There is no more maddening figure in fantasy hockey than a prominent goaltender, particularly in head-to-head leagues. For example, who doesn't start Frederik Andersen against the league-worst Ottawa Senators on some random Monday night? As it happens, this week that utterly logical decision earned fantasy managers the gut-punch of a minus-6.0 performance in ESPN.com standard leagues.
But then the Toronto No. 1 stopped 27 of 28 against the Senators 48 hours later, earning his devotees 7.4 points in the black. Maddening, right?
Among goalies with more than eight starts, only 11 boast a save-percentage above .907, speaking loudly to increased performance volatility among popular figures. No doubt the COVID-influenced, erratic schedule, in which we're seeing teams play seemingly every night or not at all for two-plus weeks, is a mitigating factor. As likely is the growing familiarity offenses are developing with opposing netminders in the near-suffocating sphere of any given division. But, to win, we still have to throw our goalies out there.
Which brings us to looking beyond the more-often-than-not guy; to championing the backup in fantasy leagues that allow for streaming when the match-up and other factors - playing for a good team helps - shout in their favor. When we're all scrambling to clear a set of fantasy hurdles almost daily, here's to creatively mining the ranks for standout, less-regular/more part-time options between the pipes. The other guys:
Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins (Rostered in 46.2% of ESPN.com leagues): Why-oh-why this guy doesn't have more fantasy fans is a bit of a boggler. Only the Avalanche have allowed fewer goals per game (2.14) than the Bruins - a stat largely bolstered by Halak surrendering only seven though five starts. Sporting a 1.38 GAA and .938 save-percentage, the 35-year-old has yet to lose in regulation. Don't be surprised if we see a little more Halak and a little less Tuukka Rask as the season wears on. Adding to Boston's overall defensive appeal is that they don't give up power-play goals, humming along at a penalty-kill rate of 94%.
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (34.1%): Through six appearances, Allen has been excellent on four occasions and just okay the other two. No wonder he's found himself recently falling into splitting starts almost evenly with top-banana Carey Price. After a scheduled week off, Montreal faces the Maple Leafs in a less appealing match-up for Habs goaltending on Saturday. But then it's a string of more attractive contests versus the Senators, Jets, and Canucks. Already leading Price in total fantasy points despite playing fewer minutes, Allen should continue to post solid fantasy returns when active.
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (27.2%): I know, I know, it was ugly earlier this week, but which showing inspires the greater impression: Smith's shaky start in giving up four goals (saving only seven) against Winnipeg on Monday or his bounce-back, stingy .943 SV% victory against those same Jets on Wednesday? In conjunction with his two previous outstanding outings, including a shutout, I'm more struck by the latter. Plus, Oilers skaters and coaches appear more confident in Smith over original No. 1 Mikko Koskinen. And while any netminder in the goal-happy Scotia North Division is in perennial danger of being overwhelmed - see Calgary's Jacob Markstrom versus the Canucks Wednesday after consistently denying Vancouver in five earlier matches - Smith is worth the fantasy adventure when he's feeling good. Until he clearly falls apart, the 38-year-old will get blown out less often than not. That's the math we fantasy-types need.
Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers (26.4%): He's been better than Bob, tell you that much. Sporting a 2.39 GAA and .924 SV%, Driedger has one loss to show for seven appearances. He's averaging 4.1 fantasy points per contest in ESPN.com's standard league, nearly three times the rate of the 1.4 floated by Sergei Bobrovsky. Perhaps most impressively, the 25-year-old is coming off consecutive victories over the Lightning and Hurricanes - the NHL's top-two in scoring. While there's no way the Panthers continue to devour the competition at a rate of .786 points percentage - a modest plus-five goal differential nearly guarantees as much - they're not about to fall of the cliff either. Florida faces the Red Wings twice and Stars thrice in the next week. Driedger should evolve into a much more popular fantasy asset through those five games.
Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (18.8%): Off since Feb. 7 due to COVID, the Flyers are expected to get back at it Thursday versus the Rangers. They're slated to play both the Blueshirts and Sabres - ranked 27th and 26th respectively in GF/GP league-scoring - twice over the next ten days. Whenever tapped to start over No. 1 Carter Hart though that span, plus versus Boston on Sunday, Elliott deserves consideration as a streaming option. Before Philly's recent idle period, the veteran had performed well, including against the Bruins. And if the NHL adheres to their plan of making up missed games to flush out a full season - at this point, who knows? - the Flyers would turn to Elliott even more often as not to wear out the club's less-experienced, 22-year-old netminder.
Malcolm Subban, Chicago Blackhawks (3.4%): No chance you would've caught me recommending the starting goalie - never mind the backup - for the rebuilding and banged-up Blackhawks at any point ahead of the season and yet here we are. Even accommodating for additional games-played (four) in contrast with the Lightning, Hurricanes and Panthers, Chicago remains in a top-four playoff position in the Discover Central division. The Hawks are winning games, supported by the strong play of starter Kevin Lankinen and, to a lesser-but-not-insignificant degree, the club's No. 2. Boasting a .939 SV%, Subban is 2-0-1 is his last three contests, all of them stretching into overtime. He's earned the trust of coach Jeremy Colliton, who acknowledges the need for balance in net. The Blackhawks play six games in the next 10 days, including a back-to-back set against the Hurricanes and, more appealingly, the Red Wings. They also face Columbus twice. Count on seeing Subban two times, if not three, through that stretch.
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (2.5%): Based on murmurings out of Scotiabank Arena, the estimate is Campbell returns from injury by late next week. By which point, scoring heavyweights not named Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner - who have contributed more than their asked share - should have re-figured out how to regularly put the puck in the net at even-strength. The whole team is also due to tighten up defensively. Altogether, it sets the scene for several solid outings from Campbell in giving Freddy Andersen some much-needed rest. Ahead of Michael Hutchinson's projected start Thursday, Andersen has played in all but two of 17 contests. He's overworked. The Leafs need their proper No. 2 - who looked great in his sniff of action before falling hurt - back soon.