Shots on Goal: Devilish Days
by Peter Maingot
To save bandwidth we'll pass on the preamble and get right into the blue paint...
Rookie Cam Fowler, as expected, will remain with the Ducks for the entire season. More good news for Ducks fans: winger Joffrey Lupul's 12-month odyssey of hell is nearing an end. Loops had back surgery in November of 2009 that resulted in a nasty infection. The winger is expected to be back on skates and barring any more setbacks he should be in the lineup by December. That's great news for Jonas Hiller owners, as the Ducks offense has been struggling of late with just three goals scored over their past two games, both losses. Home games Wednesday against Tampa Bay and Friday vs. Pittsburgh should provide good scoring opportunities, though it'll work both ways. Hiller's peripherals will be fine but the wins will remain sporadic until the offense truly wakes up.
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 32 of 35 shots Saturday at St. Louis in his first game back from IR and will start Thursday at home to Columbus. Meanwhile Chris Mason will start Wednesday at Florida. Expect this goalie shuffle to continue until one of them vastly outplays the other one. Neither goalie can be seen as anything more than a No. 3 fantasy goalie as the team defense is fairly shoddy and the team has a propensity for playing in high-scoring games. In other news, defenseman Zach Bogosian has averaged over 20 minutes per game since his return to the lineup two games ago on October 29th, including 2:20 on the power play. He had six PIMs and was a minus-one. The breakout season that has been anticipated by many for Bogosian may be hard to realize with Dustin Byfuglien's move to defense and his success with Tobias Enstrom on the first PP unit.
Tim Thomas is coming off back-to-back shutouts but the B's visit to Buffalo could bring him back to down to earth on Wednesday (though Jhonas Entroth is starting for Buffalo), as he's 0-3 vs. the Sabres over the last two seasons. Moreover, Buffalo should be energized by the return of popular veteran Jason Pominville. With the Bruins playing three times in four nights, Thomas figures to sit for at least one of them, either Friday at Washington or home Saturday against St. Louis. Tuukka Rask owners have to hope that Rask gets the Saturday start, as he needs a good showing in order to start getting a bigger piece of the share in goal. There's been a resurgence of trade rumors now that both Marc Savard and Marco Sturm could be activated at some point in December. Trading Blake Wheeler would be a mistake in this writer's opinion, as the B's need his size to help support the smaller forwards on the second or third line with their other two power forwards (Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton) both on the first line. Michael Ryder will be easier to move later in the year, though at least he's in the last year of that ridiculous 3-year, $12 million deal.
Craig Anderson (he injured his knee warming up Oct. 26) has begun to skate but won't be back for another two-to-three weeks. Meanwhile, as we predicted last week, Peter Budaj is seeing a lot of rubber. However, Budaj is not being as peppered with shots per game as Anderson was prior to his injury. Budaj is averaging 28 shots per game while Anderson had faced an average of 34 shots per game this season prior to his injury. Amazingly, Budaj is 2-1 despite allowing 10 goals in the three games since Anderson went down. Budaj is now 3-0-1 with a 3.43 GAA and .875 SV %.
While Steve Mason is 4-4-0 with a 3.30 GAA and .894 SV % his backup Mathieu Garon is 3-0-0 with a 1.15 GAA and 0.957 SV %. While we don't think Mason will suddenly ride the pine indefinitely we do think that Garon merits at least a short-term pickup after his 3-0 shutout win over Montreal on Tuesday. Jackets fans have to be pleased to see center Derrick Brassard picking up his game, as he was a huge disappointment last season. Brassard's four goals in 11 games looks a lot better than last season's nine goals in 79 games. Moreover his hot streak (goals in four of his last five games) has helped a goal-starved team that has been missing top left wing Kristian Huselius and waiting for promising rookie Nikita Filatov to start scoring. Filatov is playing with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger so at least he's getting a fair shot. Huselius' ankle injury is now being reported as the dreaded high-ankle sprain meaning he could be out for another four-to-six weeks. Rugged stay-at-home defenseman Mike Commodore (sprained left thumb) remains day to day.
Jimmy Howard's back spasms led to two straight starts by Chris Osgood last week, Ozzie responded well going 1-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .917 SV %. Though neither Phoenix nor Nashville are offensive juggernauts it was a solid showing nonetheless by the soon-to-be 38-year-old veteran. Howard will be back between the pipes on Wednesday at Calgary. Meanwhile the Wings continue to play without two of their top six D-men. Jonathan Ericsson has been out of the lineup since Oct. 8 with back spasms while Brian Rafalski is rehabbing an Oct. 12 knee scope and is expected back no earlier than November 11th.
These are trying times for Martin Brodeur owners. The Devils will be without their best forward, Zach Parise, for the next three months. Furthermore, Ilya Kovalchuk isn't scoring and he's not playing with the kind of intensity you'd expect from a $100 million player. Things won't turn around overnight. The veteran forwards like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are looking old and slow out there. They need to move their feet and pick up their play. Meanwhile Travis Zajac has been a massive bust for those who drafted him thinking they were getting perhaps 70 points with a floor of 60 points. There is some good news -- shutdown defender and shot-blocker extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov could be back by Friday when they host the hated Rangers.
Dwayne Roloson is 2-3 with a 2.40 GAA and .920 SV % while Rick DiPietro has gone 2-2-2 with a 3.75 GAA and .870 SV %. In this case, the numbers don't lie. Rick DiPietro starts Wednesday vs. Carolina with Rollie going on Thursday at Ottawa.
Pascal Leclaire is back practicing and could see a start by week's end, though Brian Elliott has played well of late with four wins in his last six starts and a 2.67 GAA. In only one of those six starts did he allow more than three goals, allowing four to Boston on Oct. 30. Despite starting the last nine games we'd expect Elliott to start at home Thursday vs. the Islanders and the French-Canadian Leclaire to start Saturday in his home province when the Sens visit the Habs. D-man Filip Kuba (broken leg) has missed 12 games but should return this week. The Senators should really amp up once their second line of Peter Regin - Jason Spezza - Alex Kovalev gets untracked. Elliott could be a decent buy-low candidate right now, providing solid numbers for those needing a No. 2 fantasy goalie. Just play up Leclaire's return and how you just need a No. 3 guy.
Sergei Bobrovsky has now taken hold of the top spot in Philly with three consecutive starts. Bobrovsky, known as "Bob" to his teammates, is now 6-2-0 with a 2.39 GAA and a .918 SV %. Brian Boucher may have to start looking at real estate in Glens Falls, NY, the home of the Flyer's AHL farm team, as Bob looks pretty good thus far. Former playoff hero Michael Leighton (back surgery) will return to the lineup in December and he can't expect more than a 50-50 split upon his return assuming Bobrovsky maintains his current form.
Brent Johnson continues to outplay Marc-Andre Fleury. Johnson's 1.16 GAA is beyond impressive yet we still believe that MAF will get the majority of starts by season's end. For now it's a white-knuckle ride for Fleury owners, as Johnson will have to play himself out of the No. 1 seed over the next while.
Antero Niittymaki is 4-1 in his last five decisions. For the season he sports a 1.75 GAA and .930 SV %. Some Antti Niemi owners have already cut bait but that's a tad too premature. Niemi will get his chance at some point to claim a larger share of the goalie load but his owners will have to remain patient for the foreseeable future. Niemi's chances at seeing more than 30 starts this season aren't looking very good right about now.
The saga of "As the Goal Turns" currently features Dan Ellis in the lead after taking over for Mike Smith in a game last week against Pittsburgh. Ellis stopped all 24 shots he faced in 48 minutes and the Bolts prevailed 5-3. The next game saw Ellis register a shutout at Phoenix. Suddenly the newcomer's numbers outshine the incumbent's. Ellis is 3-2-1 with a 2.37 GAA and .914 SV % while Smith is 4-0 but with a 3.59 GAA and .870 SV %. While it's still too early to tell for certain, it seems as though the return of veteran defenseman Mattias Ohlund has had a positive effect on the team and its overall defense. The Bolts are 2-0 since his return to the lineup. While Ohlund only played 12:14 in his first game back and the team allowed 31 shots on goal by his second game Ohlund was up to 19:59 in ice time and the team only allowed 23 shots.
Roberto Luongo temporarily shut his detractors up with a shutout on Monday against the unraveling Devils. Luongo then won 4-3 the next night at Edmonton. Louie owners can step back from the cliff now as he's back. If you avoided the early-season panic that seemed to afflict many, you'd have received these stats from Luongo: 4-3-2 with a 2.61 GAA and .915 SV %. The return of Keith Ballard from his concussion has helped, as he helps solidify the third pairing with Aaron Rome while Kevin Bieksa anchors the second pairing with Andrew Alberts. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis (bruised foot) still can't push off when he tries to skate so it's unknown when he'll return while fellow D-man Ryan Parent (minor groin strain) could be back by Saturday when they face Detroit.
Michal Neuvirth played three road games in four nights last week and won two of them, including a shutout at Carolina. The preseason No. 1 goalie, Semyon Varlamov, had a partial skate on Wednesday and coach Bruce Boudreau is hoping the young Russian will be game-ready within a week to 10 days.