Daniel Alfredsson (concussion) will return to action on Friday for the Senators. "I'm not going to be cautious. You've got to be ready at all times on the ice." Alfredsson was limited to just 54 games last season, but he jumped out to a solid start this season with seven points in 10 games before being injured. Alfie will be 40 in December so the end of the line is quickly approaching, but that doesn't mean he can't still be an effective depth winger.
Jamie Benn is a talented hockey player who recorded 22 goals in each of his first two seasons in the league. What was exciting about Benn's effort last season was the fact that he matched his rookie goal total in 13 fewer games played and that he was able to push up his point total by 15 points in 13 fewer games (41 to 56). This season Benn has continued that growth for the Stars as he's exploded early in the year for five goals and 13 helpers in 14 games. Moreover, he's currently working on a 6-game point streak that includes three goals and five assists in his last three games. This kid is a player.
Brandon Dubinsky is supposed to be a good hockey player, right? I mean, that's why the Rangers gave him a 4-year contract worth almost $17 million this offseason. Through 14 games Brandon, who averaged 22 goals the past two years, hasn't lit the lamp once. He has dished out six assists, yippee, while being a physical force (he does have 30 hits and 47 PIM). My advice would be to start shooting the puck Brandon. Last year he fired 202 shots on net for an average of 2.62 shots a game. This year he has 21 shots in 14 contests, a paltry 1.5 shots per game.
Ales Hemsky has returned from that IR where he was dealing with that wonky shoulder of his. In two games since returning to action all he has done is hand out three assists. Through four games this season he has four helpers but it's not surprising that he hasn't lit the lamp since he's taken only three shots on goal.
Remember when Evander Kane was drawing scorn from some angles for his slow start to the season? Those same angry owners are likely pulling back on a Schlitz right now as Kane has nine points in his last 10 games for the Jets.
Dmitry Kulikov has about as Russian sounding a name as you could ever hope to find. Of late, he's also starting to perform like former all-world Russian defenseman Slava Fetisov, at least in terms of his offensive production. The Panthers' blue liner still hasn't recorded a goal in 15 games this season but that hasn't stopped him from racking up the assists. Over his last 10 games he has 10 helpers, and that includes a current 5-game assist streak that includes six helpers.
Milan Lucic is up to 14 points in 14 games with eight of those points coming on goals. The rugged power forward is running on all cylinders of late as he has recorded at least one goal in 5-straight games (he's totaled six in that time). Clearly he seems intent on proving that last seasons 30 goal effort was not a fluke.
Patrick Marleau is a player everyone covets on draft day, and of late it's easy to see why that is. One of the streakiest players in the game, Patty is on fire right now. Not only does he have three goals in the past two games he's also recorded 12 points (6g, 6a) in his last nine contests.
Kyle Quincey is another blue liner who is on an assist tear to open the year. The Avalanche's rearguard has two helpers in his last two games, three in his last four, six in his last nine games and nine in his last 12 games. What makes all of this so surprising is the fact that in 21 games with the 'Lanche last year he recorded one measly assist.
Kris Versteeg lit the lamp three times on Thursday night to push his season long totals up eight goals and nine assists - that's 17 points if you left your calculator in the car - through just 15 games. There are a couple of reasons to be concerned that Kris can keep this up. (1) His career shooting percentage is .129 and this season he's jacked that up all the way to .182. He isn't likely to continue being such a sharp shooter. (2) He's averaged 2.10 shots a game in his career coming into the year and he has pushed that mark up to 2.93 a contest this year. He could keep up that rate, he's seeing tons of ice time, but that's a pretty substantial increase.
Jaroslav Halak has allowed a total of four goals in his last three starts as he's posted a 1.31 GAA and .948 save percentage. You just can't keep a good man down for too long. Meanwhile Brian Elliott has yet to allow more than two goals in any of his six starts this season. The Blues' have a pretty impressive duo in net at the moment, and no one thought that would be the case three weeks ago.
Roberto Luongo's numbers are pitiful for a keeper of his skill level (6-4-1, 2.96 GAA, .898 save percentage). Still, you have to know that his numbers will be amongst the best in the game by the time the season is over, right? The turnaround is already underway. In case you missed it he's posted a 2.01 GAA with a .937 save percentage over his last four outings. The window is closing rapidly if you want to buy low on the superstar.
I know all the keepers in the Blue Jackets organization are seemingly injured but Steve Mason, but how long can the Jackets just sit by and watch Mason send goalkeeping back into the time when goalies didn't wear masks? Mason has made 14 start this season and eight times he's allowed at least four goals. That means 57 percent of the time that he's been in net the Blue Jackets best hope is to score five goals to win. In this day and age teams don't score five very often. He's simply not giving the team a chance to win (his GAA on the year is 3.88). The team can't wait for Mark Dekanich to return from his ankle injury. That could happen as early as this weekend folks. You might want to add Dekanich right now cause Mason is, and sorry to you and your family Steve, an abysmal failure that doesn't deserve his starting spot on the ice. It's time for the organization to realize that he's no longer the spectacular rookie he was three years ago - he's now the worst starting keeper in the NHL.
Antti Niemi pushed his record to 6-2-1 on the young season on Thursday night as he won his second straight start for the Sharks. Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in three of his last four outings, and he's finally got his save percentage over 90 at .903. His slow start was merely him shaking off the rust of offseason surgery. He's well on his way to being a top-10 keeper this season.
Jonathan Quick's early season start sparkles as he's got a .934 save percentage and 1.96 GAA through 13 starts, so why are some people feeling a bit uncomfortable? It might have something to do with the fact that he's lost 6-straight starts and that during that stretch he's allowed fewer than three goals just one time. That's a pretty startling run of inefficiency for a guy with his season long numbers. Where does the blame go? How about the regression monster? I mean, if Quick made 65 starts and had a 1.96 GAA and .934 save percentage he'd win the Vezina Trophy, wouldn't he? All good things must come to an end, and more times than not things do tend to normalize over the course of a season.
YOU GOTSTA KNOW
Sidney Crosby (concussion) will not play on Friday or Saturday for the Penguins, though everyone insists that his return is imminent. "He flies around but in terms of progressing, the rehab that the doctors have set out and him going through practice with people hitting, we definitely want him to go through that process," HC Dan Bylsma said. Get back out there Sid. Don't worry though, you can still select Sidney Crosby to the All-Star game even though he hasn't skated a single shift. I'm sure he deserves it more than a guy like Marc-Andre Bergeron who has 16 points in 15 games from the blue line for the Lightning.
THE NUMBERS GAME
0: That's the number of regulation loses he's suffered in nine outings this year (he's 7-0-2).
.964: That's the save percentage of Nikolai Khabibulin. That would be an NHL record.
0.98: That's the goals against average of Nikolai Khabibulin. That would be an NHL record.
2: That's the number of games this season in which he's allowed more than one goal. In both of those outings he was beaten twice.
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.