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Goaltenders can make or break you in your hockey pool

NHL.com @NHL

In fantasy hockey pools where goaltender statistics count in the standings, good ones can make the difference between winning and losing.

Goaltenders can also break your heart.

Poolies made early draft picks this season to secure the services of goalies Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury and Miikka Kiprusoff, and for good reason. They play the majority of games for their team, win way more than they lose and will toss in shutouts and good averages to boot.

Things don't always go as expected. Brodeur started the year with only two wins in eight games, Kipper has given up three or more goals in 11 of 13 starts, and Fleury has been yanked in three of his starts.

Poolies can be excused for gnashing their teeth but should not completely lose their patience, at least not in these cases. Brodeur is now showing signs of bouncing back and there's no reason to doubt Kiprusoff and Fleury will do the same.

Besides an ability to get hot in a hurry, those stars also don't have red-hot backups breathing down their necks. Not like Chris Mason of the Predators, who lost seven straight games before Sunday and has understudy Dan Ellis unbeaten in four.

It's still too early to panic and drop Mason, but if theres's one very good reason why someone in your pool should take a chance on Ellis, here it is:

Pascal Leclaire.

Talk about rising like a rocket and burning red hot. Leclaire, unheralded as the No. 2 target in Columbus and likely undrafted in most hockey pools, is easily the best goalie in hockey right now. On Sunday he beat the Blues 3-0, giving him seven wins on the season and a remarkable five shutouts.

Owners of Fredrik Norrena, the displaced No. 1, are left wondering what happened. Those few who took Leclaire early are just plain giddy.

Waiver Watch

Another backup goalie making a case for himself is Jose Theodore of the Avalanche. Despite struggles, Peter Budaj's job is safe for now. But Theodore has acquitted himself extremely well in spot starts and is definitely worth watching.

For what it's worth, Vesa Toskala is clearly getting the nod over incumbent Andrew Raycroft in Toronto. The Maple Leafs' porous defence, however, will do nothing for your goals-against average.

Watch for Marc Denis to get another shot at the starting job in Tampa Bay. Johan Holmqvist has been brutal of late, allowing three or more goals in his last four starts and 10 in his last two. Lightning coach John Tortorella won't tolerate much more of that.

Meanwhile, Martin Gerber remains hot in Ottawa but that doesn't mean Ray Emery won't play. Expect the two to split games for the time being and we wouldn't be too surprised to see Emery reclaim his No. 1 status down the road.

Injury Update

In case he's still available, poolies should pounce on Tim Thomas of the Bruins. He had almost swiped the top job anyway, even before No. 1 Manny Fernandez (knee) got hurt. It's his position alone now and indefinitely.

Johan Hedberg of the Thrashers has also made the most of an injury to a top starter. Hedberg has three wins since taking the reins from Kari Lehtonen (groin) and poolies should be able to ride him for at least another month.

Chris Osgood of the Red Wings has been simply phenomenal in goal while Domink Hasek (hip) was sitting on the sidelines, winning four straight games and running his record to 7-0 after weekend action.

Hasek returns this week, however, and will resume top duties. Poolies should still hang onto Osgood, though. His play will merit extra starts and the chance of Hasek re-injuring himself always looms large.

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Some players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:

Who's Hot

1. D Mathieu Schneider, Ducks. Three points in his second game after pre-season injury.

2. RW Shane Doan, Coyotes. Two three-point games more than doubles season output.

3. D Bret Hedican, Hurricanes. Three points is cool. Plus-11 in five games is wicked hot.

4. RW Miroslav Satan, Islanders. He's alive! Eight points in five games proves a pulse.

5. LW Ilya Kovalchuk, Thrashers. Back-to-back hat tricks cap a 10-point week.

Who's Not

1. RW Michael Ryder, Canadiens. Slow start won't improve with demotion to fourth line.

2. RW Owen Nolan, Flames. He's played 1,000 games now. His production is history, too.

3. D Alexei Zhitnik, Thrashers. Put this former power-play quarterback on your bench.

4. C Craig Conroy, Flames. Veteran centre hasn't a point and is minus-4 since Oct. 18.

5. G Chris Mason, Predators. Seven straight losses put his starting job in jeopardy.

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