In the Crease: Can we trust Elliott?

As the season winds down to the final weeks in rotisserie or the final playoff matchups in the head-to-head format, there are two schools of thought when it comes to fantasy hockey goalies (and really, players at every position): One can stick with the consistent players that got one's team this far, or one can opt for a riskier player that is currently riding a hot streak.

As it turns out, there's a netminder in that second cohort widely available, though it's someone who caused a lot of grief earlier on in the campaign: Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues.

Yep, you'll remember Elliott as the guy who finished first overall on ESPN's Fantasy Hockey Player Rater in 2011-12, thanks to 23 wins and league-leading performances in both of the rate stats: 1.56 in goals-against average and .940 in save percentage, the latter of which set an NHL single-season record. Despite being part of a time-share, he delivered big results to those who had him on the active roster last season. A meltdown in the playoffs brought on some concern, but a lot of people were still on board to draft him as one of their options in 2012-13. His average draft position was 171.5, and he was universally owned in the early stages of the season.

Through the first three months, things looked even worse than they did during last postseason. In 11 appearances during that span, he posted a 3.65 GAA and .851 save percentage, a far cry from the marks that led owners to fantasy glory a season prior. Elliott was cast aside first by Jaroslav Halak, then by rookie Jake Allen and certainly by most fantasy owners as well.

But Allen's struggles and Halak's latest injury gave Elliott another chance, and he has come through. After replacing Halak on April 1, he has started two of the three games for the Blues, and things have been quite a bit better. Over that span, he has allowed just four total goals, generating a 1.45 GAA and .952 save percentage. Bear in mind that this has been against good competition -- the Minnesota Wild (who put four past him earlier this season), the Chicago Blackhawks (who continue to lead the league in scoring) and the Detroit Red Wings (to whom he relented seven total goals across two appearances earlier on in this season). Maybe it just took him some time to get in the groove after not catching on with a team during the lockout. Maybe he was inspired to perform by the strong work of Allen in his absence. Or maybe it's the switch back to his old pads -- a change that took place recently, according to ESPN's Scott Burnside. Whatever the case, it looks like the fantasy dynamo is back, at least over the course of the last week.

So can he be trusted by fantasy owners for the remainder of the schedule, especially with so much riding on these last few weeks? Owners in 37.7 percent of ESPN leagues have added him in the past seven days -- pushing his total percentage to 66.9 percent as of the time this post went live -- so there is a groundswell of support. And adding him doesn't mean one has to activate him. So if one has an extra roster slot, it may make sense to grab him both as another option and to prevent the competition from doing so.

But, once added, should he be activated? First and foremost, that depends on the other available netminders on a roster. I wouldn't put him in over any of the players at the top of my rankings list. It may come down to playing the specific matchups on any given night, depending upon the alternatives. The Blues face Chicago two more times and have another matchup against Minnesota, which upped its scoring average in March to 3.47 goals per game. Can he continue to perform well against top competition? Recent success does not guarantee future results.

On the flip side, there are two more games remaining against the impotent Colorado Avalanche, and the gutted rosters of the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars are on the docket once each. Dallas put four past him on March 3, but recent failures also do not guarantee future results.

In the end, it comes down to one's tolerance for risk. Are you willing to make a bold move that could potentially swing a matchup (or a few spots in the rotisserie standings) in either direction? If so, the man who set the save percentage record just a season ago is available for your consideration.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking from last week is indicated in parentheses.

1. Carey Price, Mon (1)
2. Antti Niemi, SJ (3)
3. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (4)
4. Tuukka Rask, Bos (2)
5. Jonas Hiller, Ana (5)
6. Cory Schneider, Van (6)
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (10)
8. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (8)
9. Corey Crawford, Chi (7)
10. Braden Holtby, Was (14)
11. Jimmy Howard, Det (11)
12. Craig Anderson, Ott (12)
13. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cls (13)
14. Jonathan Quick, LA (9)
15. James Reimer, Tor (17)
16. Ray Emery, Chi (27)
17. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (20)
18. Niklas Backstrom, Min (15)
19. Martin Brodeur, NJ (16)
20. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (23)
21. Tomas Vokoun, Pit (21)
22. Ryan Miller, Buf (32)
23. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (18)
24. Viktor Fasth, Ana (22)
25. Mike Smith, Pho (33)
26. Jake Allen, StL (24)
27. Ben Bishop, TB (35)
28. Jonathan Bernier, LA (28)
29. Roberto Luongo, Van (19)
30. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (31)
31. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (26)
32. Jaroslav Halak, StL (25)
33. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (29)
34. Dan Ellis, Car (30)
35. Brian Elliott, StL (NR)
36. Semyon Varlamov, Col (34)
37. Anton Khudobin, Bos (36)
38. Ben Scrivens, Tor (37)
39. Johan Hedberg, NJ (38)
40. Robin Lehner, Ott (39)

Rising and Falling

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (down two spots to No. 4): This isn't so much a statement on Rask's play -- he's been good lately and in general this season -- but rather a slight bump due to the fact that Bruins coach Claude Julien has given backup Anton Khudobin some work here and there. Compared to the other netminders ahead of him -- whose backups have essentially been stapled to the bench -- Rask won't provide quite as much value since we may not see him in the crease every time out for Boston. In leagues where lineups are set on a weekly basis, this is a key consideration with so little time left.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals (up four spots to No. 10): Holtby's heroism in the playoff run last spring made some people perhaps a little too optimistic about his fantasy value for 2012-13 -- your humble commentator included. But as pointed out this week by ESPN Insider's Neil Greenberg, Holtby has improved his save percentage each month: .863 in January, .907 in February, .925 in March and .930 through three starts in April. The Capitals' skaters have kept up their end of the bargain at the offensive end, and that's led to an 11-4-1 mark across March and April; Holtby's eight W's in March tied for third league-wide. As the Caps work to remain atop the Southeast Division, they will face a considerable amount of opposing firepower: Six out of the remaining nine games are against teams currently in playoff position. However, three of the teams against whom Holtby has struggled the most this season -- Philly, Pittsburgh and Buffalo -- are not on the docket. With so much on the line for the Caps in the next few weeks, expect to see Holtby out there most nights.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (up 10 spots to No. 22): While it hasn't been a season to remember for the Sabres -- for positive reasons, at least -- things have been up and down in streaks for the Michigan native. A .920 save percentage through the first six games of the season had some wondering whether Miller was poised for another breakout fantasy campaign, such as he produced in 2009-10 (41 wins, with 2.22/.929 ratios). Though his monthly save percentage split never dipped below .900, he did have some rough patches, including a five-start span in March where he allowed 20 total goals. With the Sabres on the fringes of the playoff hunt, April has started off quite well for Miller. He has won three straight while posting a 1.62 GAA and .948 save percentage. It's obvious that there could be some substantial changes to Buffalo's roster this offseason, and Miller is among the players who is putting his best skate forward. He's another player who can make a big difference over the remaining handful of games for fantasy owners.

Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning (eight spots to No. 27): Out of all the goalies rumored to be on the move ahead of last week's deadline, I noted that the market for Bishop appeared to be the widest, seeing as the impending free agent was the youngest of the bunch and thus would appeal both to teams looking for a proven backup and those with long-term questions in net. Unsurprisingly, he landed with a Tampa Bay team that has not had a viable answer in goal since Dwayne Roloson's magical 2010-11 campaign. Though the Lightning are effectively out of the playoff hunt, they do have one of the more dynamic offenses in the league. If Bishop can continue to play like he did in Ottawa this season, there's great potential for fantasy production in the final weeks. The early results have been mixed: He posted a 45-save (!) shutout in his first game in a Lightning jersey but allowed three goals apiece in his next two (both losses). Overall, that's generated 2.03/.945 ratios, but it's a little skewed because of the shutout. Owned in just 64.8 percent of ESPN leagues, he's one to consider for the stretch.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (down 10 spots to No. 29): There were winners and losers at the trade deadline, and though we won't really know their identities until the Stanley Cup is hoisted, one group that definitely lost is Luongo's fantasy owners. While he could have been moved to a team where he would slot in as the new No. 1, he remains in Vancouver behind Cory Schneider, who has completely taken control of the Canucks' crease. Luongo's last appearance came on March 30, when he allowed two goals in a loss to Edmonton. Prior to that, it was March 18 (three goals against in a loss to Minnesota) and March 16 (five goals against in a loss to Detroit). The March 30 appearance was in relief of Schneider (who relented two goals on two shots), but aside from that, the Massachusetts native has been sterling. In his past 15 appearances, he has won 10 times while generating a 1.62 GAA and .943 save percentage. It wouldn't appear that Luongo will be of much use in the fantasy realm from here on out, but those in keeper leagues should consider stowing him on the bench for next season (when he's with a different NHL team).


Corey Crawford (owned in 100 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Ray Emery (85.1 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: The big news for the Blackhawks this week is that coach Joel Quenneville hinted that he might continue to use a goaltending platoon into the postseason. (Here's the story from ESPNChicago.com.) Forget for a second that the strategy hasn't produced a Stanley Cup champion in recent history, but it also has significant ramifications for Crawford and Emery's fantasy owners down the stretch. The two 'tenders have put up nearly identical numbers this season -- 2.01/.922 ratios for Crawford, 2.02/.920 for Emery -- while Crawford has won 15 of 23 appearances to Emery's 14 of 18. Both have been great options for fantasy owners this season, and that trend will continue. However, those in daily lineup leagues will have to continue to monitor the newswire to confirm who's starting each night, while those in weekly lineup leagues may be better off with a player who has more of a hold on a starting gig. With precious few game nights remaining, every start counts.

Jonathan Quick (100 percent) and Jonathan Bernier (31.5 percent), Los Angeles Kings: Unlike the two men vying for control of the Chicago crease, the stat lines of the two Los Angeles netminders have been quite different. Goaltender A has put up a 1.86 GAA and .922 save percentage; Goaltender B has produced 2.49 and .898, respectively. Interestingly enough, it hasn't been last season's Conn Smythe winner, Quick, who has been the author of the "A" performance; it's been Bernier. Granted, Quick has appeared in 29 games compared to Bernier's 13, but those are pretty stark differences. There's no sense that Quick's job is in danger, but for those owners who need a boost over the final few weeks, Bernier should be under consideration.

Marc-Andre Fleury (100 percent) and Tomas Vokoun (58.4 percent), Pittsburgh Penguins: It's been an interesting couple of weeks for the Penguins. They went on a trading bonanza -- adding Brenden Morrow, Doug Murray and Jarome Iginla -- but then saw captain Sidney Crosby knocked out of action indefinitely after taking a puck to the kisser. As Crosby's return date remains shrouded in mystery, the situation in goal has been pretty wild over the past several days as well. After not allowing a single puck by him over a span of 162:42 in four previous appearances, Vokoun was torched for four goals on just 13 shots in 23:19 of action against Buffalo on April 2. Fleury kept a clean sheet against the Sabres thereafter but turned around and relented six goals to the New York Rangers a night later. In the return matchup Friday, he stopped 34 of 35 shots en route to a shootout win. Fleury remains in the must-start category for the vast majority of owners, while Vokoun shouldn't be cast aside based on one outing. He'll be back in net soon enough and has shown that he's a valuable commodity for fantasy purposes even as the backup.

Training room roundup

Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay Lightning: With Bishop in place as of this past week, the pressure to return Lindback to action has lessened. Nevertheless, it does appear that he is closing in on that return. The Tampa Tribune reported that the Swede was in full goaltending gear during a morning skate with teammates recently. When he's ready to go -- which could be quite soon -- it's likely we'll see a time-share between Tampa Bay's two young options. Prior to the injury, Lindback had posted a 1.82 GAA and .941 save percentage in his past five starts, so he's a late-season waiver wire consideration (and owned in just 34.7 percent of ESPN leagues).

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: A report from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on April 3 indicated that Halak will be out three weeks with his latest lower-body injury. That pushes right into the final week of the season, and if the timeline is accurate, it would leave only two games remaining on the schedule in which Halak could play. It doesn't appear that he'll have much value for those in the fantasy realm for the duration of the 2013 season, but folks in keeper leagues may want to keep him for 2013-14.