This week we'll be taking a look at the top netminders from the West- who you should start and who's been foundering as of late.
Chicago duo Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi are an excellent one-two punch for the Blackhawks. On a squad with 66 points as of 1/14- good enough for second in the West- Chi-towns goaltending core is strong and able enough to send the team on a deep play-off run, which looks likely with continued stellar play from Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and captain Jonathan Toews. Since the days of Montreal, Huet (.908 SV% - 2.17 GAA with 20-8-3 record) has proved himself a competent and confident player, and with Niemi's size and lightning fast glove, he's as solid a back-up as one could find. While Niemi (.921 SV% - 1.84 GAA with 11-3-1 record) did struggle in the Finnish league for part of his career, he's adapting well to the North American game and has a promising NHL future. The vet Huet will see even more ice-time as the season progresses, so he's a good pick for a starter.
While Colorado has had much to be happy about this season, Craig Anderson is probably the teams brightest light. He's been in the crease for all of the Avalanches 39 games this season and has posted an impressive .918 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.67. His 22-11-5 record is also surprising, considering his squad has dropped several matches that they should have won (Edmonton!? REALLY!?). Anderson keeps Colorado in matches with a unique ability to stop the puck by any means necessary- he is currently the most shot at man in hockey, with 1,265 shots against. We're looking at an excellent netminder and a definite fantasy starter; Colorado just needs to get those easy wins out of the way instead of taking the night off.
San Jose Sharks
Two words: Evgeni Nabakov. To not start Nabakov in the West would be like benching Ryan Miller in the East: it simply shouldn't happen. His .924 SV% through 1/14 ties Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Semyon Varlamov (WSH) and Tomas Vokoun (FLA). Nabakov's 2.29 goals against average and 26-7-7 record make him one of the most talented goalies in the league. He's dangerous with his glove, but his short side needs work (just look at last years play-off run and you'll see what I mean). He'll have Olympic Gold on his mind soon enough however, so he may sit for the easy games as he preps for Team Russia. San Jose will continue to sit at the top in the West (no surprise there) and number 20 and his 41 starts is a big reason why.
Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have been battling for the number one spot between the pipes in Nashville for the past three seasons, and 2009-10 is no different. With each netminder standing on their heads at times, it's tough to decide who to start, for both Preds coaches and fantasy hockey enthusiasts alike. While Rinne (.907 SV% - 2.74 GAA with 18-8-2 record) has 10 more starts this season, Ellis (.911 SV% - 2.71 GAA with 10-8-1 record) has had better play. Defensive problems have made goaltending in Nashville a nightmare (both goaltenders should have better numbers), but if they're a part of your fantasy roster don't be worried. Start Rinne before Ellis; he's on a hot streak and Nashville's schedule has a few more wins to offer before it cools down.
One of the top goalies on the planet for the past, oh, six years or so, Miikka Kiprusoff is a freak. Impossible to beat down low, a glove faster than a speeding bullet, the foresight to poke check when necessary and the ability to cut the angle to nothing, it would be criminal not to start number 34. With a killer squad in front of him (Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque, Dion Phaneuf), there's a reason Kipper and Calgary are the number five team in the West. It's unlikely that he won't start for Finland, so expect to start other netminders when he begins to bench up as the Olympics draw closer. With 41 starts, a .926 SV%, 2.18 GAA and a 23-12-6 record, the man with the telescoping legs better be in your line-up.
Roberto Luongo, Team Canada's number-two man for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, has been devastating to opposing offenses for his entire career, but this season he's looked, well- less like Roberto Luongo. His 23-14-2 record is good enough to secure the seventh spot in the West for the Canucks, and his .919 SV% and 2.30 GAA is as impressive as any other starter in the league, maybe more so. Unfortunately offensive as well as defensive issues, as well as injuries, have caused a bit of turmoil up in British Columbia. Losses to the likes of Columbus and Edmonton have been disheartening to say the least, and most times Luongo is the only reason Vancouver is in the game (with the exceptions of Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler of course). With no real back-up (Andrew Raycroft is tolerable, but he just isn't used to West coast hockey yet) it's Luongo all the way. Start him, but check the schedule first.
Detroit Red Wings
A strange season, which has put Detroit in ninth in the West, has seen the fall of Chris Osgood and the rise of rookie Jimmy Howard. Osgood, who only excels in the play-offs (and only because the beast of a team in front of him lets about 10 shots get to him), proves once again that the regular season is no place for him. I wouldn't start Osgood if the Wings were playing a peewee squad. Howard, who for years stood out with Detroit's farm club in Grand Rapids, is finally getting a chance to start, and while his record (16-10-0) isn't great, it looks like he's adapting well to the fast-paced NHL. We all know the Red Wings will turn this first-half slump around, so keep Howard on your radar. A back-up now, but a starter next month, snag Howard if you don't already have him.