rask struggles a couple more times, Thomas could end up taking over the No. 1 gig.

Kings - Jonathan Quick vs. Jonathan Bernier
Each Jonathan has been in goal for one game, and each played very well. Quick picked up right where he left off last season, earning a win while stopping 23 of 24 shots against Vancouver. Bernier came up short in a 3-1 loss to the Flames, but he allowed just two goals on 31 shots. Quick will remain as the team's top goaltender, but be aware of Bernier -- he's a star in the making and will continue to put pressure on Quick.

Islanders - Rick DiPietro vs. Dwayne Roloson
DiPietro has started both contests for the Islanders, but he hasn't exactly been sharp in either outing. The injury-prone goalie allowed four goals in each game while posting a below-average .855 save percentage. Roloson will likely get the call anytime the Isles play on back-to-back nights, and obviously if DiPietro goes down with an injury, Roloson is the guy you want to own.

Senators - Pascal Leclaire vs. Brian Elliott
In what many people expected to be a 50-50 split in net, Leclaire has clearly emerged as the No. 1 goalie in Ottawa. He's started all three games and has posted a 0-2-1 record to go along with a weak 3.28 GAA. If you have Leclaire, you should handcuff yourself with Elliott; it won't be long before he gets the call if Leclaire continues to put up subpar numbers.

Flyers - Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Brian Boucher
Bobrovsky has started two of the three games, and has been very solid in both starts (two wins while allowing just two goals in each), but Boucher was also very good in his lone start -- two goals against in an overtime defeat. This looks like it will be an even split in Philly until Michael Leighton returns in approximately 6-8 weeks.

Sharks - Antti Niemi vs. Antero Niittymaki
Make no mistake, Niemi will get more starts in goal this season. Each goalie has received one start, but that's only because the Sharks played on back-to-back days in Stockholm. Niemi should receive 50-plus starts and put up solid numbers while playing for an elite team. You know which guy you want.

Lightning - Mike Smith vs. Dan Ellis
The Bolts have only played one game so far, and Smith received the nod in net. He stopped 27 of 30 shots while earning the win. For now, assume Smith has the edge over Ellis, but this will likely be an even split for now.

Maple Leafs - Jean-Sebastien Giguere vs. Jonas Gustavsson

Two games for the Leafs, two starts for Giguere, who is 2-0 with a 1.51 GAA and a .935 save percentage. You know what that means: the veteran will be the starter for the time being.

Capitals - Michal Neuvirth vs. Semyon Varlamov
Coming into the season everyone expected Varlamov to be the team's No. 1 goalie, but an injury held him back and Neuvirth has been solid between the pipes. The young netminder has a 2-1-0 record, 2.62 GAA and .916 save percentage. It's probably too early to cut Varlamov, but if Washington continues to go to Neuvirth, you're best off ditching the Russian goalie.

NHL.COM FANTASY HOCKEY COVERAGE
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30 in 30 fantasy hockey preview index
Pete Jensen's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Matt Cubeta's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Matt Sitkoff's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Goalie battles: SJS | ANA | STL | MIN | CAR

OFFSEASON FANTASY RANKINGS

RANK TEAM PLAYER
1. Sidney crosby
2. Steven Stamkos
3. Corey Perry
4. Evgeni Malkin
5. alex Ovechkin

CUBETA & JENSEN'S COMPLETE RANKINGS