I'm heading to the Arizona Fall League this weekend to scope out some of the young talent in major league baseball, so I had to turn my Friday article in a day early this week, so please, forgive the use of the title and save your letters to the editor - we know it's the wrong day for a "Friday" article.
The Wings have had a hard time this year. Despite copious amounts of talent up front, arguably the greatest defenseman in history on the blue line, and a solid keeper in net, they're just 5-4-1 on the young season, and one of their biggest faults has been a lack of offense (they've allowed two more goals than they have scored this season and have managed only five goals in their last five games). So, HC Mike Babcock has done what is necessary - he's split up his two best players. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will now skate on lines one and two for the Winged Wheel. Look for Datsyuk, who has two goals and six assists, to skate with Daniel Clearly and Jiri Hudler with Zetterberg (2g, 2a) potentially skating with Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi. Expect both superstars to pick up the offensive pace shortly.
Matt Duchene is off to a slow start, yet again, for the Avalanche. Duchene, who has spent some time on the 4th line this season, has two goals and just six points through 12 games continuing his trend of slow starts to the season. In 2009 he scored just twice in 14 games in the month of October before finishing the season with 24 markers. Last year he potted just two goals in 11 games in October but he still scored 27 times. Given those facts, you shouldn't be freaking out by his slow start this season, though it would be nice to see him start to crank up the BTU's on that heater pretty soon.
Mike Green has been off the ice for a week an a half because of an ankle issue, an it appears that he's suffered a setback on Wednesday as he was able to skate less than 10 minutes. I'm not going to call him soft, I have no idea how serious his injury woes are, but I will say this - the guy is maddening to own. After recording 76 points in 75 games in 2009, Green has produced only 30 points in 56 games. Worse than the point total is the fact that he's appeared in only 56 out of a possible 92 games. That means he's missed 39 percent of the games since the start of the 2010 season. All those games have destroyed his production to the point that since the start of last season Fedor Tyutin (32) and Andrej Sekera (32) have more points. I feel pretty certain that both of those guys were taken after Green on draft day this year, don't you? Come on Mike, get back out on the damn ice.
You just cannot stop Scott Hartnell who scored again on Wednesday night. That gives him a five game point streak in which he's recorded 10 points including five goals. He must think he's Jon LeClair. He's not.
Peter Mueller is back to skating, but at this point it's safe to say that his career might be in doubt, as he simply cannot overcome his concussion related woes. Wish him all the luck in the world with his recovery, but you are a masochist if you have him on your roster.
Joe Pavelski is an absolute monster for the Sharks. Skating on the top line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau certainly doesn't hurt, but I'm telling you, Pavelski is just a remarkable all-around hockey player. He's not a great skater, but he's always in the right position. He doesn't have a huge shot, but he can pick a corner as well as anyone. He isn't big, but you never see him get muscled out of the crease. The production has been flowing of late for Pavelski as he has 11 points over the last six games, an if he sticks on the Sharks' top line he could produce at a point-per-game level this season.
Please tell me you didn't bail on Ilya Bryzgalov after a slow start to the year. Yes, he still owns a mere .887 save percentage and an awful 3.04 GAA, but he's rediscovered his mojo in his last two starts. Ilya has been beaten only three times on 56 shots (.946 save percentage) in his last two starts as he's won both outings. He's simply too talented to continue to flounder, and with the team in front of him, now might be the last chance you can buy low on him from a disgruntled owner.
Jonas Gustavsson made his 5th straight start for the Leafs Wednesday as James Reimer continues to be sidelined (the team hopes that Reimer could return to action as early as Thursday from "whiplash-like" symptoms which sounds an awful lot like a concussion related situation to me even though the Leafs have continued to deny that their keeper did indeed suffer a concussion). Jonas hasn't done anything with his shot at the top spot to make anyone think he should be anything other than a backup keeper. Gustavsson has gone 3-2 for the Leafs, but he's also allowed less than three goals just once. In fact, his season long GAA is a pathetic 3.61. It's not like he's faced a cavalcade of shots either - his save percentage is a pedestrian .886.
Ryan Miller went 34-22-8 last year with a 2.59 GAA and .916 save percentage. That means that he emerged with a victory in 51.5 percent of his games. This year his GAA is down a tick to 2.49 while his save percentage is up to .922. Unfortunately that slight improvement hasn't resulted in a better record. In fact, his record is even worse this year as he is 4-5 through nine starts, a .444 winning percentage.
Mike Smith is 4-0-1 in his past five outings for the Coyotes despite allowing three or more goals in two of the outings. He's certainly established himself as the lead dog in net for the Coyotes (you like what I did there?) and his ratios are impressive (2.40 GAA, .927 save percentage). However, given that his career marks include a 2.70 GAA an a .907 save percentage, and that he's never appeared in more than 42 games in a season, you should avoid the temptation to look at him as a lock this season. He's still got a ways to go to prove himself as a #1 keeper.
How would you fell if I told you that you could have your #1 keeper go 35-17-12 with a 2.41 GAA and .917 save percentage this year? What if I threw in five shutouts as well, would you be happy? Of course you would. Those happen to be the career numbers of Semyon Varlamov of the Avalanche. His ratios this season have pretty much been a carbon copy of his career marks - 2.51 GAA, .920 save percentage - as he has given the Avs some world class goal tending early in the year.
YOU GOTSTA KNOW
Martin Brodeur (shoulder) returned to action on Wednesday, an even though the results weren't pretty (he allowed five goals on 23 shots in a 5-3 loss), at least he was back out there. "I didn't play well at all," he said. The assumption is that he will resume the lead role in New Jersey but remember two things. (1) His shoulder isn't likely to be 100 percent without surgical repair. (2) Johan Hedberg has played very well this season (2.28 GAA, .924 save percentage) which might lead to continued work for the backup keeper.
THE NUMBERS GAME
Radim Vrbata is a rather innocuous name to most casual fans, but he certainly can be a usable piece in fantasy hockey. On Wednesday night he recorded two goals for the 2nd straight game and he now has five goals and five assists through 11 games with the Coyotes. Since joining the Coyotes at the start of the 2009 season Vrbata has missed only three games of action, and per 82 games he's averaged 23 goals and 48 points. While those totals are rather modest, the Czech born right-winger loves to fire the puck on net. In fact, here's the payoff, Vrbata is 5th amongst right-wingers since the start of the 2009 season at shots fired on goal:
596 - Corey Perry
570 - Jarome Iginla
564 - Patric Hornqvist
556 - Brian Gionta
538 - Radim Vrbata
That means Vrbata has more shots than Bobby Ryan (528), Martin St. Louis (525), Patrick Kane (517), Marian Gaborik (503) and Dany Heatley (497) to name but a few.
If you're in a league that counts shots on net, Vrbata is a mighty solid depth player.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.To email Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.