The big news of the night was obviously the Penguins-Capitals game, where Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin helped lead the charge
The big news of the night was obviously the Penguins-Capitals game, where Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin helped lead the charge from four goals back against Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. Tonights was the first of four meetings between the clubs this season, and was televised nationally on Versus. After falling behind 4-0 in the first 26 minutes of the game, the Pens stormed back late in the second when Erik Christensen and Sidney Crosby scored 35 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 4-3. Malkin added an early third-period goal to knot it up, and eventually scored the game-winner in the shootout. Ovechkin had a pair of assists and scored the Caps only shootout goal (and first all year), while Crosby and Malkin ended up with a goal and an assist each in the win.
Folks in the heartland received some news this afternoon as well, as the St. Louis Blues cut their ties with head coach Mike Kitchen.
currently has the worst record in the league, which is precisely where they finished last year when they went 21-46-15 in Kitchens first full season. With all due respect to the Blues organization, Kitchen is simply being used as a scapegoat for an organization that simply hasnt adapted to the post-lockout NHL. They made a few waves this offseason by signing a handful of quality veterans, but the rebuilding of this team is going to have to come from within. Former Kings coach Andy Murray was named as Kitchens successor, and immediately signed to a multi-year deal. St. Louis
While the big game was in the East and the firing was in the
Midwest, this weeks schedule takes us out West, where well start with two of the top three teams in the league, the Ducks and Sharks.
8-1-1 San Jose
6-4-0 Los Angeles
5-4-1 Ducks Anaheim
Hot: Teemu Selanne (10 G, 6 A, +9, 14 PIM, 7 PPP, 3 GWG in Last Ten), Chris Kunitz (2 G, 5 A, +6, GWG in Last Three), Dustin Penner (3 G, 2 A, +3 in Last Four), Shawn Thornton (1 G, 3 A in Last Two), Todd Marchant (2 G, 3 A, +4, GWG, SHP in Five December Games), Andy McDonald (1 G, 6 A, +3, GWG in Five December Games), Scott Niedermayer (6 A, +4, 3 PPP in Last Seven), Jean-Sebastian Giguere (8-1-1, 1.61 GAA, .943 Sv. %, 2 SHO in Last Ten)
Cold: Corey Perry (1 G, 1 A in Last Ten), Samuel Pahlsson (1 A, -1 in Last Seven), Shane OBrien (Scoreless, 7 PIM in Last Eight)
Injuries: Ilya Bryzgalov (D2D Lower Body)
The Ducks have rolled into the top spot on our power rankings in the past two weeks, largely because of the play of Teemu Selanne up front. Selanne currently ranks third in the NHL with 41 points, including sixteen in his last ten games, and is the only Western Conference Player in the top eighteen in the league. The terrific netminding of J.S. Giguere has helped pave the way as well, as hes allowed just fifteen goals in his past ten starts to go 8-1-1 over that stretch.
If you werent a believer in Chris Kunitz before, his stellar play in the past week has to be changing your mind a bit. After enduring a brief three-game scoreless streak to close out November and begin December, Kunitz has responded by burying seven points in his past three games, each of which saw him finish with a +2 rating. Kunitz, who went undrafted out of
, was the waiver-wire steal of the year in real hockey last season, as the Ducks were able to pluck him free when Ferris State University left him unprotected just two weeks after the Thrashers had pulled exactly the same trick on the Ducks. After finishing with 19 goals and 22 assists in what was essentially his first full season in the NHL, though, its clear hes found a home on Atlanta s second line. Look for him to continue to trend upward, though hes not exactly the kid that many of last years rookie sensations were. At 27, its safe to say that hes already in his prime. Anaheim
I questioned the Ducks depth behind Selanne and Andy McDonald quite a bit in the preseason, but this team is the real deal. With Kunitz, second-year center Ryan Getzlaf, and a couple of more solid young talents in Dustin Penner and Corey Perry, they have two terrific lines up front. Beyond that, they have some terrific role players in guys like Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer. They can challenge you physically (Travis Moen, Shane OBrien, Sean ODonnell), and their defense is bolstered by two of the top three blue-liners in the league (Pronger and Niedermayer). This team is going to be very difficult to knock off in the playoffs, though there may be a couple of teams that are capable of it.
Next Five: at
, at Florida , at Atlanta , vs. San Jose , vs. Calgary Dallas
game (Saturday) on your calendar right now! One of these teams is likely to be the top seed out West, while the others going to have to settle for the fourth seed (even if they finish with the second-best record). While the Ducks will begin the stretch with a pair of games that they shouldnt have too much trouble scoring in, theyll face three of the top four defenses in hockey to close it out. The way the top two lines are rolling, theyre awfully difficult to sit, but consider keeping Getzlaf or Perry on the bench against the Sharks, Flames, and Stars. Jiggy will face just one really strong offense in his next five, when the Ducks head to San Jose to take on the leagues fourth best scoring offense. Atlanta Sharks San Jose
Hot: Joe Thornton (1 G, 7 A, 4 PPP in Last Three), Patrick Marleau (4 A, 3 PPP in Last Two), Jonathan Cheechoo (3 G, 1 A, GWG in Last Three), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1 G, 4 A, +4, 2 PPP, SHP in Last Ten), Joe Pavelski (4 G, 1 A, +4 in Last Nine), Evgeni Nabokov (3-1-0, 0.76 GAA, .959 Sv. % in Last Four), Vesa Toskala (8-2-0, 1.96 GAA, .928 Sv. %, 2 SHO in Last Ten)
Cold: Matt Carle (0 G, 2 A, -3 in Last Ten), Kyle McLaren (Nine Game Scoreless Streak), Christian Ehrhoff (0 G, 2 A in Last Ten), Mark Bell (1 G, 1 A in Last Ten)
Injuries: Ville Nieminen (Indefinite Lower Body), Mark Smith (Indefinite Ankle)
The Sharks have the daunting task of chasing the Ducks, and theyre the only team out west that looks capable of doing so. In the past week, theyve finally gotten the first line to look nearly as dominant as it did in 2005-06, as Joe Thornton has seven assists in his past three games, three of which came on Jonathan Cheechoo goals. Rookie Joe Pavelski, who scored in four of his first five NHL games, was paired up on the left side with the two on Monday, and scored his fifth of the season.
Though it took second-line winger Milan Michalek a couple of games to look like he was all the way back after missing some time in late November with an arm injury, he looked terrific on Monday. The second-year winger, who is going back to being paired regularly with pivot Patrick Marleau and soph sensation Steve Bernier, netted a goal and added an assist in Mondays 4-0 win. Michalek, who scored at a point-a-game pace in each of the seasons first two months, continues to look like one of this seasons breakout stars, and should feed off the chemistry that he seemed to have earlier in the year with San Joses other young stars.
In an effort to finally get Mark Bell going, the Sharks have moved him to the point on the Power Play. Unfortunately for
, its still not working, as he has just two points in his last ten games. Unfortunately for all of Bell s offensive defensemen, theyre not getting any PPP either. The San Jose experiment has been an absolute failure for Bell this year, and is one of very few moves theyve made in the past few seasons which hasnt immediately turned to gold. Most of his owners have cut him loose at this point. Keep him on your watch list to see if this helps him pick up his game, but dont go jumping through any hoops to grab him at this point. San Jose
Despite a minor blip on the radar in a 5-2 loss to
last week, the Sharks goaltending has been as good as (if not better than) anyone else in the league. Theyre currently tied with Dallas, who gave them their other loss last week in a classic 1-0 defensive battle, atop the league averaging just 2.10 goals per game. The bad news for fantasy owners is that Evgeni Nabokov, whose name still keeps coming up in trade rumors, is still a Shark. Both Nabby and Toskala are terrific fantasy number twos, but their platoon situation keeps either from being an elite fantasy goaltender. Colorado
Next Five: at
, vs. Los Angeles , vs. Los Angeles , vs. Anaheim , vs. Dallas Calgary
Again, circle Saturdays game against the Ducks on your calendar! Its a must-watch and a must-have for both teams. The home and home with the Kings presents the only two games on the schedule where the Sharks shouldnt be hard-pressed to score. The last three include the Ducks (5th in defense), Flames (3rd), and Stars (Tied for 1st). Benching any of the top four (Cheechoo, Thornton, Marleau, Michalek) is impossible right now, but Bernier and Pavelski would certainly seem benchable in the last three. The blue-liners should be left alone for the time being. The only high-scoring offense the Sharks will be facing comes in the third game of the stretch against
. Anaheim Stars Dallas
Hot: Jere Lehtinen (2 G, 1 A, GWG Saturday), Jussi Jokinen (4 G, 2 A in Last Six), Mike Ribeiro (1 G, 6 A, 4 PPP in Last Ten), Phillipe Boucher (5 G, 5 A, 7 PPP in Last Ten), Sergei Zubov (1 G, 4 A, 4 PPP, GWG in December), Marty Turco (
4-1-0, 1.36 GAA, .947 Sv. %, 2 SHO in Last Five)
Cold: Jeff Halpern (0 G, 1 A, -3 in Last Nine), Matthew Barnaby (Scoreless, 9 PIM in Last Ten)
Injuries: Eric Lindros (D2D Foot), Mike Modano (D2D Hip Flexor), Brenden Morrow (D2D Groin), Antti Miettinen (1-2 Weeks Lower Body), Steve Ott (3-5 Weeks Fractured Ankle)
Despite their typically miniscule margin for error, the Sharks have won four of five, thanks largely to the amazing play of Marty Turco. Turco notched back to back shutouts last week in 1-0 and 3-0 wins over the Sharks and Coyotes respectively, and has allowed just seven goals in five December starts thus far.
The fact that they were able to get their top two left wingers (Lehtinen and Jokinen) going in Saturdays 4-3 win in
is going to be key. Though Lehtinen has always been one of the leagues better defensive forwards, he became a critical scorer on this team when he matched his career best with 52 points in 2005-06. That same intensity on the offensive end wasnt there for Lehtinen in the first two months, when he had just nine points in twenty games. Phoenix
On a team thats remained effective despite playing in the previous (lower-scoring) era, Jokinen is one of very few players that the Stars have that seems capable of taking this team up a notch offensively. He has fantastic speed, great stickhandling skills, and a deadly shot. Like Lehtinen, however, hes finding that translating those skills into a
total in the Stars defense-first system is extremely difficult. Theyve loosened the reins a bit on Jokinen in the past few weeks, and hes responded with a point a game in his last ten. high point
Mike Ribeiro remains a terrific offseason pickup, though you have to wonder exactly why hes so afraid to let one fly every now and then. In five December games, Ribeiro has pushed himself into second on the team in scoring (20 points) with a goal and four assists. However, that goal that he scored was on the only shot hes taken so far this month.
It wasnt a question of whether Eric Lindros would miss some time for the Stars this season, but a question of when. The miracle is that his first injury this season is a bruised foot (rather than the typical concussion). Lindros joins a laundry list of players on the shelf for the Stars, including their top offensive player (Mike Modano) and captain Brenden Morrow. Morrows injury has been particularly annoying for fantasy owners, as hes been listed as day-to-day for the past three weeks, and is wasting a roster spot on most fantasy squads. Both Morrow and Modano are expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday, though nothing is certain regarding their status.
Next Five: vs.
, vs. NY Rangers, at Columbus , at Los Angeles , at Anaheim San Jose
This could be a make or break stretch for
if they want to have any hope of remaining competitive within the division. The Blue Jackets are suddenly on fire, winning four in a row under former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, and wont provide the easy matchup youd expect. The Rangers and Kings should give the Stars players up front an opportunity to get on the scoresheet, but both are capable offensive squads in their own right. When they face Dallas and Anaheim in a pair of key road contests, theyll be squaring off with the top two teams in the best division in hockey, and arguably the two most complete teams in the league. Start your skaters against the Jackets, Rangers, and Kings, but keep them on the bench against the Ducks and Sharks. Turcos too good to bench. San Jose Kings Los Angeles
Hot: Michael Cammalleri (5 G, 4 A, 5 PPP in Last Ten), Alexander Frolov (7 G, 4 A, 6 PPP, SHG, 2 GWG in Last Ten), Lubomir Visnovsky (2 G, 8 A, 7 PPP in Last Ten), Derek Armstrong (3 G, 5 A, +7, 1 PPP in Last Six), Sean Avery (3 A, 17 PIM, 1 PPP in Last Three), Dustin Brown (4 G, 4 A, 6 PPP in Last Ten), Rob Blake (2 G, 5 A, 7 PPP in Last Ten), Tom Kostopoulos (1 G, 4 A in Last Five)
Cold: Brian Willsie (0 G, 1 A, -5 in Last Ten)
Injuries: Brent Sopel (3-5 Weeks Broken Ankle), Oleg Tverdosky (1-2 Weeks Groin), Alyn McCauley (Indefinite Knee Surgery), Mathieu Garon (2-4 Weeks Groin)
Through most of the season, its been the kids or nothing at all from the Kings. However, theyve had a couple of veterans step up their game in the past couple of weeks to join Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri, and Alexander Frolov on the scoresheet. Derek Armstrong, who never really stuck with three other clubs before joining the Kings in 2001-02, suddenly looks like a legitimate second-line talent, and has found the net with frequency lately. Hes scored three goals and added five more helpers in seven games since returning from a clavicular contusion, and perhaps more importantly, hes helping some of the other youngsters on the second line around him develop.
The key guy hes helping to develop is Dustin Brown on his left side. Brown, the Kings first round pick in 2003, is building upon his strong showing in early November and rolling it right on into December. With four goals and four assists in his past ten, the burgeoning two-way talent is starting to make his way onto a lot of fantasy rosters, and should warrant staying there for the rest of the season. He plays strong in his own zone, despite his -7 rating on the season, and even sprinkles in plenty of time in the penalty box to add to his value. Tom Kostopoulos is feeding off of the chance to play alongside the solid Armstrong and emerging Brown, and might not be a bad pickup for teams in search of a quick fix in leagues that value day to day pickups.
With the improving depth up front, you would think that the Kings might be a team that we could expect to start rising in the standings. However, the injury to Mathieu Garon figures to set them back bigtime. Dan Cloutier has been one of the biggest sieves in the league so far this season, and will assume the starting role with Garon on the shelf. Cloutier has won two of his five starts since Garon went down, but has only turned in one above-average start in that span.
Next Five: vs.
, at San Jose , vs. San Jose , vs. Dallas , at Calgary St. Louis
At least theres some light at the end of the tunnel. The Kings will start their upcoming stretch against the league leaders in goals against per game (The Sharks and Stars are tied) before having to face the number four scoring defense when they host the Flames. Seriously consider benching your fringe skaters in their next four. Cloutier shouldnt be in your lineup, regardless of whether the Kings are playing the Buffalo Sabres or a recreational league team.
Hot: Ladislav Nagy (1 G, 9 A, 3 PPP, 24 PIM in Last Ten), Ed Jovanovski (3 G, 6 A, 4 PPP in Last Ten), Georges Laraque (1 G, 6 A in Last Ten), Patrick Fischer (2 G, 3 A, +4 in Last Four), Mike Zigomanis (3 G, 2 A in Last Six), Mikael Tellqvist (2-0-1, 2.21 GAA, .927 Sv. % Since Being Acquired)
Cold: Zbynek Michalek (Scoreless in Last Five), Shane Doan (1 G, 1 A in Nine Games Since Returning From Injury), Derek Morris (Scoreless, -5 in Last Nine), Curtis Joseph (0-2-0, 3.50 GAA, .863 Sv. % in December)
Injuries: Nick Boynton (2-3 Weeks Fractured Foot), Steve Reinprecht (2-3 Weeks Fractured Clavicle)
The Yotes have won their way to respectability in the past couple of weeks, but they still have a long way to go to win their way into actual contention. Much of the infusion of life has to do with the return of injured stars Mike Comrie and Shane Doan, who each missed more than a month due to injury. While neither of them have done much in the way of scoring themselves, their return has taken some of their opponents defensive focus off of star winger Ladislav Nagy, who has started to make a more consistent impact for
Rookie Swiss winger Patrick Fischer has also played a big part in the teams resurgence, and has notched five points in his past four games after producing just four points in his first fifteen games. Fischer is far from your typical rookie, as the 31-year-old has twelve years of professional experience in the Swiss Elite League. Fischer has good hands and terrific hockey sense to go with his plethora of pro experience, and is starting to become something of a fixture on
s second line. Phoenix
Former Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque also continues to fill up the scoresheet, and has seven points in his last ten games. Playing alongside Fischer and faceoff specialist Yannic Perreault has no doubt helped him translate his game into more points and less penalty minutes. However, as the team continues to get healthier (Comrie returned last week, and Steve Reinprecht is getting close to a return), Laraque could very well figure as the odd man out.
The Yotes made one of the more phenomenal deals in recent memory when they purged Mikael Tellqvist from the struggling Leafs for wannabe enforcer Tyson Nash and a low draft pick. Tellqvist has been terrific with
, stopping 89 of 96 shots while earning the Yotes a point in each of his three starts. Hes quickly worked his way into a platoon with 39-year-old Curtis Joseph, and could very well assume the starting duties within the next month. Phoenix
Next Five: at
, vs. Vancouver , vs. Columbus , vs. Calgary , vs. Edmonton Anaheim
Their brief two-game road trip concludes with a trip to
tomorrow night before they head home for their next four. Goals may be hard to come by for most of this stretch, as theyll face four top ten defenses and an improving Blue Jackets squad thats allowed just five goals in their last five games. On the positive side, theyll face a couple of anemic offenses as well, starting with the Canucks, who rank last in the league with just 2.20 goals per game. Unless youre carrying Nagy, consider benching all of your starters. Its a safe bet that you can start Tellqvist with confidence in his next few starts, though. Vancouver
by James Meyerriecks - Tue Dec 12