Good goaltending is critical to any team, but some squads rely on their netminder far more than others. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs for example.
Frederik Andersen has faced more shots than any other goaltender and it's not even close. Through 27 starts, he’s faced 934 shots while the next highest goaltender, Mike Smith, is at 836 shots in 27 starts. Andersen’s average of 34.6 shots per start is higher than even last season when he finished with 31.1 shots per start, which is a staggering jump given how high it was already. From a team perspective, it highlights just how vital Andersen has been to the Maple Leafs’ 20-11-1 start. From a fantasy perspective, it’s noteworthy that it will be hard for Andersen to have a great GAA when shooters are getting that many stabs at him per game. As it is, he has a strong .922 save percentage, but that still only leaves him with a mediocre 2.69 GAA.
The Maple Leafs’ situation will be worth keeping in mind once we get towards the trade deadline though. While that’s still months away, it’s likely that Toronto will be in the market for a defensive defenseman and such an acquisition could have a positive effect on Andersen.
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While we’re on the subject of goaltenders, it’s worth touching about the Wild’s situation as it was revealed this morning that Devan Dubnyk is regarded as week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Steve Michalek was summoned as a result, but of course its Alex Stalock who was most impacted by this news. Stalock will be leaned on heavily during Dubnyk’s absence, but he might not be the best netminder to pick up. The issue is that the Wild are up against some dangerous offenses in the short-term as they’ll play Toronto tonight, Edmonton on Saturday, and Chicago on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) has returned to the Golden Knights, all-but completely bringing an end to their string of goaltending injuries. Oscar Dansk is still sidelined, but Vegas now has both its number one and number two (Malcolm Subban) goaltenders available, in stark contrast to earlier this season when things got so bad that Vegas had to lean on fourth-string goalie Maxime Lagace for an extended period.
It will be interesting to see how much Subban plays now that Fleury is healthy. Vegas has made it clear that Fleury is still the top goalie, but Subban was great when given the opportunity with his 2.33 GAA and .924 save percentage in 10 contests this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Subban starts in more than just the second half of back-to-back sets.
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One netminder that’s a safe bet to continue to get the lion’s share of the starts as long as he’s healthy is Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s projected to start tonight after earning his 20th victory of the season in a 32-save shutout over St. Louis. His 20 wins in 25 games matches the pace Braden Holtby enjoyed in 2015-16 when he matched Martin Brodeur’s record of 48 victories in a single season. There’s a lot of hockey left, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vasilevskiy finish high on the all-time single season win’s list as well. Vasilevskiy has been amazing this season with a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage and he’s playing for a team that’s been at the top of the league offensively (3.73 goals per game).
Nevertheless, there have been teams that have been better than Tampa Bay recently in terms of offensive production. Over the last month (Nov. 14th through Dec. 13th), Tampa Bay has 42 goals in 12 contests (3.5 GF/game), but the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers have led the league in goals for over that span with 55 each in 14 contests (3.93 GF/game). The Oilers’ resurgence offensively is noteworthy, but it isn’t shocking given the weapons that they have and it’s been partially obscured by defensively issues (they’ve also surrendered 49 goals over the same stretch).
Nashville is a bit more surprising to see at the top of the NHL offensively and combined with some sound defense, the Predators are 10-2-2 dating back to Nov. 14. What makes what the Predators are doing particularly special is the fact that their offensive success hasn’t relied on a single source or even a single line. Six different forwards (Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala, Craig Smith, Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris, and Ryan Johansen) and two defensemen (Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi) all have at least 11 points over those 14 contests. Turris is a particularly noteworthy addition as it highlights how well the three-way trade between Nashville, Ottawa, and Colorado has worked for the Predators.
It also makes the Predators’ decision to ink Turris, who could have become an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a six-year, $36 million contract seem sounder. It has to be taken with a grain of salt given the sample size, but Turris has three goals and 14 points in 15 contests even as he averages 16:56 minutes per game, which isn’t a bad chunk of playing time, but it’s significantly less than the 19:42 minutes he was seeing in Ottawa prior to the move.
Finally, just to touch on Edmonton’s offensive success over the same span, it is worth noting that Connor McDavid has led the league with five goals and 20 points in 14 contests dating back to Nov. 14. That’s particularly impressive given that he was bothered for a while by a flu that cost him some weight. He’s over the illness now though and is coming off a four-point performance on Dec. 12. With 12 goals and 39 points in 31 contests, McDavid still trails the Lightning duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (42 points each), but it wouldn’t be surprising to see McDavid continue to surge and ultimately claim the Art Ross Trophy.