Fantasy Hockey Week 5 Notes: Starting goalie carousel is spinning

·8 min read

By Jason Chen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Here's a look around the league at the latest trends after another week of hockey. Some food for thought, some leftover stats, and, of course, some fantasy advice. Let's dig in.

All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Goalies … Again

I can't remember a time when the Predators looked so toothless, because even as an expansion team they were never truly terrible. The low point came Saturday night when the 30th-place Red Wings led 3-0 at the end of the second period, forcing coach John Hynes to replace Pekka Rinne with Juuse Saros, whose .881 Sv% going into the game was even less after it was over. The Preds were supposed to be good — still are on paper — and this was supposed to be the season Saros became a legit No. 1.

Sticking with flailing starters is like holding onto the One Ring — it's hard to part with, but the longer you hold it, the more it will torture your soul and make your life miserable. The Preds picked it up in the third period but still lost, 4-2, and it's anyone's guess who starts during their upcoming six-game road trip. Saros (61 percent rostered) is still the right long-term play (talent notwithstanding), but Rinne (27 percent and climbing) is worth having on the bench because he's outplayed Saros, and it seems like the Preds might split the remaining starts. I have some hope the Preds can be good again, but I'm also prepared for more pain.

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74)
Juuse Saros has been struggling of late. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Preds aren't the only team facing a goalie controversy. After winning his first three starts, Anton Khudobin has now lost four straight with 15 goals allowed and was even benched for violating team rules. Jake Oettinger (27 percent rostered) lost in a shootout against Carolina on Saturday, but he is unbeaten in regulation and has a better save percentage (.910 vs. .902) and a better GAA (2.31 vs. 2.75). The Preds and Stars play back-to-back Monday and Tuesday, giving both teams a chance to figure things out. The Stars will show plenty of loyalty to Khudobin, who carried them to the finals last season, but sentimentality isn't required for fantasy managers, and the wise move would be to roster Oettinger … just in case.

These other minor controversies could become bigger topics of discussion, but not quite worthy of taking action yet. In Montreal, there were calls for Jake Allen to get more starts, but Carey Price silenced his critics (as he often does on Saturday nights), allowing just one goal against the Leafs. Allen will get his fair share of games, but there's no doubt Price is the No. 1.

It's a little murkier in Edmonton, where Mikko Koskinen (.895 Sv%, 60 percent rostered) has struggled but Mike Smith (.985 Sv%, 38 percent) continues to excel. But we've seen this song and dance from Smith before; while it's impressive he can still play at 38-years old, he's also incredibly streaky. Case in point, last season, he posted a .828 Sv% and 4.17 GAA in December but a .920 Sv% and 2.54 GAA in January. I wouldn't put much stock in Smith's recent performances, though coach Dave Tippett doesn't seem to hesitate to turn to Smith when Koskinen struggles.

In Vegas, Marc-Andre Fleury has outplayed Robin Lehner and rumors are swirling about a potential return to Pittsburgh, but why would Vegas trade him? It's a good thing that Vegas has two capable starters, and both are already well represented in fantasy leagues. It was a 50/50 split to start the season and it'll probably stay that way when both goalies are healthy. Arizona might have thought about an equal timeshare, but Antti Raanta's loss against St. Louis means Darcy Kuemper is still the guy. Oh, and since Cal Petersen is only rostered in 15 percent of leagues, it's worth pointing out that he's the guy in LA now. Jonathan Quick has not started consecutive games since the beginning of the season and Petersen has started four of their last five games.

Strength of Schedule

Being forced to postpone games due to COVID was both inevitable and unpredictable, but there's something else all 31 teams must face: Time. Although we are still months away from the end of the season, more than 30 games have already been postponed, and you wonder if the league is willing to consider extending it beyond May 8. There are 83 days between now and then, but the imbalance in games played could have a huge impact on fatigue and, ultimately, player lineups and goalie starts.

Consider the Canucks, who have played a league-high 18 games and will average one game every 2.18 days the rest of the season. It'll be a grind, as always, but it's not far off from last season's pace when they played once every 2.30 days. The Devils, on the other hand, have played only nine games, and the remaining 47 means playing once every 1.77 days. Extrapolated into an 82-game season, the season would be just 145 days, which means if the season began on Oct. 1 it would end on Feb. 23 rather than early April.

That's insane.

The Devils have six back-to-backs upcoming, three of which will require travel, and they still have three postponed games yet to be rescheduled.

The Devils aren't the only ones facing a time crunch, but they definitely have it the worst. The silver lining, however, is that at least their competition won't be the toughest. That privilege belongs to the Stars, based on the average points percentage of their opponents the rest of the season:

NHL Strength of schedule (Natural Stat Trick)
NHL Strength of schedule (Natural Stat Trick)

Teams in the West Division luck out because half of their members have a points percentage of .500 or less, compared to just two each in both the East and the Central. The Stars have it the toughest because they have yet to play either the Panthers or Lightning, and they have another four games against the Hurricanes after losing all four of their previous matchups.

That's pretty alarming for the Stars, whose four of five wins have come against the Preds and the Wings. As mentioned, Khudobin might be in danger of losing the starting job, and he's already slated to cede a bunch of starts because of the compact schedule. It's not impossible to even envision a three-goalie rotation when Ben Bishop returns, or even see Landon Bow start a game on an emergency basis. It's not a bad time to shop Khudobin and see what he can fetch via trade before the season gets even tougher for the Stars.

Vitek Vanecek (51 percent rostered) and Kaapo Kahkonen (14 percent) have proved their worth and are forcing their way into a bigger timeshare. They're definitely worthy of consideration whenever they face the California teams. The sneaky pickup will be Alex Nedeljkovic (5 percent), who just won his first game of the season Saturday. He's an interesting waiver-wire add because James Reimer (.889 Sv%, 3.11 GAA) has not been particularly sharp and the Canes are arguably the second-best team in the Central.

Scoring

The Senators were big winners Saturday, snapping an ugly losing streak against the Jets. Perhaps we should've seen it coming; the Sens' underlying possession numbers weren't that bad, but their goaltending certainly was, so when Marcus Hogberg held the Jets to just one goal, we shouldn't be surprised the Sens managed to win.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Sens have the biggest difference between xGF and GF at 5-on-5 with 7.12; in other words, they've scored seven fewer goals than expected. Teams can outperform or underperform expectations over an entire season, but the Sens' difference stands out because it's practically double the next two teams: the Rangers (3.33) and the Coyotes (3.27).

There does tend to be a return to the mean, however, and it's starting to show. Up until last week, Evgenii Dadonov had just one goal and a 4.6 S% in 12 games, well below his career average of 14.1 S%. This last week, Dadonov scored three goals on 12 shots, bringing his season average to 11.8 S% and glory to patient managers everywhere (i.e., not me). It might be a good time to buy low on Dadonov (28 percent rostered) and Drake Batherson (8 percent), and also the Ducks' Rickard Rakell (23 percent) and Bruins' Nick Ritchie (31 percent), who is now a net-front staple on Boston's top power play.

On the other hand, the Blues, Caps, and Flyers have each scored 12 more goals than expected, the highest number in the league, and interestingly rank 17th, 25th, and 31st in 5v5 CF%, respectively. It implies that their goal scoring might hit a dry spell soon (i.e., sell high), a totally plausible reality for the Caps' Nicklas Backstrom (six goals, 20.0 S%) and Tom Wilson (five goals, 26.3 S%), and the Flyers' James van Riemsdyk (seven goals, 23.3 S%) and Joel Farabee (six goals, 21.4 S%).