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Fantasy top 30 goalies: Capitals' Holtby finds rhythm

by Evan Sporer

Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com's Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top 30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.

UPDATED TOP 30 GOALIE RANKINGS

Of goalies currently ranked in Yahoo's top 21 overall fantasy players (of which there are four, and would likely be five if not for the long-term injury to Henrik Lundqvist), only one began the season with a pre-ranking outside of the top 50.

It's not Carey Price, who is leading the Vezina Trophy race and is arguably the NHL and fantasy MVP this season. It's not Pekka Rinne, whose return to health has also signaled a return to form. And it's not Marc-Andre Fleury, whose eight shutouts currently pace all goaltenders in the League.

That leaves Braden Holtby.

The Washington Capitals goalie began the fantasy season ranked 73rd overall, 19th overall among goalies, and 22nd on NHL.com's preseason goalie rankings. Holtby had never won more than 23 games in a regular season (which he accomplished this season on Jan. 28), had never appeared in more than 48 games (which he accomplished on Feb. 17), and has never finished with a save percentage above .920 (he sits at .925) or a goals-against average below 2.58 (he sits at 2.17) in seasons where he was a full-time starter.

So what changed this season for Holtby? For starters, Washington anointed him its starter. Though Holtby started 54.8 percent of the Capitals' games last season, and no other goalie started more than 17 percent of the schedule, the Capitals were still technically almost splitting time between Holtby and three other goalies.

In the 48-game season of 2012-13, Holtby was used an even higher rate, starting 75 percent of Washington's games. But when inconsistency plagued Holtby last season, the Capitals explored other options.

The vote of confidence has been paired with new goaltending coach Mitch Korn. After spending the past 16 years as the goaltending coach for the Nashville Predators, Korn came to the Capitals with coach Barry Trotz. Some of Korn's coaching quirks were revealed on EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Korn spent seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres from the early to late 1990s, where he worked with Dominik Hasek. Under Korn, Hasek won four Vezina Trophies. In Nashville, Korn worked with Tomas Vokoun and Rinne.

With Korn, Holtby has flourished and hasn't given Capitals brass the opportunity to consider Plan B. Earlier this season, Holtby started 21 consecutive games and set a franchise record with 27 consecutive appearances.

Braden Holtby
STATS PRIOR TO MAR. 5 GAMES
RECORD: 31-15-9
GAA: 2.17 | SVP: .925
"I think the fact that there's been a lot of work, it's been easier to get in a rhythm that way," Holtby said in January before starting his 20th consecutive game.

And rhythm is what Holtby has found after Trotz and the Capitals instilled their trust in him. After having a .911 save percentage through the first two months of the season, Holtby has been one of the League's best. Since Dec. 1, four goalies have a higher save percentage than Holtby's .931, and Holtby has played five more games than two of them (Price, Cory Schneider), and 16 more than the other two (Lundqvist, Steve Mason).

That stretch of stellar play hasn't exactly been sheltered in terms of what Holtby has seen. The 29.7 shots against per 60 Holtby has faced since Dec. 1 are the 10th-most among goalies who have played at least 1,500 minutes (25 games worth), according to war-on-ice.com. In terms of scoring chances, the Capitals are in the middle of the pack since Dec. 1, allowing 25.8 per 60 minutes, or 15th in the League, according to war-on-ice.com.

Holtby has been as good as any goalie not named Price or Rinne this season, a huge testament to how much he's grown under Korn. He's firmly in the conversation among second-tier goalies, next to Lundqvist, Fleury, and Schneider.


TRENDING UP

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

Cory Schneider
STATS PRIOR TO MAR. 5 GAMES
RECORD: 24-23-6
GAA: 2.17 | SVP: .928
At this point, Schneider may just "trend up" the rest of the regular season. In Schneider's past 17 appearances (16 starts) he's had a save percentage above .900. He has two shutouts in his past five starts, and in that stretch of 17 appearances has a .950 save percentage, second among all goalies to have started at least 10 games, according to war-on-ice.com. It would be easy to dismiss Schneider given the assets the Devils moved leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, but this has been a long time coming for Schneider, who has moved into a tie for second among League-leaders in save percentage at .928.

TRENDING DOWN

Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks

Though Lack has done well in a starting role before, and in some respects it's unfair to count him out over the small sample size he's produced since Ryan Miller's injury, the numbers haven't been great. Lack went consecutive games allowing five goals to the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues and on Tuesday was called into action 7:45 into the game against the San Jose Sharks. Lack is better than his most recent numbers and will likely see his save percentage regress, but is looking like more of a lower-end second goalie than a major fantasy asset.

John Gibson
STATS PRIOR TO MAR. 5 GAMES
RECORD: 9-5-0
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: .924
KEEP AN EYE ON

The Anaheim Ducks

Frederik Andersen got his first start Tuesday after missing nearly a month of action because of a neck injury. He and John Gibson are the Ducks' two goalies as of now, and coach Bruce Boudreau has made it sound like they will split time down the stretch. That doesn't bode well for fantasy owners but it's worth watching to see if one forces Boudreau's hand sooner than later.


TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

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 Carey Price, MTL (SAME) 16 Frederik Andersen, ANA (NR - IR)
2 Pekka Rinne, NSH (SAME) 17 Michael Hutchinson, WPG (-1)
3 Marc-Andre Fleury (SAME) 18 Semyon Varlamov, COL (-1)
4 Braden Holtby, WSH (+1) 19 Steve Mason, PHI (-1)
5 Tuukka Rask, BOS (-1) 20 Cam Talbot, NYR (+2)
6 Roberto Luongo, FLA - DTD 21 Craig Anderson, OTT (-1)
7 Cory Schneider, NJD (+3) 22 Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (-1)
8 Brian Elliott, STL (-2) 23 Eddie Lack, VAN (-8)
9 Corey Crawford, CHI (-1) 24 Kari Lehtonen, DAL (-1)
10 Jaroslav Halak, NYI (-1) 25 Antti Niemi, SJS (-1)
11 Devan Dubnyk, MIN (+1) 26 Karri Ramo, CGY (NEW)
12 Ben Bishop, TBL (-1) 27 Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (-1)
13 Jonathan Quick, LAK (SAME) 28 Alex Stalock, SJS (SAME)
14 Jimmy Howard, DET (SAME) 29 Jake Allen, STL (-2)
15 John Gibson, ANA (+4) 30 Scott Darling, CHI (-1)

Dropped out: Jonas Hiller, Jacob Markstrom

Key injuries: Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Robin Lehner

DTD: Day-to-day; NR - IR: Not ranked last week because of injury

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