This week's article includes a couple of top-name centers back on the beam, a hot defenseman in Columbus, several banged-up big-name players and a slumping winger in LA-LA land.
First Liners (Risers)
Eric Staal, C, CAR - As Staal was a faller a few weeks ago, it's only right that we recognize his recent upswing. Staal scored twice and added a helper Tuesday and followed that up with an assist Thursday, giving him eight points in his last six games. Carolina is still struggling even after switching coaches, but Staal seems to be back to his old form, which might be partially due to the progress his brother Marc is making as he deals with post-concussion syndrome.
Henrik Zetterberg, C, DET Like Staal, Zetterberg was a faller a few weeks ago, and like Staal, his recent play deserves a mention in the top part of the column. Zetterberg has two goals and 10 assists in his last 11 games and that possible window of opportunity to acquire him when he was down has likely closed shut with a bang.
Daniel Alfredsson, LW, OTT - Alfredsson posted a goal and an assist in Ottawa's shootout loss to New Jersey on Thursday, giving him seven points in the last six contests. The Sens captain turns 39 on Saturday and has had his most productive stretch of the season as Ottawa continues to score goals in bunches. Don't be surprised if the production falls off a bit, but Alfredsson has the pedigree to continue scoring. Of course, I dumped him for Patrik Hornqvist while he was struggling a few weeks ago, so learn from my mistake and don't make a rushed move if he does have a bit of a slump.
Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, MTL - Kostitsyn was moved up to play alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta at November's end and has enjoyed life on Montreal's top scoring line, as he has three goals and one assist the last five games. He has a track record of producing offensively, scoring a respectable 35 goals in 140 games the last two seasons. That said, with Montreal struggling and rumors of a possible coaching and GM change, stay tuned to future shifts of personnel as that might adversely impact AK.
Artem Anisimov, LW/C, NYR - Other than an ill-advised goal celebration Thursday, Anisimov has made all the right moves since moving up to the top line to play with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan. AA, who has been playing left wing, has goals in three straight and points in four, giving him 17 in 25 on the season. That total puts him on pace to exceed the 44 he tallied in his sophomore campaign a year ago; which should occur if he remains on the GAS line.
Mark Streit, D, NYI - Streit assisted on two of the Islanders' five goals in Tuesday's win over Tampa Bay, giving him three assists the last three games, including Thursday's loss to Chicago. Streit, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, has a healthy 15 points in 26 games this season and is seeing his woeful minus rating creep toward positive digits. Streit won't garner much attention playing on Long Island, but his numbers this season are steady, especially as the Islanders are starting to play stronger hockey.
Nikita Nikitin, D, CMB - Nikitin posted an assist Thursday, his 10th point in 13 games. Nikitin has made a name for himself in Columbus and is seeing his star rise. The Jackets have a surprisingly deep blue line, and Nikitin is the latest to throw his talents around. The rookie only had nine points in 41 games last year for St. Louis but clearly has taken a major step forward since arriving in Columbus in the Kris Russell deal earlier this season.
Ray Emery, G, VAN - Emery made 31 saves on 33 shots in Chicago's 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders on Thursday. He's been a little spotty in his role as Corey Crawford's backup, but Emery is still 6-1-2 in eight starts and 10 appearances overall, which is as much as you can ask from a backup. That said, with Crawford struggling, look for Emery to receive several starts until either Crawford rebounds or Emery proves too hard to take out from between the pipes in the Windy City.
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG - Pavelec picked up the victory Tuesday with another strong performance. If you erase his first 15 starts (4-7-3), he has patched together a 6-2-1 record in his last nine starts. Pavelec's ratios are starting to slowly improve, and he may actually soon provide value in his starts. Keep your eye on it and take advantage.
Others include Patrik Berglund, Stephen Weiss, Olli Jokinen, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Brad Richards, Colin Wilson, Adam Henrique, Nick Foiligno, Derek Stepan, Brian Little, Ryan O'Reilly, Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, Eric Nystrom, Teemu Selanne, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Rene Bourque, T.J. Oshie, Erik Cole, Claude Giroux, Matt Moulson (red-hot), Evander Kane, Milan Michalek, John Carlson (best defender this year in Washington), Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Jamie McBain, T.J. Brodie, Luke Schenn, Ryan McDonagh, Dimitry Kulikov, Tim Thomas, Al Montoya, Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott (both sides of platoon playing well), Jose Theodore and James Reimer.
Training Room (Injuries)
Travis Zajac, C, NJD - Zajac, who has been out since the beginning of the season following August surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon, skated Thursday morning and still aims to return before Christmas. That timeframe was what was originally projected for his return, and as long as he has no setbacks, he should come close to meeting it. The possible plan is for “Zajac to go with the Devils to Tampa on Sunday to practice there and participate in the morning skates on Monday in Tampa and (possibly) Tuesday in Florida." When he does return, the question is who he will skate with as Henrique has filled in nicely between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT - Crosby (concussion) believes he's simply erring on the side of caution by deciding to sit out the Pens' next two contests. “I just want to be smart with this," Crosby said. "It's been a long road back and we want to err on the side of caution. I've taken some good hits over the past few weeks and am happy with the way my body responded … but after discussing things with doctors it was better to make sure I was cautious before returning to play.” Coach Dan Bylsma classified Crosby's headache, which was one of the original reasons why he is sitting, as "small" and expects him to work out or practice Friday. However, given his history and what we know about concussions, it would not be shocking to see Crosby sidelined longer than two games.
Kristian Huselius, LW, CMB - Huselius, who had been sidelined since tearing a pectoral muscle while rehabbing from hip surgery, returned to the lineup last week, only to get injured again. He likely will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a torn groin muscle suffered Tuesday against Montreal. While Huselius will miss at least a month, he could have been out longer had he suffered a more severe tear. The recent injuries, now coupled with the torn groin, means that he has spent much of the year rehabbing instead of playing.
Martin St. Louis, LW, TB - St. Louis is out indefinitely with multiple facial fractures after taking a puck to the face in practice Thursday. He was hit near the left eye by a Dominic Moore shot wide of the net. St. Louis left the ice bleeding and returned immediately to Tampa Bay for further medical examination. They will need to wait for the swelling to go down before they'll know the next steps, but surgery could well be one of the options. St. Louis saw his 499 consecutive game streak end Thursday, and, hopefully, he won't be out too long, but original news of the injury did not sound promising. Incidents like this are why many have pushed for visors to be mandatory.
Tobias Enstrom, D, WPG - Enstrom, out with a broken collarbone since early November, practiced with the Jets on Wednesday for the second time in the last week. Enstrom is slowly progressing, but unless he makes rapid progress in his recovery he's not expected to be back until after Christmas. When he does return, he should once again be a solid source of points from the blue line, along with Dustin Byfuglien, for Winnipeg.
Andrei Markov, D, MTL - So much for that expected return for Markov. Markov had a setback last week and needed surgery on his knee, which now will sideline him 4-to-6 weeks, as opposed to three weeks that was originally announced. The oft-injured Markov has played in just 52 games between his 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns. While he's had good point production during his healthy spells, he'll still be a risk when healthy.
Others include Saku Koivu (LBI, DTD), Mike Richards (UBI, rumored to be concussion, out indefinitely), Brayden Scheen (UBI, rumored to be concussion, out indefinitely), Cal Clutterbuck (thigh, DTD), David Booth (sprained MCL, out 4-to-6 Brenden Morrow (UBI, returned Thursday), Gionta (undisclosed, DTD), Sergei Gonchar (UBI, DTD), Alex Goligoski (fractured thumb, returned Thursday), Rick DiPietro (groin, out indefinitely) and Henrik Karlsson (torn left knee MCL, out 6-to-8 weeks).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Jason Arnott, C, STL - Blues coach Ken Hitchcock moved Arnott to the fourth line while inserting Vladimir Sobotka as center on the third line for Tuesday night's game against Detroit. Arnott will remain on the Blues' first power-play unit - he picked up two assists on the man advantage in Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Red Wings -- but he'll see less even-strength playing time on the fourth trio. Hitchcock explained the move, saying Arnott can stay in the middle more with a couple of speedy guys around him. On Tuesday, joining Arnott on the fourth line was Scott Nichol and Chris Porter. That line downgrade means less ice time, opportunities and talent playing with Arnott.
Simon Gagne, RW, LA - Gagne has been very streaky this year, mixing stretches of production with none. He is in the midst of a poor stretch, tallying just one assist in his last seven games and has not lit the lamp since Nov. 17. The good part is that Gagne, for now, is healthy, so he should rebound shortly, but be cognizant of how much he struggled last year in Tampa until the latter part of the season.
Victor Hedman, D, TB - Hedman had not picked up a point since Oct. 22, a span of 14 games, but notched an assist Thursday. He has just two goals on the season as his role has shifted significantly in the absence of Mattias Ohlund with the big Swede called upon to play shutdown D. His value in single-year leagues is virtually non-existent, but you may be able to scoop him in keeper leagues.
Michal Neuvirth, G, WAS - Neuvirth has been simply awful in his 10 games played this season, posting just an .873 save percentage and a 3.76 GAA. This comes on the heels of him going 24-12-5 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, but Washington shuffled goalies last year and brought in Tomas Vokoun this offseason. Vokoun hasn't set the world on fire, but Neuvirth's poor play has prevented him from stealing more time.
Others include Jordan Staal (struggled since return of Crosby), Joe Colborne (back to the AHL), Ales Hemsky (still bothered by shoulder injury), Justin Williams (moved to top line but just one goal last 19 games), Nikolai Kulemin (20-game goal slump), Nick Leddy (struggling after hot start), Grant Clitsome (production being usurped by Nikitin) and Crawford (has taken a major step backwards after breakout last season).