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NHL Barometer: Back on the Beam

Jan Levine

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

This week's article includes an old favorite heating up in New Jersey, the LA net-minder Quick-ly getting his name in the headlines, several defensemen out and a sniper not doing so much of that in Buffalo.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

First Liners (Risers)

Petr Sykora, C, NJD -
Sykora scored New Jersey's first two goals of the game Wednesday in a 3-1 win over Buffalo with both goals coming at even strength. He now has 10 goals on the year with five of those coming in his last eight games. The return to New Jersey has resulted in a resurgence for Sykora, who struggled the past few years. Sykora is fairly entrenched on the second line for the Devils.

Jordan Staal, C, PIT -
Staal, who had battled an injury and ineffectiveness, appears to be fully healthy and back on the beam. He potted his 15th goal, and third in as many games, Thursday against the Flyers. Staal became the seventh-youngest player in NHL history to reach 400 games played this past week. He entered Thursday's game as Pittsburgh's best shot, as he owns a 21 percent shooting mark. Staal's role continues to grow in size with Sidney Crosby still sidelined.

Ray Whitney, RW, PHX -
Whitney scored the Coyotes' only goal of Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins. Every time it looks like Whitney has hit a wall and about to regress, he starts producing again. Whitney has five points in his last five games (3G, 2A) and has provided a much-needed offensive spark for the Coyotes. The goal marked his 13th score and 33rd point of the season through 37 games.

Alexander Semin, LW, WAS -
Fantasy value can turn on a dime and that is true for Semin. He fired home his eighth and ninth goals of the year Wednesday as Washington downed the Rangers 4-1. Semin is starting to pick up the pace as he has four goals over his last five games. While it's still too early to say that he's over his season-long scoring troubles, the Caps are starting to play better hockey, which should translate into better fantasy output for all their big offensive players, Semin included.

Marian Hossa, RW, CHI -
Hossa notched a goal and an assist in Chicago's 4-1 win Monday over Columbus, extending a points streak to eight games. While that point streak ended Wednesday, Hossa is enjoying his best season in several years and has truly been a force in December with 16 points in 12 games. Expect the numbers to continue for Hossa, whose plus-22 is one of the tops in the NHL.

Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN -
Bieksa dished out two assists in Vancouver's win over San Jose on Wednesday. The two helpers stretched Bieksa's point streak to four games. He's been on a tear this month, totaling 11 points (2 G, 9 A) in 13 games. The Canucks will continue to rely on Bieksa for more offense than he was asked to provide each of the past two seasons with Christian Ehrhoff in Buffalo, so we could be looking at a return to the 40-point form he displayed earlier in his career.

Jonathon Blum, D, NAS -
Blum picked up an assist on Nashville's only goal of the game as the Preds downed the Wild 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday. It was his second straight game with a point and he was also named the game's third star. Since being recalled from the AHL, Blum has a goal and an assist to go along with a minus-2 rating and six shots on net. His appearance as a Riser is largely based on the absence of Shea Weber; so if Weber does return quickly, his presence along with that Ryan Suter adversely affects Blum's value.

Jonathan Quick, G, LA -
Quick stopped all 38 shots he faced Wednesday night as the Kings downed the Blackhawks 2-0. It was his fourth win in his last five starts. The shutout was his league-leading fifth of the season, which puts him one up on St. Louis' Brian Elliott and Boston's Tim Thomas. Quick entered the season as a mild question mark based on his poor playoff performance and presence of Jonathan Bernier but his stats put him in the top 10 of most goaltending categories and he remains a dark horse for a Vezina trophy this season.

Roberto Luongo, G, VAN -
Luongo stopped 33 of 35 shots Wednesday night as the Canucks defeated the Sharks 3-2 in overtime. It was his second straight win and fifth in his last six starts. Luongo hasn't surrendered more than three goals in a game since November 11th and that has helped get the Canucks back on track since some early season mediocrity. With Luongo playing well right now, the goaltending controversy between him and Cory Schneider in Vancouver appears to be over--for now.

Others include Patrik Elias, Ryan Kesler (eight goals in 17 games), Ryan Johansen, Jason Arnott, Evgeni Malkin, Olli Jokinen, Derick Brassard, Mike Ribeiro, Nazem Kadri, Ryan O'Reilly, Alexander Ovechkin (points in four straight), Jarome Iginla, James Neal, Martin St. Louis, Erik Cole, Steve Downie, Michael Ryder, Viktor Stalberg, Brad Marchand, Alexandre Burrows, Tuomo Ruutu, Alexander Edler, Raphael Diaz, Drew Doughty, Corey Potter, Brian Campbell, Ian White, Duncan Keith, Kevin Shattenkirk, Cody Franson, Andrej Meszaros, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, Jaroslav Halak, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tuukka Rask, Ondrej Pavelec and Jason LaBarbera.

Training Room (Injuries)

John-Michael Liles, D, TOR -
Liles (neck) has been put on injured reserve with concussion-like symptoms. He was hit by a truck named Paul Gaustad in last Thursday's game and was able to continue to play after retreating to the dressing/quiet room. Liles, who has 21 points in 34 games, missed last Friday's game against the Isles and was unable to skate with the Leafs on Monday or Tuesday. Get him on your bench ASAP

Ryan Whitney, D, EDM -
Whitney (ankle) will remain out of the lineup for the immediate future. Whitney is still dealing with tendinitis in his surgically repaired ankle that has yet to allow him full mobility and strength. The Oilers don't believe that Whitney will miss a huge chunk of time, but are worried that his ankle may not be back at 100 percent until he has sustained rest, and that won't happen until the season is over.

Shea Weber, D, NAS -
Weber, who suffered a concussion last Friday against Dallas, has been ruled out for Nashville's game against the Blues on Friday. Weber, who has 29 points and a solid plus-14 rating in 35 games, is also unlikely to play Sunday, according to head coach Barry Trotz. While the Predators aren't rushing to rule Weber out of any games, there still is no timetable for his return. Don't consider a return close until he is able to practice with the team again.

Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL -
Lehtonen is the expected starter for Dallas' game Thursday against Columbus. Lehtonen was one of the hottest goalies in the NHL over the first two months of the season, posting a 13-4-1 record, 2.34 GAA and .926 save percentage, so it will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off before succumbing to a groin injury Nov. 26.

Others include Stephen Weiss (UBI, could play Friday), Andy McDonald (concussion, close to taking a baseline test), Bryan Little (foot, still no timeframe for return), Martin Hanzal (LBI, dtd), Alex Tanguay (UBI, possible concussion, placed on IR), Simon Gagne (concussion, out indefinitely), Devin Setoguchi (knee, targeting early-January return), Sheldon Souray (sprained ankle, out another week), Dustin Byfuglien (LBI, out a week) and Mike Smith (groin, improving but no set return date).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Matt Read, C, PHI -
Read was the rookie flavor of the month earlier in the season, but has struggled lately. After the game on December 7, Read had 11 goals and seven assists in 23 games. Since then, he has just one goal, tallied Thursday, and three assists in 10 games. Read is hurt by all the other weapons in Philadelphia, so while he will be somewhat productive, don't expect him to match his early-season output.
Drew Stafford, RW, BUF - Stafford has just two goals in the last 22 games, and just six for the season, for a Sabres team that is absolutely desperate for offense. Nobody is more frustrated than Stafford, who had a career-high 31 markers last year, but at some point you have to wonder if the Sabres make some kind of move. He signed a huge contract extension in the summer, but has been a giant bust in 2011-12.

Kyle Quincey, D, COL -
Quincey, a healthy scratch for four straight games, was back in the lineup Thursday against Phoenix. Notching an asists. Quincey was relegated to bench duty after missing two games because of a slight groin injury. Although he was available to play, the Avs were in the middle of a five-game win streak, and coach Joe Sacco was reluctant to tinker with his lineup. Fortunately for Quincey, that streak came to an end Tuesday against Winnipeg, so he now has an opportunity to rejoin the team. With 18 points in 33 games (3G, 15A), Quincey is still the Avs' top-scoring defenseman and should be in your fantasy lineup now that he's been given the green light to play, but be aware that if he slumps, Sacco has shown that he will bench him.

Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN -
Backstrom started between the pipes for Minnesota in Thursday's game against Edmonton. Tops in the Western Conference just a few short weeks ago, the Wild have since fallen back to earth and are now in the midst of an eight-game winless streak, due in no small part to Backstrom's efforts between the pipes. Over his last three starts alone, he's allowed 12 goals on 96 shots, giving him a 4.02 GAA and .875 save percentage over that stretch. In addition, Backstrom continues to split time with Josh Harding, which makes him rather unreliable for fantasy purposes right now. We recommend you go with another goalie option until Backstrom, whose overall numbers are still solid but you need to focus on his recent play as I pointed out above, gets his game straightened out.

Others include Ryan Getzlaf (unsightly minus-16 rating on the year), Brad Richards (struggling to score), Matt D'Agostini (down to the fourth line), Craig Smith (hot early-start a faded memory), Milan Hejduk (no goals since Dec. 2), James van Riemsdyk (rough December), Filip Kuba (minimal production), Nick Leddy (slowed down dramatically after good start) and Michal Neuvirth (yanked from net Monday and now behind Tomas Vokoun).