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In the Cage: Coming off the shelf

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Coming off the shelf
In its weekly goalie update, NHL.com's fantasy gurus take a look at how goaltenders are impacted from long injury layoffs.
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.

If a goalie is coming off the shelf -- whether due to injury, sickness, or a stretch of being benched -- they face higher levels of pressure to snap back into rhythm without missing a beat. This isn't an easy process at all, but that doesn't mean they're granted any leeway. Produce wins or take a seat on the bench -- that's the life of an NHL goaltender. 

Poolies should understand that confidence is the fuel that fires the pistons of a goalie's engine. If they make one or two big saves, everything changes -- time slows down and they're more likely to find that rhythm. But if they give up one or two big goals at the wrong time, it's like putting sugar in their tank.

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: Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (3)
As the urgency to win rises, so too does a goalie's need to be in a good rhythm. There's no room for weak goals or bad losses, so goalies must find a way to play with confidence, which sparks consistency and stability. So what can you expect from some of the goalies that haven't played lately?

Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't played since Feb. 7 (an 18-save shutout in a shootout loss) due to the flu. Missing three games may not seem like a big deal, but since he hasn't been practicing, it could take him a few days, or games, to get his rhythm back. The Flyers don't play again until Thursday, so the practices will eliminate his rust, but they face Buffalo on Thursday and Pittsburgh on Saturday. Proceed with caution.

Jimmy Howard broke his finger back on Feb. 2, so he has already gone almost two weeks without any game action. The solid play of Joey MacDonald (a goalie we advised you to acquire last Monday) has allowed Howard to take his time recovering, but that doesn't help Howard owners. If all goes well, he could return on Friday against Nashville, but he will have missed 15 total days by then. That said, with such a strong system in front of him, we feel he won't need any time reviving his top-5 fantasy value.

Tomas Vokoun caught the flu bug over the weekend as well, so keep an eye on how his rhythm will be affected heading into this week. Curtis Sanford's current back issues are troubling, but at least it gives the Blue Jackets a chance to showcase Steve Mason to other NHL scouts. Both of these veterans are key to fantasy values right now, but that value changes now that their rhythm has been hindered.

Finally, Jose Theodore is off the shelf from his knee injury, and he already paid dividends with a big win over the Islanders yesterday afternoon. Nothing is set in stone, but the odds are good that Kevin Dineen will roll with Theodore instead of Scott Clemmensen over the next few games. 

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Miikka Kiprusoff -- Highlighted by his 300th career win, Kiprusoff is 3-0-1 in his past four games, stopping 120 of 128 shots for a .938 save percentage. Despite Calgary's plethora of injuries, his steady play has everyone feeling good about their playoff chances. Furthermore, they play five of their next seven games at home, where Kiprusoff is 15-8-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .924 SV%.   

2. Mike Smith -- No goalie in the NHL is hotter right now than Smith. He's 5-0-0 in February, allowing just six goals on 157 shots (a 1.19 GAA and .962 SV%). The injury he suffered earlier in the season was a blessing in disguise, as the rest he received is allowing him to play with a high energy level. Expect him to play all three games for Phoenix this week, as they take on the Canucks, Kings, and Stars.

3. Ryan Miller -- We often preach to poolies that rest is a weapon, and there's no better example of this than Miller. The All-Star break was a perfect chance for him to push the mental reset button, and his positive attitude upon return has paid off. He's 3-1-1 in his last five games, allowing just seven goals on 157 shots (.955 SV%), and pitching two shutouts along the way.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. James Reimer -- Just one week ago, Reimer was riding two straight shutouts into a home game against the Oilers. Full of confidence, he did earn a 6-3 win over Edmonton that night, but since then, has lost his next two games, giving up eight goals on 54 shots. Now the Leafs are embarking on a three-game road trip, where Reimer is just 2-5-1 with a 3.57 GAA and .894 SV% on the season.      

2. Craig Anderson -- A season full of hot and cold streaks has now stretched into February for Anderson. Unfortunately, he's on the wrong end of a streak at the wrong time, going 0-6-2 in his last eight games. He's 0-2-2 in his last four, stopping just 103 of 116 shots for a .888 SV% and a 4.16 GAA. Remember poolies -- when he's hot, he's on fire. But when he's cold, stay as far away from him as possible.

3. Tuukka Rask -- After winning seven straight games, a stretch that went from Dec. 10 to Jan. 16, Rask has gone just 0-3-1 in his past four. He has stopped 80 of his last 93 shots, which is a meager .860 SV%. His most recent start took place in Buffalo, but after giving up three goals on ten shots, he was pulled in favor of Tim Thomas for the first time all season.   

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

With Nikolai Khabibulin stopping 39 of 42 shots in a 4-3 OT win in Ottawa last Saturday, watch for him to get more exposure as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches. He makes a huge asset for teams that need a stabilizing, veteran presence with playoff experience. Edmonton would love to take his $3.75 million salary off the books, but will a team be willing to pay that price (pro-rated, of course) to acquire him? Regardless, don't be surprised if he plays well and earns most of the starts over the next 7-10 days.

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