Shots on Goal: Everybody Hurts
By Peter Maingot, RotoWire Writer
An injury to a top-six forward is never a welcome occurrence. When it happens after the All-Star break, however, it can have disastrous consequences on a team's ability to earn a playoff spot.
Dallas fell into this predicament when promising winger Jamie Benn was felled by injury Jan. 31 vs. Calgary. Benn had been prolific just prior to his injury. In the six games leading up to the Jan. 24 tilt at Vancouver, Benn scored four goals and nine points. Dallas has lost eight of the 10 games that Benn has missed due to injury. Things turned even uglier when leading scorer and No. 1 center Brad Richards suffered a mild concussion Feb. 13 in a game against Columbus. Dallas lost their next game 4-1 to lowly Edmonton, and Richards is expected to miss at least one more game but with concussions it's impossible to predict when exactly he'll return to the lineup. Early reports indicate that Benn could be back in the lineup by sometime next week, but missing Richards is an even harder/more bitter pill to swallow for Lehtonen owners.
Other Odds and Ends
- Three old trends that are new again: Sit your goalies against Washington and sit your forwards at Detroit and at New Jersey.
- Other trends we lean towards: Sit your forwards at Nashville. Sit your goalies against Philadelphia.
- Humble pie for me: This author was guilty of being a bit of a sentimental fool when it came to Peter Forsberg's comeback. It was a long shot but we really wanted to see him succeed.
- We have been proven wrong (so far!) by writing off both Buffalo and Calgary's playoff chances earlier this season. Amazingly, Calgary was last in the Western Conference as recently as Dec. 15. They've passed seven teams in the Western Conference standings over the last two months.
Jonas Hiller is back on IR with more dizziness/fatigue. This is the second time in recent weeks that Hiller has gone on IR for the same reasons. Hiller owners have to be concerned about this. Meanwhile any and all managers should be picking up Curtis McElhinney immediately despite the ugly seven-goals allowed start vs. Washington. McElhinney has a chance to quickly redeem himself: the Ducks face the Wild on Friday and then on Sunday they face a St. Louis team minus Jaroslav Halak (hand/IR).
Tobias Enstrom is back and Ondrej Pavelec owners couldn't be happier, as Pavelec and the team went 1-4-1 while Enstrom was injured. They are 1-1 since his return but the goals against has dropped to manageable levels for Pavelec owners, with just five goals gains in the two games played since Enstrom's return. The Thrashers allowed 24 goals in the six games while their top pairing D-man was out.
Tim Thomas and the Bruins have struggled of late, losers of their last three games. Help could be on the way though as the B's picked up former Senator Chris Kelly to bolster their lineup. Kelly is a very versatile forward: he can play left wing or center, he can play a top-six role and he can be part of an effective checking line. Kelly is also an excellent penalty killer. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli says they're not done yet, as they're expected to acquire a defenseman between now and Feb. 28 - trade deadline day. Possible candidates include Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Chris Phillips, and Ian White.
The Canes have really missed Jussi Jokinen, an integral part of their second scoring line. Jokinen had 15 points in the 11 games prior to the game in which he was injured. The Canes have gone 2-2-2 in the six games Jokinen has missed with 15 goals scored or 2.5 goals scored per game. Carolina had averaged nearly three goals a game for the season prior to Jokinen's injury and the per-game scoring rate is now 2.95 for the season. Good news for owners of Jokinen and goalie Cam Ward - Jokinen is now back in the lineup. Now the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot should intensify. With rearguard Ian White expected to be traded in the next 72 hours the Canes may be forced to make an acquisition themselves, unless they think Brett Carson is ready for a full time gig. Carson played 54 games last season for Carolina but just joined the big club from Charlotte again. Carson has played nine games thus far this season and is a big body at 6-4, 220.
Chicago is four points out of a playoff spot with three games in hand on eighth place Calgary. Corey Crawford may be just 2-1-1 in February but the lowest save percentage that he's posted in any of the four starts is .920. He's allowed just six goals in 250 minutes of hockey in February. That equates to about a 1.47 GAA. Don't dare call this a fluke, as his GAA for the SEASON is 2.10. Meanwhile, Marty Turco is 1-1-1 in February with 11 goals allowed in only 183 minutes. That's about a 3.64 GAA. With Turco allowing 1.5 goals more per game than Crawford for the season, one wonders why the Hawks would even play Turco again unless it's a back-to-back games scenario.
Colorado's season is in turmoil. Craig Anderson left the team for personal reasons for a week and the team has been getting hammered. Backup Peter Budaj's numbers lately are helping no one (except the opposition): he has failed to win any of his last six starts and has posted a combined 3.70 GAA in them. Moreover, he has been pulled in two of the six starts. The straw that broke their back was their humiliating 9-1 loss at home to Calgary. This was a game in which Budaj was pulled twice in favor of the recently returned Anderson. Budaj gave up five goals on 18 shots while Anderson allowed four goals on 15 shots. They have lost nine straight games. To make miserable matters worse, their top scorer center Matt Duchene (47 points in 51 games) is out indefinitely with what appears to be a broken hand. Don't expect newly acquired goalie Brian Elliott to be any sort of savior, as the Avs are short on healthy top-six forwards and their defense is in disarray.
Steve Mason has bronchitis so Mathieu Garon is suddenly relevant again, though don't expect him to be for too long. Garon has had two starts this week after having none since Jan.18. Garon has gone 1-1 in his two February starts with a 1.89 GAA and .934 SV %.
Kari Lehtonen is 1-6-1 in his last eight starts. Even worse is the fact that he's allowed three goals or more in seven of his last eight starts. As we mentioned in the article's preamble, the loss of top-six forward Jamie Benn really messed up their balance of scoring and things have been exacerbated by the ineffectiveness of two other guys named James - James Neal and Jamie Langenbrunner. While both registered points in their most recent game, a 4-2 loss at Calgary, both have been struggling mightily. Prior to Wednesday's game Neal had gone nine games without registering a point. Neal is not out of the woods yet - he hasn't scored a goal in 11 games. He's gone from 20 goals in 47 games to zero goals in 11 games. Langenbrunner has three points in his last eight games and just two goals in seven points in 17 games as a Star. With Richards and Benn out of the lineup the other two James' need to pick up their scoring pace.
Jimmy Howard and the Wings made a statement last week with their home-and-home sweep of the Bruins. Now they get top-four defender Brad Stuart back into their lineup after a lengthy absence. Things are looking up for a team that has struggled with their defense this season.
Nikolai Khabibulin finally won a game! That was after 14 straight losses. The Oil' have picked up their play of late but deploying an Edmonton goalie seems a fool's game for anyone contending for a league championship. What seems more exciting is the idea of No. 1 right wing Ales Hemsky joining Anze Kopitar on Los Angeles' top line prior to the trade deadline.
Not even an injury to Martin Brodeur can slow down the buzz saw that is the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have not missed a beat with Johan Hedberg in nets. Hedberg has won four straight games without allowing more than two goals in any of the four starts. He's now 10-10-2 for the season while the Devils are an insane 13-1-2 in their last 16 games. Brodeur, who is listed as day-to-day now, practiced briefly on Thursday but remains on the sidelines.
The news is starting to improve on Long Island. Despite numerous injuries (especially in goal) and a span where they lost 21 of 22 games, there is some reason for optimism. Why? The young talent has begun to emerge. John Tavares is a bona fide No. 1 center, power forward Kyle Okposo is finally healthy, Michael Grabner has 16 goals in his last 15 games, Blake Comeau is back from his concussion and scored in their most recent game, and center Frans "Ferdinand" Nielsen has eight points in his last six games. As far as goaltending, Nathan Lawson is No. 1 these days on the Island with Rick DiPietro (facial fractures, knee swelling) out until at least St. Paddy's Day. Mikko Koskinen, who went 2-1-0 with a 4.33 GAA in four appearances, was sent back to the AHL and Al Montoya will back up Lawson for the foreseeable future.
The Blues have placed Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve due to an injury to his right hand. Ty Conklin will fill in for the time being and merits some consideration for those desperate for goalie wins. The Blues have not provided any updates on left wing David Perron (concussion) for some time now.
Is James Reimer the real deal? While the sample size remains relatively small, the early results are most favorable. Reimer is 8-4-1 in 13 starts with Toronto this season, posting a 2.39 GAA and .930 SV% along with a shutout. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (lower body injury) is hurt again, as is the Monster (in name only). With the Leafs getting scoring from two lines now - the recently reunited Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur line (which boasts the team's top three scorers) and the newly formed Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line - the Leafs are becoming an irritant spoiler team to face for those squads still in the playoff hunt. As such Reimer has been elevated to a decent No. 2 roto goalie.
While Roberto Luongo continues to provide elite numbers for his owners and the Canucks alike, the defense continues to be completely decimated by injury. Alexander Edler (back surgery) is out until April, Kevin Bieksa has a broken bone in his foot and will miss at least three weeks, Keith Ballard (knee sprain) is out another week or two, Dan Hamhuis (concussion) has resumed light workouts six days after being concussed Feb. 9 by Anaheim, Andrew Alberts (wrist surgery) is out six to eight weeks, and rookie Lee Sweatt is out six to eight weeks after breaking his foot when blocking a shot Feb. 5 in practice. Rookie D-man Yann Sauve became the 12th defenseman to dress for a game for Vancouver this season and soon there will be a 13th. Long-time Canuck Sami Salo (torn Achilles) may be oft injured but he's joined the lineup just in time after a season-long absence. Christian Ehrhoff and Salo will be logging heavy minutes for the time being. Ballard could return as early as next week, which would be a boon to a team sorely lacking in healthy top-four D-men. Moreover, Salo must be used carefully for his injury history is well known and less is more when it comes to handing out ice time to the fragile Finn.
Sergei Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have both struggled of late. Varlamov has one win in his last eight starts while they were both brutalized in Anaheim on Wednesday. The Caps have tons of cap space so a trade for a veteran goalie like Tomas Vokoun is within their financial grasp. The team may also decide to add a veteran defenseman to help a relatively young defensive corps.