The volatility of the goaltending market is at an all-time high. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, your crease stud allows a dozen goals in a three-game span. Then when he is benched, he shuts the door in a 35-shot shutout. Yes, goalies are the main source of frustration for all GM’s (NHL and fantasy alike). Just ask Henrik Lundqvist owners how they feel so far this season.
All we can do is monitor their ups and downs and start the right guy; the one that’s embarking on a hot streak. I’ll let you figure out the highs and lows on your own, because your guess is as good as mine. What I hope to help with here is identifying some stoppers whose career outlooks seem to have taken a turn for the better or the worse in this early season. Since forecasting the short term is such a risky proposition I’ll also examine the mid-to-long term outlook for these goalies.
ON THE UPSWING
If you’ve read my postings for the past three years, you already know that I’ve been singing Lehtonen’s praises for a while. I believe he is the most underrated tender in the NHL. Playing in Atlanta and Dallas over an eight-year career doesn’t help much getting you noticed. Although he is coming off a minor injury, his early durability issues have been solved by improving his diet and off-season work habits. Just how good is he? Stars’ GA/G in the 5 games he missed: 4.40; Lehtonen’s GAA in 5 games: 1.69. The competitive and athletic Finn loves facing lots of shots and is well served in Dallas. His .915 career Sv% would be much higher had he ever played behind more structured defensive teams. His .961 Sv% (ranked 2nd) this season is a sign of things to come from a 29 y/o just entering his prime years.
His Calder Trophy rookie season back in 2008-09 was no fluke. Mason’s natural talent is undeniable. The combination of size, butterfly technique and lateral quickness has always been there. By his own admission, much of the struggles he went through over the next three and a half seasons stemmed from a loss of self-confidence. I would argue that playing for a Columbus organization that lacked any sense of direction played a huge role in destroying an elite talent’s swagger. Philly is struggling this season, but Mason has been their only bright spot. He’s the main reason for their 9th ranked PK (83.7%) and his .930 Sv% while playing behind a mediocre squad has squashed any discussion concerning the number one job as Ray Emery remains a back-up. Oh yeah, and the kid’s still only 25.
Also keep an eye on: Ben Bishop (TAM).
TAKING A STEP BACK
For a second straight season, the Caps are off to a lethargic start. They are currently ranked 24th in the NHL in 5-on-5 play as Adam Oates’ system is once again slow to take hold. Holtby has been pulled from two of his 10 starts this season and has allowed 3 or more goals in half of them. He was seen barking his frustration at his own bench after getting the hook in Calgary on Saturday. It should be mentioned that Holtby and the Caps had an even worse start last season and the then 23 y/o tender finished with a solid .920 Sv%. There is also a bright spot this year as Washington boasts the second best PK efficiency the league at 89.2%. There certainly is no reason to panic for those who own this young super-talented athlete, but he should be benched until his teammates start showing better cohesion in front of him.
The Oilers’s brass may not have been satisfied with the progression rate of their young players under ex-coach Ralph Krueger, but he had them playing a much more structured game than the one displayed through 13 games so far this season under Dallas Eakins. Edmonton ranks dead last in GA/G at 3.77 (compared to 19th at 2.73 in 2013) and second-to-last in PK efficiency at 75.5% (compared to 9th at 83.4% in 2013). The addition of captain Andrew Ference should help make Edmonton’s defense better on paper, but the concept of team defense still eludes many of this young team’s dynamic offensive stars. Dubnyk is much better than his .878 Sv% might suggest, but is partly a victim of circumstance at the moment, therefore rendering him a fantasy dud.
Should also warm-up your bench: Ondrej Pavelec (WIN).