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In the Cage: Pick a rookie, any rookie

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Pick a rookie, any rookie
Matt Hackett and Dustin Tokaraski could be saviors down the stretch. Which one should you pick up?
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.

As if the loss of Tuukka Rask and Craig Anderson wasn't enough for poolies to handle, now Mathieu Garon is down and out, while Josh Harding left a game last Thursday with a lower-body tweak. The goalie infirmary is running out of beds, and at the worst possible time; the playoffs start today for many poolies, meaning tougher decisions when picking up potential replacements.

Due to those injuries, a new pair of rookies now has the potential to provide some solid fantasy points this week -- Matt Hackett and Dustin Tokarski. So which one carries more value down the stretch?

Hackett is trying to survive on a team struggling to win games. The Wild are just 3-6-1 in their last 10, and currently sit eight points out of eighth place in the West. This works in his favor, however, as he's likely to get more looks while the Wild inevitably evaluate their goaltending situation for next season.

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

Not Ranked: Nikolai Khabibulin (27), Craig Anderson, Senators (IR), Niklas Backstrom, Wild (IR), Tuukka Rask (IR), Mathieu Garon, Lightning (24) (IR)
Harding did back up last night in the 4-3 loss to Calgary, but the odds are quite low he'll stay healthy enough to soak up more than six or seven of their 13 games remaining (two back-to-back sets).

Tokarski is playing better than his .895 save percentage will show, as he was very solid while earning a point for the Lightning in a 3-2 OT loss to the Capitals last Thursday night. He followed that with a 4-2 loss at home against Carolina, stopping 22 of 25 shots. Tokarski does have good fantasy potential since he was recalled while riding the high of an eight-game winning streak in Norfolk (AHL), but as we've seen in his two games so far, it's not easy to transfer that success in the midst of the NHL playoff push.
 
We give the edge to Hackett, mainly due to the success he's had coming off the bench, and the fact that he's facing less pressure to make the playoffs. Hackett has also already proved that he can steal a win if he needs to, as he has a .930 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average in nine games played (3-3-0) so far.

It's also important to realize that every NHL rookie recalled from the AHL has to go through a tricky process of speed adjustment. Some take longer than others to get acclimated, so one reason why Hackett earns an edge is due to the fact he's further along in that process compared to Tokarski.

That's not to say Tokarski can't post some statistical success this week, but Hackett has the edge in experience, albeit limited, and his showing have been more impressive. There are pros and cons on both sides, but in the end, experience instills confidence, and that should go a long way in supporting Hackett's pending fantasy value.

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Jaroslav Halak: Trending upward doesn't do Halak's recent play any justice. Not only does he have eight wins in a row, but he has allowed just 12 goals in his last 10 games. During his winning streak, he has just a 1.45 GAA and .945 save percentage. But more impressive than the stats is the sheer quality and timing of some of his saves, none more evident than some of his gems in last night's 2-1 win over Columbus.

2. Kari Lehtonen: Dallas' clear-cut MVP is playing amongst the NHL's highest stars right now, as he's 4-0-0 in March with a 1.44 GAA and .953 SV%. He has stopped 121 of his last 124 shots, and he's 7-0-1 in his last eight games, allowing just 12 goals in that stretch (two shutouts). Kari has instilled the confidence in a team that has suffered through many injuries this season, and now they're clicking on all cylinders.

3. Ilya Bryzgalov: Bogged down by the suffocating pressure of playing in the first season of a lengthy and pricey contract, Bryzgalov struggled in all facets of the game through mid-February, both mentally and technically. But now he's playing distraction-free hockey, and the timing is just right. The NHL's first Star of the Week is riding a perfect 5-0 streak in March that includes three shutouts and a brilliant .968 save percentage.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. Antti Niemi: After going just 3-5-1 with a 3.42 GAA and .882 save percentage in February, Niemi's weak play has spilled over into March, where he's 0-3-2 with a 2.34 GAA and .915 save percentage. Those aren't terrible peripheral stats by any means, but his schedule this week is tricky. The Sharks are in Edmonton tonight and Calgary tomorrow, and then they're hosting the Predators on Thursday and the Red Wings on Saturday.

2. Henrik Lundqvist: For only the second or third this season, Lundqvist is struggling to play at his typical high level. He's just 2-2-1 in his last five games, posting a bloated 3.15 GAA and .879 save percentage, stopping just 116 of his last 132 shots. Furthermore, he has allowed three or more goals in his last five games, and that's only while facing an average of 26.4 shots per game.

3. Tim Thomas: After being pulled following the first period of Sunday's matinee game against the Penguins (three goals on 10 shots), Thomas has dug himself an even deeper hole this month. He has allowed four goals in three of his last five appearances, and he has allowed 16 goals in his last five games. He's 3-4-0 overall in his last seven games with a 3.60 GAA and a measly .860 save percentage.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

You don't want to over-hype the presence of Marty Turco, but as long as Thomas continues to struggle, Turco will be a sleeper fantasy option. Considering how much time had gone by since his last NHL appearance, he made some big saves and good outlet passes for the Bruins in Sunday's game against the Penguins. Boston still has 14 games and two back-to-back sets remaining this season, so Turco will earn at least two or three more starts down the stretch...maybe more.

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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