A coaching thing can turn things around in the NHL - and your hockey pool

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The loudest applause comes from those in fantasy hockey pools who owned Blackhawks players stifled under former coach Trent Yawney's defence-first tutelage.

Chicago scored a yawn-inducing average of 2.38 goals per game and lost 12 of 15 games.

In last week's modest three-game winning streak, they scored an average of 3.66 goals per game, and Savard says that's the way his team will play from here in.

That's good news for poolies who own struggling scorers like Radim Vrbata and Bryan Smolinski. And they can also look for talented Tuomo Ruutu to get more ice time and more points, too.

In the midst this sudden excitement, two young Blackhawks draw some pool attention their way. Rookie winger Tony Salmelainen has scored goals in each of Chicago's three wins while centre Jeff Hamilton had four goals, including a hat trick against Nashville.

Both are worth monitoring now and more so once the lines are rejuggled to accommodate the returning Martin Havlat.

Havlat is back at long last from an ankle injury this week, and his

offensive skills - 13 points in his first seven games - will further stoke that offensive fire in Chicago. Poolies should activate the immensely talented Havlat immediately.

So, coaching changes can obviously have positive pool results, especially if the incoming coach pulls a player out of the doghouse or off a checking line.

But what about in Columbus?

Well, the Blue Jackets have won two games and lost three squeakers since Ken Hitchcock replaced the fired Gerard Gallant on Nov. 22. And it looks like Anson Carter will assume an important scoring role with the rejuvenated Jackets.

Hitchcock also says he'll give more ice time to rookie Gilbert Brule to see if he can play up to his potential.

Waiver Watch

Looks like the Gretzky boot got the desired results in Phoenix. Slumping Ladislav Nagy returned from being a healthy scratch to pick up a goal and three assists in the next game.

Coincidentally, those are the exact numbers Wojtek Wolski put up after he was scratched in Colorado. Frustrated poolies might wish for a similar stint in the Detroit press box for Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Jonathan Cheechoo, with only seven goals this year, is another star who could use a good time-out. Filling that offensive void in San Jose right now is Joe Pavelski, who has scored four goals in five games since moving to a line with Steve Bernier and Patrick Marleau.

Hang onto Cheechoo, of course, and also keep an eye on Pavelski.

Poolies should take also note of the many fine young stars emerging in Los Angeles this year.

Anze Kopitar leads all NHL rookies with 24 points, Dustin Brown has five goals and eight points in his last nine games, and Michael Cammalleri had points in five straight games before cooling on the weekend. All are worth owning.

Even 10-year vet Derek Armstrong is getting in on the action with three goals and six points in his last four games.

Injury Update

On the downside in L.A., goaltender Mathieu Garon's groin injury is lingering longer than expected. That means Dan Cloutier, the league's worst goalie this year, gets a chance to redeem himself. It's likely he was dumped in most pools and maybe, just maybe, he'll prove himself worthy of a waiver pickup.

Don't hold your breath.

It was a tough week in Oiler country as both Ryan Smyth (broken thumb) and Ales Hemsky (shoulder) went out indefinitely.

Poolies will hope slumping forwards Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Horcoff can re-emerge as fantasy stars.

Ottawa defenceman Wade Redden (shoulder) is also on the shelf indefinitely. His owners in fantasy hockey are at wit's end by now as this blow follows Redden's year-long offensive struggles while nursing a sore groin.

Former Senator Alexei Yashin's comeback season with the Islanders has now stalled at least a month because of a knee injury.

Viktor Kozlov has stepped into the breech big-time, piling up numbers like Slava, that other Kozlov in Atlanta.

Viktor scored four times against the Rangers Sunday night and has an incredible six goals and nine points in his past four games. Needless to say, he's a must-own now in all pools.


Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)hotmail.com.

Some suggestions on players to add or avoid in your hockey pool this week:

Who's Hot

1. G Nikolai Khabibulin, Blackhawks. The Wall wins three, allows only six goals.

2. LW Matt Pettinger, Capitals. Scores fantasy attention with three goals and five points.

3. LW Patrik Elias, Devils. Emerges from year-long slump with six-point week.

4. C Bobby Holik, Thrashers. He goes from Not to Hot with a six-point week.

5. D Zbynek Michalek, Coyotes. The latest defenceman in the desert to show promise.

Who's Not

1. LW Tomas Holmstrom, Wings. Nary a point in six games since returning from injury.

2. G Dwayne Roloson, Oilers. A winless week with a 5.45 GAA, .818 save percentage.

3. C Alexander Steen, Leafs. Pointless streak is an incredible 11 games . . . and counting.

4. C Peter Nedved, Flyers. Peter, not so great, is minus-11 since recall from the AHL.

5. D Keith Ballard, Coyotes. The latest defenceman in the desert to squash promise.


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