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In the Cage: Evaluating the struggling starters

by Justin Goldman /
Every Monday during the season, goalie specialist and founder of The Goalie Guild Justin Goldman will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in'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.

It may be unfair, but many of you might already be forced to undergo "damage control" by dropping a starter that has struggled to begin the season. But you'll want to be careful, because with so much hockey left to be played, one poolie's trash could be another poolie's treasure.

Due to the frustrating play of Dwayne Roloson, the weak defense in front of Craig Anderson, and the 0-7-1 Steve Mason, these goalies are likely available via the free agent wire or a trade. But are any of them worth acquiring right now? And if you own them, are they worth hanging onto for another week?

For Roloson, expect more inconsistent play through October. Last season with the Islanders, he won just six games out of 20, and posted a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. After the trade to Tampa Bay, despite winning 18 of 34 starts, he only posted a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage. This season, not only is he off to a rough start, but Mathieu Garon is playing very well. That's not an uplifting situation for Roloson owners, so either cut him loose, or better yet, try to handicap him by snagging both Lightning goalies.

For Anderson, the defense in front of him is still surrounded by question marks, but he thrives when seeing 35-40 shots a game. As a result, we feel his save percentage is on the rise, especially now that he's building off two straight wins. After returning from his "personal leave" last week, he seemed much more clear-minded and focused on stopping the puck, so now could be a good time to buy low.

For Mason, we noticed a ton of negative body language last week, so when he did give up a goal, he lost even more confidence, thus making it even harder on himself to make timely saves. We advise you to stay away from him for now, at least until his confidence is revived with a win or two. Defenseman James Wisniewski's return will provide Mason with some much-needed support as well.


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 of course 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.
Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Michal Neuvirth
No matter which direction you decide to take with these (and a few other) struggling starters, it's wise to wait one or two more games before making such a drastic move. Remember, a goalie's confidence can literally change on a daily basis. One big save, one lucky bounce, or one short pep talk with their head coach can turn a currently negative situation into a positive one in a real hurry. 


Nikolai Khabibulin: With a 2-0-2 record through four games, Khabibulin has a ridiculous 0.72 GAA and .969 save percentage with one shutout. Up to this point, he has only allowed one real untimely goal, which came in the final second against the Wild last Thursday. Now that the rotation with Devan Dubnyk has been broken, expect The Bulin Wall to start on Tuesday at home against Vancouver. But the Oilers' schedule after that gets a lot tougher, as they play the Capitals on Thursday and the Avalanche on Friday. 

Antti Niemi: With a shootout win against the Devils on Friday and a 37-save win against the Bruins on Saturday, Niemi is quickly getting back on track. His presence makes a huge difference for the Sharks, as the team seems to duplicate his same level of battle in all three zones. He'll have to continue to be a road warrior again this week, however. San Jose faces the Predators on Tuesday, then another back-to-back in Detroit on Friday and against the Islanders on Saturday.

Mike Smith: Despite giving up four goals in a 5-4 win against the Ducks on Sunday night, Smith made a number of momentum-shifting saves. Allowing 14 goals in five games isn't good value for fantasy teams, but his performance on the ice tells a completely different story. He's getting more comfortable and confident with each game, and his ability to make both the reflex-based battling saves and the positionally-sound saves is quickly turning him into a solid starter for the Coyotes. He gets a chance at revenge against the Stars on Tuesday, then hosts the Devils on Thursday and the Kings on Saturday. 


Tuukka Rask: Although he's only 0-2-0 with a 2.52 GAA and .915 save percentage, Rask's charade against Carolina last Tuesday was a clear sign of his frustration. This year is his big chance; he's going to be given more opportunities to play more games. But that could change if he can't come up with a big win real soon. Furthermore, Tim Thomas continues to play inspired hockey. The Bruins also don't play until Thursday against the Canadiens, then again in Montreal on Saturday, so Rask might not play for another week. 

Carey Price: There's no denying that Price's poise, calm demeanor and pure butterfly skills make him an elite netminder. But when his timing is off and that calm demeanor doesn't change, he's prone to looking uninspired and lazy. That's how many would describe his play over the last week, as he stopped just 71 of 81 shots and went 0-2-1. Although Montreal was dealing with a bunch of injuries last week, Price still didn't live up to his expectations of being the true saving grace of a struggling team.      

Jonas Hiller: During the NHL Premiere series, when Hiller gave up a weak goal, shaking off the rust left behind from his bout with vertigo was a valid excuse. But last night's abysmal effort on home ice against Phoenix was simply unacceptable. He allowed five goals on 19 shots and was pulled after Keith Yandle scored just 7:56 into the second period. Combined with a 3-1 loss to the Stars on home ice last Friday, one in which he only stopped 16 of 19 shots, Hiller is slipping quick. Fortunately, he has solid career numbers against his next opponent, Chicago. In 10 games, Jonas is 6-3-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .938 save percentage.  


Swedish phenom Jacob Markstrom could be making his second NHL start on Monday night in Montreal. In two appearances so far this season, Markstrom has stopped 47 of 49 shots (1-1-0) and now has another opportunity to prove he's a full-time NHL goaltender.

What makes Markstrom worth watching right now is the current atmosphere in the Panthers' locker room. General manager Dale Tallon's surprising trade with Vancouver last weekend proves actions speak louder than words; he wants to win right now. With that in mind, if Markstrom continues to impress Kevin Dineen (especially in practices), there's no reason why he couldn't start in Ottawa on Thursday as well. The more he plays, the more likely he is to make Scott Clemmensen expendable.

We'll also point out an interesting trend that took place last season. Rookies Jhonas Enroth, Mikko Koskinen, James Reimer and Braden Holtby all stepped into the Bell Centre in Montreal and won huge hockey games for their teams in impressive fashion. Could Markstrom continue the trend to begin this season? Tune in tonight and see how he does in one of the NHL's toughest buildings for visiting goalies!

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