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In the Cage: The veteran presence

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: The veteran presence
With strong recent play, Evgeni Nabokov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are proving that their advanced age hasn't affected their play.
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.

The NHL's All-Star Weekend is just over the horizon, and with each passing day, teams are gearing up for the post-season push. For goalies, that means every save is more important than the last, and one weak effort could mean the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Since timely stops are so crucial right now, it's often the presence of an experienced veteran that can key a young team's success.  

With that in mind, we see two goalies, Evgeni Nabokov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, rising well above the rest. Nabokov is owned in 34 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, and Giguere in 37 percent.

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.
**was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Semyon Varlamov

Players on IR: None
Giguere's veteran presence has earned him the No. 1 job in Colorado, and with a whole week to rest during the All-Star break, he'll have plenty of gas left in the tank when play resumes. He has been a motivational leader since early December, going 9-3-1 in his last 13 games and winning three of his last four. He's also 3-1-1 in his last five games, with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

Giguere's renaissance story is based on the "fatherly" element he brings to his young teammates. His wisdom is on display every night thanks to his economical, stoic and patient Francois Allaire style, one that minimizes rebounds and makes life much easier on his defensemen. Giguere's stabilizing energy leads us to believe he'll continue earning a majority of the starts in February.

Nabokov's solid play this month has the Islanders competing with more confidence. It has been a tumultuous and emotional experience since he was claimed on waivers by the Islanders a year ago, but as you will see below, it looks like he hasn't missed a beat at all.

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Evgeni Nabokov -- Behind the luxury of consistent starts, Nabokov has played exceptionally well this month. He's 6-3-0 with a 2.20 GAA and .919 save percentage in January, proving that he still has what it takes to thrive at the NHL level. His economical style and calming presence not only makes him an effective starter for the Islanders, but it also boosts his potential trade value. On top of that, in his four straight wins, he's allowed just four goals allowed on 120 shots. 

2. Jonas Hiller -- Thanks to a sudden and explosive resurgence, one of our four "buy-low candidates" from last week now is the League's hottest commodity in goal. The Ducks are on fire right now, and Hiller is leading the charge behind a 6-0-1 record in his last eight games (posting a 1.50 GAA and .947 save percentage along the way). He now has won five straight, allowing just seven goals on 158 shots during that stretch (.956 save percentage).     

3. Jonas Gustavsson -- It's a well-known fact that every European goalie transitions to the smaller ice and faster pace of the NHL at a different rate. Some goalies take longer than others before they feel totally comfortable, so there's no way for poolies to predict that timeline. But combined with the fact that Gustavsson had to transform his whole game into the Allaire style, his play over the past few weeks proves the pieces finally are coming together, making him more valuable right now than ever before. 

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. Niklas Backstrom -- When the Wild started reeling earlier this month, Backstrom came down with a terrible sickness and was forced to miss almost two weeks of action. His fantasy value has spiraled downward as a result, as he is just 0-2-0 in January, with an .899 save percentage (62 saves on 69 shots). Minnesota is seeking answers to their mid-season slump, and so far, Backstrom hasn't been one.

2. Semyon Varlamov -- In the world of fantasy hockey, nothing happens to a goalie in a vacuum. As one's value rises, their counterpart's value conversely falls. This is the case for Varlamov, who has played just twice since Jan. 6 due to Giguere's strong and steady play. Furthermore, the 23-year-old Russian has allowed 10 goals on his last 59 in his last two games, so his first season in Colorado continues to be a frustrating and disappointing one. He has an .899 save percentage in 30 games this season.       

3. Kari Lehtonen -- You can't blame him for Dallas' current five-game winless streak, but that doesn't mean his fantasy value is getting any better. With Jamie Benn now on injured reserve, Tuesday's game against the red-hot Ducks could be a four-point swing in the Western Conference playoff race. Lehtonen is 1-4-0 in his last five games, but he does have a .906 save percentage during that stretch. In January, however, Lehtonen is just 2-6-0 with a 3.01 GAA and .895 save percentage, so maybe the All-Star break will help change his team's luck.   

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Don't look now, but Tampa Bay has won three games in a row. Mathieu Garon earned two of those wins, but Dwayne Roloson stopped 33 shots for a big 4-3 win in Phoenix last Saturday night. With their potent offensive threats always a factor in every game they play, keep an eye on both goaltenders after the All-Star break. If they can rest up and steal a few wins in February, maybe GM Steve Yzerman will wait until the end of the season before he solves the team's long-term goaltending dilemma.

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