This week’s article takes a look at a change of scenery doing wonders for an Avalanche winger, a Broadway defenseman taking the next step in his development, a huge loss for the Blueshirts, and Alex the Great not making much noise.
First Liners (Risers)
Bryan Little, C, ATL – Little notched two goals Monday, including the game-winning goal in overtime, to extend his goal streak to three games. Little has scored nine goals this season, but he has five in December alone. Little is a bit inconsistent, so beware of what you're getting if you elect to use his services. That said, he is also a plus-nine on the year and is playing closer to his 2008-09 form than last year’s.
Antoine Vermette, C, CMB – Vermette picked up a goal and an assist in Columbus’ overtime loss to the Flames on Monday. Despite the fact he was on a four-game mini-slump before Saturday, Vermette still has five goals and 10 points in his last 12 games. His overall numbers are still behind last season's pace, but he is entrenched among the Blue Jackets' top six forwards, which will be aided by the return of Kristian Huselius, and is worth picking up if his slow start made him available
Tomas Fleischmann, LW, COL – Fleischmann got off to a slow start, paving the way for a trade from Washington to Colorado. However, he has found his game in the Rockies. Fleischmann scored a goal - his first for Colorado - and added an assist in a victory over Atlanta last Friday, then followed it up with another goal Monday and a hat trick Wednesday. Fleischmann is playing on a line with Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene, which will really help his fantasy output.
Ryane Clowe, LW, SJ – Clowe continued his torrid play in San Jose’s shootout loss to Dallas Monday by lighting the lamp for the ninth time. At the time the score put Clowe, who seems to travel below the radar given all the big names in teal, in a tie with Dany Heatley for the team lead in points with 29. Clowe is plus-10 for the year and seems like a sure bet to top the career-high 57 points he scored last season.
Joffery Lupul, RW, ANA – A back injury cost Lupul all but 23 games last season as well as the first two months of this campaign, but he has scored twice since returning to action on December 5. Lupul is a talented winger who is capable of scoring 25+ goals and putting up 50 points. Head coach Randy Carlyle showed confidence in Lupul by giving him the first shot in Wednesday’s shootout, so fantasy owners should do the same. It may be time to take a shot on Lupul in most fantasy formats.
Marc Staal, D, NYR – Head coach John Tortorella envisioned Staal taking the next step in his development last season by adding an offensive game to his already sound coverage in his own zone, but he was forced to back off that plan a bit when Staal’s offensive struggles started impacting his defense. However, Staal started learning when to pinch and when to pull back by the end of the season and finished the year with eight goals, 27 points, and a plus-11 rating. This season, Staal is blossoming into an All-Star caliber defensemen on both ends of the ice - he already has six goals and nine assists with a plus-eight rating in 34 games.
Dion Phaneuf, D, TOR – Phaneuf, expected to be out 4-to-6 weeks after suffering a deep cut to his left leg on November 2, returned on schedule on December 9. Since coming back, Phaneuf has a goal and an assist in four games, and he is seeing his usual 22-plus minutes of ice time. Phaneuf proved to be a good leader for Toronto last season, but that role also led to a drop in offensive production. Expect him to be better now that he is settled in Toronto and has a better squad around him.
Jonas Hiller, G, ANA – Hiller stepped in for a shaky Curtis McElhinney Thursday against the Islanders and stopped all 17 shots he faced, but unfortunately he was not able to lead the Ducks to a comeback. Despite the loss, Hiller's strong play continued – he has finished with a save percentage of .909 or better in seven straight games. Hiller is the undisputed top dog between the pipes for Anaheim; and as such, he should continue picking up a good share of wins. Hiller has a middle-of-the-pack 2.64 GAA because he faces a ton of rubber nightly, but his .920 save percentage (and .934 mark this month) are more than sufficient given the 15 wins he has racked up.
Pascal Leclaire, G, OTT – Leclaire stopped 23 of 24 shots in a defeat of the Canadiens on Thursday. Brian Elliott has struggled of late, so Leclaire has an inside track to the No. 1 goalie spot after winning three of his last four starts. Leclaire appears to be healthy right now after being sidelined with a lower-body injury, but his inability to stay on the ice hurts his fantasy value. Still, if you are looking to take a quick flier on a goalie, Leclaire is worth a shot.
Others include: Ryan Kesler, Logan Couture, Anze Kopitar, Brandon Prust, Jordan Eberle, Matt Duchene, Mikhail Grabovski, Rich Peverley, Linus Omark, Taylor Hall, Tuomo Ruutu, Michael Frolik, Kristian Huselius, Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty, Kris Versteeg, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Drew Stafford, Steve Sullivan, Dustin Brown, Ryan Whitney, Erik Karlsson, Jamie McBain, Keith Yandle, Jack Johnson, Keith Ballard, Carlo Colaiacovo, Lubomir Visnovsky, Michael Leighton, Ondrej Pavelec, Anders Lindback, Henrik Lundqvist and Mathieu Garon.
Training Room (Injuries)
Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB – Lecavalier, who suffered a broken bone in his right hand on November 11 that required surgery, returned to action Wednesday night against the Thrashers. He played 16:58 but did not score on four shots, and he was also turned away in the shootout. Lecavalier was expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks, so fortunately he was able to return as planned. Lecavalier may not be at 100 percent just yet, but he was playing well before the injury and should be back in your lineup going forward.
Ryan Callahan, LW, NYR – Callahan, the Rangers’ heart and soul, suffered a broken left hand while trying to block a shot in Wednesday’s game. The injury is expected to sideline Callahan for 6-to-8 weeks but will not require to surgery. Callahan is second on the team with 23 points, so his loss will certainly hurt the Rangers' offense until he returns.
Mason Raymond, LW, VAN – Raymond, who had been playing through a hand injury suffered in October, broke his thumb at practice last week. Raymond is considered “week-to-week”, but it looks like he will be sidelined for at least three or four of them. That said, the Canucks expect to get a clearer timetable for Raymond's return in the next couple of days. The team, and those who own Raymond, will be holding out hope that he returns within the estimated timeframe.
Patrick Kane, LW, CHI – Kane, who was expected to miss at least three weeks after suffering a left leg injury December 5, participated in the Blackhawks' morning skate Wednesday. There was some hope that Kane would be able to play Friday, but he is now considered doubtful for that contest. Kane may have had a very minor setback, but a Friday return probably would have been a bit premature anyway. Still, there is a chance Kane returns a bit earlier than expected at some point next week.
Erik Johnson, D, STL – Johnson suffered a right knee injury during the Blues’ loss to the Red Wings Wednesday and did not play Thursday against the Kings. After being examined by a doctor and undergoing an MRI, it was determined that he suffered a sprain. Johnson needed surgery on the same knee two years ago to repair a torn ligament, but the fact he suffered only a sprain this time should alleviate any fears of a long-term absence.
Others include: Andy McDonald (concussion), Vaclav Prospal (now out until mid-January), Marian Hossa (close to return), Alexander Semin (LBI), Teemu Selanne (groin), Cory Stillman (back), Chris Pronger (ankle), Alex Pietrangelo and Kari Lehtonen (returned to action).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Brian Rolston, C, NJD – Rolston, in the third year of a four-year, $20 million deal he signed in July 2008, was waived by the Devils last week. Rolston has recorded two goals and two assists in just 15 games this season thanks to sports hernia surgery, so the move was likely made as an attempt to clear his salary off the Devils' payroll. Rolston cleared waivers, but all that means is New Jersey will get some cap relief. Don’t expect much from Rolston going forward.
Matt Stajan, C, CGY – Stajan, who watched from the press box for two games as a healthy scratch, was reinserted into the lineup Thursday against the Maple Leafs, his former team. Despite the pair of scratches, Stajan is still on pace for 48 points. Perhaps the pep talk from coach Brent Sutter will be enough motivation to get Stajan back on track offensively; but if not, he might find himself watching more games in a suit and tie.
Alexander Ovechkin, LW, WAS – As sacrilegious as it appears to have Ovechkin on the ‘Fallers’ side of the ledger, his play of late has not been up to his usual standards. Part of that may be the struggles of his team, but one could easily argue that Ovechkin’s average performance is a primary reason for the issues. It’s not as if Ovie is having a horrific year – he has 36 points in 33 games - but he has just two goals and two assists in eight December games and is not dominating like he typically does. Hopefully Ovechkin’s inclusion in this section gives him the motivation to pick up the pace again.
Matt Niskanen, D, DAL – Niskanen, a healthy scratch for Monday's game following the return of Mark Fistric, was scratched again Thursday. Niskanen had a promising rookie campaign in 2007-08 and a decent sophomore season, but he has really regressed since then. Niskanen tallied just three goals and 12 assists with a minus-15 rating last year and has a woeful three assists in 29 games this season. If for some reason you expected a rebound (like I did) and held onto Niskanen, now is the time to cut bait.
Andy Greene, D, NJD – Greene burst onto the scene last season after several unspectacular campaigns, notching 37 points in 78 games. The Devils expected those numbers from Greene following an outstanding college campaign with Miami in which he scored 15 power play points. Coming into the year, the expectation was that Greene would build off his fine 2009-10 season and take the next step in his development. So far that has been anything but the case, as Greene, like New Jersey as a whole, has struggled. He has just 10 points and a minus-18 rating in 30 games and has not scored a point since November 22.
Steve Mason, G, CMB – Mason allowed six goals on 27 shots over two periods Thursday before being pulled for Mathieu Garon, who stopped all nine shots he faced. Mason had been playing well early in the year, but he has now won just once in his last seven outings and has been pulled in three of his last four starts. Mason’s dominant rookie season, in 2008-09, seems eons ago.
Others include: Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Seguin, Niclas Bergfors, Wojtek Wolski, Jussi Jokinen, Andrei Kostitsyn, Pierre Parenteau, Lee Stempniak, Jamie Langenbrunner, Mike Green, Brad Stuart, John Carlson, Dimitri Kulikov, Victor Hedman, Elliott, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Antero Niittymaki and Niklas Backstrom.