November 16, 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.

Maxim Afinogenov, Thrashers

Talk about an impressive early season performance. Having to prove himself all over again at the NHL level, Maxim decided to try and resurrect his career with the Thrashers. Consider the early returns to be exceedingly positive. Maxim is scoring at a point-per game clip (17 points in 17 games), a rather impressive total considering that one of his line mates, Ilya Kovalchuk, missed a few weeks with a broken foot. Afinogenov has lit the lamp in 3-straight games (four total goals), and he has posted six points in those three contests. Dating back a bit further he has points in seven of eight games as he has scored five goals while handing out six helpers. Maxim hasn't scored even 20-goals or recorded 60-points since 2006, but as long as he continues to skate on the top line with Kovalchuk, while remaining healthy, he looks to be in line to reach both of those totals this season.

Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings

Who on the Wings isn't hot? I was tempted to also list Dan Cleary here, after all he has two goals, three assists and is a +7 in his last three games, but I thought it would be obnoxious to merely fill up the "Fire" list with just Wings. Instead, I decided to hit on the two hottest options on the club in Kronwall and Zetterberg (discussed below). With the team needing a boost on offense, this Swedish-born defensemen has channeled his inner Nicklas Lidstrom of late with points in each of the last three games. And oh, have they been a wondrous three games -- three goals, four assists and a +7 rating. This great run of offense has boosted his point total to 13 on the year, two more than the aforementioned Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer and Zdeno Chara to name but a few. After recording 51 points last season, Kronwall is hopeful of being able to increase his point total for a 5th straight season.

Mike Modano, Stars

One of the best American born skaters in NHL history (545 goals, 1,333 points), Modano has seen his level of production dwindle the past two years to the point where his name clearly outpaced his game. To make matters worse, Modano suffered a rib injury and was sidelined for a month (from October 3rd to Nov. 4), so when he was finally activated from the injured list its not like there was a stampede to add him to active duty. Modano has looked spry, like his old self actually, the past two contests as he recorded a goal and an assist in each of the past two games, his first points of the year after starting off with four scoreless outings. If you need a pick me up you can look Modano's way, but realize that he hasn't scored more than 22 goals or recorded 50 points in three years.

Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

Henrik Zetterberg has 427 points in 450 career games so it is hardly surprising to read his name in conjunction with anything like "hot" or "on fire." It's a common occurrence. But the man has been white-hot of late with 11 points (6G, 5A) in his last six games. In those six games he has four points on the power play, and fully 50 percent of his goals have gone for game winners. Moreover, Zetterberg has lit the lamp four times the past two games, and over his last three contests he has nine points and is a +5 (he was also named the NHL's First Star for last week). Just plug this guy into your lineup and forget about him. When it's all said and done the numbers will be ultra impressive and you'll have a huge smile on your face.

Alex Burrows, Canucks

Burrows was a fantasy star last season with 28 goals, 150 PIM and a +23. Many pundits took a look at his amazing finishing kick (18g, 11a and a +23 in his final 34 games) and had visions of the next 30-goal, 150-PIM power forward. So far this season the plan hasn't gone as, well, planned. Burrows has four goals and eight assists in 21 games, well off his pace of last season. Add in the fact that he has only 28 PIMs on the year and that his plus/minus rating is just +1 and you have a skater who has failed to live up to expectations (the loss of frequent linemate Daniel Sedin hasn't helped). Burrows has been particularly cold of late with only one point in four games, and since Oct. 12, Alex has but one goal. Maybe things will improve when Daniel S. returns to the ice.

Scott Gomez, Canadiens

Gomez is one of those confounding players to own. At the end of the year the points are usually there, over 55 in each of the past six years, but you keep looking at that 84 point effort in 2005 and hope that you can strike lightning in a bottle. It hasn't gone that way so far in his first year in Montreal. Gomez has 11 points in 20 games, far from an atrocious total, but the guy has lit the lamp only twice putting him on pace for about eight goals this seasons. Clearly, Gomez isn't paid to score, he's paid to pass, but lately he hasn't been doing either as he has gone three games without a point, has only one assist in five games, and he hasn't beaten a goalie in 11 games for good measure. Might be a nice time to buy low, but the upside isn't anywhere near a point-per-game pace.

Jason Pominville, Sabres

This Quebec-born skater registered 68 points in 2006 to vault himself into fantasy consideration. When he went for 80 points in 2007, Pominville owners became downright giddy. Unfortunately he slumped to just 20 goals and 66 points last season, with a (-4) rating, throwing some doubt on his ability to be a point-per-game guy. Based on early returns this season, it's pretty clear that he just isn't someone to count on for that level of offense. With a total of four goals and seven assists, through 17 games, Jason is on pace to fall just shy of 20 goals while recording fewer than 55 points, totals that certainly haven't been bolstered of late as he has been pointless in 3-straight contests while recording two points in seven games. Things should improve, though perhaps not significantly.

Jason Spezza, Senators

Based on his level of production (1g, 10a in 15 games) it's clear that two things are occurring with Spezza. (1) He is dealing with a back issue that is clearly limiting him somewhat on the ice. (2) He really misses Dany Heatley. The Sens replaced Heatley with Michalek, and while he is a fine offensive weapon, he clearly is about 39 steps behind Heatley in terms of his offensive talents (Michalek has seven goals and three assists in 17 games in Ottawa). Perhaps now that Spezza is healthier than he has been all year the points will start to flow. However, after recording three points in his first appearance in November, he has gone 4-straight contests without a point, quite the run of futility for a guy who has 429 points in 419 games in his career. Hey, at least he still uses a wooden stick. Spezza makes a fine buy low option if his current owner has soured on the scoring star.

Ruslan Fedotenko, Penguins

Not only has Sidney Crosby broken his dry spell, Evgeni Malkin has also rejoined the mix given the Penguins their beefy 1-2 punch up front. Looking to boost the offensive output of a club struggling to score, the Pens matched Crosby and Malkin on the top line with Fedotenko taking up the best wing position in the NHL. There is no telling how long this line combination will last, but if Fedotenko skates with those two scoring stars and doesn't average at least three-quarters of a point per game he should give back his paycheck.

Ryan Jones, Kings

After being left for dead by the Flyers, the Kings swooped in and claimed Jones off re-entry waivers at the end of October. Jones then spent a handful of games in the press box in civvies before finally cracking the lineup. Jones has seen action the past three games, and he has a game-winning goal and an assist to show for his efforts. He isn't someone to target, but if you need a hand on the backend, he could be a nice waiver-wire pickup.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, Leafs

With Jason Blake producing only one point in three games, the Leafs juggled their lines over the weekend with Alexei moving up to the first line with Matt Stajan and Phil Kessel. Clearly Ponikarovsky's value will be determined by whether or not he can stick with the line, but he did record 23 goals and 38 assists last season when the team relied heavily on him in the offensive zone. Keep an eye on what head coach Ron Wilson does with his pairings.

Ryan Miller, Sabres

Miller has lost only two games in regulation this season and three overall as he is 12-2-1 for Buffalo (he is tied for the league lead in victories). Miller also leads the league with a 1.77 GAA and his .939 save percentage is tied with that of Antero Niittymaki for the league lead. The case for Miller being the best goalie in the early going is pretty easily made.

Ondrej Pavelec/Johan Hedberg, Thrashers

With Kari Lehtonen still working his way back from a second back procedure, the Thrashers have been going with options two and three all year. While Pavelec has seen the majority of the workload with 13 appearances, he has also had some rough outings of late (he allowed at least four goals in 3-straight starts before a shutout in his last outing). Into that small opening has come erstwhile backup Hedberg who has won three of his last four starts, all the while posting a .923 save percentage in his seven appearances on the year. The club will likely ride the hot hand of Hedberg for a bit, but Pavelec owners shouldn't be too worried at the moment.

Carey Price/Jaroslav Halak, Canadiens

Price is 4-8 on the year, including 2-8 in his last 10 decisions, and that wouldn't play if you were eight years old let alone when you are being looked at to backstop the most illustrious team in the annals of the sport. Price has played better of late allowed two or fewer goals in three of four games, but his overall numbers (3.08 GAA, .904 save percentage) are slightly worse than Halak (2.62 GAA, .904 save percentage). Still, Halak has made only one appearance in November, Price has made five, so it's clear which direction the team hopes to go in.

Tim Thomas/Tuuka Rask, Bruins

Tim Thomas is still the clear-cut No. 1 here, but the future, Tuuka Rask, is clearly narrowing the gap between the two netminders which could lead to Rask seeing more action moving forward. Both keepers sport an identical 2.33 GAA, and lo and behold, each also has a nearly identical save percentage of .920 (Rask has a .919 mark). Thomas has lost each of his last two outings, and three of four, despite two shutouts in his last three games (he lost one of the efforts in the shootout). Over his last three starts Rask has allowed a mere five goals, so it wouldn't be surprising in the least to see him pick up a few more starts here and there as the season progresses.

* Four teams play four games this week:Florida, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tampa Bay.

* Four teams play only two games this week:Minnesota, NY Rangers, St. Louis and Vancouver.

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