February 23, 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.

Way back in September, before the NHL season even began, I wrote a piece titled "10 Burning Questions." In the article, I posed 10 questions to myself and gave my answers to each query (I know a little narcissistic). With about 70 percent of the NHL season complete, how do my "answers" look? Read on to find out.

To read the original article click on the link to 10 Burning Questions.

1. Will anyone other than Malkin, Crosby or Ovechkin win the Art Ross Trophy?ANSWER: No.

Henrik Sedin was in the league lead for points for a while, but he has since ceded the spot to Alexander Ovechkin who is now nine points clear of the field with 89. As things current sit, it's Ovechkin at the top, followed by Henrik Sedin (80 points) and Sidney Crosby (78). Evgeni Malkin has really struggled until recently catching fire, though despite hiccup he is still tied for 12th in the league with 65 points. As an added bonus, Ovechkin and Crosby are also tied for the league lead in lighting the lamp with 42 goals. This prediction is looking pretty darn good, though it wasn't exactly going out on the limb to suggest the points leader would be one of those three.

2. Can Martin Brodeur still be an elite goaltender?ANSWER: Yes.

Are Mike Fisher (Carrie Underwood) and Mike Comrie (Hilary Duff) lucky men (in case you missed it both couples are now engaged)? At the Olympic break Brodeur leads the league in shutouts (seven), minutes played (3,368) and games (58) as he rebounded from his elbow injury with aplomb. Despite being 37 years old, Brodeur hasn't slowed down one iota as his season ratios (2.32 GAA, .915 save percentage) are nearly identical to the marks that he has posted in his HOF career (2.21 GAA, .914 save percentage). If you trusted history (and my advice) and drafted Brodeur despite the fact that he was coming off the worst season of his career, give yourself a pat on the back.

3. Can Marian Gaborik ascend to the level of an elite scorer?ANSWER: Yes.

Have you ever seen this man skate? One of the few players in the game that can bring the crowd to their feet, the issue with Gaborik is always health -- not his skill or production. Marian has been hurt a couple of times this season, but he has still appeared in 58 of the Rangers' 62 games, and the results have been spectacular: 35 goals, 34 assists, 23 PP points and a +10 rating. Overall Gaborik is tied for fourth in goals and third in power-play tallies 13), and in his last 75 games he has 48 goals and 44 points. He is what he has always been, and that is an elite level scorer.

4. Will the presence of Jay Bouwmeester take the pressure off Dion Phaneuf and allow him to become an elite offensive threat again?ANSWER: Yes.

Can I have a d- over? I guess the pressure is technically off of Phaneuf since he is no longer a Flame, but this plan certainly didn't play out as GM Darryl Sutter had hoped. Phaneuf disappointed on (10g, 12a +3 in 55 games) and off the ice where he had become a lightning rod in the locker room. If possible, Bouwmeester's play has been even worse, as he has two goals and 21 assists in 62 games on the year. For a blue liner who has scored at least 12 goals in each of the past three seasons, that's a pathetic pace. Perhaps being separated will allow each guy to return to his previous form on the offensive side of the ice because the pairing certainly didn't click for the Flames.

5. Can Carey Price regain the form that made him a darling of the Montreal media in 2007?ANSWER: Yes.

Hey, no one is perfect. Price has an awful record (12-18-4), is working on a second straight season with a goals against average in the 2.80's, and though his save percentage has rebounded (.911) to pretty much match his career mark (.912), it's far too little to placate the Habs fan base or Price's fantasy owners. The Canadiens don't want to give up on Carey, he is just 22 years old, but there is little debate that he has been vastly outplayed by Czech netminder Jaroslav Halak (17-10-2, 2.56 GAA, .923 save percentage).

6. Will the legal troubles of Patrick Kane affect his on-ice performance and deter the championship aspirations of the Blackhawks?ANSWER: No.

This was a home run. The Blackhawks are currently second in the Western Conference and third in the NHL in points with 87 (the Capitals lead the way with 90 while the Sharks have 89). As for Kane, who is playing the Olympics for Team USA in Vancouver, he has 25 goals and 67 points in a mere 61 games. The goals tied a career best, while he is just five points from his career-high in that category. Add in that he is a +19 after being a (-7) skater his first two years in the league, and it's clear that Kane is on the cusp of superstardom.

7. Can Miikka Kiprusoff reverse what have become some rather troubling trends in net the past few years?ANSWER: Yes.

Finally. Kipper has returned to the elite status which he belongs in, though an odd thing has happened. Last season Miikka won 45 games to lead the league, but his ratios were terrible at career worst levels as a starter (2.84 GAA, .903 save percentage). This season his ratios have sparkled (2.18 GAA, .925 save percentage), but unfortunately his record has suffered (27-19-9). You can't blame Kiprusoff who on most night has been very sharp -- it's his teammates that have often let him down by failing to put enough pucks in net at the other end of the ice.

8. Can Zach Parise repeat his effort of last season?ANSWER: No.

Lauded as not only the most talented skater on the Devils (until the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk), Parise is also the hardest working skater in the organization. Still, it seemed foolish to expect Parise to repeat the numbers that landed him in the top-10 fantasy players at the conclusion of last season (45g, 49a, 94 pts, +30). Parise has done very well this season (28g, 33a, 61 pts, +24), but "very well" doesn't equal spectacular. Still, he is on pace for about 38 goals and 83 points, and that is a wonderful follow up campaign even if a bit short of his stupendous work from last season.

9. Despite missing last season, can Erik Johnson be a top-20 fantasy defensemen in 2009?ANSWER: Yes.

Uh, not so much. I can take some solace in the fact that about 90 percent of all "experts" thought a breakout was coming from this American blueliner, but alas, it just hasn't happened. As a rookie in 2007 he scored five goals with 28 assists in 69 games. After missing 2008 due to a lost battle with a golf cart (I'm not kidding), he has returned to the ice this season and provided nearly identical numbers (6g, 23a in 60 games). Still only 21 years old, the future is bright for this right-handed shot, though it certainly appears that we misjudged just how quickly that "future" would arrive.

10. Will all the uncertainty that surrounded Dany Heatley and where he would play in the coming season affect his chances of returning as a force on the offensive side of the puck?ANSWER: No.

This one seemed obvious to me, but there were some that felt Heatley might end up being distracted from his scoring duties once on the ice. Teaming for a large portion of the season with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose, Heatley has thrived like a hot bartender in a nightclub. Heatley is tied for fourth in the NHL with 35 goals, is tied for second in power-play goals (14), and has 66 points in 62 games. Toss in a +16 rating and Heatley has been one of the 10-most valuable forwards in the fantasy game this season. So much for those concerns.

The preliminary rounds of Olympic competition are complete. For a review of how they went, including a review of the failures of Canada and the success of Team USA, give James Duplacey's piece, An Olympic Hockey Review: Preliminary Round a read.

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