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In the Cage: Windows of opportunity for backups

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Windows of opportunity for backups
Which backups have the potential to push for more playing time?
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.
 
For many hidden gems and rarely seen backups, the windows of opportunity to raise their value are few and far between. So when these chances do occur, they must win every start they get and play extremely well if they expect to increase their role with the team.
 

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.
*Please note that we are now removing goalies currently on IR from the weekly rankings

Players on IR: Kari Lehtonen, Stars
Similar to our advice on Ray Emery last Monday, today we shed light on three more goalies that could see their fantasy value rise before the year's end: Evgeni Nabokov, Mathieu Garon and Michal Neuvirth. Because of the holidays, 14 teams have back-to-back sets before the weekend, so expect some windows of opportunity to open for the goalies below, as well as guys like Steve Mason, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and Jonas Gustavsson.

Owned in just 16 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, Nabokov is back from his groin injury. Al Montoya earned a huge 2-1 shootout win over Minnesota last Saturday night, but starts for Nabokov are still on the horizon; the Islanders play back-to-back on Thursday and Friday. The more he plays right now, the higher the odds are that Nabokov is traded to a team where his role, and thus his value, likely increases.

Tampa Bay's goaltending has been beyond shaky this season, so Garon continues to earn more starts than any other backup. Owned in just 22 percent of leagues, Garon has now won two in a row, and the team is finally starting to score some goals (eight in the last two games) and play with more energy. But if Garon can't string together a set of wins before 2012, Steve Yzerman might finally pull the trigger and acquire someone that can.

Neuvirth is owned in just 17 percent of leagues and has gone almost three months without starting three or more games in a row. But with a 26-save shutout in Winnipeg last Thursday, and only two goals allowed (albeit one very weak) in a 2-1 loss in Colorado two days later, Neuvirth could finally get that elusive third straight start on Tuesday. If he has another strong game, Dale Hunter will have no other choice than to keep rolling with the hot goaltender.
 
TRENDING UPWARD
 
Jose Theodore: Every goalie lobs up a few stinkers during the season. But what makes a good fantasy goalie a great one is the ability to instantly bounce back. That's exactly what Theodore did last week, as he rebounded from a 6-1 thrashing by the Rangers (16 saves on 22 shots) by going 2-0-1 in his next three games, stopping 80 of 86 shots. Theodore is now 6-2-4 at home with a 2.28 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He's your likely starter on Tuesday when the Coyotes pay the Panthers a visit.

Ondrej Pavelec: After allowing seven goals on 26 shots against Detroit on Dec. 10, Pavelec bounced back by giving up just two goals on 63 shots in his last two games (1-1). In December, Pavelec is 4-2-0 with a 2.12 GAA, a .936 save percentage and one shutout. He has become such a fan favorite in Winnipeg that he now has a well-suited nickname of "Ondrej the Giant" to go along with his rising status around the NHL. Pavelec is 8-4-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .919 save percentage at home, which is right where the Jets are playing all week long. 

Pekka Rinne: Stopping 111 of his last 116 shots, Rinne is now a winner of five straight games. This streak of strong play has restored his status as one of the best fantasy goalies to own this season. He'll likely be the starter on Tuesday when the Predators visit the Capitals, then again on Thursday or Friday. One of his finest games of the season was against the Capitals on Nov. 15 when he stopped 39 of 40 shots.  
 
TRENDING DOWNWARD
 
Ryan Miller: Since returning from his head and neck injury, Miller hasn't achieved the type of success poolies had hoped. Allowing 12 goals in his last three games (1-0-1), he appears visibly distracted due to the fact that teams know he's sensitive to crease crashing and aggressive screens. This is a slippery slope for Miller, as other teams clearly emphasize a strategy of getting under his skin by being physical. So don't let his 3-0-2 record in December deceive you; he has just a 3.58 GAA and .891 save percentage this month.        

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 16-7-2
GAA: 2.30 | SVP: 0.914
Marc-Andre Fleury: Since his 6-3 win over Colorado on Nov. 15, Fleury has played 14 games in just 34 days. In those 14 games, he has allowed three goals or more an alarming 11 times. In the other three games, however, Fleury allowed just three goals total. His team's injuries certainly play a role in his slightly inflated stats over the past few weeks, but that's an obstacle he'll have to overcome this week. 

Jonathan Quick: With only two wins in December, Quick and the Kings are struggling to find an identity amidst the coaching changes. He allowed three goals on just seven shots against Detroit last Saturday, so now he's 2-4-0 with a 2.92 GAA and .898 save percentage this month. After tonight's game in Toronto, the Kings play three straight against divisional foes. What's the good news that comes out of this? Quick happens to be 6-2-2 with a 1.97 GAA, a .938 save percentage, and three shutouts within the Pacific Division.
 
KEEP AN EYE ON…
 
Flames prospect Leland Irving finally made an impressive NHL debut over the weekend, stopping 39 of 41 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to Florida. Due to Henrik Karlsson's injury, the next two months provide plenty of time for Leland to entrench himself as an NHL-ready backup. Miikka Kiprusoff allowed four goals on just 25 shots against Chicago last night, so Irving could earn his second start before the weekend.
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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