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Open Ice: Deep goalie thoughts

Josh Harding has a .950 save percentage at even strength, tops in the NHL this season. Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports

Save percentage is arguably the best of the goaltender metrics available by which to judge a goaltender's skill, and it's awesome in its simplicity. "If one thousand pucks were to go at the net, how many pucks does the goalie stop?" Its importance is not lost on fantasy owners, either. Invariably, save percentage is a category in every fantasy league (with the exception of points leagues that can't use ratios).

The NHL provides us with a breakdown of a goaltenders' save percentage at even strength, on special teams and in overtime situations. These insights can often give us a look at which goaltenders may be better (or worse) than we think them to be. The best two of the situations to look at are even-strength save percentage and power-play save percentage (when the opponent is on the power play, that is). These two situations represent the vast majority of the shots a goaltender faces. Carey Price has faced more than 750 shots on goal this season, but fewer than 20 of them have come in overtime or while the Montreal Canadiens were shorthanded.

The even-strength save percentage is a greater measure of a goaltenders' pure ability to stop the puck when everything else is even. It's five-on-five hockey, with no disadvantages to be factored in against the goaltender. You can think of even-strength save percentage as a goaltender's pure save percentage. Conversely, power-play save percentage shows you what a goaltender can do with all the odds stacked against them. Some of the better teams score at a clip close to one in every four power plays. A goaltender's PP save percentage is a good measure of how they handle adversity.

Let's highlight a few specific examples from the different metrics.

The Top 200

Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players 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 goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (2)
3. John Tavares, F, NYI (3)
4. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (6)
5. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (4)
6. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (8)
7. Corey Perry, F, Ana (7)
8. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (9)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (10)
10. Carey Price, G, Mon (19)
11. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (14)
12. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (11)
13. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (12)
14. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (13)
15. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (15)
16. Josh Harding, G, Min (20)
17. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (16)
18. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (17)
19. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (18)
20. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (21)
21. David Backes, F, StL (22)
22. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (30)
23. Logan Couture, F, SJ (23)
24. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (24)
25. Zach Parise, F, Min (25)
26. Alexander Steen, F, StL (26)
27. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (27)
28. James Neal, F, Pit (28)
29. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (29)
30. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (32)
31. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (31)
32. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (33)
33. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (5)
34. Kris Letang, D, Pit (34)
35. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (36)
36. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (37)
37. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (38)
38. Eric Staal, F, Car (39)
39. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (40)
40. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (35)
41. Drew Doughty, D, LA (42)
42. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (43)
43. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (53)
44. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (45)
45. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (46)
46. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (58)
47. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (47)
48. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (48)
49. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (49)
50. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (50)
51. Rick Nash, F, NYR (51)
52. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (41)
53. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (52)
54. Johan Franzen, F, Det (57)
55. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (54)
56. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (55)
57. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (60)
58. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (56)
59. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (59)
60. Ryan Suter, D, Min (44)
61. Matt Duchene, F, Col (61)
62. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (63)
63. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (64)
64. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (65)
65. David Krejci, F, Bos (66)
66. Justin Williams, F, LA (67)
67. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (68)
68. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (62)
69. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (69)
70. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (71)
71. Ben Bishop, G, TB (103)
72. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (74)
73. Brad Richards, F, NYR (75)
74. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (72)
75. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (76)
76. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (77)
77. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (78)
78. Braden Holtby, G, Was (79)
79. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (80)
80. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (70)
81. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (81)
82. Jeff Carter, F, LA (82)
83. Steve Mason, G, Phi (83)
84. Dustin Brown, F, LA (84)
85. David Perron, F, Edm (102)
86. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (73)
87. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (85)
88. Brent Burns, F, SJ (93)
89. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (120)
90. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (86)
91. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (88)
92. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (99)
93. Torey Krug, D, Bos (89)
94. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (90)
95. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (91)
96. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (94)
97. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (92)
98. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (95)
99. Shane Doan, F, Pho (96)
100. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (107)
101. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (97)
102. Jason Pominville, F, Min (87)
103. Steve Downie, F, Phi (100)
104. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (110)
105. Dustin Penner, F, Ana (101)
106. Tobias Enstrom, D, Wpg (104)
107. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (105)
108. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (113)
109. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (108)
110. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (144)
111. Mike Green, D, Was (109)
112. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (139)
113. Pascal Dupuis, F, Pit (111)
114. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (145)
115. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (114)
116. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (115)
117. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (106)
118. Paul Stastny, F, Col (118)
119. Radko Gudas, D, TB (142)
120. Cody Franson, D, Tor (116)
121. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (123)
122. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (124)
123. Ben Scrivens, G, LA (147)
124. Mike Richards, F, LA (126)
125. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (135)
126. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (127)
127. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (128)
128. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (130)
129. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (112)
130. Tomas Hertl, F, SJ (131)
131. Cam Ward, G, Car (129)
132. Ryan Callahan, F, NYR (132)
133. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (133)
134. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (160)
135. Robin Lehner, G, Ott (119)
136. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (134)
137. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (121)
138. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (136)
139. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (125)
140. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (137)
141. Jason Garrison, D, Van (150)
142. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (140)
143. Erik Johnson, D, Col (143)
144. James Reimer, G, Tor (154)
145. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (151)
146. Loui Eriksson, F, Bos (146)
147. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (148)
148. Sam Gagner, F, Edm (149)
149. John Carlson, D, Was (138)
150. Justin Schultz, D, Edm (141)
151. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (152)
152. Slava Voynov, D, LA (155)
153. Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (178)
154. Mike Smith, G, Pho (122)
155. Andrew Shaw, F, Chi (192)
156. Mikhail Grabovski, F, Was (156)
157. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (157)
158. P.A. Parenteau, F, Col (153)
159. Lars Eller, F, Mon (159)
160. Justin Faulk, D, Car (182)
161. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (117)
162. Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dal (NR)
163. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (161)
164. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (162)
165. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (163)
166. Kris Russell, D, Cgy (164)
167. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (172)
168. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (165)
169. Alex Galchenyuk, F, Mon (166)
170. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (98)
171. Justin Braun, D, SJ (167)
172. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (158)
173. Alexander Semin, F, Car (170)
174. Gustav Nyquist, F, Det (173)
175. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (NR)
176. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (174)
177. Patric Hornqvist, F, Nsh (175)
178. Andy Greene, D, NJ (189)
179. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (NR)
180. Mason Raymond, F, Tor (176)
181. Frederik Andersen, G, Ana (181)
182. Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Edm (177)
183. Vincent Lecavalier, F, Phi (179)
184. Marcus Johansson, F, Was (169)
185. Jonas Gustavsson, G, Det (NR)
186. Nino Niederreiter, F, Min (183)
187. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (185)
188. Chris Stewart, F, StL (186)
189. Mats Zuccarello, F, NYR (187)
190. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (NR)
191. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (194)
192. Tomas Fleischmann, F, Fla (188)
193. Mike Cammalleri, F, Cgy (168)
194. Scottie Upshall, F, Fla (NR)
195. Marian Gaborik, F, Cls (NR)
196. Teddy Purcell, F, TB (171)
197. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (191)
198. Tommy Wingels, F, SJ (193)
199. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (197)
200. Sheldon Souray, D, Ana (199)

Josh Harding, G, Minnesota Wild: This conversation, like many about crease habitants this season, begins with Harding. Finally living up to his billing as the top goaltender prospect in the game circa 2007, Harding's late blooming has more to do with opportunity and overcoming adversity. Now a poster boy for thriving in the face of his multiple sclerosis, Harding is stopping nearly everything headed his way. As you want in a No. 1 goaltender, his numbers contrast greatly with Niklas Backstrom. As Backstrom allows almost three goals per game and sports a sub-.900 save percentage, Harding is leading the NHL with his 1.50 GAA and is tied for second with Price with a .938 save percentage. But when it comes to even-strength save percentage -- the best measure we have of a goaltender's ability -- Harding is leading the NHL with a .950 save percentage on 443 shots. Now, is it more impressive that Price has a .945 even-strength save percentage on almost 200 additional shots (619)? Maybe, but the bottom line is that Harding, however you stack him up, is the real deal this season. Coach Mike Yeo claims that the Wild have two No. 1's, according to the Star Tribune, but that's almost laughable. Backstrom is no more than an emergency handcuff for Harding owners at this point.

James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: This is a situation that makes us ask which comes first, the high number of shots or the solid save percentage? The pure volume of shots faced by Reimer and Bernier in the Leafs' net has been downright scary. The Leafs are pacing the league by a two shots per game margin over the next-worst team in terms of allowing their goaltenders to be peppered. But the result? For goaltenders who have started at least a dozen games this season, Reimer is second in even-strength save percentage (.946) and Bernier is fourth (.944). You guessed right when you supposed that you would find the Leafs tied for last in the NHL with 28 power-play goals allowed this season, as the Leafs are not only leaving their goaltenders out to dry at even strength, but allowing them to get killed on the penalty kill as well. Bernier looked better to start the season in goal, Reimer then had a run of success, but right now it's difficult to endorse either goaltender. The light at the end of the tunnel here is that stellar even-strength save percentage posted by both goaltenders. Clearly there are some systemic team issues at the heart of their recent blowups. If the Leafs can fix the team issues, Reimer and/or Bernier could become a fantasy rock star. Watching Harding excel this season and knowing that Bernier has a similar pedigree, it's hard not to want to side with Bernier when playing the long game. That said, Reimer could be a cheaper investment as Bernier tends to have more appeal.

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins: The 2013 postseason had many folks soured on Fleury coming into this campaign, but he has proved to still be a fantasy No. 1 goaltender through the first part of the campaign. Fleury's .920 even-strength save percentage is solid, but even better is his .930 power-play save percentage. That means Fleury has been even better at stopping pucks when the Penguins are down a man. Sure enough, the Penguins only trail the Vancouver Canucks for penalty killing this season.

Cory Schneider, G, New Jersey Devils: The Devils haven't committed to Schneider as the starter yet? Well, give it another week. For a team that is used to dominating on the penalty kill, it has to be obvious internally that Martin Brodeur has the inferior statistics this season. Schneider has one of the better power-play save percentages in the league at .926. But Brodeur has one of the worst power-play save percentages in the league at .877. You could argue that comparing power-play save percentage to the league rankings is unfair (and we'd agree), but we are comparing apples to apples here; Schneider and Brodeur play for the same team! Unfortunately, until the Devils' offense starts scoring some goals while Schneider is in net, nothing is going to change. This still feels like a buy-low opportunity, though. You can't stop as many pucks as Schneider does and not get rewarded eventually.

Ben Scrivens and Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings: There are only five goaltenders who have started a dozen games this season with a power-play save percentage worse than Quick's .840. There are zero goaltenders who have started a dozen games with a power-play save percentage better than Scrivens' .957. While the success of Martin Jones this past week is evidence in favor of Quick returning to his starting gig when he is healthy, this power-play save percentage discrepancy is evidence for concern about Quick's job going forward. Once again, this is apples-to-apples as the goalies play behind the same skaters on the ice. Is it possible that coach Darryl Sutter tightened up the penalty kill knowing his No. 1 goaltender was out for a while? Yes, but it's also possible that Scrivens has found a groove and will offer a challenge to Quick when the incumbent returns.

Forwards rising and falling

Tyler Seguin, F, Dallas Stars (up eight spots to No. 22): Seguin dropped a bit last week when it wasn't clear if concussion problems would linger, but he is right back up the rankings this week after showing he is just fine. The Stars are, by far, having the most success from Seguin and Jamie Benn when they are partnered with rookie Valeri Nichushkin. This fact has to be sinking in for the coaching staff, and that is going to mean good days ahead for the rookie. The ship may have sailed on acquiring Seguin on the cheap this season, but Nichuskin is still available in 87 percent of ESPN leagues.

Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay Lightning (enters at No. 179): Could he suffer a setback at any point and miss the rest of the season? Yes. Is he crazy for setting a personal timetable of Feb. 6 to return to the ice from a very broken leg? Probably. But he is Steven Stamkos -- he can do whatever he wants. If Stamkos is eyeing a return in early February, who are we to say he is wrong? Currently available in 11 percent of ESPN leagues, go check your wire now. Two and a half months of Stamkos in your lineup is far better than four months of your worst forward.

Defensemen rising and falling

Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild (down 16 spots to No. 60): We dropped Suter out of the top 10 defensemen this week, but the truth is that he hasn't been earning anywhere close to that status this season. Still without a single goal this season, Suter was always an assist man anyway. But zero goals and fewer than 40 assists does not a top 10 fantasy D-man make. There was potential for Suter to have a better season. If and when one of the young offensive defenseman prospects for the Wild (Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon) takes the next step, it will bode very well for Suter's fantasy stats. Spurgeon is showing signs, so maybe Suter has a better close to the season. But for now, he is tumbling down the rankings.

Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks (up 31 spots to No. 89): This isn't just a fad with Fowler; he is showing enough poise to remain a threat even after Sheldon Souray re-emerges late in the season. Souray recently had his return pushed back to late January (as opposed to late December), which is even more reason to go all-in on Fowler as a legit fantasy blueliner. There has never been any doubt that Fowler could put up points, but the key is that the Ducks are finally giving him the opportunity. The injury to Francois Beauchemin forced the Ducks to see what Fowler could do, and he has given them plenty of reason to continue using him as their go-to defenseman going forward. Souray's eventual return will quell Fowler's pace, but not by as much as one might think. There is a history of the Ducks using a two-defenseman power play and that could be the case once Souray is back.

Goaltenders rising and falling

Jonas Gustavsson, G, Detroit Red Wings (enters at No. 185): Jimmy Howard owners absolutely must handcuff Gustavsson to their starter at this point. Gustavsson has played better than Howard in every measurable capacity lately and, while Howard has a longer leash than most goalies, his leash does remain finite. Gustavsson has the fundamentals to be a very good goaltender, and the Red Wings are showing signs of getting the most out of him already. Howard has started 20 games and Gustavsson has started 10. Howard has six wins and Gustavsson has eight. That is the only stat that matters when it comes to whom a team will decide to start more often.

Mike Smith, G, Phoenix Coyotes (down 32 spots to No. 154): There will be plenty of folks who think it's insane to have an unquestioned No. 1 goaltender with 13 wins this low in the rankings (and trending lower), but a brief explanation should help. Smith is such a bad fantasy goaltender because he is such a solid goaltender. Wait, what? Smith's 3.01 goals-against average and .911 save percentage are solid and will keep the Coyotes in enough games to win and get points in the standings. There is no reason for the team not to keep starting him. But because he starts so many games and has such pedestrian ratios, he is fantasy poison. A 3.01 GAA and .911 save percentage is never going to win you a fantasy league, and Smith plays so many games that his statistics will heavily influence your overall ratios, no matter who you are starting alongside him. While he earns wins, that is only one of three (or more) goaltender statistics in your league, and Smith fails the test in the other categories. In the standard ESPN game, Smith is not much use. If you play in a points league, or one based on sheer number of saves, well, that is a horse of a different color. But for most folks, you'll want to avoid Smith unless the Coyotes have a massive change in their defensive tendencies.

Quick Hits

• Needing a serious boost to its offense, the New York Islanders have decided to bring up hotshot rookie Ryan Strome for a chance in the NHL. While he may not immediately get the ice time required for a fantasy impact, Strome has plenty skills to write home about. He has a league-leading (he passed Nikita Kucherov after he was brought up to the Lightning) 33 points in 23 games and has been an assist machine for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. You should look to acquire him from the waiver wire and if you should see him make his debut on a line with John Tavares, up your ante to acquire him.

• For that matter, the Stars brought up the player just behind Strome for the AHL scoring lead. Colton Sceviour has 30 points in 26 games and could be a part of the Stars' top six.

• Those playing in deeper leagues with small benches, consider the impending returns of Marian Gaborik, Nathan Horton, Jakob Silfverberg and Pekka Rinne. All of them have the potential for elite fantasy numbers and all of them are available to some degree in ESPN leagues. Some of them could start returning before the end of the month, and all of them are due back by mid-January.

Corey Crawford has a lower-body injury, and it's not clear how long he will be out. We already recommended Antti Raanta in the Forecaster this past week because of scheduling. That goes double now that we know he is starting.