Fantasy Hockey: Essential Goalie Strategies for Your Playoffs
There are only five weeks left in the NHL regular season. Your Fantasy Hockey playoffs are about to begin. When it comes to goaltending there are a couple of rules you should keep in mind. First, there is little reason to carry a backup goalie on your Fantasy team now. Unless that NHL team has a playoff spot locked up, they are going to have their starting net minder between the pipes on most nights. They want to make sure they make the playoffs. So goaltenders like Jimmy Howard, Andrei Vasilevsky, and Al Montoya may not see many starts from here on out. If you’re holding onto them, you might want to think about adding an extra forward or defenseman. It’s all about strategy. What do you need most?
Second, keep in mind that if you’re relying on a goaltender on a team that is out of contention, they just might start the backup or a call up from the AHL. They may want to see what they have in their system that could make them better for next season. This could hurt those owners relying on Ondrej Pavelec, Cam Ward, or Jonas Hiller. Then again, if you are relying on any of these, you really don’t have much to lose anyway. Let’s take a look at the crease around the NHL.
[caption id="attachment_90922" align="alignright" width="374"] The Rangers and Fantasy owners will hope that the neck injury suffered by Henrik Lundqvist on Thursday won't keep him from missing more than a game or two. Photo Credit: JR in NYC[/caption]
Henrik Lundqvist left the game Thursday versus Pittsburgh after colliding with teammate Ryan McDonagh during the second period of the game. Lundqvist was upset that timeout wasn’t called and turned over the net, earning himself a two-minute delay of game penalty. He did not return for the third period, and it was announced after the game that he was suffering from neck spasms. Antti Raanta will start Friday versus the Capitals, as both the Rangers and Fantasy owners hope that Lundqvist can return for Sunday’s showdown versus the Islanders.
Al Montoya (concussion) has been cleared to play again for Florida. He has been nothing short of fantastic this season with a 1.96 GAA and .928 save percentage. However, as mentioned above, we would expect Florida to use Roberto Luongo much more often than not down the stretch. Still, Montoya should play when Florida has back to back games so as not burn out Luongo.
The Islanders are still rotating Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss between the pipes. Greiss has started the last two games after Halak had started the previous four. The Isles are doing what is best for them by starting whichever goaltender is playing well at the time. Greiss has won two straight games but looked a little shaky Thursday in Winnipeg. With Halak having played so well versus the Rangers this season, it would be an upset if he didn’t start Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Petr Mrazek is back after missing a game earlier this week due to a groin injury. As mentioned many times, groin injuries are always something to worry about, as they can be re-injured very easily. The Wings have been struggling of late, though, and are likely to push their luck with Mrazek down the stretch as they look to guarantee themselves a playoff berth.
Marc-Ander Fleury is still the starter for Pittsburgh, as well he should be; but Matt Murray seems to have passed Jeff Zatkoff as the backup. The Penguins had five games this week (due to a game cancelled because of a snow storm) and it looks like they will start Murray twice and sit Zatkoff. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about the pecking order in Pittsburgh.
Although Steve Mason is healthy, Michal Neuvirth has now started eight straight games for the Flyers. It would seem to most observers that he has taken over the starting job. Will it last the rest of the season? Not likely, as the Flyers are also riding the hot goaltender, and Neuvirth has never been able to stay healthy for any length of time as a starting goalie. Mason will get another shot.
Craig Anderson is dealing with a knee injury that will keep him out of the lineup for the immediate future. He hurt the knee during the game Tuesday and didn’t play Thursday versus the Lightning. The Senators are saying they don’t expect the injury to keep him out of the lineup long term and are calling him day to day, but teams can’t be trusted to speak the truth, especially not at this time of year. Andrew Hammond will start for the Senators until Anderson is ready to return and could be a sneaky pickup if you need a goaltender.
Carey Price is practicing for Montreal, and he stated Thursday that he has turned a corner in his rehab from a knee injury and wants to play again this season. Now, we don’t know when the Canadiens might activate Price. They really aren’t in the playoff picture, and unless they were to go on a huge winning streak, they are probably just playing out the string. Is it worth risking Price in this scenario for games that would essentially be meaningless? The problem for Fantasy owners is that when he returns it would almost certainly be during the Fantasy playoffs. Should you automatically start the number one goaltender taken off the board in a majority of leagues? Touch choice indeed.
The Avalanche admitted Thursday that the reason Semyon Varlamov didn’t start versus the Panthers was because of his recent struggles. He is 1-4 over his last five games with a .845 save percentage. Those numbers won’t fly for a team battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Calvin Pickard received the start Thursday but the team will go back to Varlamov sooner rather than later. Still, Varlamov is a tough goaltender to rely on under the best of circumstances. You may be better off leaving him on your bench until he turns in a good game or two.
You can feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz
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