The Man Advantage
by Mark McLarney
The Vancouver Canucks are on a serious roll lately, 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, which as of this writing puts them comfortably atop the Northwest Division, five points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. The Canucks' power play has played a huge role in the team's recent surge, with nine goals in the first two weeks of November, more than any other team in the NHL. In fact, the Canucks now sit first overall in the league's PP rankings with a 28.3% success ratio. From a fantasy perspective, there are few surprises here, with the team being led by the Sedin brothers - Henrik (1G, 3A in his last seven games) and Daniel (2G, 2A). However, there has also been plenty of help from the likes of defensemen Alexander Edler (1G, 3A), Christian Ehrhoff (2A), Ryan Kesler (2G, 1A) and Raffi Torres (2G). One word of caution, however, for those of you who went and picked up Alexandre Burrows immediately after he came off the IR - in six games since his return, Burrows has not been paired with the Sedins as he was last year, nor has he seen any meaningful time on the power play.
One very unlikely place to look for fantasy PP help would be in Phoenix, where the struggling Coyotes are 5-3-2 to start the season and one of only seven teams who have allowed more goals than they've scored (47-53; Ilya Bryzgalov, wherefore art thou?). However, the 'Yotes closed the first half of November on a three-game winning streak, capping a two-week run that saw their power play rack up six goals, moving them up 12 spots in the league's PP rankings - from 28th (9.1%) to 16th (16.4%). What's more amazing is that they're accomplishing all of this without team leader Shane Doan, who remains out until late November with a lower body injury. So who's been stepping up in his place? The top performer over the last two weeks has been Ray Whitney (1G, 3A), who's been skating on the team's top PP unit with Wojtek Wolski (1A) and Radim Vrbata (1G, 1A). Meanwhile, Keith Yandle, who leads the team in PP minutes with 3:16 per game, has been a steady force from the back end, chipping in with four helpers.
In Philly, the Flyers are currently running with two very potent PP lines at the moment. The first unit has Mike Richards (2G, 1A in the last six games) in between Claude Giroux (2G, 1A) and Ville Leino (2A), while the #2 unit features Jeff Carter (2G, 1A) alongside Danny Briere (1A) and Scott Hartnell (1A). On the points, Kimmo Timonen (3A) and Chris Pronger (1G, 2A) have also been getting in on the action. Meanwhile, what a disappointing season it's been for James van Riemsdyk, who has been a healthy scratch the last four games. JVR was seeing as much as three minutes a night on the PP earlier in the season, but after posting no goals and just four assists in his first 13 games - with none coming on the PP - coach Peter Laviolette figured he could use some time in the press box. Another guy who was previously being used extensively on the PP, but no longer, is Nikolay Zherdev - five goals, zero assists in 15 games with zero PP point production.
On paper, the Buffalo Sabres look like a pretty potent offensive team. With names like Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford, you'd think these guys would be able to put together at least one fearsome PP unit. But alas, the Sabres currently sit third-last in the league in PP efficiency with an 11.4% success rate. Only Florida and Columbus are more inept on the PP this season, coming in at 10.4% and 10.2%, respectively. Over the past two weeks, Buffalo has managed just two goals in 24 attempts. Part of the problem could be the lack of an experienced PP defenseman manning the point. The team is mainly relying on sophomore blueliner Tyler Myers - a fine up-and-coming defenseman in his own right, but perhaps lacking the necessary experience as a PP quarterback to really help this team succeed. Jordan Leopold certainly qualifies as a defenseman with a solid PP pedigree, but as good as he's been 5-on-5 this year, he's struggled to produce with the man advantage (1G, 1A on the season so far).
In Anaheim, a surprising face on the Ducks' PP this season has been rookie blueliner Cam Fowler, who has quickly shot up the ranks to become the team's #2 PP defenseman next to Lubomir Visnovsky. Fowler has not seen much success on the scoresheet thus far with just two PPA's to his name, but coach Randy Carlyle continues to show a great deal of confidence in him. He has skated an average of 3:27 on the PP over the past two weeks, and routinely skates over 20 minutes total ice time per game. That's right up there with seasoned veterans Paul Mara and Toni Lydman. If Fowler continues to see big PP minutes, it's just a matter of time before the points follow, especially if he's feeding the puck to the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne.
Finally, the Colorado Avalanche have no doubt been hit hardest by the injury bug this season, with no fewer than eight regulars currently on the shelf. This includes injuries to several members of their PP attack, including Peter Mueller (concussion), Kyle Quincey (concussion), TJ Galiardi (wrist) and Kyle Cumiskey (concussion). In response, the Avs have had to rely partly on several rookie defensemen from AHL Lake Erie this season, including Jonas Holos (who actually made the team out of training camp), Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen (who is also currently day-to-day with illness). The Avs' top PP line currently features Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart and Milan Hejduk up front, along with John-Michael Liles and Matt Duchene on the blue line. On the second line, you will find Kevin Porter (filling in for Galiardi), Brandon Yip and David Jones, with Holos and Shattenkirk manning the points. With the number of injuries to the Avs' blue line, guys like Shattenkirk, Cohen and Holos could be around awhile and might pick up their fair share of PP points over the coming weeks.