A great goalie hits like a quarterback in football: Success in this role will not guarantee you the glory of winning the league, and weak play will likely guarantee a long season of fighting and struggling. Such a fun fantasy position! Also fleeting, as New Jersey’s Scott Wedgwood illustrated earlier this week. After Wedgwood scored 40 goals against the Bruins, giving managers 15.0 fantasy points, he allowed five goals in the loss against the Capitals, giving a much less cool -4.0. Quite a swing of the pendulum at 55-hour intervals.
With that in mind, let’s talk about what happens between the pipes for NHL teams and how smart fantasy managers can take advantage of it. Getting away from the Scott-Wedgwood roller coaster is probably a good start.
The inspiration for this column, Antti Raanta, has become a much more prominent fantasy figure in recent days. The 31-year-old is back in action after missing most of January and February with an injury, and will be busy for a number of weeks in Darcy Kemper’s absence. Not a week or two, but weeks. Plural. So far, so good: The Coyotes’ interim No. 1 stopped 44 of 46 shots in overtime at Colorado, two days after he stopped the same Avalanche as Kuemper’s backup. By the way, Raanta is good. He is a talented and experienced goalie on a competitive team. And – most importantly for fantasy managers who need it – it’s available in nearly 90% of ESPN.com leagues.
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Imagine if Tuukka Rask was a little off. But if it turns out the Bruins’ No. 1 is more than a little sore after hearing about a back injury on Sunday, fantasy managers shouldn’t hesitate to immediately grab Jaroslav Halak (if he’s available). In all but one of his nine starts this season, including the narrow 2-1 loss in overtime against the Islanders on Tuesday, Halak was good or excellent. He has a meeting with the Rangers on Thursday.
Injured thumb costs Petr Mrazek more playing time than expected. Although the goalie is still recovering, according to Rod Brynd’Amour, Mrazek’s return is already considered two weeks off. So, quickly. Alex Nedeljkovic will start, while James Reimer will play Thursday against the Nashville Predators. But fantasy managers should be prepared to expect less from Reimer when the No. 1 is on the field. And look at the possible availability of Mrazek.
On Thursday, we get to see Darryl Sutter’s Flames for the first time, at home against the Canadiens. In three or four games, we’ll see what impact the new head coach will have on Calgary’s defensive play. History shows that this should improve. This is only good news for Jacob Markstrom, who is back from an upper-body injury, and his respective managers. Those in need of a quality chipper might consider a flyer trade for Markstrom before his numbers really improve.
In operation since the 20th century. February with a shoulder injury, Elvis Merzlikins returned Thursday against the Florida Panthers. Not to criticize Jonas Korpisalo while the team is not performing at all, but the return of Merzlikins could be a much needed boost to right the ship of the Blue Jackets. After nine defeats in 12 games, almost any change is welcome. Fantasy managers who want a regular goalie should keep an eye on them to see if a little Elvis magic does the trick.
Veteran Mike Smith – not Mikko Koskinen – is the Oilers’ first goalie, we know that. The nearly 39-year-old has been making steady progression since his season debut on August 8. February played well in 12 of 15 games. With the exception of a couple of nasty performances against the Maple Leafs and an ugly partial performance against the Jets, Smith has been more than solid. Remember, he has experience with hot and cold. Invested managers must constantly be ready to apply the brakes if Edmonton #1 gets out of hand.
Since mid-February, Bob has been back on track with a 4-1-1 record and a .926 SV%. Sergei Bobrovsky will make his fourth start in five games on Thursday against the Blue Jackets. The main point is that fantasy managers to save Chris Driedger can adjust their expectations, or consider other options. Shall we go see Raanta?
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Given the uneven quality of play, you’ll see a lot more Kaapo Kahkonen and a lot less Cam Talbot over the course of the season. While the rookie setter won his eighth consecutive – averaging 6.18 fantasy points per game – Talbot has allowed a total of 13 goals in his last three games (all losses). However, they are only eight percentage points apart. Mysterious. The Wild score goals, have fun and win games, and Kahkonen should be forgiven in over two-thirds of ESPN.com leagues.
As discussed Monday, Mackenzie Blackwood should be on the bench at least until the Devils turn things around. Although the 24-year-old has a bright future between the posts in New Jersey, he’s currently a blockhead in fantasy. This is worth noting, as Blackwood remains in 72% of ESPN.com leagues.
As promised by coach Barry Trotz, Ilya Sorokin will get a lot of playing time in the second half of the season. So far, it’s 60-40 in favor of Semyon Varlamov, who is deployed at two positions for the first time in two weeks – the second time being Thursday against the Devils. And both Icelandic goalkeepers are working well. Fantasy managers with daily lineup flexibility and multiple goaltending positions should be interested in Sorokin. Nobody is giving up on a heavy Varlamov at the moment.
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Fantasy managers who invested in Philadelphia’s #1 talent on the field have every right to feel unworthy. Here’s the thing: Brian Elliott has been more consistent and has one more win than Carter Hart, despite playing almost half as many games. Elliott is now scheduled to play Thursday against the Capitals, after successfully replacing Hart on Tuesday against the Sabres. With the playoffs just one point away, the Flyers will use whoever gives them the best chance to win. For now, it’s Elliot. Hart’s fantasy managers in reorganization leagues may be starting to consider other options.
It’s a tale of two seasons for the Pittsburgh goalie. Tristan Jarry posted a negative .864 SV% and 3.82 GAA in his first month. Since then, he has won 7 of 10 games with an SV% of .923 and a GAA of 2.49. With the hiring of Ron Hextall, if you will. As for the noticeable improvement in his starting game, coach Mike Sullivan notes that the 25-year-old also feels more at ease. Managers can check Jarry’s availability in ESPN.com leagues – maybe a trade target? – And send Casey DeSmith to daily fantasy work.
Two consecutive defeats won’t cost Frederik Andersen his first job with the Maple Leafs, but what about three or four consecutive defeats? Jack Campbell is back in training, and his return to competition can’t be far off. A healthy Campbell will likely replace Michael Hutchinson as Andersen’s sporadic backup, as he has played sporadically. If it comes to that. That scenario hasn’t occurred yet, but a few potentially prophetic rumors can’t hurt either. Andersen’s start against the Jets on Thursday was outstanding.
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Thatcher Demko, who is registered in just 44% of ESPN.com leagues, is the undisputed leader among Canucks goalies. One bad game against the Montreal Canadiens was the exception, and since the second week of February he has come through every game with flying colors. Demko could be useful to Fantasy Managers between now and early May if Vancouver is to become a playoff contender. Unless he gets injured or takes another turn for the worse, we probably won’t see Braden Holtby much during this period. The Canucks only have three replacements left on the roster.
Robin Lehner, from the AHL Silver Knights of Henderson, is coaching for the first time since the 7th round. February. Once Lehner finds his rhythm, Marc-Andre Fleury – the fantasy favorite in goal this season – will see his playing time reduced. Especially if Lehner plays as well as he can.
Thursday’s game in Philadelphia is important for Ilya Samsonov. A win would mark his second consecutive victory and his third in four appearances since his recovery from COWID-19. It could also mean the end of Vitek Vanecek, who has been a fixture for the Capitals. While Vanecek has generally handled Samsonov’s absence well, the eight goals he has scored in his last two games (one of which was incomplete) has given less confidence. Washington’s reserve stands at 56 percent on ESPN.com, with Samsonov available at nearly a third. Managers across the fantasy spectrum will want to evaluate how the 24-year-old handles the Flyers.