Around the Rink
Thursday's action gave us our first real look at the post-Olympic league, with 24 teams in action on a busy night, and as they so often do, many returning Olympians factored heavily into the night's outcomes. Of course, that's why they're Olympians.
The two most prominently disappointing Russians, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, combined for five points in their returns to NHL ice after failing to reach the medal round on their home territory. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Bobrovsky, both of whom had a strong tournament, went scoreless and allowed four goals, respectively.
After Team USA's impressive early showing and sudden fall from grace, Jonathan Quick packed his bags, went home, and put up a shutout in his first game back. Quick, though, can hardly be blamed for the Americans' failures no more than teammate Dustin Brown, who scored one of the Kings' two goals on Thursday and assisted on the other, his second straight game collecting points after a 12-game drought leading up to the break. Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski's hat trick built on his impressive Olympic performance, and he looks set up for a big finish.
The returning champions from Canada had plenty of big games, too the snubbed-then-subbed Martin St. Louis scored two goals after riding the pine for much of the Olympics, Rick Nash scored one of his own after a quiet tournament, Shea Weber dished out two helpers after a big tournament, Jamie Benn had a three-point night, and Sidney Crosby did his usual Sidney Crosby thing with a goal and an assist.
Now the season's final quarter is in full swing about 20 games for each team in which the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Let's get at it.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid.
Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Sabres (Ryan Miller), 7:00
Coyotes (Mike Smith) at Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov), 9:00
Wild (Darcy Kuemper) at Canucks (Roberto Luongo), 10:00
Injury News for Teams Playing Friday
San Jose Sharks
Brad Stuart, D (upper body) Placed on IR Thursday
Tomas Hertl, C (knee) On the ice during Thursday's morning skate
Zenon Konopka, C (finger) Sat Wednesday, but sounds like he could go Friday
Tyler Ennis, LW (soreness) Didn't practice Thursday, but possible for Friday
Alex Tanguay, LW (knee/hip) Had season-ending hip surgery
Maxime Talbot, C (personal) Missed Wednesday's game, but could be back Friday
Erik Johnson, D (suspension) Friday's second game of two in his suspension
David Van der Gulik, RW (undisclosed) On IR; no news lately
Mikko Koivu, C (ankle) Didn't go on Thursday
Clayton Stoner, D (finger) Suffered dislocation Thursday; could sit Friday
Niklas Backstrom, G (abdominal soreness) Could draw Friday start
Marco Scandella, D (knee) Didnt go Thursday; not ruled out for Friday yet
Josh Harding, G (multiple sclerosis) Still not back at practice
Jason Zucker, LW (lower body) Placed on IR Wednesday; backdated, so it could be a short stint
Brett Bulmer, LW (ankle/knee) Should be within a week or two of return
Andrew Alberts, D (concussion) Recovery going slowly; not expected back soon
Mike Santorelli, C (shoulder) Had season-ending surgery
Chris Tanev, D (thumb) Practiced Thursday with the team
Ryan Kesler, C (hand) Full practice participant Thursday
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Leopold, D (ankle) Doesnt expect to play on this road trip
Vladimir Sobotka, C (knee) Not close to returning
Nick Bonino, C (upper body) Expected to play Friday
Viktor Fasth, G (lower body) Playing rehab games in AHL
Mark Fistric, D (lower body) Expected to come off IR on Friday
Troy Brouwer, RW, WAS Brouwer entered the Olympic break with three goals in two games, and he exited it with another two-goal effort on Thursday with both coming on the power play, where he's averaging 3:32 a game. Dating back to Jan. 25, Brouwer has totaled nine points in his last nine games quite a departure from the 20 he managed in his first 51 games.
Gustav Nyquist, C, DET Nyquist's going to be relied upon more and more this year now that Henrik Zetterberg's likely out for the duration of the regular season, and he's showing why that's a good decision pretty much every game. Two assists Thursday pushed his 13-game-long hot streak to 17 points, and scoring with regularity is nothing new for Nyquist, who's been over a point per game in all three of his AHL seasons. He's still one of the more underrated players in the league right now but not for long.
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS Though it's just one game, Backstrom's big showing Thursday (a goal and two assists) went a long way toward dispelling his fantasy owners' worries that a failed drug test in Sochi would affect his season. Everything is seemingly above board with the medication he's taking, as the NHL isn't looking into any disciplinary action, so unless you hear otherwise, there's no reason to downgrade Backstrom whatsoever.
Thomas Vanek, LW, NYI Vanek had cooled off before the Olympic break, with a four-game scoreless streak before he managed assists in the final two games prior to the pause, and he left the break in worse condition than he entered it thanks to the season-ending injury to John Tavares. Though his replacement center, Brock Nelson, is highly talented in his own right, he's certainly not Tavares; nor is Frans Nielsen, who could return from injury to center the top line soon. However, Vanek could (read: should) be headed out of town via trade, which could lift his stock significantly.
Peter Budaj, G, MON Budaj played well Wednesday against Detroit, but took an overtime loss, then played poorly in a win over the Penguins on Thursday the cumulative effect of which is that he gave Carey Price (lower body) some extra break time, which will probably set Price up to man the net in the vast majority of the Habs' remaining games. That means Budaj's value is set to dry up quite significantly.
Brock Nelson, C, NYI Right now, Nelson is the Islanders' top center, and though there's no expecting him to replace the injured John Tavares (or Frans Nielsen, who could return and claim that role), Nelson's in a good place at the intersection of talent and opportunity. He's shown he can score in college and the AHL now he has a chance to really start doing it in the big leagues. Fantasy owners, especially in medium to deeper formats, should snatch him up on spec.