You just can't win in fantasy hockey if you don't draft strong goaltending. That rule is doubled when it comes to playoff pools. More than any position, you really have to do your homework and make sure you're picking the right guys to protect the net. To make things more interesting this season, it seems that about half of the potential starters out there have little to no playoff experience. Naturally, we're hear to lend a hand.
With such a variety of formats when it comes to playoff pools, it's hard to establish clear criteria for ranking netminders. Since many pools allow you re-pick after each round, I won't place much extra weight on the goalies that I believe will be around beyond the first round. We'll focus on likely Round 1 matchups and take a look at which goalies will deliver the Wins, Saves and Shutouts.
1) Ryan Miller - BUF
The Sabres are flying high and Miller is still riding the Olympic wave. Since the break, Miller is 10-4-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .917. The real promising stat is in front of him. The Sabres have scored more goals than any other team down the stretch, so he's getting the help he needs to win games. Regardless of who they face in Round 1, Miller and the Sabres will be one tough team to beat. You can count on him to step his play up when it matter. Draft him if you can.
2) Martin Brodeur - NJ
The temptation is to look at Brodeur and the Devils and think that they just can't do it again. He's too old. They blew it last year, etc. Just remember who we're talking about here. Brodeur is the greatest goalie ever to play and he's still an amazing player. He led the league in shutouts and wins, as he does every season. The Devils are a well balanced team who match up well against anyone in the lower half of the Eastern Conference. They even went 4-0 against the Pens this year. Don't hesitate to make him your #1.
3) Antti Niemi - CHI
Until he gets in there and wins a couple of games, the doubters will point to goaltending as the potential weak link in a powerful Blawkhawk lineup. That's a bit perplexing, given the fact that only 4 playoff teams allowed less goals than Chicago this season. Niemi's GAA of 2.23 ties him with Ryan Miller for 2nd best in the league (behind Tuukka Rask). His 7 shutouts in 37 games is also pretty impressive. Niemi has clearly ousted Huet as the goalie of choice in the Windy City and he's a good a bet as there is to lead your fantasy team through the first round.
4) Evgeni Nabokov - SJ
Forget 2009. And the 10 seasons before that. This team made enough changes to largely forget about last season's first round tragedy. They'll most likely face either Colorado or LA in the first round, and neither team is running up the score lately. The problem is that Nabokov hasn't been on top of his game lately. Since the break, his record is a shaky 8-7. His other vitals are even more concerning: 2.83 GAA and a measley .902 save percentage. If you're drafting Nabokov, you're banking on him getting his 4 wins in round 1, which he certainly should. Just don't be surprised if he's yanked at least once in the process. Seems like he's still hurting from the pounding he took in his last Olympic appearance.
5) Marc-Andre Fleury - PIT
Sure the Pens have sputtered a bit lately, but are you going to bet against them losing in the first round? I didn't think so. Fleury has taken this team to the Finals for the past two seasons, leaving no questions about his ability to perform when it counts. Since the break, his GAA has been OK at a 2.64; however, his save percentage is cause for concern at .891. If your league heavily favors Wins, he's your guy. If goals allowed play a bigger role, you may want to consider the next couple of options.
6) Jimmy Howard - DET
Sure the Wings are heading into the playoffs without home ice advantage for the first time in forever, but this is truly the tale of two seasons for this squad. They played the first 2/3 of the year with a makeshift roster as they dealt with lengthy injuries to some key players. The team is back and healthy ,and they're featuring a new look between the pipes. Osgood has officially been relegated to the bench (for now), as Howard has been on a tear. Since the break, he's won more games than any other goalie, and his GAA is approaching 2.00 over that span. He's obviously new to post-season play, but there's enough calming influences in front of him, that he shouldn't miss a beat.
7) Jose Theodore - WAS
There has been no official announcement made regarding who will be the go-to guy in Washington, but it's a pretty good bet that Theodore will get first crack at it. The question is, will we see a repeat of 2009 when Theodore was pulled before the first week was done? Consider this: Theodore hasn't lost a game in regulation since January 12th. Since then, he's put up 19 Wins. As with Fleury, don't count on seeing too many shutouts coming out of the Capital. However, since the break, he's had a very respectable 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage. If there wasn't the history with Varlamov, Theodore would be ranked higher.
8) Roberto Luongo - VAN
What to do with Luongo? My reason for holding him back so far is the potential first round matchup with Detroit. If that plays out, I wouldn't want to take my chances with him. If he ends up facing any other team, you can probably slide him up a notch or two. In terms of numbers, Luongo has been downright awful since winning Olympic Gold. With a GAA of 3.42 and a save percentage of .874, it's a wonder this team is even in the playoffs, let alone starting off on home ice. Luongo has a lot to prove when it comes to playoff success and until that happens, I'm not giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Beyond the top 8 here, your best bet is to go with the team you think has the best chance of winning their series. Bryzgalov, Quick, Rinne, and even Boucher are all viable options. I wouldn't put much faith in the likes of Anderson, Halak, Elliot, or whoever else makes in the East.