March 10, 2009

Crashing the Net takes you around the league you almost forgot about and all of the fantasy ins and outs, ups and downs.

Craig Conroy, Flames

Nine goals and 41 points in 66 games from a center -- Yahoo, right? While that would be the case if you looked at his overall numbers, the truth is that things have changed for the better of late for Conroy, who has taken advantage of the extra ice time and role on the second line with Daymond Langkow still nursing a hand injury. Over the past seven games, this New York native has scored three times while handing out seven assists for the Flames. It remains to be seen what his role will be when Langkow returns to health, but for now Conroy's production should have him on your list of players that are on "fire."

Ilya Kovalchuk, Thrashers

Speaking of players on fire, Ilya is molten hot right now -- he is actually magma hot, folks. Besides scoring a point in six straight games, he has registered a point in 12 of 13 games. And this isn't a guy merely handing the puck off to someone else to do the heavy lifting, this is the guy benching 450 pounds. Over that 13-game stretch the Atlanta sniper has, take a seat before you read on, 15 goals. Throw in the 11 assists and that brings his total to 26 points in 13 games. Paging Wayne Gretzky. For those of you who traded the Russian-born winger a month and a half ago because of some indifferent play, well, it's OK if you shed a tear or two. Do you want us to play the violin for you, too?

Pavel Kubina, Leafs

Anyone with 14 points in their last 15 games would be considered worth mentioning in this section of the piece, but when said player is a blue liner, well then, he vaults to the top of the list. Kubina has five goals among those points, and with more than half of the points (eight to be exact) coming on the power-play, you would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of blue liners who have been more valuable since the calendar flipped to the month of February.

Chad LaRose, Hurricanes

Think this guy was ever made fun of as a kid with that last name? Who's having the last laugh now? LaRose has four points in his last four games, meager production compared to some of the other names on this list to be sure, but we thought we would toss a name out there for those of you looking for any little boost to your offense in really deep leagues. The man has only 32 goals and 47 assists in 254 career games, so his ceiling is limited, but if he continues to skate on the second line with Ray Whitney then he could end up on the score sheet more nights than not.

Matt Stajan, Leafs

Stajan is enjoying the most productive season of his young career with 14 goals and 32 assists, but recently he has taken his helpful ways to new heights. What do we mean by that? The centerman hasn't lit the lamp in eight games, but he has registered five assists in six games, with two of the helpers on the power play. He isn't likely to set the world on fire or to lead the NHL in assists in March, but he might still be on waivers in a deep league, and with the way he is going now he could add a nice little boost to a fantasy club struck by injuries or ineffective play down the middle.

Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

The Ducks leader suffered a broken nose on Feb. 24, and though he has continued to solider on, his performance on the ice has suffered greatly. Over his last five games he has managed a mere two assists while also being on the ice for far too many opposing goals, registering a (-5). Going back a bit further, he hasn't potted a goal in seven games, and over that same span of time he hasn't produced a single power-play point. We expect him to get back on track shortly; after all he does have 71 points in 66 games, but it has been a pretty brutal stretch of late.

Scott Niedermayer, Ducks

Ten goals and 44 points are solid production for the blue liner, as are 60 PIM and 25 points with the man advantage. However, for a player who hasn't been in the minus with his plus/minus since 1996-97, it is shocking to see Nidermayer with a career worst (-15) next to his name. Moreover, the majority of that descent into darkness has come of late as he has a (-14) in his last 15 games, which has totally negated any value his eight points have produced. History tells us that this slide simply cannot continue, but at the same time it has been well over a month of completely irresponsible two-way hockey from one of the best all-around blue liners in the game.

Dion Phaneuf, Flames

Looks like it's just one of those years for this multi-talented blue liner. Phaneuf went five games without a point in mid-February but then caught fire with points in fpur-straight. However, the fire has been extinguished of late as he has now gone four games without a point. For a man who averaged 18 goals and 53 points the first three years of his career, going nine of 13 games without a single point is a bit shocking. His yearly plus/minus mark is still a terrible (-7), though it is a +2 in his last 20 games. Still, he has been unable to post any PIM in that time to bolster his value with just 21 in the 20 games since the All-Star Game. Sometimes even great players have sub-standard seasons, and barring a miracle finish to the year, that's just how Phaneuf's '08-09 season will likely be described.

Jason Pominville, Sabres

Look at this growth in the point category the past three years: 30, 68 and 80. So he should be on pace for about 85-90 points this season, right? Wrong. Pominville has a mere 47 points on the season, and there is more bad news. His plus/minus (-8) is terrible after posting a +41 mark the past two seasons. After averaging 31 goals the past two years he has lit the lamp just 14 times this season. And get this; in the past 28 games he has scored a grand total of two goals. Ugly. There isn't much end in sight here, so it might be wise to bench him until he shows us all that his scoring touch hasn't completely evaporated.

Paul Stastny, Avalanche

Stastny missed a ton of time due to a broken arm, but when you have 183 points in 188 career games no one figures you will ever slump. Well, Paul has slumped since his return to action with just three points (no goals) in six games. Still, the dude has 34 points in 40 games this season, and it wouldn't be wrong to predict a breakout performance or two wasn't in the cards. Too talented to continue to flounder, look for Stastny to get back to his scoring ways in a hurry.

Pascal Dupuis, Penguins

Petr Sykora continues to be hobbled by an upper-body injury, and though he is hopeful of returning this week, the player asked to step into his role on a line with NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin is Dupuis, who's value sky rockets in the short-term (Ruslan Fedotenko is the other member of the line). Dupuis is far from an offensive dynamo with just nine goals and 12 assists in 56 games this season, but anyone who skates with Malkin is clearly a fantasy option to consider picking up off waivers. With Sykora's return imminent, Dupuis may have little value past this week, but if you are desperate you might want to take a look.

Brian Lee, Senators

With defensive stalwart Jason Smith looking like he will miss a couple of weeks with a knee sprain, Lee was once again summoned from the minors to help out a nicked-up Senators defense. Lee had been banished to the AHL for taking two penalties in the waning moments of a game that led to a loss to the Sharks on Feb. 26. "I felt like I cost our team the game and it was probably deserving to send me there for awhile [for] some punishment," Lee said. Lee, who in 37 previous games with the club has two goals and nine assists, was the ninth overall selection in the '05 NHL Entry Draft, has some offensive upside and skated more than 20 minutes in his first game back with the big club.

Matthew Lombardi, Coyotes

Given a more substantial role since moving to the desert, Lombardi is thriving. With the loss of Olli Jokinen, the Coyotes have chosen to fill the center spot on the top line with Lombardi, a prime position next to the team's best player -- Shane Doan. In three games, Lombardi has one goal and two assists, and he even won 19 of 28 draws in a game on Sunday. The speedy centerman scored 20 goals in '06-07, and looks like he will be able to produce at that rate over the final month of the season given his new role.

Brett McLean, Panthers

The team from Florida received terrible news when it learned that Nathan Horton would miss the next 2-4 weeks with a severed tendon in his left ring finger (caused by an errant skate). Horton, second on the team with 19 goals, will be replaced on the line with Richard Zednik and David Booth by McLean. "There's a group of us that feel that we can step in and chip in more," McLean said. Well, he doesn't have anywhere to go but up given that he has just four goals and 13 points this season in 64 games, terrible production for a skater who earned at least 35 points in each of the past three seasons. Look for his scoring pace to pick up, but he is still likely to be nothing more than a minor fantasy contributor.

Martin Biron, Flyers

The Flyers need to make up their mind on who will start in net on most nights down the stretch. It looks like that decision is being made easier by the play of Biron of late. Over his last 11 appearances he has just five victories and a decent 2.52 GAA, but his save percentage has been splendid at .929. Antero Niittymaki's play hasn't been awful of late with a 2.96 GAA and a .910 save percentage in his last nine games, and his production is clearly a step below what Biron has provided. Oh yeah, Antero also has given up at least four goals in three of his last five starts, including his last outing, when he was pulled after just one period. If Biron can't step into that void to pickup the majority of the starts the rest of the way, we would be shocked.

Ben Elliot, Senators

Apparently all it takes is your coach calling you a bum publicly to get a guy to play well. Looking like they were going to turn to Alex Auld after the trade of Martin Gerber to the Leafs, rookie Ben Elliot has re-inserted himself into the discussion in Ottawa. After Auld gave up four goals in just 15 shots in 40 minutes of action on March 3, Elliot has stepped up his game, allowing seven goals on 89 shots (.921 SV%) and he has captured the "W" in each of his three starts (he had 18 minutes of mop-up duty on the third). It is unclear if there is really a No. 1 goalie in Ottawa right now; afterall Elliott did post a 5.79 GAA in his last four appearances in February, but his game is on the upswing and the team will likely just ride the hot hand the rest of the way.

Kari Lehtonen, Thrashers

Just 15-20-3 overall, Lehtonen has had another rather pedestrian season in the GAA department (3.10) while maintaining a solid save percentage (.910). The reason is that he simply faces too many shots on most nights (nearly 30 shots per appearance). Still, he is 7-7-1 with a .918 save percentage over his last 16 starts, and he has allowed just one goal while going 2-0 in his last two starts. He doesn't figure to help on a nightly basis given the struggles in front of him, but he is certainly capable of stealing a few games down the stretch.

Jose Theodore, Capitals

Is this the Achilles heal of a team hoping to win the Cup? Theodore has a terrible .899 save percentage, a mark that only Marty Turco (.898) can "best" among the 12 goalies who have at least 24 victories (Theodore's total). While his save percentage has remained stable (.901 since the All-Star break), Theodore's GAA has continued to rise (3.01 in that same timeframe), and over his last seven appearances he has won but two games, going 2-4-1 in posting a GAA of 3.46. Those aren't numbers of a guy coming up big in a playoff push. Theodore figures to win his fair share of games with the firepower the club possesses, but you are only picking up wins at the moment since his ratios haven't even been league average for most of the season.

Tomas Vokoun, Panthers

Over his last 15 starts, Tomas has managed to rack up 10 victories against five regulation loses for the Panthers, a fine record. Moreover, his GAA of 2.07 is superb while his save percentage of .942 is sublime. Toss in three shutouts in that time and you have one of the top-5 goalies in the league since the All-Star break. He has had a bit of a hiccup since returning from an ear infection, posting a 3.33 GAA in three starts (he is still 2-1 in that time), but look for him to distance himself from the physical concerns with excellence on the ice.

* Fifteen teams play four games this week: Boston, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vancouver.

* One team plays only two games this week: Anaheim.

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