Around the Rink
*Tim Thomas was just nasty Wednesday night against the Flyers, stopping 41 shots, including a penalty shot. It was his fifth shutout of the year, and it prompted this quote from Scott Hartnell (who took the penalty shot): “We met a goalie that stops everything—backdoors, breakaways, some great chances in front.” The guy has a 1.46 GAA and .955 save percentage. Only Ondrej Pavelec is even close to being close to him in either category. Yowsa.
*Devan Dubnyk actually managed to win a game for just the second time in his nine appearances this year, as he made 36 saves and held tough as Edmonton erased a two-goal deficit in the third period before taking Wednesday's game in overtime. Martin Gerber has been pushing him for playing time; but it's good to see Dubnyk finally push back.
*Jaroslav Halak was a crusher in October (1.72 GAA, .932 save percentage), but he unexpectedly crashed in November. Halak went 4-5-1 for the month with a save percentage under .900 and a GAA hovering around 3.00, and he just opened December with a loss to the Caps Wednesday. There is nothing to say these struggles are anything more than a little cold spell - Halak could present a nice buy-low opportunity.
*On a non-goalie note, Pierre-Marc Bouchard finally returned to the ice after playing just one game last season due to complications from a concussion. He skated 14:05, took a shot on goal, and finished minus-two in a loss to Phoenix. The guy has a lot of talent – he can rack assist numbers like few others if he plays with someone who can finish – so keep an eye on him to see how he progresses.
*According to Forbes, while nearly half the NHL’s franchises lost value since last year, the rest gained enough value for the league to see a 2% overall rise from last year. While it’s good to see any positive signs, a lot of the southern franchises continue to struggle to draw fans and make money – and so have the Buffalo Sabres, who have now lost money in nine of 10 seasons.
Projected Goalie Starters
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid.
Tampa Bay (Mike Smith) at Boston (Tuukka Rask), 7:00 ET
Montreal (Carey Price) at New Jersey (Johan Hedberg), 7:00 ET
Rangers (Martin Biron) at Islanders (Rick DiPietro), 7:00 ET
Atlanta (Ondrej Pavelec) at Pittsburgh (Marc-Andre Fleury), 7:00 ET
Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin) at Toronto (Jonas Gustavsson), 7:00 ET
San Jose (Antero Niittymaki) at Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire), 7:30 ET
Washington (Michael Neuvirth) at Dallas (Andrew Raycroft), 8:30 ET
Florida (Tomas Vokoun) at Los Angeles (Jonathan Quick), 10:30 ET
Recent Injury News for Teams Playing Thursday
Mattias Ritola, C (inner ear) – Game-time decision Thursday
Marc Savard, C (concussion) – Could make his debut Thursday
Andrei Markov, D (knee) – Finally placed on IR
Martin Brodeur, G (elbow) – Ruled out for Thursday
Jamie Langenbrunner, RW (neck) – Practiced Tuesday and will play Thursday
Anssi Salmela, D (knee) – Practicing with team, but no set return date yet
Chris Drury, C (finger) – Not fully healed still
Derek Boogaard, LW (shoulder) – Hasn’t played in three straight and may sit again Thursday
Bruno Gervais, D (cheek) – Out Thursday
Jack Hillen, D (concussion) – Out Thursday
Doug Weight, C (back) – Didn’t practice Wednesday, so not likely for Thursday
Trent Hunter, RW (knee) – Placed on IR
Mike Mottau, D (eye) – Placed on IR
Mike Comrie, C (undisclosed) – Won’t play Thursday
Ales Hemsky, RW (undisclosed) – Doubtful for Thursday
Nikolai Khabibulin, G (groin) – Back and starting Thursday
Colby Armstrong, RW (hand) – Could return Saturday vs. Boston
Dion Phaneuf, D (leg) – Could be back in 1-2 weeks
Mike Brown, LW (finger) – Will miss 4-6 weeks
Kent Huskins, D (undisclosed) – Missed Tuesday’s game; no word on Thursday status
Devin Setoguchi, RW (undisclosed) – Has missed two straight and with no positive word, likely out again Thursday
Niclas Wallin, D (leg) – Missed Tuesday; no word on Thursday yet
Jason Demers, D (upper body) – Missed Tuesday, but may be close to returning
Daniel Alfredsson, RW (illness) – Missed practice Wednesday, but can’t imagine it’ll keep him out Thursday
Alexei Kovalev, RW (lower body) – Missed practice Wednesday; no word on severity
Cory Stillman, LW (back spasms) – Didn’t play Wednesday, so call him iffy for Thursday.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW (finger) – Cleared to resume puckhandling drills and could be back next week
Mason Raymond, LW, VAN – Raymond makes this list on the strength of Wednesday's game alone. He picked up a neat hat trick (one even-strength goal, one power-play goal, and one shorthanded goal) and added an assist in a trouncing of Miikka Kiprusoff and the Flames. This game is the story, but Raymond does have points in three of his last four. Left wing is never deep and Raymond’s coming off a 53-point season; he should be rostered in most leagues.
Patrick Sharp, RW, CHI – Sharp tends to score in bunches, and he is in the middle of one of those stretches right now, with goals in five straight games and six of seven. With 29 points in 26 games, Sharp is on a career-best scoring pace right now.
Dustin Byfuglien, D, ATL – Byfuglien was mentioned by John Toperzer Wednesday afternoon, and he went on to tack on another goal and assist Wednesday night. How does five goals and six assists over a six-game point streak sound? Byfuglien's 10 goals lead the position by three and his 27 points lead by four.
Ryan Malone, LW, TB – The light has gone on over the past five games (three goals, three assists), but he is just beginning to pull his numbers out of the rut his first month and a half put them in. It’s a start, but we have seen little hot streaks from him before.
Ilya Kovalchuk, RW, NJD – Am I talking about Ilya Kovalchuk again? Yes, I’m talking about Ilya Kovalchuk again. No points in five straight. Hasn’t had a positive plus-minus since Nov. 3 - and only two positive games before that. I was offered him and Erik Johnson for Dany Heatley in a dynasty league and turned it down out of hand. It’s that bad.
Jason Spezza, C, OTT – Here’s a guy who is trying hard to be more frustrating than Ilya Kovalchuk, a guy who apparently peaked between ages 22 through 24 and steadily declined since. Spezza has no points in his last four games and just two points in his last 10 games. Hey, at least he’s better than Kovalchuk.
Drew Doughty, D, LOS – No list of this year’s fantasy-team-wrecking players is complete without Doughty, a top-20 pick in most drafts who has just seven points in 17 games this season, six of which came in a three game stretch between November 13-17. Since then, Doughty has gone six games without a point.
Sean Avery, LW, NYR – Avery has really stepped up his instigating lately, with four-plus penalty minutes in four straight games and double digits three times in the last month. With the Rangers struggling to find the right line combos, Avery could see more ice time to inject some energy into the Rangers’ top lines. He has shown a bit of offensive touch before, too. By the way, I was watching the Pittsburgh feed of the Rangers-Pens game the other day and one of the Pens’ TV guys sang “I wear my sunglasses at night” after pulling up Avery’s (hilarious) official headshot. He also called Avery “a shady character,” which is just great.