It's Friday, so it's time to send you off to a weekend of fun and games with a review of some of the most important stories from the frozen pond.
He's rarely mentioned when talk rolls around to the top offensive defensemen in the game, but Kevin Bieksa is proving that he can handle whatever opportunities that the Canucks throw his way. On the year he has 21 points in 38 games, and that includes a nice run of late that includes points in 5-straight games (six assists total). Add in his solid +8 mark, and 49 PIMs, and you've got yourself one heck of an all-around defenseman.
Nick Bonino is being given a chance to shine on a Ducks team that is looking for a spark. With Saku Koivu down with a groin injury, Bonino has been thrust into action on the second line between snipers Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan. In his last four games Bonino has two goals and an assist making him a short-term add in any league where you're looking for a boost, though be aware that the Ducks plan to have Koivu back in the middle of the second line when his body is good to go (his return might occur within a week's time).
How amazing is Jaromir Jagr? Just two months from turning 40 years old, and having played his last NHL game in 2008, Jagr has returned with a vengeance from his time playing across the sea. He's not scoring goals like he once did with 12 in 32 games, but he has dealt out 19 helpers giving him 31 points in 32 games. In fact, the only thing that has slowed him down this season is ill health as the points are starting to pile up like they always have.
A terrible season in Columbus continues to get worse by the day. Not only is Rick Nash struggling, more on that below, we've just learned that James Wisniewski will likely miss six weeks after fracturing his ankle Thursday. The teams leading offensive weapon from the blue line, Wisniewski had produced 17 points, including seven on the power-play, in 29 games. The loss of James likely means even more responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of youngster Nikita Nikitin who has 14 points in 22 games this season. One player in Columbus who is trending in the right direction is R.J. Umberger. The winger has six points in his last six games and nine points in his last 11 trips onto the ice.
Travis Zajac was back to skating with the Devils third line at practice Friday. He saw some game time earlier this week with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, but he's apparently lost that spot to Adam Henrique who has performed very well this season basically filling the role that Zajac would have if he hadn't been out of action recovery from injury. Keep an eye on Zajac's role as third line duty renders him a middling fantasy option, while a return to top-6 minutes would likely place him as a person of interest off the waiver-wire.
Kari Lehtonen has returned from his injury, he made his first start in a month on Thursday, and he figures to take up residence in net virtually every game the Stars play. Given his play this season, he's 13-5-1 with a .924 save percentage, that makes all the sense in the world. The Stars sent Andrew Raycroft to the minors so Richard Bachman will serve as the backup keeper. Lehtonen's return came at just the right time as Bachman has allowed at least three goals in 5-straight games.
Roberto Luongo has had a magical month of December as he has returned to being one of the elite netminders in the game. In 12 games he has gone 9-2-1 with a 1.87 GAA and .934 save percentage for the Canucks. While that production is spectacular, isn't it amazing to think that it still pales in comparison to the work being put forth by Brian Elliot who, in 19 games this season, is 14-4-0 with a 1.63 GAA and .940 save percentage?
Don't look now, but the Bruins have two of the top-3 NHL keepers in terms of GAA. Brian Elliott is second with a 1.63 mark sandwiched between Tuukka Rask (1.61) and Tim Thomas (1.84). The last time a keeper finished a season with enough appearances to qualify for the goals against title with a GAA of 1.70 was 2003 when Miikka Kiprusoff hit the mark exactly. We're seeing some spectacular goaltending this season.
YOU GOTSTA KNOW
Mike Green (groin) has been practicing, an on Friday he actually did extra work on the ice. Will wonders never cease. It's possible that he could return to action on Saturday, an it's growing more and more likely that he will be able to return next week at the latest. It may have been a long while ago, 2008-09, but there was a time when Green was the elite offensive weapon in the game from the blue line. In those two seasons he scored 149 points, in just 143 games mind you, while no other blue liner had more than 115 points (Dan Boyle). Green also lead all rearguards with 54 goals, 28 of which came on the power play. He is a difference maker if his body can stay healthy enough to allow him to play, though there is one last concern with Green; he's recorded only 30 points in his last 57 games going back to the start of last season.
THE NUMBERS GAME
0.47: The goal per game total of sniper Rick Nash from 2003 through the end of last season. Given that, how disappointing has Nash been in 2011? With 12 goals in 37 games he's not only on pace for just 26 goals as he's beating goaltenders at a rate of 0.32 goals per game.
1: The number of goals that rookie Craig Smith has scored in his last 22 games for the Predators. It's obviously not a shock to see a rookie struggle to find consistency, but his fall from being an offensive force he had seven goals in his first 15 games is a bit disconcerting.
2: The number of goals that Jarome Iginla needs to join the 500-goal club. Only 41 players have hit the magic 500-goal mark. After a slow start Iginla has kicked the offense back into gear, but with 14 goals in 38 games he's going to need to pick things up a wee bit if he wants to record 30-goals for the 11th straight year (he had 28 and 29 goals in 1998-99).
3: The number of Sharks that have more than the eight goals scored by grinder Jamie McGinn Logan Couture (16), Joe Pavelski (15) and Patrick Marleau (13). It's great news for McGinn who also has 73 hits on the year, but the Sharks obviously need more from Joe Thornton (seven), Ryane Clowe (seven) and the injured Martin Havlat (two).
5.8: The average number of games that Drew Stafford has needed to play this season to score one goal (he has six in 35 games). Last year when Stafford scores a career best 31 goals he averaged a marker every two games (he appeared in 62 contests).
7: The points recorded by mighty mite David Desharnais in his last eight games. The 5'7 center has two goals and five assists in that time, and he's helping to revive the dormant scoring touch of Michael Cammalleri, a physical monster at 5'9, who has two goals and six assists in his last 11 games.
85: The number of NHL skaters who have recorded 400 career goals. Daniel Alfredsson has 399 markers in his career and 1,049 points in 1,087 games. This season he has 10 goals and 26 points in 31 games thanks to a blazing December (5g, 11a in 13 games).
500: The number of career assists for Patrik Elias. The wings long time star has also appeared in 996 games leaving him on the cusp of 1,000. He's also just short of a few other milestones as he has 348 goals, 96 power-play goals and 2,832 shots on net.
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 weeks piece, drop him a line at email@example.com.