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In the Cage: Turnaround time for veteran goalies

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Monday during the season, goalie specialist and founder of The Goalie Guild Justin Goldman 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.

Before hosting the Ducks yesterday, the Columbus Blue Jackets held a team meeting to discuss their disastrous October. The result? A 3-1 win and a strong effort from Steve Mason, one that included some timely stops in the second and third periods.

The memo is out, and at least for that game, the players got the message: It's time for a turnaround.

If Columbus loses one or two more games this week, the coaching staff and upper management could be sent packing. If that happens, a new team blueprint would instantly be implemented and Mason's value would most likely improve after a few games. But if the players take it upon themselves to step up, then Mason's fantasy value still improves. Furthermore, if the rumors are true and Ken Hitchcock does return as the next coach, poolies rejoice; his defense-first system worked before, and it could work again.

Roberto Luongo and Jaroslav Halak are also two "heavy-volume" goalies that have struggled throughout October. But what makes the goaltending position so intriguing, from both a performance and fantasy perspective, is how much of an influence confidence has on success and failure. For both goalies, it was one big save over the weekend that led us to believe they could also be primed for a turnaround.

Despite allowing four goals on 30 shots in a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Sunday night, Halak made a beautiful right toe save on Taylor Hall with 1:50 left in the second period. The score was already 4-1, but from that point on, Jaro played with more confidence and much better timing. He stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period, which is at least something to build on heading into this week. The Blues don't play again until Friday against Vancouver, but at least there's some positive energy to build upon.

In the third period of Vancouver's 7-4 win over Washington on Saturday, Luongo experienced a similar situation to Halak. In dramatic and flashy fashion, he completely robbed Alex Ovechkin with a sprawling glove save on a rebound opportunity. After that moment, he moved with more intensity, focus and energy. Despite giving up four goals on 32 shots, he skated off the ice smiling, and with some swagger in his stride. And we all know he's historically much better in November.

Poolies can gain an edge by understanding what happens when goalies make dazzling highlight-reel saves when they're struggling. Those stops can literally snap a goalie into a more solid rhythm, improve their timing and focus, and quickly boost their confidence. Everything from their body language to their on- and off-ice attitude can change for the better, and you can often look back at the save as the "turning point" for their resurgence.

TRENDING UPWARD

Miikka Kiprusoff -- Winning both of his starts last week, Kiprusoff quietly stopped 62 of 65 total shots against the Avalanche and Blues. He started to turn on the jets in the third period against Colorado last Wednesday, so he appears to be settling into a solid rhythm where his flexibility and calm demeanor allow him to thrive in close games. The Flames' schedule is difficult this week, however, as they face the Canucks on Tuesday, then play in Detroit on Friday and in Buffalo on Saturday.

Nikolai Khabibulin --
Why is Khabibulin listed in the "trending up" category two weeks in a row? Because as of Sunday afternoon, he was still owned in only 57 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy leagues. Furthermore, he was a perfect 3-0 last week, stopping 35 shots against the Canucks, 34 against the Capitals and then 28 shots last night against the Blues, to garner NHL Second Star of the Week honors. During his current four-game winning streak, he has only given up one power-play goal, a true sign he's battling hard to make the big saves when it really matters. 

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 of course 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.
Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Johan Hedberg
Craig Anderson -- Since returning from his brief personal leave (Oct. 17-18), Anderson has rattled off five straight wins, playing a major role in the Senators' surprising surge. At 6-2-0 with a .881 save percentage and 3.66 goals-against average, we continue to expect those numbers to improve. He could also benefit from the healthy competition provided by Robin Lehner, as the Swedish prospect earned a big 3-2 win over Toronto on Sunday night. 

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Ryan Miller -- Three straight losses, two of which came at the hands of Tampa Bay, is reason for some concern for Miller owners. It's not that he played that terribly last week, but he gave up stoppable goals at the wrong time. For such an elite goalie, one that is capable of winning 40 games this year, giving up nine goals on 84 shots just doesn't cut it. Miller has a stellar .930 save percentage, but went just 4-4-0 in October.

Henrik Lundqvist -- Last week, Lundqvist clearly failed to play up to his high standards. Because he's such a steady performer, it's really easy to see when things just aren't clicking. After a five-day break (Oct. 22-27), Lundqvist was fighting the puck against Toronto. Distracted by traffic and screens, he suffered a 4-2 loss and stopped 32 of 36 shots. On Saturday against Ottawa, he not only gave up a rare weak short-side goal, but he relinquished a three-goal lead, which is almost unheard of for King Henrik. In October, Lundqvist went just 2-3-3, yet still posted a 2.35 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Ilya Bryzgalov -- Always willing to say what's on his mind, Bryzgalov bounced back quickly from the brutal 9-8 loss to Winnipeg with a solid 5-1 win over Carolina (24 saves). But as long as Chris Pronger is out with his eye injury, he will face difficult obstacles. He's still adjusting to the Eastern Conference style of play, he's still trying to regain his confidence and timing, and he's still getting used to the bright spotlight that comes with being a Flyers goaltender. It's not an easy process, not even for an elite goalie like Bryz.  

KEEP AN EYE ON…

Josh Harding -- Lost but not forgotten, Harding has played exceptionally well in his only two starts this season, both of which came against Detroit. Finally contributing to the Wild's success again, Harding has the skills and work ethic to be a silent assassin for poolies. He has a 1.45 GAA and .961 save percentage, and has stopped 74 of 77 quality shots (1-0-1) from the Red Wings.

In both games, Harding was one of the best players on the ice, so don't be surprised if he starts on Tuesday when -- you guessed it -- the Wild face Detroit for a third time in less than three weeks.   

What makes Harding worth watching is the fact that he's bound to get some exposure over the next few weeks. Signed to just a one-year deal, the more he plays, the more likely he is to mimic what we saw with Mike Smith last season. An underrated talent, Harding is quietly blossoming into a future starter; he just needs to play more so he can show NHL general managers what he's truly made of. 

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

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

CUBETA'S COMPLETE TOP 100 FORWARD RANKS