Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, a regional goalie scout for USA 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.
When Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 34 saves in a 1-0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, it revealed a noteworthy early-season fantasy trend. Giguere, who has been voted the "First Star" in all three of his appearances (two shutouts), earned all of his wins against Eastern Conference foes.
GAA: 0.67 | SVP: 0.981
This is a key trend that can not only help you decide which goalies to start on a daily basis, but is timely and pertinent right now -- there are six inter-conference battles on the schedule Thursday and 12 total through Sunday's schedule.
As his record shows, Giguere is already 3-0-0 against the East, allowing just two goals on 103 shots. But he's not the only goalie in the West off to a stellar start. One of the most cost-effective fantasy goalies so far this season has been the Minnesota Wild's Josh Harding.
He's only 1-1-1 against East teams, but has stopped 76 of 80 shots in those games, which is good enough for a .950 save percentage. He's also 7-1-0 in his last eight home games and 25-9-2 overall in his career, which bodes well for Thursday's home game against the Carolina Hurricanes. If his strong play continues, he could also draw home starts on Nov. 1 against the Montreal Canadiens and Nov. 3 against the New Jersey Devils.
TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES
- 1. Antti Niemi, Sharks (+1)
- 2. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (-1)
- 3. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (+1)
- 4. Mike Smith, Coyotes (+3)
- 5. Roberto Luongo, Canucks (+1)
- 6. Jonathan Quick, Kings (-1)
- 7. Carey Price, Canadiens (+1)
- 8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (+1)
- 9. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (+1)
- 10. Pekka Rinne, Predators (+2)
- 11. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (NR)*
- 12. Craig Anderson, Senators (-1)
- 13. Ryan Miller, Sabres (same)
- 14. Jaroslav Halak, Blues (+1)
- 15. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (-1)
- 16. Braden Holtby, Capitals (+3)
- 17. Jonas Hiller, Ducks (+1)
- 18. Jonathan Bernier, Leafs (-1)
- 19. Kari Lehtonen, Stars (NR)*
- 20. Cory Schneider, Devils (same)
- 21. Steve Mason, Flyers (+1)
- 22. Cam Ward, Hurricanes (+1)
- 23. Ben Bishop, Lightning (+1)
- 24. Josh Harding, Wild (+5)
- 25. Niklas Backstrom, Wild (-9)
- 26. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders (-5)
- 27. Devan Dubnyk, Oilers (-2)
- 28. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets (-2)
- 29. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Avalanche (NR)
- 30. James Reimer, Maple Leafs (-3)
Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Jacob Markstrom, Panthers (30), Martin Brodeur, Devils (NR)
Injured: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (3), Viktor Fasth, Ducks (28), Tim Thomas, Panthers (NR)
Like Giguere, Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks is also 3-0-0 against East teams, allowing just four goals on 67 shots and pitching a shutout against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. So if you're stuck having to choose between Niemi and the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask on Thursday, we suggest starting Niemi. Beyond his 8-0-1 run this month, he's also a perfect 5-0-0 lifetime against the Bruins, with a 1.77 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout.
Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks is already 5-0-1 with a 1.92 GAA and .922 save percentage against East teams, stopping 141 of 153 shots. Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues is 2-0-0 against the East with 48 saves on 51 shots (.938 save percentage) and one shutout. Jonas Hiller (2-1-0) of the Anaheim Ducks has allowed five goals on 88 shots against teams in the East, including a 34-save shutout over the New York Rangers. The Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo and the Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Smith are both 4-1-1 against teams in the East.
The goalies above are prime examples of this early-season fantasy payoff against East teams. It's only fair to expect some sort of "regression to the mean" as time goes on, but if you need help deciding who to start in an inter-conference matchup, it might be wise to go with the goalie from the Wild West.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks: After a solid 24-save shutout over Detroit on Monday, Niemi took over the No. 1 spot in our top-30 rankings. He's the only goalie to have played every single minute for his team, and he enters Thursday's game against Boston with an 8-0-1 record, a 1.64 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: In the last three games, Nashville has only scored three goals. Despite the weak support, Rinne went 1-1-1 in those three games, stopping 84 of 87 shots. He's starting to heat up after a rusty start, which included missing some time in training camp due to offseason hip surgery.
Editor's Note: This column and accompanying rankings were devised prior to learning that Pekka Rinne will be sidelined a month due to a hip infection.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: Not only was Smith's empty-net goal with .01 seconds left against Detroit on Oct. 19 a thing of beauty, but so is his play as of late. He's 4-0-2 in his last six games and has stopped 90 of his last 96 shots, allowing just two goals in each of his last three games (all coming at even strength).
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild: Limited to 141 minutes in three games (0-0-2), Backstrom has not played since Oct. 8 against Nashville. He's finally healthy enough to suit up, but with Harding's recent play, the rust will likely continue to collect on Backstrom's skates.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Not only is Brodeur still winless this season (0-2-2), but he hasn't played in a full week. Cory Schneider is starting to assert himself as the team's go-to goalie after pitching a shutout over the weekend, which has stuck Marty on the bench with a .865 save percentage.
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders: The 38-year-old veteran was 2-0-1 with only six goals against in his first three games, but now has just one win in his last five games. He has allowed nine goals on his last 56 shots (OT loss to Vancouver and a regulation loss to Carolina) and has a meager .909 even-strength save percentage.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames: The 27-year-old earned his first NHL win since March 14, 2009 on Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. He's only 1-1-1 in three games, but is sporting a .948 even-strength save percentage, stopping 73 of 77 shots during 5-on-5 play. He is currently owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.