Hockey fans received a revealing and intriguing peek into the world of NHL locker rooms with the second season's premiere episode of HBO's "24/7" last Wednesday. This December, the cameras follow the Flyers and the Rangers through the Winter Classic at Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park on January 2. The show was nothing short of compelling with the coverage and interviews one would expect from HBO's producers. Rangers' coach John Tortorella essentially called his team soft by implying the sight of a training room conjures up injuies in players' minds while Flyers' goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov captivated audiences with his philosophical musings on the "humangous" universe and surprising knowledge of hunting laws pertaining to endangered species of tigers in China. Footage for this Wednesday's episode should be just as interesting considering the Flyers were blown out 6-0 by Boston on Saturday and the Rangers' Brad Richards snagged a game-winning goal in the final seconds of Saturday's 3-2 win over Phoenix.
The concussion discussion has dominated much of the NHL's media coverage lately, due in large part to high profile players such as Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and Kris Letang suffering from concussions or post-concussion syndrome. Seemingly another player every evening is the victim of a violent hit with Minnesota's Mikko Koivu adding his name to the concussed list recently.
The Flyers have been affected massively the last 10 days with the news that Chris Pronger has been shut down for the season, including playoffs, due to post-concussion syndrome and the NHL's leading scorer, Claude Giroux, is sidelined indefinitely following a knee to the head from teammate Wayne Simmonds. While the Flyers will look for offense elsewhere, defenders Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and, to a lesser extent, Andrej Meszaros, see an even further bump in value.
Timonen is among the NHL leaders in assists with 20 through Saturday's contests while Carle has been seeing his name on the scoresheet more often. A former Sharks' prospect, Carle has one goal and seven assists the last five games, but just one point on the power play. He sits with 18 points through 31 games and will see his ice time increase. Meszaros's offensive numbers are a bit down this season with just nine points through 31 games and a plus-9, but he does have three points in the last five tilts.
The Letang concussion, however, hurts Pittsburgh greatly, although it didn't slow the Penguins down during their 8-3 rout of Buffalo Saturday night. Letang was in the midst of a career season with 19 points through 22 games before the hit from Montreal's Max Pacioretty, but there is no timetable for the defender's return. Letang is eligible to come off injured reserve when he chooses, but is out at least until Christmas and possibly longer.
The Pens' Matt Niskanen saw himself a team-leading 6:39 of power-play ice time Saturday, registering two assists in the rout. Essentially a throw-in in last winter's James Neal-for-Alex Goligoski trade, Niskanen has been coming on strong of late with seven points in the last seven games, good enough for more than half of his season's 12 points; five of those points have come on the man-advantage. Niskanen has produced before, with a 35-point campaign during the 2008-09 season in Dallas, but has struggled much to relive that rate of production. With Letang, as well as Zybnek Michalek and Paul Martin, out of action, the Pens are turning to Niskanen.
While Niskanen is raking in the ice time, he is not the blue liner with the most offensive upside, as Simon Despres is seeing an opportunity to produce due to the Pens' wave of injuries. Despres has played eight games this season with two points in the last two contests. The rookie put up solid numbers with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League the last several seasons and sports three points in limited NHL action this year. He grabbed his first NHL goal in Saturday's win over Buffalo, but the concern for any young offensive-minded defender is shoring up his own end (see Adam Larsson). Despres is making a name for himself in deeper leagues and it's well worth monitoring his ice time.
- Washington's Mike Green is inching closer to a return from a nagging groin injury, but John Carlson has been picking up the pace on Washington's blue line in Green's absence. Carlson's numbers of late have been rising and he is enjoying playing for newly appointed Dale Hunter, for whom he played in the OHL. Despite going pointless in the last three games, Carlson has seven points in the last six contests and sits with 20 points in 31 games following a slow start.
- In Manitoba, the Jets welcomed back dinged-up defenseman Tobias Enstrom in Saturday's win over Anaheim from a shoulder injury that had him sidelined since Halloween. Enstrom grabbed a power-play assist in his return and sits with seven points in 12 contests. He was off to a strong start and, since the Jets have found their offensive stride, look for the helpers to roll in for Enstrom.
- As if you needed any more of an impetus to start him, Zdeno Chara returned from injury Saturday for the Bruins' thrashing of Philadelphia, registering a Gordie Howe hat trick. Both the goal and the assist were on the power play and he delivered three hits as well.
It's been no secret that the New Jersey Devils possess one of the league's least efficient power plays, to put it lightly. The Devils potted two power-play goals in Saturday's 5-3 win over Montreal, raising their success rate to 13.7 percent and putting them at 26th overall in the NHL. Rookie Adam Larsson is still in the midst of a solid offensive season with 13 points through 32 games, but the Devils are also leading the NHL in a rather dubious statistic: shorthanded goals allowed. New Jersey has surrendered nine shorthanded goals on the season and the ones that can't be pinned on Ilya Kovalchuk can be directly blamed on Larsson.
Larsson has been removed from the team's power play for the time being, seeing no power play action the last three games, as coach Peter DeBoer wants Larsson to shore up his defensive zone play. With New Jersey struggling on the power play and giving up shorthanded tallies, the Devils addressed their issues with a subtle roster tweak this past week, acquiring Kurtis Foster from Anaheim for Rod Pelley and Mark Fraser, along with other considerations from both teams.
Foster had struggled when seeing playing time in Anaheim, posting just two points in nine games, but the Devils had a need for a power-play specialist, albeit one that isn't an ace defensively. Fraser and Pelley had become expendable and Foster was thrown right into action, seeing 5:56 of power-play time in Tuesday's win over Tampa Bay and 6:53 on Saturday against Montreal, posting two power-play assists in that win. The Devils have been scoring much the last week and their power play is improving, but far from serviceable. Foster has a booming point shot and had a career season in 2009-2010 while playing under current Devils' special teams coach Adam Oates while Oates was at Tampa Bay, posting eight goals and 42 points.
Foster is well worth a look in deeper leagues as the Devils appear to be deploying him freely on the man-advantage alongside Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Larsson's banishment from the power play won't last the season, but Foster will be commanding the point for the foreseeable future.
Following a woeful start to both his team's season and his own, Carolina's Jamie McBain is finding his offensive game under new coach Kirk Muller. The 23-year old Minnesota native has been producing of late with seven points in the last eight games. McBain has all three of his season's goals in the last two weeks and has seven of his season's 12 points over that span. He has always had an offensive flair to his game and, with the Hurricanes shipping off the dead weight that was Tomas Kaberle to Montreal, McBain will be seeing even more power play time with Joni Pitkanen out due to a concussion. Carolina has won just two of its six December contests, but they have been scoring more consistently under Muller's tutelage.
Montreal's P.K. Subban has points in each of his last three games, a goal and two assists. Subban's newly acquired teammate, Tomas Kaberle, has nine assists the last six games and five in four tilts since he was unceremoniously jettisoned from Carolina to Quebec.
- The Rangers' Michael Del Zotto is enjoying the HBO cameras following him and his teammates, as the offensively-skilled, defensively-adequate defender has a goal and six assists in the last seven games. Conversely, teammate Dan Girardi has one point and is a minus-5 in nine December contests.
- Detroit's Ian White has four points the last six games and is an impressive plus-21 on the season.
Question of the week: What is the best gift your fantasy team has received this season?
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