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In the Cage: Shifting roles in Colorado

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Shifting roles in Colorado
With Varlamov struggling, is Giguere taking over the starting job in Colorado?
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.

With Jean-Sebastien Giguere starting three straight games for the Avalanche over the last week, the roles in goal are changing. To help you decipher how that impacts the fantasy value for both he and the struggling Semyon Varlamov (0-5-1 with a .831 save percentage in November), we explain three major shifts taking place between the two puck-stoppers.

SHIFT 1 --- ROLES: The day he signed, Varlamov was handed the starting gig. But as a 23-year-old with limited NHL experience, he should've been forced to earn it. As a result, he's now being hindered by many obstacles. These include – but are not limited to – making timely saves, and lacking the support and guidance from a full-time goalie coach. None of these are roadblocks for the veteran Giguere, so earlier projections of a 60-22 split in games played for Varlamov is inching more towards a 48-34 split.

SHIFT 2 --- CONFIDENCE: Varlamov's current struggles are partially due to a fragile mindset. Although he has terrific raw skills, when he lacks traits like poise, timeliness, and consistency, one weak goal shatters Colorado's unstable momentum. A team will often mimic their goalie; if Varlamov appears shaky or unsure of himself, the Avs will usually play the same way. So a major key to Varlamov's future success will be the ability to not just regain his confidence, but display and sustain it on a consistent basis.

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 save percentage. 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.
SHIFT 3 --- LEADERSHIP: A starter is a defensive leader, and Giguere is filling that role better than Varlamov, who has yet to prove he can carry an NHL team for more than 30 games in a season. Furthermore, he's not playing with a starter's mentality. He's displaying bad body language and showing too much frustration. Giguere manages the puck and games better, displays poise, and always stays positive. This all equates to a team that's playing better in front of a former Stanley Cup winner.

Despite the doom and gloom surrounding Varlamov, owners should realize it will only takes one big save or win to reverse his fortunes. Giguere suffered a 4-1 loss to San Jose last night, so Varlamov probably gets his chance on Wednesday against Vancouver. But do you really want either goalie in your starting lineup right now? Colorado is terribly inconsistent; they haven't won two in a row since Oct. 15-17.           

TRENDING UPWARD

Carey Price: With two straight 4-0 shutouts, Price's value is rising. Making 25 and 17 saves respectively, these "easy" nights help keep his energy level high. We also think he's getting a performance edge due to Peter Budaj's influence. A non-factor in years past, Price benefits from having a more competitive and younger backup. Sure, Price's value could suffer due to injuries on the blue line, but we feel his stats are just as likely to improve due to Budaj playing more often than Alex Auld did.

Niklas Backstrom: The more competitive air in the Wild crease created by coach Mike Yeo had Minnesota in first place (through this morning). By getting adequate rest, Backstrom is not only having an easier time sustaining this high level of play, but he knows he can't take a day off or have a bad game if he wants to keep earning starts. During this three-game winning streak, Backstrom has stopped 102 of 106 shots, while his .935 save percentage is third-best for all goalies that have played ten or more games.

Miikka Kiprusoff: With an 8-7-0 record, Kiprusoff is keeping Calgary from falling into the Western Conference cellar. He hasn't posted below a .900 save percentage in a game since Nov. 1 against the Canucks, and has been very consistent in his last seven games, allowing just 15 total goals. Despite the team's woes on offense, he's still on pace to win 42 games. Furthermore, his strongest play has been in the third period, where he has allowed just nine of 34 total goals against.  

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Kari Lehtonen: The Stars have come crashing down from their surprising start, and Lehtonen's fantasy value is in the direct path of the destruction. He's Dallas' best player right now, getting no help on either side of the ice. With Andrew Raycroft winless in his four games, the pressure is on Lehtonen's shoulders to be perfect on a nightly basis, and that doesn't bode well for a guy who has already played so many games.

Corey Crawford: Despite a three-game winning streak from Nov. 10-16, Crawford has very troubling stats this month. With two consecutive blowouts over the weekend, he's now 4-3-0 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. On top of those numbers, he's leaky on home ice, posting a 3.16 GAA and .886 save percentage in seven games. Finally, 25 of Crawford's 47 goals against have come in the middle frame (53.1%).

Tomas Vokoun: Washington's woes have led to Vokoun going just 2-3 with a 3.37 GAA and .885 save percentage in November. He thrived in Florida by playing almost every game, so it has been an adjustment since Michal Neuvirth has been worked back into some games. But with a 5-0 record on home ice, Vokoun can turn things around when the Capitals host the Coyotes, Jets, and Rangers this week. . 

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Since Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov are out with injuries right now, keep an eye on 6-foot-5 Swedish prospect Anders Nilsson. One of the top goalies in the Elitserien last season, his pro career in North America has been put on the fast track. His NHL debut against Boston was impressive, despite giving up three goals in the third period. He didn't look out of place, and for a 21-year-old AHL rookie, he displayed a lot of poise and patience against the high-flying Bruins.
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