Fantasy Extra: Examining the goalie tandems

While most forwards and defensemen will provide your Fantasy team with a point or two here and there every game, goaltenders can rack up 20 points a contest with a combination of saves, wins and shutouts. That makes netminders clearly the most important position in Fantasy Hockey. With that said, the goalie position is also the most volatile. If a goalie goes through a bad stretch of play or has a solid backup behind him, he can lose starts at the drop of a hat. This is why keeping abreast of the netminder battles throughout the league is a must for any Fantasy owner who wants to succeed.

Here are the current situations in the NHL that you need to keep a close eye on ...

Battle royales

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks can't seem to decide on Nikolai Khabibulin or Cristobal Huet , and the indecision might be costing them games right now as they’re only 3-3-3 overall and 0-3-1 on the road. While it's questionable whether this mess is hurting the team, it's certainly hurting Fantasy owners. The Bulin Wall (five starts) and Huet (four) have basically split time so far in net, which basically removes either of them from consideration as No. 1 Fantasy options. Until one of them gets traded (more likely Huet) or hurt (more likely Khabibulin), the Blackhawks are probably going to go with the hot hand, if one eventually materializes, so you might just want to leave both of these guys on your bench in anything above 10-team formats.

Boston Bruins: Manny Fernandez was brought to Boston in the summer of 2007 to be the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender. Then he got hurt and missed all but four games last season. Now he's battling Tim Thomas for the starting job in Beantown, and appears to be losing the contest right now thanks to Thomas' back-to-back shutouts this week. Fernandez is making four times as much dough as Thomas this season, so Bruins management has to be cringing at the sight of Fernandez sitting at the end of the bench, but they want to win as well. Thomas might be worth a shot as a low-end No. 1 Fantasy goaltender in Fantasy Week 5 (Nov. 3-9), as he's the hot hand right now, but Fernandez should be benched until he starts to earn his way on to the ice.

Injuries, anyone?

Ottawa Senators: This one would have been included in the "Battle Royales" section if Martin Gerber hadn't hurt his leg last week in a loss to the Panthers. Gerber has won only once in five starts so far, while Alex Auld has been getting progressively better in his four starts (two wins) and started his fourth straight game Thursday night at Florida. The Senators are yet to play to their potential and will probably go with whoever gives them the best chance to win once Gerber is back in the fray, but I think Auld might eventually win this battle in the end. He's a decent No. 2 option right now, but if the Senators suddenly get hot, then he could well be useful as a low-end No. 1.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues are currently carrying four goalies right now: Chris Mason , who is set to come off IR on Thursday (appendectomy) for his second start of the season; Manny Legace , who is nursing a sore hip; 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop (leg), and Marek Schwarz , who has played in five NHL games over the last three years. If all of them were healthy, Legace would certainly be considered the No. 1 option, but his hip injury has to be a slight concern at his age (35). Mason went 24-11 with a solid 2.38 GAA average a couple of seasons ago, but slumped last year. He will push Legace, though, and is worth holding on to as a No. 3 option in deeper leagues. As for Legace, he has some nice value as a No. 2 goalie if the Blues keep winning, but who knows how long that will last.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The injury-plagued Pascal Leclaire is already on IR, and now the Blue Jackets turn to Fredrik Norrena who is 0-3 this season and is only in his third NHL season, despite the fact he's 34 years old. The wild card in this situation is Dan LaCosta , but the third-round pick in 2004 isn't much of a top-end prospect and even spent some time in the ECHL last season. With how poor the Blue Jackets are, I would suggest avoiding their goalies completely until Leclaire can prove himself somewhat durable, which might not happen this season.

New York Islanders: The Rick DiPietro saga took another turn on Thursday when it was discovered that the team has placed him on injured reserve once again with an undisclosed injury that is supposedly unrelated to the hip and knee issues he had surgery on in the offseason. With the new rules regarding injury details, we might never find out what DiPietro's real problem is, but the fact he's out yet again is just simply concerning to all involved. Joey MacDonald is a capable backup, but his Fantasy stats will never be great while he plays for the offensively-challenged Islanders. This is another situation you will probably want to stay far, far away from.

Keep an eye on ...

Colorado Avalanche: Peter Budaj is under the microscope this season and got off to slow start before recovering nicely in his next three starts. This is his chance to prove his solid 2006-07 season wasn't a fluke, but if he starts to struggle then Andrew Raycroft will be ready to step in. The rookie of the year in 2003-04, Raycroft has never matched the numbers from that magical season, but he's also on what might be his last shot at a full-time job and a desperate goalie is always a dangerous one.

Detroit Red Wings: Chris Osgood isn't exactly off to his best start with a 3.38 GAA, and the fans and media in Detroit won't put up with his nonsense for long, as they expect the Wings to go back-to-back without much difficulty. Ty Conklin , who did so well in Pittsburgh last year for a time filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury , is off to a 3-0 start, but he might not be the answer either. If Osgood continues to struggle and Conklin isn't the answer, then look for the Wings to hit the trade market. Huet anyone?

You can e-mail us your Fantasy Hockey questions to Be sure to put Attn: Goalie battles in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state. Be aware, due to the large volume of submissions received, we cannot guarantee personal responses to all questions.

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