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Fantasy top 30 goalies: Avoid starts in tail-end games

by Justin Goldman

Every Thursday during the season, fantasy hockey correspondent Justin Goldman, a regional goalie scout for USA Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with in-depth goalie analysis. From updated weekly top 30 rankings to trending players and more, Goldman will be your go-to guy for fantasy goalie advice all season long.


Through action Wednesday, 279 games of the 1,230-game regular season schedule have been played. Of those 279 games, 90 of them have come on the tail end of a back-to-back situation.

That number is pretty significant when it comes to fantasy goaltending, because it means nearly one-third of the total games played (32.2 percent) have resulted in a goalie playing behind a tired team.

For that reason alone, back-to-back situations are never easy to manage. As one NHL goalie coach in the Western Conference told us, the emphasis is almost always placed on earning a win in the first game, as it "sets the tone" for the tail-end game. That makes sense from a team perspective, but from a fantasy standpoint, goalies playing behind tired teams are struggling as a whole.

Overall, teams are just 37-45-8 in the tail-end game of a back-to-back. That includes a 12-17-0 record at home and a 25-28-8 record on the road. Of those 90 tail-end games, 51 of them have seen the tired team allow more shots compared to the previous night. That means 56.7 percent of tail-end games will see the goalie face more shots and likely more scoring chances behind a tired team.


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Overall save percentages in tail-end games are way below the "quality start" category. Starting goalies have a cumulative .904 save percentage in tail-end games, stopping 2,474 of 2,736 shots. That number does not include the workload of replacement goalies thrown into these games after the starter was pulled due to performance or injury. This has happened 10 times out of the 90 total tail-end games.

The most alarming back-to-back statistic is the 4-13-0 record in tail-end games when a goalie starts both games. Cory Schneider, who has started all 19 games for the New Jersey Devils this season, has two of those four wins. The other two belong to the Carolina Hurricanes' Cam Ward and the Anaheim Ducks' Frederik Andersen.

Only five goalies have earned shutouts in tail-end games, and all five of them are backups: Jonas Gustavsson of the Detroit Red Wings (Oct. 18), Michael Hutchinson of the Winnipeg Jets (Nov. 2), Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues (Nov. 2), Devan Dubnyk of the Arizona Coyotes (Nov. 14), and most recently, Troy Grosenick of the San Jose Sharks (Nov. 16). Of those five shutouts, three of them came in 1-0 victories, with the total offensive support 10 goals.

Montreal Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski has fared the best so far in tail-end games. He's 3-0-0, stopping 88 of 91 shots.

James Reimer continues to be a polarizing asset for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he's 3-1-0 in tail-end games, facing an average of 37.25 shots per game.

On the flip side, every single one of Eddie Lack's four starts for the Vancouver Canucks have come in tail-end games. He's 1-3-0 and has earned just seven goals worth of offensive support in those four games.

Anton Khudobin is 0-3-1 playing behind a tired Carolina Hurricanes team, stopping just 102 of 116 shots, an .879 save percentage. Considering he's winless in six games, like Lack, it may be his utilization and difficult starts playing a major role in his struggles so far this season.

We're still only about one-fifth of the way through the season, but back-to-back statistics have already revealed goalies playing behind tired teams are suffering in most statistical categories. So unless you're desperate to raise your shot and save totals at the end of a weekly head-to-head or rotisserie matchup, our advice is to bench your goalie when he's starting a tail-end game.


Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask
Goalie - BOS
RECORD: 10-5-0
GAA: 2.38 | SVP: .915
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins -- Over his past two starts, Rask has looked like his old self again. He stopped 33 of 34 shots against Carolina and then posted a 33-save shutout against the Blues on Tuesday. He's now 6-1-0 with a .935 save percentage in November after posting a 4-4-0 record and .899 save percentage in October.


Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks -- It has been a tale of two months for Andersen this season. He was 7-1-0 with a .941 save percentage in October, but is 0-1-4 this month with an .887 save percentage. He was also pulled in a 6-5 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings last Wednesday after allowing three goals on 10 shots.


Devan Dubnyk, Arizona Coyotes -- As Mike Smith continues to perform at a subpar level, Dubnyk's value becomes more intriguing. He exacted revenge against his former team when he stopped 33 shots in a 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, and two days earlier he posted a 35-save shutout in a win against the Canucks. He's now 4-1-0 this season with a .925 save percentage (currently ninth in the NHL).


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (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.

1 Pekka Rinne, NSH (same) 16 Antti Niemi, SJS (-3)
2 Jonathan Quick, LAK (same) 17 Braden Holtby, WSH (-3)
3 Ben Bishop, TBL (same) 18 Roberto Luongo, FLA (same)
4 Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (+2) 19 Cory Schneider, NJD (same)
5 Tuukka Rask, BOS (-1) 20 Ondrej Pavelec, WPG (+1)
6 Carey Price, MTL (-1) 21 Corey Crawford, CHI (+1)
7 Brian Elliott, STL (+1) 22 Jonas Hiller, CGY (-2)
8 Craig Anderson, OTT (+1) 23 Frederik Andersen, ANA (same)
9 Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (-2) 24 Darcy Kuemper, MIN (same)
10 Ryan Miller, VAN (same) 25 Cam Ward, CAR (NR)
11 Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (NR-IR) 26 Mike Smith, ARI (-1)
12 Jimmy Howard, DET (+3) 27 Jake Allen, STL (-1)
13 Kari Lehtonen, DAL (-2) 28 Devan Dubnyk, ARI (NR)
14 Jaroslav Halak, NYI (+3) 29 Robin Lehner, OTT (-2)
15 Jonathan Bernier, TOR (-3) 30 Ben Scrivens, EDM (-2)

Dropped out: Steve Mason, Karri Ramo

Key Injuries: Semyon Varlamov, John Gibson, Alex Stalock, Michal Neuvirth, Jonas Gustavsson


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