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In the Cage: Consider Lehtonen elite fantasy goalie

Thursday, 02.14.2013 / 1:00 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Consider Lehtonen elite fantasy goalie
Kari Lehtonen has become Dallas' backbone and MVP, while developing into the type of consistent fantasy workhorse you can start with full confidence.

Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, the Director of Goalie Scouting for McKeen's Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, 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.

Poolies everywhere are raving about the surprising value of Roberto Luongo and Craig Anderson, and for good reason. They're running away with the key statistical categories, and they're arguably playing the best hockey of their entire careers.

Kari Lehtonen
Goalie - DAL
RECORD: 7-2-1
GAA: 2.17 | SVP: 0.933
But when it comes to discussing goalies entering the truly "elite" category, nobody deserves to be included in that conversation more than Kari Lehtonen.

So far this season, Lehtonen has been the Dallas Stars' backbone and MVP. He went 2-2-1 in his first five games, posting a .926 save percentage and allowing just 13 goals on 176 shots. This month he's on fire, going a perfect 5-0-0 with a .940 SV%, allowing just nine goals on 151 shots.

Even in his three losses, Lehtonen is still posting a respectable .906 SV% and giving Dallas a chance to win. Of the 22 goals he has allowed, only one has come while trailing by one goal, and only once this season has he allowed more than three goals in a game (4).

Since joining the Stars, Lehtonen has a combined 79-52-16 record with a .918 SV% (4,095 saves on 4,459 shots). Furthermore, his goals-against average has dropped (and SV% risen) in each of the past four seasons. He went from a 2.81 GAA and .911 SV% in the 2009-10 campaign (following the trade from Atlanta), to a 2.55 GAA and .914 SV% in 69 games in 2010-11. Then he posted a 2.33 GAA and .922 SV% in 59 games last season, only to have a 2.17 GAA and .933 SV% in his first 11 games this season.

Just like Pekka Rinne or Carey Price, Lehtonen is also a very versatile fantasy asset. Whether you're in a keeper, rotisserie, head-to-head, points, or dynasty league, he's the type of consistent workhorse you can play with full confidence, regardless of the opponent. His new contract provides stability for another five years, and he has one of the NHL's best goalie coaches in Mike Valley.

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 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.
  • 1. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (same)
  • 2. Pekka Rinne, Predators (+1)
  • 3. Carey Price, Montreal (-1)
  • 4. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (-1)
  • 5. Craig Anderson, Ottawa (same)
  • 6. Ryan Miller, Sabres (same)
  • 7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (+2)
  • 8. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas (+2)
  • 9. Antti Niemi, Sharks (-1)
  • 10. Jonathan Quick, Kings (-3)
  • 11. Niklas Backstrom, Wild (+2)
  • 12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Flyers (-1)
  • 13. Mike Smith, Coyotes (-1)
  • 14. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (+3)
  • 15. Cam Ward, Hurricanes (-1)
  • 16. Roberto Luongo, Canucks (+2)
  • 17. Cory Schneider, Canucks (-1)
  • 18. Martin Brodeur, Devils (+2)
  • 19. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (+2)
  • 20. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (-1)
  • 21. Devan Dubnyk, Oilers (+4)
  • 22. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders (+2)
  • 23. Viktor Fasth, Anaheim (+6)
  • 24. Anders Lindback, Lightning (-1)
  • 25. Brian Elliott, Blues (-3)
  • 26. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets (+1)
  • 27. Braden Holtby, Capitals (NR)
  • 28. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (same)
  • 29. Michal Neuvirth, Capitals (+1)
  • 30. Steve Mason, Columbus (NR)
Injured: Jaroslav Halak, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jonas Hiller, James Reimer

There's only one time you should consider benching Lehtonen; on the tail end of back-to-back games. Dating back to last season, Dallas is now just 1-15-2 in the second game of back-to-backs, a huge thorn in the side for a team that has just barely missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Beyond the stats, Lehtonen belongs in the "elite" category because he has undergone a significant transformation since joining the Stars. Once considered an injury-prone goalie, he's more committed to nutrition and physical fitness, his practice habits are stronger, and he's more detail-oriented with his technical and positional game than ever before.

To top things off, Kari can make some of the most dynamic and dazzling saves imaginable, one of which is a candidate for the save of the year (behind-the-back glove save on Jan. 31 against Columbus).

Stability, consistency, unquestionable skills and athleticism; Kari has everything needed to be considered an elite goalie, and we feel his play this season has earned him that title.

TRENDING UPWARD

Viktor Fasth, Ducks -- Now a perfect 6-0 on the season, Fasth is finding different ways to win. He relieved an injured Jonas Hiller last Friday and stopped 11 of 12 shots. The following night, he allowed five goals on 31 shots to the Blues, but came up big in the 6-5 shootout win. Then he stopped 28 of 30 shots in another 3-2 shootout win over the Blackhawks. He has stopped eight of 12 shots in the shootout (3-0) and 27 of 30 power-play shots (.900 SV%), two very impressive stats for the 30-year-old rookie.

Niklas Backstrom, Wild -- Aside from a bad outing on Feb. 7 against Vancouver, a team that has dominated the Wild over the past three years, Backstrom has been at his best over the past week. He allowed nine goals in his first three games this month, but is coming off two strong wins, stopping 48 of 50 total shots. The score in both of those games was 2-1, so he's more focused and comfortable in the tight games.

Martin Brodeur, Devils -- Considering how many goalies have been plagued by minor injuries over the past week, Brodeur's durability is that much more impressive. He won games against the Lightning and Penguins, allowing just three goals on 44 shots. Sporting a 5-1-1 record at home with a .922 SV%, Marty is sure to host the Flyers on Friday, a team he blanked three weeks ago.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Jonathan Quick, Kings -- Although it's impossible to know how much of a negative impact Quick's offseason back surgery is having on his game, it's clear he's still a little rusty. He has lost his last two games, allowing six goals on just 45 shots, and he's only 1-2-0 in his last four games, stopping just 58 of 68 shots (.853 SV%). At even strength, he only has an .890 SV% (154-173), compared to just an .885 SV% on the power play.

Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche -- Overwhelmed by injuries and off-ice drama, Colorado and Varlamov are under intense pressure every night. He hasn't been terrible, but he's not stealing games like he did last season. He's 0-2-1 in his last three games and has just three wins this season. His even-strength SV% is solid right now (.926), but he's 0-4-0 on the road (.873 SV%), where the Avs play five of their next seven games.

Anders Lindback, Lightning -- After going 4-1-0 with a .914 SV% in his first five games, Lindback has regressed slowly in February. He is just 1-2-1 in his last five games, stopping 113 of 127 shots, an .890 SV%. Certainly it's safe to expect some rough patches as he gets used to being a full-time NHL starter, but anything below a .910 SV% moving forward is going to limit his value.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Ben Scrivens, Maple Leafs -- Of all the backup goalies getting extra minutes due to injury issues, the one to watch is Scrivens. He has stopped 56 of his last 59 shots, including a very impressive relief effort in which he stopped 32 of 33 shots in 36 minutes on Monday against the Flyers. He's owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, but is expected to start every game for Toronto during James Reimer's absence.

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