Crashing The Net takes you around the league touching on hot and cold players, battles for ice-time and what's going on in net.
Maxim Afinogenov, Thrashers
After watching Afinogenov on Saturday night, I'm convinced my decision to roster the Russian winger late in every draft this season was the correct one. Yes, he has been limited to an average of just 53 games a season the past three years because of injury, and yes the word defense isn't in his lexicon, but can that guy ever dangle and skate. As a result of those offensive gifts, and a shot at a new lease on life after falling out of favor in Buffalo, Maxim has recorded six points in eight games this season including two goals and three assists in his last five outings. Keep an eye on the injury to his linemate Ilya Kovalchuk, as his loss could mean a decline in production for Maxim.
Dustin Brown, Kings
Anze Kopitar has been unbelievable to far, he leads the NHL in goals (10) and points (21), but the Kings captain hasn't been too bad in his own right. Brown is working on a point-per-game pace with 12 points in 12 games (4g, 8a), and he also has a 6-game point scoring streak rolling during which time he has lit the lamp four times while handing out five assists. Considering that four of the points were with the man-advantage during the point streak, Brown has been mighty valuable in the points scoring categories and looks to be well on his way to returning to the 60-point level that he reached in 2007. In fact, he might be aiming considerably higher than that.
Shane Doan, Coyotes
What, you thought the Coyotes were winning just because of the stellar work in net of Ilya Bryzgalov (6-2, 1.59 GAA)? Doan has nine points in nine games this season and in each of the past four games he has posted at least a point with three goals and four assists overall. As importantly, he has been an absolute monster with the man-advantage with two goals and two assists of those seven points coming on the power-play. Given that Doan has recorded at least 27 goals each of the past five years, and that he has also been over the 65 point level in four of those years, he is clearly one of the safer options in the game. This hot start also puts him on pace to record a third straight 70-point effort. Now, he only needs to get the rough stuff going to be totally on track (just two PIMs through nine games).
Martin St. Louis, Lightning
With everyone paying attention to Vincent Lecavalier's goalless streak (it reached 15 games before it ended over the weekend), and the continued growth of youngster Steve Stamkos, few have recognized that St. Louis has recorded a point in every game this season with three goals and 10 assists in nine games. Though he doesn't contribute at all in PIMs (high of 38), and he has been a "minus" skater the past four years (-15), the man racks up points. St. Louis has hit at least 80-points in four of five seasons, and since the start of the 2003 season his total of 433 points is the sixth best total in the league (four more than Jarome Iginla). St. Louis is a scoring star. Period.
Ryane Clowe, Sharks
Signed to a big 4-year deal this offseason after scoring 22 times with 30 assists in 71 games last season, Clowe has been a miserable contributor this season other than his 27 penalty minutes considering that he has but two assists in 12 games. That's right, the potential power-forward hasn't lit the lamp once and has but a meager two helpers despite skating most of the early season with guys like Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau. Sooner or later Clowe should bust out, don't forget that he was a big power-play option last year as well (11g, 13a), but he is perilously close to spending some time on the fourth line do to his lack of offense.
Chris Kunitz, Penguins
Through 11 games Kunitz still hasn't been able to slip a puck past a goaltender. Dating back to the regular season last year that's 16 games without a marker and just one tally in 21 games. Over the past four games this season Kunitz has but a single assist to give him five on the year. Kunitz is a big-time goal scorer by any means, though he does have three straight 20-goal efforts on his resume. Skating with the talent that the Penguins have up front makes his lack of production this season even more vexing.
Chad LaRose, Hurricanes
Tabbed as a potential sleeper heading into the season, all LaRose has done is sleepwalk through his first 10 games having recorded but a single point, an assist, in the Canes terrible 2-5-3 start. When you add in the fact that he has spent a lot of time skating with guys like Eric Staal and Ray Whitney, well, all you can say is that he has been dreadful. If the coaching staff continues to roll him out there with such a plumb assignment you would think things would turn around, but for now he belongs at the very bottom of your bench if not outright on waivers.
Steve Sullivan, Predators
Someone's certainly missing Mr. Jason Arnott (on the injured reserve with a left arm injury). After seemingly entering the year healthy for the first time in years after finally getting over his back woes, Sullivan was on a lot of people's list for guys to target this season. Alas, those that took that advice have certainly not been rewarded for their faith in the little guy. Sullivan hasn't recorded a point since the second game of the season, and over his last six games he is an absolutely atrocious (-8). It doesn't get much uglier than that from a guy who could be a point-per-game type. Don't give up on Sullivan, but you would be absolutely foolish to have him active right now.
James van Riemsdyk, Flyers
A rookie with the Flyers, Riemsdyk has played terrifically in the early going, and the coaches have been raving about his play. It's not just a team trying to boost a guys confidence either, Riemsdyk has been really productive on the ice with a goal, six assists and a +3 in seven games on the year. However, perhaps the best news is that the club shuffled their lines and low and behold JVR ended up on a line with Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter. On Saturday night the trio posted seven points against the Panthers, so Riemsdyk is clearly set up for a nice run of production riding shotgun with those offensively gifted skaters.
James Wright, Lightning
A rookie who is one game from hitting the limit of 10 and being forced to remain the entire year in the NHL versus being sent back to the Western Hockey League, Wright has played very well on the early season. "He hasn't done anything for him not to be on the team," head coach Rick Tocchet said. It sure sounds like Wright, who has two points and is a +2 on the season, will remain with the club. As if that isn't good enough news for the youngster, he has been skating on a line with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier of late. If he remains on the line osmosis will seemingly insure a fair amount of points don't you think?
Some quick hitters about the men between the pipes:
Craig Anderson, Avalanche
If not for Ilya Bryzgalov and his amazing start, Anderson would likely be the talk of the league. Regardless, those that grabbed Anderson late are clearly loving life right now as Anderson is tied for the league lead in victories (eight) while placing second in save percentage (.933).
Jaroslav Halak, Canadiens
Halak has made 3-straight starts for the Habs (with a fourth scheduled for Monday night), and the results have been wonderful as he has gone 3-0 while allowing just six goals. With Carey Price just 2-4-0 with an awful .886 save percentage, look for Halak to continue to be between the pipes until he lays a stinker or two like Price has done most of the year (in his six games Price has allowed fewer than three goals just one time).
Cristobal Huet, Blackhawks
Has Huet finally righted the ship? In his last outing he threw a whitewashing at the Predators stopping all 27 shots. Three starts ago he permitted but a single goal in a victory over the same Predators squad. He did allow four goals in the game in-between to the Stars, but any club will take five goals allowed over three games would they not? Antti Niemi has allowed three goals in each of his last two starts going 1-1 so we may already be seeing that shift back to Huet that we all anticipated would eventually happen.
Ryan Miller, Sabres
Flat-out studly. Miller leads the league with a .940 save percentage, and his 1.69 GAA is second best. In addition, the Sabres netminder has emerged victorious in each of his last six appearances, and in his seven starts he has allowed more than two goals just one (three goals on 39 shots against the Islanders in a win).
Mike Smith, Lightning
It seems like I was struck by Lighting overnight, as I seem to be listing a Bolts' player in every section. Still, Smith deserves mention here as he may have finally turned things around after a brutal start to the year. The numbers might be terrible (3.36 GAA, .890 SV%), but Smith has allowed just four goals in his last two starts as he made 62 saves. Considering how cheaply he could be had it might be worth investigating what it will take to bring Smith to you club if he isn't currently on your roster.
Marty Turco, Stars
"It's no secret that I wanted to play fewer games, and I think it's working right now," said Turco, who got his wish as the Stars brought in Alex Auld to serve as his caddy, and with eight starts in 11 Stars games the plan seems to be going, well, according to plan. Turco may only be 3-2-3 on the year but his ratios have returned to Turco-like levels with a 2.19 GAA and a .917 save percentage after last seasons debacle (2.81 GAA, .898 SV%). Looks like he is back to top-10 consideration amongst netminders.
* Nine teams play four games this week: Colorado, Minnesota, Montreal, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Phoenix, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington.
* Five teams play only two games this week:Atlanta, Calgary, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.