In the Crease: Crawford, Pavelec rising

I'm just renting this space for two weeks as our beloved goalie prognosticator Tim Kavanagh enjoys some rest and relaxation. As with any rental property, I have to be careful to return In the Crease to Tim in the same condition I found it.

The main concern I am finding is that, given the subjectivity of fantasy hockey rankings, I find myself wanting to make some wild swings in the value. Two problems with that: 1.) I most humbly cede to Tim on anything goalie related and 2.) There is little point in me implementing major changes only to have Tim swing them back.

But then we run into the issue of usefulness of the column for these two weeks if I tread too lightly. Sigh.

So, here is the concept: In our Rising and Falling section this week, I will denote not only where I moved the goaltender in the ranking, but also where I wanted to move them. Not only will that provide for an easy transition for two weeks, but it should also provide for a fresh perspective on some of the goaltenders around the league. If there is one rule about reading fantasy hockey advice, it's that you cannot take in too many opinions.

Rising and Falling

Top 40 Goalies

Note: The top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Jimmy Howard, Det (1)
2. Ryan Miller, Buf (2)
3. Tim Thomas, Bos (3)
4. Jaroslav Halak, StL (4)
5. Roberto Luongo, Van (5)
6. Carey Price, Mon (9)
7. Jonathan Quick, LA (6)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (7)
9. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (10)
10. Martin Brodeur, NJ (11)
11. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (12)
12. Niklas Backstrom, Min (8)
13. Cam Ward, Car (13)
14. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (18)
15. Michal Neuvirth, Was (14)
16. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (15)
17. Craig Anderson, Col (16)
18. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (17)
19. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (19)
20. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (25)
21. Jonas Hiller, Ana (20)
22. Semyon Varlamov, Was (37)
23. Mathieu Garon, Cls (21)
24. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (22)
25. Brent Johnson, Pit (23)
26. Brian Elliott, Ott (24)
27. Steve Mason, Cls (33)
28. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (30)
29. Tuukka Rask, Bos (26)
30. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (27)
31. Peter Budaj, Col (28)
32. Dan Ellis, TB (29)
33. Chris Mason, Atl (31)
34. Michael Leighton, Phi (32)
35. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (36)
36. Marty Turco, Chi (34)
37. Anders Lindback, Nsh (35)
38. Martin Biron, NYR (38)
39. Corey Crawford, Chi (NR)
40. Jonathan Bernier, LA (39)

Ondrej Pavelec, Atlanta Thrashers (up five spots): Here, I would have liked to vault Pavelec into the top 15. He has been the league's No. 1 goaltender on the ESPN Player Rater during the past two weeks and No. 2 behind Carey Price going back an entire month. The Thrashers, for better or worse, are for real as a contender this season. They are taking out opponents generally considered to be elite, they get scoring from all four lines, and Pavelec faces enough shots to give his save percentage some extra weight. The Thrashers may have brought in Chris Mason as insurance, but it doesn't mean they have to use him. Pavelec was an absolute force in a goal-scorer's junior league in the QMJHL, and just because his stats weren't great during the past couple seasons for the Thrashers, it doesn't mean they can't be (not many goalies would have had good stats for recent Thrashers teams). The current elite levels for Pavelec's goals-against average and save percentage are not sustainable during the course of a long season, but he has a lot of wiggle room to still be a No. 1 fantasy goaltender. The bottom line here is that the second-best fantasy hockey goaltender since October is available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (down four spots): What I wanted to do was drop Backstrom down outside the established No. 1 fantasy goalie range (somewhere in the 15-20 area). I'm not a fan. Coach Todd Richards likes to push offense a lot more than defense, and the result is often a blowout if Backstrom is not flawless. Consider that the Wild and Backstrom had an incredibly hot start to bolster his overall numbers and then realize that he is No. 22 on the ESPN Player Rater for the season among goaltenders. So how bad has he been lately to get that low rating? He has a 3.33 goals-against average in November and a .902 save percentage. That is not even mentioning the fact that Jose Theodore's numbers of late have been as good, if not better, than Backstrom's. He is not in danger of losing his job to Theodore yet, but I don't think Backstrom is a top-10 goaltender going forward.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (debuts at No. 39): My gut and his recent performance tell me to go much higher, but there is a risk to counting out Marty Turco too soon. Thus, the relatively low ranking. Still, all indications point to Crawford being the man at some point for the Blackhawks, so why not now? Turco, despite a good campaign last season, does not maintain a save percentage that bodes well for fantasy hockey owners and, in turn, his NHL team. Since the lockout, Turco has finished two seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage. His goals-against average this season and the previous two have been worse than 2.70. Not to dwell on negatives toward Turco too much, but I think a lot of folks hear the name and consider him a no-brainer No. 1 goalie. He's not. Crawford has been developing slowly but surely at every stage in the system, and he is about at the point where he can start to put it all together. In eight starts this season, he hasn't allowed more than three goals and in his past five starts, he hasn't allowed more than two goals. Crawford's record in November is 4-1 with a 1.39 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Turco's November numbers are 2-5, with a 3.22 GAA and .881 save percentage. Who do you think will start more going forward? P.S. The Blackhawks are a pretty good team when it comes to offensive support for wins.

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets (up six spots): I wanted to go higher with Mason, but not a lot higher. Concerns about Mathieu Garon's hot play affecting playing time have subsided, given that Mason has started seven of the past nine games. Six of the seven have been decent outings for Mason. His confidence level seems to be buoyed by the enhanced play of the Blue Jackets overall. With two lines of offense pacing an attack that gives the Jackets a chance to win every night, Mason is answering the call for his teammates. While the occasional blowup still prevents Mason from being someone you can put in your lineup and leave alone, continued strong play could change that.


Semyon Varlamov (71.7 percent) and Michal Neuvirth (94.4 percent), Washington Capitals: Let's start with the bottom line: Pick up Varlamov because while this situation is unpredictable and unstable, there is value to be gained. Varlamov recently returned from a groin injury and found himself starting three straight games in which he ceded but four goals on 73 shots. The natural knee-jerk reaction is to say, that Varlamov has his gig back. But that's far from the case because of the Capitals' unique netminding situation: It doesn't really matter who is in net, that's the big secret that no one talks about. The Caps have the right combination of a strong offense and quality defense to offer any goaltender between their pipes a strong chance of success, starting with the chance for a bunch of wins. Varlamov will start a lot of games from here on out, but so will Neuvirth. Expect coach Bruce Boudreau to have you pulling your hair out at some point. Right now, both goalies are worth owning and the hot hand is the one to put in your starting lineup. The saving grace for overall value might just be the fact that Varlamov has struggled with groin strains over the past two seasons; however, that is no reason not to start him when healthy. I wish there was an easy answer for this one folks, but there just isn't.

Brian Elliott (46.3 percent) and Pascal Leclaire (34.1 percent), Ottawa Senators: Unfortunately, there actually is an easy answer for this situation: You don't want either of them. The Sens aren't scoring much and are showing a porous defense. Until things get shored up overall, there isn't a lot of hope. However, if you want to gamble, take a look at Leclaire. He hurt his groin in October and took a bunch of time off to recover. He came back and showed some serious rust in a six-goal outing against the Vancouver Canucks. Then he wasn't fantastic in mop-up duty after the Carolina Hurricanes chased Elliott. But Leclaire then rolled off three straight starts allowing two goals in each. Because he lost the last two of those starts due to a lack of supporting offense, Elliott was back between the pipes. Look at Leclaire's performances though: a .938 save percentage against the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins, three teams in the top half of the league in goals per game.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.