February 08, 2010

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.

Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

Named the NHL's Third Star of the Week for the just completed stanza, Backstrom produced two goals and eight helpers in four games feeding the puck to Alexander Ovechkin (the First Star of the Week after scoring six goals with four assists) and Mike Knuble (three goals and three assists). Though his worth is sometimes downplayed because of his linemates, the bottom line is that Backstrom has 230 points in 223 career games and he has already scored a career best 25 goals in just 59 games this season. Don't overlook the fact that he is also a +12 skater in his last eight games, or that he has suddenly become a bit ornery with 16 PIMs in his last five contests.

Ryan Callahan, Rangers

Perhaps Olli Jokinen has finally found a linemate with whom he can work. The past couple of games have been a virtually bounty of production for Callahan, who has two goals and two assists, with three of the points coming with the man advantage. It should be noted that the lines are very fluid in the Big Apple right now, and Callahan has also spent a lot of time skating with Brandon Dubinsky on the second line, but whatever is going on with the Rangers has led to some unforeseen point production of late from Callahan. Up to second on the team in goals (15) and third in points (32) -- how sad is that? -- Callahan has become a viable fantasy option in leagues that count power-play points (8g, 10a), though his terrible (-13) mark is certainly a hindrance.

Jason Spezza, Senators

From 2005-08, Spezza was ninth in the NHL in assists (238) and 14th in points (369). While impressive totals, they were held back a bit by missing a few games here and there with injury, a fact that can be seen in his 1.12 point-per-game mark that was ninth in the league in that time. This season his production waned, partly because of losing linemate Dany Heatley and partly because of injury as he recorded just two goals and 15 points in his first 22 games. Since returning from a knee injury Spezza has been good as ever. In those seven contest he has recorded eight points, of which seven have been goals. In fact, going back to just prior to the knee injury, Spezza has lit the lamp nine times in his last nine games. Hopefully you held on to Spezza and didn't bail when he struggled early because it's been one wild ride of late.

Michael Frolik, Panthers

First it was Nathan Horton and then Stephen Weiss who missed time with injury. For Frolik, the loss of either off his line has been hugely detrimental as he has gone into a scoring funk of profound proportions. The 10th overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Frolik had a solid December with 10 points in 15 games, but in the last 17 games his scoring total has dipped to eight points and he hasn't produced anything on the power-play in 2010. In addition, Frolik hasn't scored a goal in 13 games, and he has only one goal in 17 games. He is blessed with tons of talent, but until everyone is healthy and ready to rock in Florida it would be wise to keep Frolik out of your fantasy lineup.

Erik Johnson, Blues

On nearly every preseason list as a potential breakout star on the blue line this season, Johnson started out on fire with 18 points and a +6 rating in his first 25 games, making those pundits look as intelligent as the visionary that was Louis Reard (a man who will always be loved by this scribe for inventing the modern-day bikini). Since then, many a Johnson owner has been seen cursing and firing pucks at the television set as Johnson has produced all of seven points in his last 31 games while posting a pathetic (-7) mark. I left the best part for last. In his last 31 games Johnson has lit the lamp as many times as the crowd laughs during a Pauly Shore concert. That would be zero times for those of you keeping score at home. The future is bright, so if you are in a keeper league try to acquire Johnson on the cheap, but his outlook for the rest of 2010, well let's just say you likely won't need any ear plugs to keep the crowd noise down.

Milan Lucic, Bruins

A potentially dominant power-forward force, Lucic just hasn't been right since returning to the ice from an injured ankle. Not only has he gone five games without a point, he also has a mere goal and two assists in his last 15 games. If that wasn't bad enough, his feisty nature has also disappeared with a single, yes, one, penalty in those 15 games. For a man who scored 17 goals last season along with 136 PIMs, three goals and 26 PIMs in 25 games is an embarrassing effort. He may not snap out of this slump any time soon as he was placed on the fourth line on Sunday (Daniel Paille was sent upward). Milan has also seen his power-play time curtailed to virtually nil. Hopefully the two-week Olympic break will help to recharge his seriously low batteries.

Johan Franzen, Wings

The Mule has been out of action since October due to a torn left ACL, and it looks like after months of diligent rehab that he will probably return to the ice on Tuesday. If he skates on a line with Pavel Datsyuk, as expected, Franzen could once again be a fantasy force, though it would be wise to temper expectations at least in the short-term as it could take a while for him to get back his "game legs."

Lukas Krajicek, Flyers

Since being shipped to the Flyers from Tampa Bay, Lukas has zero points, zero PIMs and an even rating. Why mention him at all then? Well, he has been skating on the second defensive unit with the Flyers alongside Kimmo Timonen, and sooner or later that could lead to some fantasy production, couldn't it? He may not rise to the level of relevance in all but the deepest of leagues, after all he has only 70 points and 231 PIMs in 304 career games, so don't fall all over yourself to add him to the mix despite his mention here.

Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks

Sharp was demoted from the second line late last week as Dave Bolland was elevated to play alongside Marian Hossa, and Sharp owners wept. Two days later Sharp was promoted to the first line alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Sharp owners rejoiced as if they had just met the love of their life on ABC's The Bachelor (and don't act like you don't still watch because we all know you do). "We started to have success together a long time ago, and every time we've reunited we've found a way to spark something," said Toews. By the way, Sharp has 16 points in his last 18 games, a pace he could certainly maintain if he remains on the first line.

Dainius Zubrus, Devils

Look who finds himself in an envious position skating on a line with Patrik Elias and newly acquired Ilya Kovalchuk (you can read all about the Devils deal to nab Kovalchuk in Frozen Pucks -- Blockbuster Deal. When a player is skating on a line with potentially the two most dynamic offensive weapons in the history of the franchise it's time to take notice. Zubrus has scored twice in the past two games and three times in five games, during which time he has produced six total points. If he is on waivers, and you like to mine the wire for potential bounties, there isn't a better option in the game to make a play for this week.

Johan Hedberg/Ondrej Pavelec/Kari Lehtonen, Thrashers

The newest of the news with this organization is that Lehtonen is back with the club after a conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL (he was 1-1-2 with a 2.67 GAA and a .899 save percentage). Apparently finally recovered from back woes that required him to go under the knife, Lehtonen is about to make things really interesting in Atlanta, where the previously established duo is going in two different directions. Pavelec may or may not be the Thrashers' goalie of the future, but currently he is playing pretty poorly in net (3.26 GAA over his last nine games). Hedberg is a solid 3-1-1 in his last five starts with a stout 2.19 GAA (he also leads the NHL in third period save percentage) as he has clearly staked his claim to playing time. However, he is the veteran whose future is murky at best. One of the three will almost certainly go by the trade deadline, but that's about the only certainty we have any handle on with this situation.

Ray Emery/Michael Leighton, Flyers

Emery has missed the past couple of contests with a sore hip, and we aren't quite clear if the injury is going to require extended time on the shelf or not. What we do know is that Leighton will start yet again on Monday as he will be looking to put an end to a personal three-game losing streak. Far from playing poorly in that stretch, Leighton has allowed only three goals in his last two outings, though his overall numbers have dipped since a superb run to end December (he still owns a superb .925 save percentage in 14 games with the Flyers). About all we know for certain at this point is that Brian Boucher will only be on the ice if the Flyers' other two net minders are unavailable for action.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Leafs

The J-S stands for "Just Shutouts" as J-S became the first keeper in the illustrious history of the Leafs to open his career with the team with back-to-back shutouts. Reunited with former goaltending coach Francois Allaire, it certainly hasn't taken very long for J-S to find his lost game. Giguere figures to start the vast majority of games the rest of the way as he looks to re-establish himself as a No. 1 goalie in this league which means that Jonas Gustavsson owners might be stuck with some dead weight on their roster.

Steve Mason, Blue Jackets

This second-year keeper has been possibly the biggest disappointment in the NHL up to this point of the season. Moreover, the entire team in Columbus has underachieved, and as a result the choice was made to remove bench boss Ken Hitchcock with Claude Noel. "We're having some fun out there," forward R.J. Umberger said after the change was made. "Guys are playing with a lot of jump and confidence." The change has certainly sparked Mason, who is 2-0 with a .980 save percentage and a miserly 0.50 GAA to bring his overall numbers to 15-18-6 with a 3.14 GAA and .894 save percentage. Is it possible that last season's fantasy darling can recapture the form that led to a Calder Trophy?

Marty Turco, Stars

Looking like he had lost the starting job to Alex Auld, the proud veteran that is Turco has rebounded with a vengeance of late allowing a mere three goals in his last three starts. Turco still has middling numbers this season (2.73 GAA, .910 save percentage) when compared to his career work (2.30 GAA, .911 save percentage), but it sure seems like he has responded the challenge for playing time in net with a vengeance. The question now becomes -- will he remain in Dallas or end up being moved to another squad to help alleviate some potential payroll concerns in Texas?

* Thirteen teams play four games this week: Anaheim, Colorado, Edmonton, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Vancouver.

* One team plays only two games this week: Toronto

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