It was 11 months ago Friday that Blues goalie Jordan Binnington solidified himself as a the genuine fantasy article in registering his third shutout in the span of 10 days. But by then, it was too late for most managers to invest in the eventual Stanley Cup winner. To commemorate the occasion, here's a dozen backup netminders - some filling in for injured starters, others outplaying their tandem-mates when offered the chance - who could bolster or break your own fantasy fortunes in the season's closing months. Just maybe don't wait until mid-February to make a potentially game-altering move. Adding to the fun, I've included each netminder's Goals-Saved-Above-Average (GSAA) stat since Dec. 1, as provided by Natural Stat Trick.
Matt Murray, GSAA: 0.42, Pittsburgh Penguins (rostered in 61.6% of ESPN.com leagues): We're all in agreement, right? As long as Tristan Jarry (GSAA: 11.48) is winning games for the surging Penguins, he remains the squad's go-to starter. Which relegates the team's former No. 1 to role of second banana. Mind you, Murray has enjoyed his own string of success of late, victorious in his most recent three appearances. So should Jarry flounder (feels unlikely) or fall hurt (far less predictable), Murray could rapidly swing back to true fantasy relevance. Having blueliner Brian Dumoulin return from an ankle injury will only further bolster Pittsburgh's defense - a positive for whoever's in the crease.
Ilya Samsonov, GSAA: 5.26, Washington Capitals (48.7%): After registering his first shutout versus the Hurricanes Monday, Samsonov is scheduled to make his inaugural back-to-back NHL start Thursday. Capitals coach Todd Reirden: "I just thought he obviously played phenomenal last game. ... I think he's earned it. Now it's a chance to for him, again, to take another step. Continue to give him different challenges, one after another here, without overwhelming him. I think this is the right move, the fair move, and a move that is deserved." That doesn't bode well for Washington's main squeeze Braden Holtby (GSAA: -8.76). Then there's the rookie's 13-2-1 record, 2.11 GAA and .925 SV%. Fending off the charging Penguins, the Caps might have a new favorite between the pipes. Keep a close view of how Samsonov fares against the Devils Thursday.
Jaroslav Halak, GSAA: -0.26, Boston Bruins (45.7%): Tuukka Rask is out with a suspected concussion which means Halak is the Bruins' current starting netminder. Despite the backup's only very recent struggles, I betcha he runs with the gig. And Rask's return date - although we can probably count out before the All-Star break - remains unknown. Check on Halak's availability in your own ESPN.com league ASAP.
Elvis Merzlikins, GSAA: 6.55, Columbus Blue Jackets (32.3%): Count me among the throng of doubters when the former Swiss-leaguer took over full-time for a hurt Joonas Korpisalo near three weeks ago. Shame on us, since Merzlikins has been flat outstanding since New Year's Eve, posting a .950 SV% and winning six of eight. Oh, and the two shutouts this week - those too. Whatever coach John Tortorella has going on in Columbus, it's working. And I'm now fully onboard until it doesn't. That includes endorsing the club's current No. 1 goalie (at least until Korpisalo returns mid-February).
Corey Crawford, GSAA: -2.96, Chicago Blackhawks (19.3%): Following a less-than-impressive December, Robin Lehner's backup is, thus far, making something of this fresh calendar year. Boasting a .927 SV% through four appearances, Crawford has a pair of wins - would count as three, if not for Cam Talbot's supersized performance against Chicago on Jan. 7 - since 2020's launch. If you're with me in believing the Blackhawks have something to make of this season's second half, the club's No. 2 should be worth streaming, at minimum. And, for Fuhr's sake, grab up Lehner if free in your own ESPN.com league. Somehow, he remains available in most.
Anton Khudobin, GSAA: 3.33, Dallas Stars (19.1%): The Stars' high-ranking backup is projected to split starts near-evenly with Ben Bishop down the stretch. But while Bishop is virtually spoken for in ESPN.com's fantasy universe, Khudobin remains widely available. The soon-to-be free agent - such incentive never hurts - sports a .932 SV% and 2.13 GAA this season, and should be utilized as a streaming option or handcuff to Bishop in just about any daily adjustment league.
Alexandar Georgiev, GSAA: -1.37, New York Rangers (13.9%): So, a little bit of goaltending drama to wade through in the Big Apple. After rebuffing the Islanders to a 6-2 win on Monday, Georgiev earns his second straight start Thursday (again, versus the Isles). Seems fair. But then there's rookie Igor Shesterkin - who most goalie-heads seem to believe is the real deal - sitting a perfect 2-0 through all of his two NHL career appearances. Supposing the Rangers deal Georgiev ahead of the trade deadline - a healthy supposition considering several factors, including the number of quality free-agent netminders flooding the market this summer - Shesterkin could start netting a hefty share of starts with New York before we even settle on how to pronounce his name (his call, obviously). Assuming, which I am, there's no great Renaissance in store for Henrik Lundqvist. While Dynasty league managers should immediately fall all over Georgiev and Shesterkin, those running squads in deeper re-draft leagues might give both a look as well.
Juuse Saros, GSAA: 2.05, Nashville Predators (10.5%): While Pekka Rinne has been consistently inconsistent for the underachieving Predators, Saros is coming off an unexpected shutout performance in Winnipeg. Another strong showing against the Ducks Thursday, for which he's slated to start, and we might expect more Juuse and less Pekka for the next while. Desperate to clamber into a playoff spot, Nashville's new coach John Hynes will pull off whatever move necessary to salvage the season. Even benching his franchise netminder. Rinne's fantasy managers might want to give that some thought.
Brian Elliott, GSAA: -6.63, Philadelphia Flyers (9.6%): With Carter Hart (abdominal strain) on the injured shelf for two to three weeks, Philadelphia's starting reigns fall to Elliott. Buckle up. To be fair, the veteran was solid in Wednesday's 4-3 OT win over the Stanley Cup champion Blues. Still, I'm steering clear, unless the 34-year-old - one of your streakier sorts - goes on a perceptible tear. Call-up Alex Lyon is projected to make his first NHL start of the season against the Canadiens Thursday.
Cam Talbot, GSAA: 9.12, Calgary Flames (9.0%): Tell you what, if David Rittich struggles against the Maple Leafs (oh boy) Thursday, we're going to see more of Talbot in the coming days. Calgary's No. 2 has been largely superb, when offered the opportunity, since the beginning of December (.940 SV%). And like other clubs mentioned here, the Flames need to win games in challenging for a playoff spot. They don't care who gets them there.
Aaron Dell, GSAA: 1.72, San Jose Sharks (7.7%): Despite serving as the better of San Jose's two netminders, particularly of late, Dell's fantasy value remains limited for a club that isn't expected to win many games down the stretch. I like him as a (very) short-term injury plug or DSF asset in favorable match-ups, but that's the extent of it. And, please, move on from Martin Jones, if possible.
Chris Driedger, GSAA: 2.68, Florida Panthers (7.0%): I still (stubbornly, perhaps) believe Sergei Bobrovsky pulls it together before all is said/done - following this most recent upper-body issue, of course - but if you don't, Driedger might merit a looksee as a flyer in deeper re-draft leagues. The minor-league workhorse has been mostly good since jettisoning the Springfield Thunderbirds in November. And goodness knows, that Panthers offense can score.
As bonus, a few less-busy backups to consider in Daily Fantasy play when the match-up appears favorable: Curtis McElhinney, Tampa Bay Lightning; Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues; Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks; Jack Campbell, Los Angeles Kings, James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes; Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche.