About last night (Backstrom, Harding, Elliott, Auld, Bergeron, Bouchard, Nolan, Biron, Danis)

Wild goalie Josh Harding relieved Niklas Backstrom last night, but no one could stop the Senators

Wild goalie Josh Harding relieved Niklas Backstrom last night, but no one could stop the Senators from winning their fourth straight behind goalie Brian Elliott and new head coach Cory Clouston.

On its surface, last night’s Ottawa at Minnesota clash (which the Senators won 5-3) seemed like the perfect game for fantasy goalies. Ottawa ranks 27th in scoring (2.46 goals per game); Minnesota ranks 25th (2.51 goals per game).

If you owned Senators goalie Brian Elliott (7-3-2, .915, 2.51) or Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (27-17-2, .926, 2.22), it seemed like you had little to lose by starting them.

In addition to the friendly matchup, both goalies were hot. Backstrom had won four of his last five, yielding only nine goals on 152 shots in those five games. Elliott (and the Senators) had won three in a row, giving up only five goals on 98 shots in those three games.

But the Wild jumped all over Elliott, scoring three first-period goals. Right wing Owen Nolan, everyone’s favorite former Nordique, scored twice. The hyphenated attack of right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard (one goal, one assist) and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (one assist) chipped in as well.

Senators coach Cory Clouston (4-1-1) pulled Elliott and inserted Alex Auld (10-13-5, .909, 2.52). Auld shut out the Wild for the next two periods, stopping 17 shots. Ottawa rattled off five straight goals and won the game. So sudden was the Senators’ turnaround that Wild coach Jacques Lemaire pulled Backstrom after the second period with the score tied 3-3. Wild backup Josh Harding (1-7-1, .927, 2.25) couldn’t stem the tide. Ottawa scored early in the third to make it 4-3 and tacked on an empty netter for the 5-3 final.

Two lessons here:

1. Rely on recent stats to complement season-long totals. In this case, the season-long totals do not reveal how much Ottawa’s offense has improved under Clouston. In their last five games, the Senators have scored 19 goals, tallying at least three in each game. You should no longer automatically start your goalies against the Senators.

2. Aside from the Ottawa outburst, ignore this game. It’s an outlier. Playing matchups is still the way to win in fantasy hockey. You should continue starting your goalies with confidence whenever they face Minnesota. And you should not drop Elliott or bench Backstrom.

One counterexample to the Wild-Senators anomaly was yesterday’s Islanders at Flyers tilt. Entering the game, Islanders goalie Yann Danis had allowed only 11 goals in his last six starts. He was hot. But your fantasy research should have told you to bench him against the Flyers, who rank sixth in scoring (3.17 goals per game) and had nine goals in their last three games. I’d start Danis in a heartbeat against Minnesota, but never against a high-powered offense like Philadelphia. Sure enough, the Flyers prevailed 5-1. Danis stopped 29 of 34 and hurt several fantasy teams in the process.

On the flip side, Flyers goalie Martin Biron made 38 saves and got his first win since January 10. Since then, he had gone 0-4 and allowed 13 goals in 17 periods.

Should you grab Biron if he’s available in your league? Only if you have the roster room to spare.  After today’s tilt with the anemic Rangers, the Flyers face some tough offenses (vs. Buffalo, vs. Pittsburgh, at Washington). See how Biron fares against Buffalo before making a move.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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