Injuries have continued to pile up on the goaltender front. It can make life extremely difficult for fantasy owners trying to manage their stats during a long season when values go through spikes and valleys with the prolonged absence of key goalie assets.
We will take a minute to go around the horn of goaltender injuries, listed by team and in order of the magnitude of the fantasy impact:
Montreal Canadiens: The latest on Carey Price is that he is practicing with the team on occasion, but he is not on the current road trip that includes the Winter Classic later this week. The Habs, despite being in a complete downward spiral without Price, will take their time and make sure he is 100 percent. Coming back from an injury earlier this season, Price lasted two and two-thirds games before going back on injured reserve. Fantasy owners and the Canadiens have both experimented with Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski at different times, but neither is up to snuff or worth leaving in your lineup. The acquisition of Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers on Monday will give the team another option, but not necessarily a good one. Scrivens has a 2-6-1 record in the AHL with a 3.47 goals-against average, an .893 save percentage this season, and he couldn't crack the shallow Oilers goaltender depth chart in the NHL. He's probably not a solution for fantasy owners, but desperate deep-league owners will want to take a flier. Price's original timetable of six weeks would take us into mid-January. That's not much longer to wait either way.
Pittsburgh Penguins: There have been no updates on Marc-Andre Fleury since he was said to be out for 10 days with a concussion. It's been almost two weeks. The Penguins are playing solid defensive hockey under new coach Mike Sullivan, leaving both Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff as approachable for fantasy owners. But with both showing decently enough this past week, it's hard to guess who will start the bulk of games if Fleury's concussion lingers. Murray is the choice if you have to pick one because Zatkoff made a terrible first impression by allowing six goals in the second game without Fleury. That allowed Murray to start the next three. But this will be Sullivan using the hot-hand approach, so neither goaltender is a 100 percent reliable replacement.
New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak's upper-body injury is a bit concerning since he also missed the start of the season with a UBI. Whether it's the same affliction we don't know, but the concern is valid nevertheless. The bigger reason for taking a look here is that even before Halak's injury, backup Thomas Greiss was earning more than a backup's share of the starts on merit. In 15 starts and one relief appearance -- which is no small sample size -- Greiss has better ratios and only one fewer win than Halak in 20 starts. Greiss will now get a chance to carry the banner for at least a few games while Halak is on injured reserve. He is more than worthy of a pickup for fantasy owners, and may be worth hanging onto even after Halak's return.
Columbus Blue Jackets: On fire before suffering a groin injury in early December, Sergei Bobrovsky is close to returning to action for the Blue Jackets. He was among the league's top-three fantasy goaltenders in the month before he was injured, completely shaking off a tumultuous start to the season. Joonas Korpisalo and Curtis McElhinney haven't been glowing in his absence, but that was partly due to the offense also drying up. Look for Bobrovsky to return to form when he comes back within the next week, and he'll be a solid No. 1 fantasy goaltender. After all, he can make the Blue Jackets' two goals per game stand up for a win.
Winnipeg Jets: There still isn't a clear timetable on Ondrej Pavelec's knee injury -- beyond "not December." Rookie Connor Hellebuyck has emerged as the clear best option in net ahead of Michael Hutchinson, but the Jets won't carry three goaltenders when Pavelec returns. Despite some hiccups along the way, Hellebuyck has been a clear No. 2 fantasy goalie for the past month, and his overall save percentage of .926 and his 2.12 goals-against average are more than respectable. He's still (shockingly) available in 51 percent of ESPN leagues despite posting solid numbers. If he continues this pace, fantasy owners won't have to worry about him going back to the AHL when Pavelec returns.
Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller will be out for another week with muscle cramps, and he's left the door wide open for Jacob Markstrom to gain ground on him. Miller's numbers are far from great this season. A 2.74 GAA and .909 save percentage have no place on any fantasy team. Markstrom has been on the prospect radar for fantasy owners since he was drafted as the Florida Panthers' successor to Roberto Luongo in 2008 (ironically, it turns out that Luongo's successor was Luongo, in a trade for Markstrom). He may feel like a bust because he's had his name bandied about since he was 18 years old, but he's still only 25 and could very much have a future in the NHL. An extended absence by Miller is what Markstrom needs to show he is ready for the next step. So far, so good, as he's posted two consecutive one-goal-against wins. Fantasy owners looking for a chance to catch lightning in a bottle will want to add Markstrom to their bench now.
Others: James Reimer was on the bench to back up Jonathan Bernier on Sunday, and will get his first start back for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday against the Penguins. Reimer was playing out of his mind before he suffered an injury in early December. He's available in 66 percent of ESPN leagues and worthy of a speculative pickup by any fantasy owner with goaltender woes. ... The Arizona Coyotes can't limp through to March with Louis Domingue and Anders Lindback and expect to win games. Then again, that might be just fine with the young franchise with a core of budding superstars on offense. Unless the Coyotes make a move, don't expect to find any value here beyond spot starts until Smith returns. ... Chad Johnson's track record in the NHL and his current stretch of decent starts leaves us encouraged by the overall team defense of the Buffalo Sabres. That has us suggesting a stash of Robin Lehner, who was brought in to be the starter this season but has been out since the first game of the campaign. Lehner has returned to practice with the Sabres, making some progress with his ankle injury.
Forwards rising and falling
Max Pacioretty, F, Montreal Canadiens (down five spots to No. 27): Pacioretty's resolution for the new year might entail investing in research for accelerated healing in fractured fingers. Before Brendan Gallagher suffered fractured fingers on Nov. 22, Pacioretty had 11 goals and 20 points in 22 games. Since then, Pacioretty has three goals and seven points in 15 games. It's a stark difference, and a reason for his slide in the rankings. We always thought of him as the catalyst for the offense, but it appears that Gallagher is a required component as well.
James van Riemsdyk, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 25 spots to No. 102): With seven goals and 16 points in 26 games through Dec. 3, van Riemsdyk was certainly on the fantasy radar, but probably not a high priority for most owners. On Dec. 5, he was placed on a line with Tyler Bozak and P.A. Parenteau. Since then, van Riemsdyk has five goals and 10 points in eight games. Clearly this is a line that works, and will continue to work together (until Parenteau is shipped off ahead of the trade deadline).
Defensemen rising and falling
Andrei Markov, D, Montreal Canadiens (down 21 spots to No. 115): Even though he's been back with P.K. Subban in recent games, playing apart from Subban for a stretch revealed an ugly fact to fantasy owners: Without Subban, Markov doesn't offer a whole lot of value. Markov has two assists in 12 games in December, as Nathan Beaulieu took the majority of shifts during the month as Subban's defensive partner. Markov will get time with Subban going forward, but we aren't as keen on him knowing what life would be like during a permanent separation.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary Flames (up 32 spots to No. 191): It's certainly a crowded field on the Flames' blue line, with Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Hamilton all viable fantasy options in the right situation. Hamilton seems to have turned the corner on his season after a slow first two months. After only five points in 24 games to start the season, Hamilton has eight points in 11 games during the month of December. It may have just been a matter of finding the right defense partner (Russell) and then taking some time to develop chemistry.
Goaltenders rising and falling
Corey Crawford, G, Chicago Blackhawks (up 12 spots to No. 19): The goaltender ranks have been marred this season by both injury and inconsistency. That's why Braden Holtby is out No. 1; And it's why Crawford is now our No. 2 fantasy goaltender. Carey Price will get back into this mix at some point, and Henrik Lundqvist will turn his ship back around too; but for now, Crawford has established himself as the de facto next best choice to Holtby. We still have a couple of months before it will become a big concern, but Scott Darling is a capable backup and will surely be used more often down the stretch to keep Crawford fresh for another postseason run.
Updated top 250 rankings
Here are the updated rest-of-season, top 250 rankings of forwards, defensemen and goalies, including position ranks.
Note: Sean Allen's top 250 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.