In The Crease: Welcome back, Emery

Quick programming announcement: This is the final regularly formatted "In the Crease" column of the season. But fear not, kind reader, there's plenty of fantasy hockey goodness coming your way in the coming weeks, starting with a special awards column next week and a look ahead to the 2011-12 season the week thereafter.

But for those of you in a tight race in a roto-style league or deep in the playoffs in head-to-head, there are some decisions to make for the final push, and one man involved is no stranger to this column: Anaheim Ducks netminder Ray Emery.

Short version of the immediate backstory for those catching up: Emery was a fantasy darling for the first part of the 2009-10 season with the Philadelphia Flyers. An injury that he did not disclose to the team sapped his ability, and later ended his season. Emery was diagnosed with a scary, career-threatening condition (avascular necrosis) in the offseason, and underwent surgery and a long rehabilitation process. The Ducks took a gamble on Emery once this process was complete, and after some rehab starts with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, he made his 2010-11 debut in 17 minutes of relief on March 13. Since that first appearance, Emery has made two starts for the Ducks, allowing just one goal in each. Through 137 minutes of game action, he's sporting a 0.87 goals-against average and a .972 save percentage.

In introductory statistics work, one learns about the perils of using a small sample size, but with scant time remaining in the season, bold moves must sometimes be made as a leap of faith. My take is that this is one of those occasions.

Even if we were only considering Emery's recent body of work on its own, he'd be worthy of picking up. But the fact is, the other options for the Ducks have either been inconsistent as of late (in the case of Dan Ellis), or unavailable due to a somewhat mysterious injury (Jonas Hiller). According to the latest round of reports from the Orange County Register, Hiller has been a more regular participant in practices, but there is still no timetable for his return. For those interested in the Ducks' run in the postseason, Hiller's progress is encouraging, and it remains possible that he'll be around for the playoffs. But with the fantasy season ending (for many) with the close of the regular season, it's a decision between Ellis and Emery. Based on what we've now seen from both, Emery gets the full recommendation here, though there's been no official outline from Ducks coach Randy Carlyle as to the starting plan. Even so, Emery is widely available (owned in just 9.6 percent of ESPN leagues), and could be amongst the most productive options down the final stretch if he handles a good portion of the starts for Anaheim.

Paying attention to players running hot and cold is always important, but as mentioned by Sean Allen in Monday's "Front Line," that becomes even more vital now as the opportunities for production dwindle away. With that in mind, there are some bigger swings both up and down the rankings this week.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's 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. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (3)
2. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (2)
3. Carey Price, Mon (1)
4. Martin Brodeur, NJ (6)
5. Ryan Miller, Buf (7)
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (5)
7. Tim Thomas, Bos (4)
8. Roberto Luongo, Van (8)
9. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (9)
10. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (11)
11. Al Montoya, NYI (14)
12. Jonathan Quick, LA (13)
13. Corey Crawford, Chi (10)
14. Michal Neuvirth, Was (24)
15. Craig Anderson, Ott (16)
16. Antti Niemi, SJ (17)
17. Cam Ward, Car (18)
18. Ray Emery, Ana (33)
19. Niklas Backstrom, Min (12)
20. Dwayne Roloson, TB (19)
21. James Reimer, Tor (22)
22. Jimmy Howard, Det (21)
23. Jonathan Bernier, LA (23)
24. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (15)
25. Dan Ellis, Ana (20)
26. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (25)
27. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (26)
28. Brian Boucher, Phi (27)
29. Cory Schneider, Van (30)
30. Semyon Varlamov, Was (32)
31. Jaroslav Halak, StL (28)
32. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (37)
33. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (31)
34. Johan Hedberg, NJ (34)
35. Steve Mason, Cls (35)
36. Tuukka Rask, Bos (36)
37. Brian Elliott, Col (38)
38. Braden Holtby, Was (29)
39. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (39)
40. Chris Osgood, Det (40)

Rising and falling

Al Montoya, New York Islanders (up three spots): Just after I write that there are going to be wild swings in the rankings, I'm including a guy that makes just a small jump. My deepest apologies. But for Montoya, this season has been one big positive swing since he became the Isles' starter in February. Take a moment to consider where Montoya came from this season: he began the campaign as the No. 3 goalie on the Phoenix Coyotes' organizational depth chart, yet in the pressure-packed months of February and March (following being traded for a sixth-round pick), he's been one of the most reliably productive netminders in the league. In 15 appearances (13 starts), Montoya has racked up a 7-3-4 record, with a 2.39 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. If he had enough starts, those ratios would be in or near the league's Top 10 in both cases, although the small sample size problem rears its head here as well. As for immediate future prospects, Rick DiPietro made his first start on Saturday after returning from the facial injury he sustained from his goalie fight with Brent Johnson, so there might be a bit of a timeshare concern. On the other hand, given how well Montoya has played, the Isles may want to get a better look at him as they determine their plans for 2011-12. There will be more on this idea in the crystal ball column in two weeks, but for now, Montoya is a nice pickup target (owned in just 21.4 percent of ESPN leagues), and if you've already rostered him, by all means keep him active.

Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals (up 10 spots): Officially, the Capitals aren't going to name a starting goaltender, perhaps not even when the playoffs start. You read that right. "There's no lead. This isn't a race," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said recently, according to the Washington Times. "We'll just go with who we think is the hottest goalie at the time when the time is needed." That might be so, but of the team's three netminders, Neuvirth appears to be the best bet by far for fantasy production down the stretch, which is why he's no longer in the Timeshares section below. The motivation for the move falls under the usual reasons of opportunity and production. With Semyon Varlamov close enough in his rehabilitation that he's expected to get a start within a week, the team sent Braden Holtby -- the league's defending First Star of the previous week, mind you -- back down to the AHL's Hershey Bears. It's an embarrassment of young goaltending riches in America's capital. Though Varlamov will be starting a game on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday of this week, he's struggled to stay on the ice again this season, and there could be more issues ahead. Neuvirth is no stranger to the trainers' room either, but aside from the recent fluke injury that gave Holtby his chance, he's been a workhorse over the last several weeks. And since Feb. 26, he's gone 5-1-0, with a 1.67 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He's available in nearly 20 percent of ESPN leagues, so it's worth double-checking to see if you play in one of them.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (down seven spots): The thinking was that with the return of Mikko Koivu to the Wild's active lineup, everything would turn around for the better on both ends of the ice. In addition to his deft offensive abilities, Koivu is efficient in the defensive zone, and also plays a role on special teams. Unfortunately, someone apparently forgot to tell Backstrom. Here's how it's gone for the Finn since his countryman's return: in four appearances (three starts), he's allowed 14 goals (a 3.93 goals-against average) with a .880 save percentage. Though the Wild are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot out West, an 8-1 drubbing on home ice on Sunday was a bad sign for those chances, and for the team's prospects generally over the duration. Though Backstrom will likely start the majority of games down the stretch, there are better options out there for fantasy purposes.


Jonathan Quick (100.0 percent) and Jonathan Bernier (9.9 percent), Los Angeles Kings: Still in the thick of the playoff race, Kings coach Terry Murray gave Bernier one start to Quick's three over the past week, including a shootout win on Monday night over the Calgary Flames. It's tough to find fault with the way that either option is playing. In February and March, Quick has gone 9-4-2, with a 2.32 goals-against average and.918 save percentage. Meanwhile, Bernier has been even more impressive, with a 5-0-3 record in nine appearances, a 1.79 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. The takeaway from this discussion from a fantasy perspective is that Bernier is vastly underowned. Even though he's splitting time, he's very effective when it's his turn.

Sergei Bobrovsky (86.9 percent) and Brian Boucher (30.1 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: Asked prior to Saturday night's game against the Dallas Stars whether he'd be picking a starting goalie for the playoffs and letting that player gain some momentum down the stretch, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette indicated that the timeshare will continue. "I think we'll keep them both going," the coach confirmed, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Laviolette also indicated that he'd consider rotating his goalies once the playoffs begin. Though Bobrovsky and Boucher have similar stats on the season, their recent performances tell a different story. The Russian rookie has been on a wayward path of inconsistency since January. In two wins this month, he's relented one goal and two goals, respectively. However in his other four March appearances, he's allowed 15 goals total. Meanwhile, Boucher had a great start to the calendar year through January and February, but has posted a 3.13 goals-against average and .883 save percentage in four March starts. In other words, it's been inconsistency versus mediocrity as of late. As each of the two brings significant risk to the table -- especially with Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger possibly out until the start of the playoffs -- there are likely better options out there.

Tomas Vokoun (99.9 percent) and Scott Clemmensen (0.9 percent), Florida Panthers: As the season winds down, the Panthers are not in the playoff picture, so it's easy to overlook what's going on down in South Florida. But in the month of March, Clemmensen and Vokoun have split the team's starting duties, and the understudy has outperformed the No. 1. Clemmensen has picked up two wins in five starts, with a 2.16 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, while Vokoun has just one win, with ratios of 3.17 and .912, respectively. The reason for the timeshare could be due to business issues looking forward: Vokoun's contract is up after this season while Clemmensen has a year left with the franchise. Prospect Jacob Markstrom is waiting in the wings, but the Panthers may want to see if Clemmensen has enough ability to lead the team as Markstrom continues to develop. That's highly speculative, and the real reason for the timeshare is not important. The motivation for mentioning Clemmensen here is that he could be a decent option down the stretch for a roto team that is already well situated in the win column. Those W's are rare for the Panthers, but Clemmensen can be a boost in the other categories.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com