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In the Cage: Sophomore slump busters in net

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Sophomore slump busters in net
James Reimer and Corey Crawford have struggled in their second NHL seasons, but both appear to have turned the corner.
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 matter how we break it down, this has not been a good season for Chicago's Corey Crawford or Toronto's James Reimer. Both have had to overcome numerous hurdles that stem from the dreaded sophomore slump, and both have learned these lessons the hard way.
 
One reason why goalies struggle during their sophomore season is due to scouting. The more a goalie plays during their rookie season, the more their game can be picked apart by opposing players, coaches and scouts. The proverbial "book" gets written, and during the goalie's second season, they no longer are an unknown entity, often resulting in an increase in goals allowed due to exploited weaknesses.
 
This also plays a role in why rookies like Matt Hackett, Richard Bachman, Robin Lehner and Jacob Markstrom have had quality fantasy success in their limited action. Nobody in the NHL really knows what kind of goalies they are, so they often produce much better statistical outings than expected.
 

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 SV%. 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: Craig Anderson, Senators (IR), Niklas Backstrom, Wild (IR), Tuukka Rask, Bruins (IR), Mathieu Garon, Lightning (IR)
Primarily blocking goaltenders, Reimer and Crawford have been victimized numerous times this season due to their specific styles. But over the past week, both seem to be displaying signs that they might be over that proverbial slump, as they're both playing with much higher levels of confidence.
 
Reimer didn't play from Feb. 28 to Mar. 13, but flipped the switch quickly by posting two near-shutouts in consecutive wins on the road in his last two starts. While stopping 63 of 65 shots along the way, he displayed much more athleticism and aggressiveness than usual, and even made a few highlight reels due to some timely desperation reflex saves.
 
Crawford flipped his switch after relieving Ray Emery last week against the Blues. He came in to start the second period and stopped 18 consecutive shots, plus all three attempts in the shootout, to help the Blackhawks mount a comeback and win the game. He followed that with another win against the Stars, and then his third straight victory came Sunday against the Capitals. In these three games, Crawford has stopped 55 of 58 shots for a .948 save percentage.    
 
So are these players going to mount turnarounds like we've seen from the likes of Jonas Hiller or Ilya Bryzgalov? That's very unlikely. But their confidence is rising, they're well-rested, they have their creases back, and they've tweaked their games just slightly in order to cover previously known weaknesses.
 
We haven't advised poolies to acquire Reimer or Crawford at any point this season, but now that they're both confident and relying a little more on their natural reflexes, they could have solid runs over the final three weeks of the season.
 
TRENDING UPWARD
 
1. Jose Theodore: After another impressive week of play on home ice, the savvy 35-year-old is 4-0-1 in his last five games, allowing just seven goals on 148 shots, a .953 save percentage. He's 5-2-1 in his last eight games with a 2.28 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, and maybe no performance was more impressive than the 3-2 shootout win against Buffalo, as he stared down Ryan Miller and won the duel on the final shooter.       
 
2. Semyon Varlamov: When a raw-skilled 23-year-old like Varlamov begins to elevate his confidence, his fantasy value rises exponentially. Varlamov's athleticism and flexibility is through the roof right now, so as long as he sees a shot, he's stopping it. During his current four-game winning streak, he has stopped 127 of 136 shots, a .934 save percentage. He's also the best shootout goalie in the NHL this season, stopping 22 of 24 attempts.   
 
3. Steve Mason: Ever since he increased the size of his goalie pants and chest protector Feb. 11, Mason's fantasy value has soared. Curtis Sanford also was injured Sunday against Calgary, so now his workload is set to soar as well. Mason was superb in relief, stopping 28 of 29 shots for the shootout win, thus pushing his record to 5-1-0 in his last six games, with a .947 save percentage (179 saves on 189 shots).     
 
TRENDING DOWNWARD
 
1. Roberto Luongo: With three straight losses, all at home, the pressure once again is weighing on Luongo. He picked the wrong time to start trending down, as the playoff buzz is in the air and the Canucks have even higher expectations than last season. Since posting a 29-save shutout of the Blues on March 1, he has been pulled once and has allowed 16 goals on 103 shots, a meager .845 save percentage.                  
 
2. Tomas Vokoun: It’s not always fair for a goalie to trend down due to nagging injuries, but it's an inescapable dilemma for Vokoun. He has played just three games in March, going 2-1-0 with a .908 save percentage (79 saves on 87 shots). The true status of his lower-body injury is unknown, but as long as he's fighting off a pull or a strain of some sorts, the less likely he is to bolster his save percentage or his fantasy value.     
 
3. Jimmy Howard:
For the first time this season, there's uncertainty surrounding Howard's fantasy value. He has not been the same since returning from his broken finger, and the time he missed during that injury led to him missing another 12 days with a groin pull. He has lost his first two games back, allowing seven goals on 61 shots. Look for him to try and get back on track this week.           
 
KEEP AN EYE ON …
 
Now that Vokoun has re-aggravated his lower-body injury, keep an eye on Braden Holtby. He's likely to get a few looks down the stretch, and he has something to prove since he really struggled in his season debut for the Capitals in February. Even though he was only 1-4-1 in his last six games in Hershey before this recall, that doesn't mean he can't play well if he earns a string of starts with the Capitals.
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