November 24, 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.

Ryane Clowe, Sharks

You couldn't be more in the doghouse than Clowe was in the early going, as he was called out in the media by his coach for simply not being good enough (hardly a shocking statement given that he produced a mere two assists in his first 13 games after signing a big contract in the offseason). Clowe took the "calling out" in stride and turned up the production, significantly, as he has helped the Sharks to surge to the top of the NHL standings with his play of late. Clowe has scored a goal in each of the last two games, and has at least a point in seven of eight, and over his last 12 games he has lit the lamp four times while dishing off nine helpers. That's a point-per-game folks. Expecting that level of production moving forward is a bit much, but Clowe figures to continue to produce points at a strong clip over the rest of the season while providing enough rough stuff (39 PIM) to be an extremely valuable left winger.

Tobias Enstrom, Thrashers

In each of his first two years in the league, this Swedish-born rearguard was in the 30s in points (38 and 32). He appears primed to blow past that level in his third season as he has already recorded 16 points in 20 games (including six on the power-play). Enstrom has also been feeling it of late with four points in three games, and nine points in nine games for the Thrashers, as he has clearly taken his offensive game to new heights. Despite the offseason addition of Pavel Kubina, Enstrom continues to see time on the power-play which augments his dependable two-way play (+6) quite nicely.

Patrick Kane, Blackhawks

After producing 72 and 70 points in his first two seasons, most pundits expected this speedy forward to ascend to the point-per-game pace this season, provided of course that he stayed out of taxi cabs. Therefore, his total of 23 points in 22 games is hardly surprising. However, the ride there has been a bit dumpy, though there has been nothing but open road in front of him of late. Though he didn't record a point in his last contest, Kane has still produced a point in nine of his last 10 games (5g, 8a), and all five of those goals have come in the last six games. You simply can't keep this kid down, something everyone in the NHL clearly aware of.

David Legwand, Predators

The first pick in franchise history, this career-long Predator has recorded 20 or more goals twice in three years. Legwand started out the year in a horrific slump that saw him go a fifth of the season, 16 games, without lighting the lamp. However, he has finally rediscovered his lost tough leading to three goals in five games, and during that stretch he has also handed out three helpers to give him a total of six points in five games. You have to be careful with his plus/minus, it's currently (-4), and he has taken only 39 shots on goal in 21 games, but you still might be able to get him on the cheap, or off waivers in some leagues, if you need a short-term scoring boost.

Nathan Horton, Panthers

The No. 3 overall selection in the 2003 draft, Horton possesses all the requisite skills to be an extremely productive offensive weapon. Alas, consistency hasn't been a calling card of his, and as a result his owners are often left feeling a bit queasy about rostering this right handed shot. Has Horton found that magic elixir that will allow him to maintain a game-to-game presence on the score sheet? He certainly has of late with a point in five straight contests (2g, 4a). Horton still needs to shoot the puck more, he has just six shots on goal during that scoring streak, but he has clearly picked up his overall game after a slow start to the year (14 points in his last 12 games). He likely won't be a scoring star, but he should end up being a fine secondary option.

Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

What happened to this scoring star? Over the past three or so weeks at least one, if not both, of the Alexander's have been on the shelf (Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin), and as a result Backstrom hasn't always had a top scoring option to dish the puck off to. As a result his last five games have produced a mere assist for the Swedish-born disher of the puck. Moreover, Nicklas has only four goals on the year and a meager total of one in his last 12 games. The picture isn't as bleak as it sounds, after all he does have 23 points in 23 games, but it's clear that Backstrom isn't at the top of his game right now.

Paul Kariya, Blues

Kariya scored a point in his last contest. We bring that up because it was his first point in November and his first time on the score sheet since Oct. 23 -- a span of 12 games. How can a man as gifted as this go 11 games without a point? Kariya is healthy, so you can always hope that he goes on some hellacious tear on the offensive side of the ice, but with four goals and four assists in 20 games, his start to the year has been a tremendous downer. It's not like he is that old, he's 34, and he does have 88 points in 113 games as a Blue, so we'd expect him to return to the level of productive in short order, especially now that he is on the second line with T.J. Oshie and David Backes.

Mike Richards, Flyers

As the Flyers have hit a mini-slump of late, the play of Richards has come under the microscope a bit. Overall nine goals and 10 helpers in 20 games is exactly the pace you would expect from a guy who has produced 155 points in 152 tames the previous two years, but Richards has but a single goal in eight games. To be fair he has dished off three helpers in that time to provide some offense, but four points in eight games is a 50 percent reduction in the expected return from the Flyers' captain. Another down note is that he has taken a mere two shots on goal over his last three games. He'll turn his game around in short order, just be patient.

Nicklas Bergfors, Devils

One point in nine games. That's what this youngster had done in two seasons with the Devils heading into the current campaign. Bergfors has certainly opened up many eyes with his offensive exploits thus far (5g, 9a in 21 games), and with the loss of Dainius Zubrus for up to six weeks with a broken kneecap, the Devils will have to restructure their forward lines. Early returns have Patrik Elias shifting back to center on the second line with Bergfors moving up to the first line to skate with scoring sensation Zach Parise (13g, 14a in 27 games) and solid two-way center Travis Zajac (20 points, +10 in 21 contests). If Bergfors sticks with that duo he becomes an immediate pickup in almost all formats.

Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens

Two years ago, Plekanec recorded 29 goals and 69 points as a potential rising star. Last year he fell to 20 goals and a mere 39 points causing his outlook for the current season to be totally up in the air. Well, consider the bell to be answered for Tomas who has jumped out of the gate on fire to record 22 points in 23 games on the young season. Do to that scoring prowess, Plekanec has been boosted to the top line in Montreal and is now skating with Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn. With Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta dealing with injuries, expect Plekanec to be leaned on heavily in the short-term and to receive copious amounts of ice-time with the man advantage.

Marc Savard, Bruins

First it was Milan Lucic returning from a broken finger, now it's the Bruins' leading scorer who is expected back on the ice in Marc Savard. Out five weeks with a broken foot, it's unclear how much ice-time he will receive, or who his line mates will be, on Monday night as he works his way back into game shape, but the good news is that no matter the answer to those questions, Savard is back. It will likely take Savard a bit of time to regain his game, but don't look for an extended scoring slump from a guy who has recorded 269 points in 245 games as a member of the Bruins. Be sure to pay attention to who it is that he is lining up with because no matter who they may be they will likely see a big boost in production given the deftness of Savard's sublime passing skills.

Craig Anderson, Avalanche

Anderson is tied for second in the league with 12 victories, and his .923 save percentage is good enough for sixth in the league -- not bad for a guy who had never been a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level. Still, Anderson has won just one of his last five starts, and three times in those five outings he has allowed at least four goals as his GAA has risen to 2.52 on the year. Peter Budaj is no threat to Anderson's playing time, in fact he has seen the ice only three times this year, so don't worry about Craig losing that starting spot. At the same time it obviously makes sense that his numbers would regress after his spectacular start to the year. Anderson is still a good bet to be a terrific goalie two this season though it might be wise to realize that isn't one of the elite no matter how great things looked in October.

Ray Emery, Flyers

At 11-6-1, Emery has been terrific this season for the Flyers. However, he has hit a bit of a rough spot of late with just a 1-3 record in his last four starts as he has sported a poor .881 save percentage in that time. He isn't in danger of ceding playing time to Brian Boucher, Emery still has a 2.42 GAA and .915 save percentage on the year, so it's more than likely just a leveling off his performance and not a trend you need to be overly concerned about.

Cristobal Huet, Blackhawks

On Nov. 5, Huet was 5-4-1 and there was a wee bit o' panic in Chicago. Consider those fears waylaid. Since that date Huet hasn't allowed more than three goals in any of his six starts, and low and behold, the 'Hawks have won each of those six games as Cristobal has improved his record to 11-4-1. Antti Niemi continues to impress when given the chance as he has gone 4-1-1 with a .921 save percentage, but this potential battle for starts is clearly a one horse race at the moment.

Pascal Leclaire, Senators

Pascal is dealing with a lower-body injury that the team is being rather secretive about. Given that he had surgery on his ankle, an injury that limited him to just 16 games last season, we're all hoping that the current situation is nothing more than a minor annoyance (reports seem to indicate that it is not his ankle that is bothering him). Leclaire has been merely passable this season with a .901 save percentage, though if healthy he doesn't appear to be in danger of ceding the job to his backup Brian Elliot (.903 save percentage). Still, look for Elliot to get at least a couple of starts this week until Leclaire is healthy.

Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks

The team from the left coast can't seem to lose, and one of the main reasons is the main man in net. Since Oct. 24, Nabokov is 9-0-3, and in the month of November he owns a 1.73 GAA and a .943 save percentage in nine games. Clearly, the Russian-born netminder is at the top of the crease, and his game, of late.

* Eighteen teams play four games this week (a ridiculous total): Anaheim, Boston, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

* Zero teams play only two games this week.

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