We’re only two weeks into the regular season and, already, three designated backup goaltenders are attracting positive attention as early-season substitutes. While Jonas Gustavsson is filling in admirably for Jimmy Howard (bruised hand) with the Detroit Red Wings, veteran goalie Joey MacDonald is putting forth his best impression of No. 1 netminder for the Calgary Flames. Then there’s Josh Harding doing simply outstanding work between the pipes for the Minnesota Wild, as Niklas Backstrom recuperates from a minor knee injury. And two of the three are conceivably in position to sport the No. 1 crown for their squads for the foreseeable future.
Of the aforementioned trio, Harding (3-1, 0.94 goals-against average, .952 save percentage) stands the best chance of keeping a grip on the starter’s job. As discussed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Wild coach Mike Yeo is keen on sticking with the 29-year-old, even once Backstrom’s knee is all better.
“I have liked not only how he’s looked in the net -- he’s looked quick, he’s looked big -- but I’ve liked the way he’s been playing the puck, too,” Yeo said. “He has helped our ‘D’ go back in transition and get ourselves out of trouble.”
“Right now, we’re on a roll,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said Tuesday. “We feel Joey is good, we’re playing good in front of Joey. Why make a change? Why make a change? It’s nothing against Karri. After every game, it might change. We didn’t tell Joey MacDonald he’s No. 1, we didn’t tell Karri Ramo he’s No. 2, and we certainly didn’t tell Reto Berra he’s No. 3. We’re going to go day-by-day. You play well, you give us a chance to win, you’re playing.”
On the flip side, Gustavsson’s recent successful, if somewhat brief, run for Detroit is likely soon coming to an end. Howard hopes to be back in action Thursday, versus the Colorado Avalanche. Unless Howard’s health takes an unexpected turn for the worse, Gustavsson remains relatively negligible as a fantasy asset.
Quick hits from around the NHL
• Detroit fans could see Darren Helm (groin) back in action before the month is through. The Red Wings hope to have Helm in the lineup Oct. 26. The center has appeared in only one game for the Wings since the 2011-12 campaign. When healthy, Helm is capable of contributing fairly regularly with the Wings' second power-play unit.
• Still no definitive word on whether the Flames will keep teen center Sean Monahan past the nine-game limit, or return him to his junior squad (Ottawa 67’s). With four goals and two assists through five games, Monahan has four contests left to convince GM Jay Feaster & Co. he belongs with the big boys. A “tough call," according to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun:
“... The Flames have not made that decision yet. Instead, they want to see how he fares on the upcoming road trip -- difficult games at Anaheim, San Jose, L.A. and Phoenix -- before deciding what they’re going to do with him ... The other factor to consider is what exactly Monahan’s minutes will be once injured forwards Mike Cammalleri and Matt Stajan return ...”
For those who have Monahan on their respective fantasy rosters, there's nothing to be gained by throwing in the towel at this stage. If the 19-year-old sticks beyond nine games, a fruitful campaign could be in store. If not, he can be replaced with an emerging asset in the next couple of weeks. However -- and, again, if Monahan remains in the NHL -- it's worth monitoring his role once Cammalleri and/or Stajan return. At least until/if the rebuilding Flames trade the experienced forwards. Both are on expiring contracts.
• With Rick Nash (suspected concussion) on the injured reserve list for the New York Rangers, coach Alain Vigneault is threatening to bump the recently recalled J.T. Miller up into a top-six spot. Even though Vigneault’s pledge is most likely meant to light a fire under several of his under-performing forwards, the situation is worth monitoring over the next few days.
• In other Rangers news, defenseman Michael Del Zotto (flu) is expected to miss Wednesday’s tilt with the Washington Capitals. Look for Anton Stralman to play a more prominent role with Del Zotto absent, which would obviously boost his value.
• Forward Ryane Clowe (undisclosed issue) is questionable for Thursday’s game between the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. Also, Mattias Tedenby (lower-body injury) -- who recently skated in practice on a line with Travis Zajac and Michael Ryder -- is close to returning to action. A fantasy wild card at best, Tedenby holds some potential as a short-term plug if he jells well with Zajac and Ryder.
• Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand appears destined to remain on the third line for the time being. Second-line skaters Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron have been more effective since Reilly Smith took the place of the feisty winger. Marchand has all of one goal (and is minus-1 in plus/minus) to start the season. And, until he climbs back into a top-six position, the 25-year-old's numbers will remain unimpressive for fantasy purposes.
• Dan Boyle was slammed head-first into the boards by Maxim Lapierre, and could miss some time in the near future. After having his bell severely rung, the veteran defenseman was subsequently carted off the ice via stretcher during Tuesday’s tilt between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues. A fairly frightening scene, altogether, and the early prognosis may not be that promising. Instead of flying to meet his team in Dallas, Boyle is heading back to San Jose for further evaluation and additional medical care.
• The Montreal Canadiens may have to do without Max Pacioretty for a long stretch. Unable to put any weight on his left leg, Pacioretty had to be helped off the ice after suffering an injury during Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. We’re expecting an update on his status by Thursday morning. Fellow forward David Desharnais also loses some of his fantasy shine as long as Pacioretty remains on the sidelines.
• Young defenseman Tyson Barrie has, so far, fallen well short of charming his new head coach. Under the reign of Patrick Roy, Barrie has spent the past two games in the press box. And the 22-year-old’s fantasy owners won’t take much comfort from Roy’s current stance:
"We're comfortable with the veterans that are there, and he's 22 years old. He just needs to be patient," Roy said, in regards to Barrie Tuesday. "We're very happy with the leadership of (Cory) Sarich; we're very happy the way (Nate) Guenin has been playing, killing penalties ... If there is one downside (of Barrie's game), it's the way he played on the power play. We expect more from him on the power play."
To date, Andre Benoit has been the most productive (three assists in six games) blueliner for the Avalanche. The 29-year-old former Senator might be worth grabbing in many leagues.
• Giving his fantasy owners a reason to smile, Jason Spezza looked no worse for wear while netting a hat trick Tuesday. Perhaps the center’s ongoing groin problem isn’t that great a concern. We shall see. It’s also worth noting that Cory Conacher skated on a line with Spezza and Milan Michalek in the 4-3 OT victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. If coach Paul MacLean leaves that trio intact, the 23-year-old should enjoy some fairly productive games in days to come.
• Defenseman Roman Josi (concussion) has yet to be cleared for physical activity. Rookie blueliner Seth Jones remains the No. 2 defenseman on the fantasy depth chart for the Nashville Predators behind Shea Weber.
• Back in action after a heavily publicized benching, Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov got more than 17 minutes of ice time (and was a minus-1) in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In speaking with ESPN Insider Craig Custance, former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger suggested the recent rift between the former first overall draft pick (2012) and the Oilers is likely no more than a “real small speed bump” on the road of what should be a long, successful career in the NHL. As a keeper league asset, Yakupov merits holding onto a while yet.
• Forward James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs is dealing with some mysterious upper-body injury. He remains "iffy" for Thursday's matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. Versatile winger Mason Raymond -- already an under-appreciated asset -- could benefit further if JVR sits out a while.