November 02, 2009

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.

Mike Fisher, Senators

With the loss of Dany Heatley, Fisher has been asked to take on a more offensive role with the Sens. He has come through with flying colors, though it would be hard not to skating on a line with Alexei Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson. On the year Fisher has 11 points in 12 games, and of late he has been doing his best to vault himself into the point-per-game stratosphere with seven points in six games. Fisher recorded 22 or more goals 3-straight years from 2005-07, and though he dipped to 13 goals and 19 assists last season, there is little reason to think that Fisher, with those line mates, won't be able to record his first 50-point season, even if a truly substantial season might be beyond his reach.

Tomas Kaberle, Maple Leafs

You'd have to be following the World Series pitch-by-pitch to not be aware of the massive surge in offense from this blueliner the past 10 days. Not only has Kaberle recorded a point in each of his last five games, the level of production has been simply staggering. (1) He has scored two goals. (2) He has dished out 11 assists. (3) Nine of those points have come with the man-advantage. Overall Tomas is one assist (15) away from Joe Thornton's league leading mark, and given that the production has come from a blueliner, it's obvious just how amazing his production has been of late.

Patrick Marleau, Sharks

Heatley and Joe Thornton rightly garner the majority of the attention when talk moves on to the Sharks offensive exploits, but what Marleau has done to start the year is rather remarkable considering how much time he has spent skating on the second line away from the clubs other stars. The deposed captain is tied for second the NHL with 11 goals (Marian Gaborik) and he has also vaulted up to a tie for second in the league with 21 points (Anze Kopitar) -- two more than Thornton and four more than Heatley. Marleau has accomplished this by recording a point in each of the past eight games during which time he has potted six goals while handing out nine assists. He is on his way to challenging his career best point total of 86 from back in 2005.

Lee Stempniak, Maple Leafs

Taking advantage of skating with Matt Stajan and Viktor Stalberg, not to mention seeing more power-play time of late, Stempniak has been on a roll of late. Over his past four contests the New York born winger has lit the lamp three times while handing out three assists for an offense that is finally starting to produce after a long dry spell to start the year. Unfortunately, Lee is a (-6) player on the year, he is actually (-6) over the past seven games, so you have to live with some downside here despite his scoring exploits. In 73 games in a Leafs' uniform Stempniak has 15 goals and 23 assists though he did post 52 points in an offensive minded role back in 2006-07 when he was on the Blues.

Jonathan Cheechoo, Senators

The thought was that Cheechoo would enjoy a certain level of recovery of his former offensive after he was moved from the Sharks to the Senators in the Heatley deal. It hasn't worked at all. Not only does Cheechoo have only two assists through 12 games, he is still searching for his first goal as a Senator. "Things haven't been going right. The little bounces haven't been going my way. At the same time, if you work hard you're going to get those bounces eventually." Let's hope that his strong mental outlook will lead to some points, because right now he doesn't even deserve to be rostered.

Olli Jokinen, Flames

This guy is having a hard time adjusting to not being "the guy" with the Flames. All the Flames want Olli to do is play hard, get his chances, and bury the puck. He doesn't have to lead the team, he doesn't have to carry it on his back, but unfortunately while you would think that the lessoning of pressure would help him, it has apparently done the exact opposite as he has a mere two goals over the course of 12 games. As surprising is that he has averaged just 1.83 shots per game, this from a man who is third in the NHL in shots taken since the start of the 2005 season (his average in that time is 3.90 per contest). Can Jokinen be effective talking literally half as many shots on net as he has the past few years? That's an open ended question at the moment.

Peter Mueller, Coyotes

The eighth overall selection in 2006, Mueller debuted with 22 goals and 54 points as a rookie before failing to do much of anything in year two (13g, 23a). Unfortunately he has taken another step back in year three having recorded a mere two assists in 12 games. Things hit rock bottom on Halloween when Mueller was a healthy scratch (no word on if he wore a costume in the press box -- perhaps trick or treating was the reason less than 6,500 fans showed up for the game in Phoenix?). The team still believes the youngster is part of their future, but clearly that future isn't right now. Peter isn't even worth a roster spot in standard sized leagues at the moment.

Eric Staal, Hurricanes

Eric, whose brother is listed below, has had a brutal start to the campaign with three goals, two assists and a (-5) in 13 games. Now comes word that he injured his upper-body on Sunday in a loss to the Sharks that will likely cause him to miss a couple of games thereby putting to an end his streak of 349 consecutive games. Staal, who has traditionally been thought of as a slow starter, actually has 69 points in 66 career games in October while his worst month has actually been November (48 points in 73 games), so perhaps the injury came at the best time possible?

Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs

Ready to make his NHL debut as a Leaf on Tuesday, Kessel is itching to return to action after an almost six-month rehab process for his shoulder (he had reconstructive surgery). Obviously the thought of adding a 36 goal scorer to your lineup has to be enticing, and if you drafted him thinking you would wait until he was healthy your patience is about to pay off. At the same time it would be wise to realize that Kessel hasn't played since May 14 and that he will certainly be a bit rusty. Just keep that in mind if he starts off slowly.

David Laliberte, Flyers

Daniel Briere might return to action as early as Monday from his injury (turns out it is a quadriceps issue and not his groin as initially fears), so the promotion of Laliberte to a line with Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk could be short lived. "David's kind of a neat story, the way he's moved up the ladder in the organization," GM Paul Holmgren said (Laliberte was a fourth round pick in 2004). Laliberte was clearly comfortable in his first game at the NHL level as he recorded a goal and an assist. This is more of a heads up for those of you in really deep leagues because it certainly isn't a slam dunk that Laliberte will even be on the team by the end of the week if Briere's groin is in good shape. Still, it's a storyline to keep an eye on.

Alex Pietrangelo, Blues

With Erik Johnson struggling somewhat to find his legs on the power-play (two assists in 12 games), the Blues have decided to elevate Pietrangelo to the top unit while dropping Johnson to the #2 power-play set. Obviously Pietrangelo's time as a healthy scratch appears to be at an end (he has played the last three games in a row). "It's tough not being in the lineup. And when you do get in there, you have something to prove." Drafted fourth overall in 2008, Alex has a ton of upside to tap, but with just 13 games of NHL experience it might be wise to keep expectations modest even with this increased role.

Jordan Staal, Penguins

With Evgeni Malkin out for a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury, Jordan Staal is finally being asked to fill an offensive role after spending copious amounts of ice-time as the Pens' third line center. Blessed with an offensive flair that has been somewhat muted because of his role, the Penguins need the offensive game of this still just 21 year old to emerge to help cover up the loss of their star scorer. Staal, who has only one point in his last eight contests, will now skate with Ruslan Fedotenko and Chris Bourque on the second line, in addition to seeing an increase in power-play chances and time on ice (he was on ice for nearly 23 minutes in their last game after averaging about 17 and a half minutes in his first 12 games). Staal scored 29 times as a rookie and 22 times last season, so he is certainly capable of being effective in the offensive side of the game.

Craig Anderson, Avalanche

The surprise of the year so far? Possibly. Anderson is not only tied for the NHL lead with a .936 save percentage, he is also fifth with a 2.11 GAA. While the personal accolades are certainly tremendous, it's the fact that he is 10-3-2 with two shutouts that has vaulted his performance into the stratosphere. He has lost his last two starts but he won each of the four previous outings in which he allowed just seven goals so we can overlook the speed bump. Still, it would be wise to sell high -- there is no way he can keep up this early season pace.

Ryan Miller, Sabres

Miller has lost only one game in regulation going 8-1-1 on the year. He also is tied for the league lead with a .936 save percentage and his 1.86 GAA is third overall. Not much else can be said here other than he has been spectacular in the early going.

Andrew Raycroft, Canucks

Who leads the NHL in GAA with a 1.66 mark? If you guessed this retread you are really tied in to the happenings of the league. Playing in place of the injured Roberto Luongo, Raycroft has made five appearances (three starts) and only once has he allowed more than one goal. Of course his value returns to zilch when Luongo returns, but for now his play has been spectacular for a waiver-wire pickup.

Tim Thomas, Bruins

Last year's top goalie, Thomas really struggled out of the gate this season, and with injuries to the team's forward ranks he currently owns a mere 4-5 record. However, things are starting to look up for Timmy as he has allowed a total of eight goals in his last four games. Alas, he is just 2-2 in that time because of the Bruins inability to produce offensively, but at least Thomas is rounding into form as he has upped his save percentage to .910 on the year. Buy low on him if you can.

* Four teams play four games this week:Atlanta, NY Islanders, Phoenix and Tampa Bay

* Four teams play only two games this week:Chicago, Minnesota, Nashville and Ottawa

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