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In the Cage: Crawford back on track?

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.

No goalie was under more pressure to bounce back last week than Chicago’s Corey Crawford. He was a thorn in his team’s side at the start of their lengthy nine-game road trip, giving up 10 goals on just 55 shots in consecutive losses to Edmonton (Feb. 2) and San Jose (Feb. 10).

But he rebounded in a surprising way, starting with a 22-save effort in a 4-2 win against the Rangers on Thursday. A four-goal explosion in the first period from his teammates alleviated a lot of the pressure Crawford faced that night, and that allowed him to play in a more relaxed and confident manner.

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 because of his team’s strong defense and offense.
*Please note that we are now removing goalies currently on IR from the weekly rankings

Not Ranked: Nikolai Khabibulin, Oilers (28) (DTD)
That boost of confidence parlayed into a 6-1 win in Columbus (33 saves) two days later, as he once again benefitted from timely goal support. Less than 24 hours later, Crawford completed the weekend sweep with a legitimate “steal” when he stopped 29 of 30 shots in a 3-1 home win Sunday over the Blues.

With 84 saves on 88 shots in three straight wins, Crawford’s certainly back on track – but for how long? There’s plenty of fantasy value tied to his sudden surge, especially since he’s playing a more controlled and conservative positionally-based style. But the upcoming schedule is not easy for Chicago; they host Detroit and Dallas, and then travel to Los Angeles and Anaheim for back-to-back road games.

Our advice is to be cautiously optimistic this week. The schedule is daunting, but Corey is an impressive 5-2-2 with 254 saves on 276 shots (.920 save percentage) combined against those teams this year. Like we saw with Semyon Varlamov last week, even after a few positive outings, a couple of bad bounces can destroy momentum in a hurry – something that is especially true for goalies in their sophomore season.

Speaking of “back” on track, how about Niklas Backstrom’s 48-save shutout Sunday against the Bruins? When the Wild needed him most -- in a monumental home game, he was there to stop every single puck tossed his way. Keep him in mind as the Wild have the next three days off before playing in Florida on Thursday and in Dallas on Friday.  

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Mike Smith: For two straight weeks, Smith has completely dominated the realm of NHL goaltending. He didn’t play until Thursday, but extended his five-game winning streak to seven by whitewashing the Kings in their home building, then stretching his shutout streak to over 135 minutes before the Stars finally sneaked one past him Saturday night. He has only allowed more than one goal once this month, and has stopped 209 of 216 shots during this stretch. That’s a mere 0.99 GAA and a .968 SV%.    

2. Martin Brodeur:
With a slight heightening to his leg pads here and a dash of confidence there, vintage Marty Brodeur is now playing the best hockey of his season. He has lost once in his last seven games (6-1-0), which came sandwiched between two three-game winning streaks. His latest streak has him allowing just four goals in those three wins, stopping 86 of 90 total shots for a .956 SV% last week.

3. Joey MacDonald: Two weeks ago, our advice was to snag MacDonald over Ty Conklin due to the rhythm he had established in Grand Rapids (AHL) before being recalled. We expected him to play well in relief, but not this well; he rattled off five straight home wins with 110 saves on 118 shots, a .932 SV%. All three Red Wings goalies were at practice on Monday, but don’t be surprised if Detroit is forced to put Conklin through waivers. It’s tough to send a guy back to the minors amidst a five-game winning streak.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. Antti Niemi: With just one win in his last five games, the struggling Sharks starter is now dealing with the pressure of being called out by coach Todd McLellan. This came before Niemi was pinned with a loss in Detroit’s 23rd straight win at home, so the pressure continues to mount. During this five-game stretch, Niemi had just 125 saves on 144 shots, which is a 3.80 goals-against average and .868 SV%.        

2. Ilya Bryzgalov: By giving up three goals on just 12 shots during a second-period collapse against the Sabres last Saturday, Bryzgalov dug an even deeper hole with his coach, teammates and fans. He’s still struggling to handle the pressures that come with being a Flyers starting goaltender, and with every game he loses, he makes it ten times harder to bounce back and live up to his pricey contract.

3. Tim Thomas: Since the off-ice distractions from the media spotlight about his personal politics seeped into his daily routine, Thomas’ fantasy value has not been the same. He has alternated losses and wins all month long, and is now 3-3-0 with a middle-of-the-pack 2.55 GAA and very human .907 SV%. Furthermore, he has allowed three goals in four of his last five games, and has not won twice in a row since back on Jan. 22 and 31.     

KEEP AN EYE ON…

As the schedule hits one of the most grueling phases of the season, the tweaks and nagging injuries are piling up for goalies around the league. Jean-Sebastien Giguere continues to be “day-to-day” with his groin injury, and the same is being said for Nikolai Khabibulin and his groin injury, suffered just last night. Cam Ward is day-to-day with a lower-body tweak, but he could return very soon, possibly by Wednesday. Evgeni Nabokov has the flu again, but he should also return very soon for the Islanders.

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