Around the Rink
Two months into this season, Sergei Bobrovsky's lockout-shortened Vezina Trophy campaign was looking like a bit of a fluke. A decent October and a poor November preceded a lower-body injury that cost him nearly all of December, and things were looking ugly for the 25-year-old Russian. But he's returned with a vengeance here in the new year, and he's taking the Jackets along for the ride.
In seven January starts, Bobrovsky's won seven times while allowing a total of 14 goals and posting a .936 save mark, powering the Jackets into third place in the closely contested Metropolitan Division. And after the Penguins, who are running away with first place, it is quite closely contested indeed – just five points separate the second-place Rangers from the seventh-place Capitals. The Jackets, on an eight-game winning streak, trail New York by just a single point – with three games in hand.
That closeness only serves to highlight the vast distinction between the Eastern and Western conferences. Pittsburgh leads the East with 74 points, and Boston and Tampa are tied atop the Atlantic Division with 65 points, and that's all the teams over 60 in the East; eight Western Conference teams have more than 60 points on the year. If the fourth-place teams in the Central (Minnesota) and Pacific (Vancouver) played in the Metropolitan Division, they would lead the Rangers by two full wins for second place.
This distinction is a hard one to explain, and it's a much more dramatic one than we saw last season, even with the spectacular campaign the Blackhawks put together. It seems like the Eastern teams have acquired a strange kind of sameness; they all seem to play a similar brand of unexciting, inconsistent hockey have seen even the most talented and most established goalies go through prolonged slumps. It's a horrible kind of parity, with only one truly awful, lose-every-game type of team (hi there, Buffalo). Meanwhile, in the West, there's a more normal-seeming split of powerhouses, very good teams, mediocre teams and cellar dwellers.
Somehow, even though last year was the one shortened by the lockout, this is turning out to be the weird one.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid.
Capitals (Braden Holtby) at Devils (Cory Schneider), 7:00
Senators (Robin Lehner) at Hurricanes (Justin Peters), 7:00
Canadiens (Carey Price) at Wings (Jonas Gustavsson), 7:30
Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov) at Panthers (Tim Thomas), 7:30
Predators (Devan Dubnyk) at Flames (Karri Ramo), 9:00
Coyotes (Mike Smith) at Oilers (Ben Scrivens), 9:30
Injury News for Teams Playing Friday
Jack Hillen, D (leg) – Skating; could be ready soon after Olympics
Alexander Ovechkin, RW (lower body) – Didn't practice Thursday
New Jersey Devils
Peter Harrold, D (foot) – Didn't go Tuesday; no word on Friday
Marc Methot, D (undisclosed) – Didn't play Thursday
Mark Stone, RW (undisclosed) – Sat Tuesday and Thursday after being hurt in Monday's practice
Cam Ward, G (lower body) – Picking up his workouts; could be back next week
Ryan White, RW (upper body) – Still weeks away
Davis Drewiske, D (shoulder) – Skating on his own
Alex Galchenyuk, C (broken hand) – Skating on his own
Detroit Red Wings
Cory Emmerton, C (hand) – Placed on IR Wednesday
Joakim Andersson, C (lower body) – Placed on IR Tuesday
Daniel Alfredsson, RW (back) – Possible he plays Friday
Stephen Weiss, C (sports hernia) – Out 'til late February
Pavel Datsyuk, C (groin) – Skating, but return uncertain
Jimmy Howard, G (knee) – Out into next week at least
Johan Franzen, C (concussion) – Seems to be clear of symptoms; practicing somewhat
David Van der Gulik, RW (undisclosed) – Still no clarity on what landed him on IR
Cory Sarich, D (back) – Out indefinitely
Alex Tanguay, LW (knee) – Decision on Friday to come after morning skate
Mike Mottau, D (leg) – No timeline
Tomas Kopecky, RW (shoulder) – Doubtful for Friday
Dylan Olsen, D (upper body) – No timetable
Alex Petrovic, D (upper body) – Has now missed eight straight; no clarity offered
Aleksander Barkov, C (lower body) – Doubtful for Friday's game
Pekka Rinne, G (hip) – Progressing in rehab, but still off the ice
Paul Byron, C (lower body) – Didn't play Wednesday
Michael Cammalleri, C (concussion) – Skated at practice Thursday
Curtis Glencross, LW (ankle) – Out about another month yet
Martin Hanzal, C (lower body) – Sat out Wednesday
David Schlemko, D (upper body) – Also sat out Wednesday
Philip Larsen, D (illness) – Practicing, but still yet to suit up for a game
Curtis Hamilton, LW (knee) – Out another four weeks or so
Nail Yakupov, RW (concussion) – Still hasn't passed concussion protocol
Ales Hemsky, RW (ankle) – Doubtful to play Friday
Tyler Johnson, C, TB – The greatest beneficiary of Steven Stamkos's broken leg, Johnson has been seeing major minutes and is now starting to produce quite consistently with all that ice time. He's got points in four straight games, seven of his last eight, and 12 of his last 15, and he's gone plus-5 over the last three games, pushing his season mark to plus-14. The kid may be undersized and undrafted, but his talent and effort level are unquestionable.
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR – The enigmatic Semin has been resurrecting his season lately, having scored goals in four consecutive games – including a pair of two-goal efforts. After a point-per-game campaign last year, he's had a tough campaign this time around, but it's worth noting that he's managed to go plus-4 on the year despite playing for a Carolina team that's got a minus-17 goal differential. He doesn't really have the reputation of a two-way player, but Semin has quietly become one over the last few years.
Frans Nielsen, C, NYI – The Danish forward is back on a hot streak, with points in nine of his last 10 games and six straight. He's on pace to be perhaps the league's most surprising 60-point man, as his 42 already are only five short of his career high, set two seasons ago, and he's already matched his career-high goal total. The difference for Nielsen this year has been power-play production – he's always seen time on the PP, but had previously been a very inconsistent producer there. Now, he's skating career-high minutes on the man advantage and has already set a new career high in power-play points with 17, richly rewarding fantasy owners who drafted him on the cheap.
Lars Eller, LW, MON – Eller was one of the league's more intriguing up-and-coming players last year, but he's fallen back in a big way despite seeing far greater ice time this season. After totaling 30 points in 46 games while going plus-8 last year, he's got just 20 points in 50 contests this year, and he's running a career-worst plus-minus figure among his four NHL campaigns. That particular disaster has come recently – Eller has gone scoreless in his last eight games, with his rating going from dead even to its current minus-9 mark in that span.
Loui Eriksson, RW, BOS – Eriksson's disappointing season has continued – and, if anything, become worse – since his early-January return from a concussion. He's notched just a single point in five games, and he's taken only five shots on goal in that span – three of them coming in one contest. Eriksson's never been a high-volume shooter, but this is even worse than usual. What he has been, generally, is a high-percentage shooter; that hasn't come to fruition this year, as he's posting his worst shooting percentage since his rookie campaign (10.4 percent). And, oh yeah, he has two power-play points for the season. That's an ouch. Worse yet, Reilly Smith – a relatively lightly regarded prospect when he came over to Boston along with Eriksson and two others for Tyler Seguin last offseason – has outperformed Eriksson roundly.
Alexandre Burrows, RW, VAN – Burrows has been returned to the top line, alongside the Sedin twins, since returning from the jaw injury that cost him 20 games, but the results have been much as they were earlier in the season – that is to say, nothing. Despite skating more than 20 minutes in each of the last three games, including a whopping 7:44 of power-play time Thursday, Burrows has collected zero points, a minus-1 rating and only five shots on goal in that span. That's just weak. With only three points and a minus-8 rating in 20 contests this season, he's been an unmitigated disaster.
Drew Stafford, RW, BUF – It's no surprise that fantasy owners feel an aversion to picking up Stafford, whose combined line from this season and last looks like this: 91 games, 13 goals, 23 assists, minus-26. However, Stafford's been looking a lot better recently, tallying five points over his last three games, and that's worth some attention – the guy's playing first-line minutes for the Sabres, with power-play time, and before last year, he'd tallied consecutive 50-point campaigns. Sometimes, the boring veterans who nobody wants can pay you off nicely in fantasy; in deeper formats, Stafford is just such a player.