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Friday Daily Puck: Still The King?

Andrew Fiorentino

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist. Twitter: @akfiorentino

Around the Rink

I hope you all had a good Festivus (or alternate winter holiday) break. Not a lot of NHL news was made over the last few days, what with the unfettered consumption of turkey and the frantic wrapping/unwrapping of presents, but there are a few storylines that have my attention as we come out of the short break.

First: the status of Evgeni Malkin. Geno's missed five games in a row since suffering a leg injury back on Dec. 14, and though the high-flying Penguins have won four of five even in his absence, they were on the wrong side of a 5-0 shutout by Ottawa in their final game before the break. The Pens are fortunate to have the depth to deal with losing Malkin for a little while, but if he's out longer-term, it'll really affect them. We'll see if these few days off gave him enough time to feel better.

Second: the Henrik Lundqvist/Cam Talbot situation. I'm going to discuss Lundqvist more below in the hot/cold (okay, cold) section, so I won't linger on this here, but Lundqvist's fantasy owners, already disappointed by his shaky play and poor stats this year, for the second time this season are dealing with a strong challenge for playing time by Talbot, who's been the rock in goal that Lundqvist used to be. Lundqvist has won just two of eight starts since signing his shiny new contract extension…

Third: the potential return of Josh Harding to the Wild net. Harding has been arguably the NHL's best goalie this year, but a change in his treatment for multiple sclerosis forced him to IR, and so he's missed the last three games for Minnesota. In the interim, one-time starter Niklas Backstrom has looked patently awful, letting in enough soft goals to… well, to make sure he remains in a backup role once Harding returns – which could be as soon as Friday.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)

For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid.

Senators (Craig Anderson) at Bruins (Tuukka Rask), 7:00
Sabres (Ryan Miller) at Maple Leafs (Jonathan Bernier), 7:00
Blue Jackets (Curtis McElhinney) at Devils (Martin Brodeur), 7:00
Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist) at Capitals (Braden Holtby), 7:00
Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury) at Hurricanes (Cam Ward), 7:00
Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov) at Blackhawks (Antti Raanta), 8:00
Wild (Josh Harding) at Jets (Ondrej Pavelec), 8:00
Predators (Carter Hutton) at Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 8:30
Oilers (Ilya Bryzgalov) at Flames (Karri Ramo), 9:00
Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Coyotes (Mike Smith), 9:00

Injury News for Teams Playing Tuesday

Ottawa Senators
Mika Zibanejad, C (illness) – Out Monday; should be fine by now
Robin Lehner, G (illness) – Wasn't available Monday; also should be over it

Boston Bruins
Dougie Hamilton, D (lower body) – Skating on his own
Daniel Paille, LW (concussion) – Expected to play Friday
Shawn Thornton, LW (suspension) – 15-game ban upheld; seven games left
Loui Eriksson, RW (concussion) – Out indefinitely; still symptomatic
Chris Kelly, C (leg) – Out well into January

Buffalo Sabres
Cody McCormick, C (finger) – Broken finger to keep him out a while
Patrick Kaleta, RW (knee) – Out for the year with torn ACL
Kevin Porter, C (leg) – Placed on IR Monday; no timetable given
Cody Hodgson, C (finger) – Broken finger to keep him out into January
Ville Leino, C; Linus Omark, LW; Marcus Foligno, LW (illness) – All scratched Monday with flu

Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyler Bozak, C - Bozak (upper body) – Hoping to return from IR when eligible Sunday
Trevor Smith, LW (hand) – Broken hand; no timetable

Columbus Blue Jackets
Marian Gaborik, RW (collarbone) – Out 6-8 weeks
Nathan Horton, RW (shoulder) – Expected to make season debut in early January
Curtis McElhinney, G (back) – Back tightened up Monday, so he didn't start
Jared Boll, RW (ankle) – Out 3-4 months
Matt Calvert, LW (shoulder) – Out 2-3 weeks with sprain
Sergei Bobrovsky, G (lower body) – Traveling with the team
Dalton Prout, D (upper body) – Out at least another week

New Jersey Devils
Damien Brunner, C (knee) – Out at least three more weeks
Adam Larsson, D (lower body) – Skating, but still a ways away
Andrei Loktionov, C (illness) – Scratched Monday
Ryan Carter, C (leg) – Skated in practice Saturday
Peter Harrold, D (foot) – Eligible to return, but no word
Ryane Clowe, LW (concussion) – Says he's ready to play; could be in Friday
Bryce Salvador, D (foot) – Also thinks he's ready, but needs to be cleared

New York Rangers
Marc Staal, D (concussion) – Traveling with the team on road trip that starts Friday
Ryan Callahan, RW (knee) – Out 2-4 weeks yet

Washington Capitals
Michael Latta, C (lower body) – On IR, but could be back next week

Pittsburgh Penguins
Tomas Vokoun, G (blood clot) – Still could return to the Penguins this season
Brooks Orpik, D (concussion) – Practicing with the team
Pascal Dupuis, RW (undisclosed) – Suffered injury Monday; no further info
Paul Martin, D (leg) – Now at the four-week point in 4-6-week timetable
Robert Scuderi, D (ankle) – Had a bone scan Thursday; no word on results
Evgeni Malkin, C (leg) – Didn't skate Monday; no word on Friday status
Tanner Glass, LW (hand) – Didn't go Monday
Deryk Engelland, D (suspension) – Eligible to return Friday
Beau Bennett, RW (hand/wrist) – Out 4-6 weeks yet
Jayson Megna, LW (lower body) – Out another five weeks still
Kris Letang, D (elbow) – Expected back Friday

Carolina Hurricanes
Anton Khudobin, G (ankle) – Return date remains uncertain
Jay Harrison, D (lower body) – Didn't play Monday

Colorado Avalanche
Alex Tanguay, LW (knee/hip) – Could get back to skating this weekend
Ryan Wilson, D (back) – Seems like a possibility for Friday

Chicago Blackhawks
Corey Crawford, G (leg) – Getting close to returning
Nikolai Khabibulin, G (groin) – Seemingly not making much progress

Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise, LW (lower body) – Doubtful for Friday, and likely will miss further action
Josh Harding, G (illness) – Could be activated to start Friday
Clayton Stoner, D (lower body) – Sat out Monday
Darcy Kuemper, G (undisclosed) – Left in AHL due to undisclosed ailment

Winnipeg Jets
Matt Halischuk, RW (forearm) – Out indefinitely
Grant Clitsome, D (undisclosed) – Placed on IR Thursday
Paul Postma, D (blood clot) – Skating lightly, but out long-term yet
Jim Slater, C (sports hernia) – Could be nearing a return; been skating a while

Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne, G (hip) – Still limiting his activity for another week or so

Dallas Stars
Alex Chiasson, RW (flu) – Sat out Monday
Sergei Gonchar, D (concussion) – Could be back next week
Trevor Daley, D (ankle) – Out into January
Aaron Rome, D (lower body) – No word on return date, but could be close
Stephane Robidas, D (leg) – Out 3-5 months yet

Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Jones, LW (head) – Placed on IR Thursday
Philip Larsen, D (undisclosed) – Has missed the last two games
Mark Arcobello, RW (ribs) – Has missed three straight; no word on Friday status

Calgary Flames
Matt Stajan, C (knee) – Left Monday's game with injury
Curtis Glencross, LW (ankle) – Out 7-8 weeks
Blair Jones, C (knee) – Out indefinitely with torn meniscus
Dennis Wideman, D (hand) – Week-to-week
Kris Russell, D (knee) – Out 4-6 weeks

San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl, C (knee) – Having surgery; could miss much of remaining season

Phoenix Coyotes
Zbynek Michalek, D (lower body) – Placed on IR last week; out into mid-January
Shane Doan, RW (illness) – On medication for Rocky Mountain fever

Hot

Ben Bishop, G, TB – The NHL's biggest goalie of all time has been on a tear recently, winning five straight starts while allowing just six total goals in that span. He's not-so-quietly creeping up the charts statistically, as he's now fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.935) and GAA (1.93). I knew when I first saw his enormous frame filling the net in person (yet moving gracefully to make saves) in the AHL All-Star Game a few years ago that he was going to be good, but I don't think even the Lightning expected him to be this good.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS – In case you haven't noticed, Backstrom has been eye-poppingly hot lately. He has five multi-point games in his last nine outings, including a four-point game and a five-point game. That all adds up to a cage-rattling 17 points in that span, and though Backstrom's primarily known as a playmaker rather than a sniper, he's mixed three goals in with his 14 assists. Currently on his best scoring pace since the 2009-10 season, Backstrom has been an absolute pleasure for fantasy owners this year. The only knock on him is his minus-5 rating; he actually hasn’t managed to improve that during this streak.

Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI – Voracek, like the rest of the Flyers, got off to a horrendously slow start to this season. He managed just a dozen points in his first 29 games (spanning October, November and the first three games of December), disappointing fantasy owners all over the Internet. But the light's finally come on recently, and we're back to seeing the high-flying Voracek we got used to last year. He's ripped off six goals and 13 points on his current eight-game point streak, emphatically ending his buy-low period. In any leagues where he was dropped to the wire, he's likely already been picked back up. But you may still want to check in on his status anyway, just in case.

Cold

Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR – It's been a really tough run for The King. He's given up either three or four goals in seven consecutive starts now since dominating the Sabres the day after signing his mega contract extension, and Cam Talbot has gotten the call between the pipes for the Rangers' last two games. Henrik's expected back in there Friday, but even with the contract in hand, he's going to have to start playing better – much better – to hold off Talbot for ice time. It seems likely Lundqvist will be back out there Friday, but if he's not, his fantasy owners may start worrying in earnest.

Raphael Diaz, D, MON – The Swiss defender showed fantasy promise last season with 14 points in 23 games, and got off to a decent start this year with six points (assists all) in his first 13 contests, but things have come crashing down since. In his last 25 games, Diaz has no goals and four assists, and he's been particularly rough during his current eight-game scoring slump, going minus-5 with all of two shots on goal. His ice time, unsurprisingly, is slumping to dangerously low levels; it wouldn't be horribly surprising to see the Canadiens make a move here.

Nazem Kadri, C, TOR – Although it may be unfair to label a guy cold after he scored a goal in his most recent game (Monday against the Rangers), that poke-in from a net-mouth scramble represents Kadri's only point in the last five games. Kadri's struggled to maintain a consistent scoring touch since being pushed to the first line in Tyler Bozak's absence, and it could be that he's just not capable of being more than a second-line player right now. Despite skating nearly two minutes per game more this year than last year, he's way off last season's scoring pace and has seen his plus-minus suffer as well. You gotta wonder if that stems from facing the opposition's best defenders now.

Recommended Pickup
Craig Smith, C, NAS – Way back when in the 2011-12 season, Smith got off to a terrific start to his NHL career, potting 14 points in his first 15 games in the big leagues. However, the Wisconsin native fell off significantly the rest of the way, then staggered through last season, erasing in most owners' minds much of the fantasy promise that he'd established early on. Smith has had his struggles this year, too, and he's certainly known to be streaky, but he's on a very good streak right now, with points in three straight games – a pair of two-goal outings with an assist sandwiched between. Smith is seeing solid ice time and fairly consistent power-play minutes; that's enough to give him fantasy relevance in a variety of formats, and yet he remains widely available. Let's fix that.

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