Around the Rink
Everything as usual around the league. The Canucks finally win a game, even if it took a shootout to do so, and the Bruins won again. Also, just as I predicted, the Flames beat the Ducks 7-2.
Yeah, 7-2. Worse yet, it was 5-0 before Anaheim registered a goal. Jonas Hiller had a rough start to the night letting in three goals on the first five shots. That was the end for him. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Frederik Anderson didn't have much better luck. In the end, he stopped 16 of 20.
- I'm going to keep things pretty short up here. I've got a lot to say below, where I'm changing things up a little bit. Instead of looking at a handful of hot and cold players I'm looking solely at team's top lines, selecting four hot lines and three cold lines.
It's worth looking through the depth chart this way for two reasons: 1. It gives a sense of which teams are really coming together for the playoff push. You need a line that is easily described as "dangerous" if you're going to make a run. 2. With coaches hoping to spread their depth throughout the lineup there's often a third man on the top line who is the benefactor of playing with two premiere players. He may be just the player to pickup if you're looking for a sleeper to help you down the stretch in your fantasy playoffs.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith) at Boston Bruins (Chad Johnson), 7:00 PM
Buffalo Sabres (Jhonas Enroth) at Carolina Hurricanes (Anton Khudobin), 7:00 PM
San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Columbus Blue Jackets (Sergei Bobrovsky), 7:00 PM
Florida Panthers (Dan Ellis) at Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop), 7:30 PM
Edmonton Oilers (Ben Scrivens) at St. Louis Blues (Ryan Miller), 8:00 PM
New York Rangers (Cam Talbot) at Minnesota Wild (Darcy Kuemper), 8:00 PM
Toronto Maple Leafs (Jonathan Bernier) at Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick), 10:30 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Thursday
Martin Erat, RW - (upper body) left Tuesday's game
Martin Hanzal, C - (lower body) missed Tuesday's game
David Schlemko, D - (lower body) is expected to miss the rest of the team's road trip
Adam McQuaid, D - (groin/hip) has been shot down for the next couple weeks at a minimum
Daniel Paille, LW - (concussion) skated Wednesday for the first time since being injured
Dennis Seidenberg, D - (ACL/MCL) is out for the season
Rostislav Klesla, D - acquired by the Sabres in a deadline-day deal, has been suspended by the team for failing to report to AHL Rochester
Zemgus Girgensons, C - (lower body) will be out for at least a week
Chris Stewart, RW - (ankle) could be done for the season
Patrick Kaleta, RW - (ACL) skated for the first time since back in November
Torrey Mitchell, C - (foot) will be out for at least another week
Alexander Sulzer, D - (lower body) was on the ice at Tuesday's morning skate and looks to be close to a return
Justin Faulk, D - (upper body) returned to practice Wednesday
Joni Pitkanen, D - (heel) is on long-term IR
John-Michael Liles, D - (concussion) has no timetable
San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl, C - (knee) has resumed skating, but isn't close to a return
Brad Stuart, D - (upper body) did not join the team for their road trip
Raffi Torres, LW - (general soreness) didn't play Tuesday, but may be back Thursday
Columbus Blue Jackets
Fedor Tyutin, D - (ankle) amped up his skating Tuesday, but is unlikely for Thursday
Blake Comeau, LW - was suspended for the next two games
Jared Boll, RW - (ankle) says he's "very close" to being able to a return
Ryan Murray, D - (knee) underwent surgery and will miss the next few weeks
Sean Bergenheim, LW - (lower body) will not travel with the team for Thursday's game
Tomas Kopecky, RW - (concussion) is out indefinitely
Jesse Winchester, LW - (lower body) will miss at least a week
Erik Gudbranson, D - (knee) is expected to miss the next two weeks
Aleksander Barkov, C - (knee) doesn't need surgery, but is out indefinitely
Tampa Bay Lightning
Slater Koekkoek, D - (shoulder) is likely out for the remainder of the season
Radko Gudas, D - (lower body) took part in Wednesday's practice
Mattias Ohlund, D - (knee) is on long-term injured reserve
Sami Salo, D - (lower body) took part in Wednesday's practice
Curtis Hamilton, LW - (knee) remains out
Anton Belov, D - (oblique) is on IR
Sam Gagner, C - (ankle) did not participate in the Oilers' Wednesday after leaving Tuesday's game
St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Sobotka, C - (knee) skated with the team Wednesday
Jordan Leopold, D - (ankle) remains out but is nearing a return
Josh Harding, G - (illness) skated Tuesday, but his return this season remains unlikely
Niklas Backstrom, G - (abdominal soreness) was on the ice in pads Tuesday, but remains out
Jason Zucker, LW - (lower body) is progressing slower than expected and remains on IR
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dave Bolland, C - (ankle) remains out
Cody Franson, D - (illness) was a last second scratch on Tuesday
Jamie Benn, LW; Tyler Seguin, C; Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL: The Benn and Seugin pairing has been 2/3 of arguably the hottest line in the league over the last few weeks. The right wing spot was filled for a bit by Rich Peverley (who will miss the rest of the season after a scary incident on Monday) and is now being filled by rookie Valeri Nichushkin. Let's start with Benn/Seguin. They've been red hot in the last few games, but it helps to stretch the numbers out to before the break to get the longview on how hot they've been. Benn has four goals and eight assists in the last eight games. He's a plus-7 in that stretch with 26 shots, for an average of 3.25 per night. Seguin has four goals and five assists in the last three games (!) and eight goals and fourteen assists over the last 15. In the last eight he's a plus-5 with 43 shots, for an average of 5.375 a night. Nichushkin joined their line Tuesday. He was shutout. Prior to that he'd been languishing on the fourth line while still seeing some time on the second power play unit. He's had a rough go of it lately, with no points over the last six games. While he's been ice cold, Nichushkin has shown earlier in the season that he has good speed and the ability to be a scoring presence. Benn and Seguin's offensive surge is like the perfect pour from a bar tap, you expect it to spill over at least a little. Nichushkin should be the benefactor. He's probably available on the wire in some leagues and could maybe be had in a trade for very little, if your deadline hasn't passed. It's a roll of the dice, but he's worth your consideration.
Joe Pavelski, LW; Joe Thornton, C; Brent Burns, RW, SAN: Burns was recently added back to the top line in San Jose after being briefly removed due to his longest slump since being moved to forward last season. Now, this line is back and dangerous. They're a collective plus-17 over the last four games. Do the math real quick. We'll wait. Don't forget to carry the one. Yeah, that's good. Very good. The three have combined to average 8.75 shots per game over that span. (Thornton even contributed there, which is about as surprising as Daryl Reaugh winning an Peabody for describing Jamie Benn splitting the defense by saying Benn was like "like poop through a diarrhea-infected goose.") Over the last seven games Pavelski has five goals and six assists, Thornton has a goal and seven assists. Burns, since jumping back up top, has four goals in four games. Another great feature of this line for fantasy? It's almost impossible to match lines against them because the Sharks' second line features Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. That can have a big trickle down effect through the Sahrks' lineup when they face teams that don't have enough defensive-minded lines. For evidence see the performances of James Sheppard (1G, 6A in last eight), Tommy Wingels (3G, 2A in last three), Matt Nieto (2G, 2A in last five), Logan Couture (2G, 2A in last five), Patrick Marleau (2G, 2A in last five), and Martin Havlat (2G in last two).
Zach Parise, LW; Mikael Granlund, C; Jason Pominville, RW, MIN: Funny way of looking at this line: The addition of Matt Moulson to the Wild was a great thing for this line. They'd built up good chemistry while captain Mikko Koivu was out and it was possible that coach Mike Yeo would want to reunite Koivu and Parise. With the added depth in the top six, Yeo doesn't have to mess with that line's chemistry. This is especially good news for Mikael Granlund who has stepped it up in general this year and is now centering two premiere wingers. The line is clicking so well that Yeo mixed up the powerplay lines and now has these three together as the top unit with Pominville joining Ryan Suter on the point and Dany Heatley taking the vacant wing. Granny has a goal and five assists in the last six games and has been seeing good minutes since he became the top line center. Pominville's got two goals and three assists in the last five. And Parise has been a monster. Six goals and eight assists in the last 11 and he's averaging 4.09 shots per night over that stretch. If it wasn't for injuries recently, Parise might be second in the league in shots. (No one will catch Ovi who is averaging 5.3 shots per game through 64 games). Parise's 3.86 average on the season bests Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Marleau who currently rank numbers two, three, and four in shots.
Milan Michalek, LW; Jason Spezza, C; Ales Hemsky, RW, OTT: The addition of Hemsky may have nothing to do with this line's recent surge, but all three are playing some very strong hockey. Spezza has two goals and six assists in the last five games. Michalek has a goal and four assists in that same stretch. Hemsky has six assists in the three games since being traded to Ottawa. Collectively, they're a plus-8 over the three games since the trade. Hemsky's value has definitely gone up on this line.
Alexandre Burrows, LW; Henrik Sedin, C; Nicklas Jensen, RW, VAN: Jensen, a rookie with only two games under his belt, is in for the injured Daniel Sedin. Jensen's numbers aren't notable: no goals and an assist in two games. You can't blame him, but there's not much there to consider. Honestly, this is the top line in name only. I wouldn't trust anyone on this team right now, especially with Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler injured. It's like the Canucks have thrown in the towel on the season despite being in the thick of the wild card hunt. Giving up seven third period goals to the Islanders is just the tip of this rapidly melting iceberg. Back to the other two parts of this top line: Burrows scored two goals last night, which is great, except that those goals were his first of the year. In fact, if we're telling dirty stats, and I am, that was his first goal in 40 regular season games, dating back to April 15, 2013. To be fair, he did score one on May 7, 2013 in the playoffs. So his two goals in 36 games this season isn't that bad, right? Henrik Sedin has a goal and no assists in his last 13 games. In fact, he only has one goal in his last 24 games. Those reports of Vancouver being free of rats? Even rodents know when a ship is sinking.
Alex Killorn, LW; Steven Stamkos, C; Teddy Purcell, RW, TAM: We're talking a pretty small sample size, but since the return of one of the most dynamic players in the game this line has been shut down entirely and are a collective minus-8. In addition to the caveat already provided, I'd add that Stamkos did break his leg and came back way faster than I would have. I would have quit hockey and taken up something sedentary, like writing about hockey. He's amazing. He's superhuman. He's still pulling a doughnut on your fantasy team and is a player you can't part ways with in most formats. He will get back to form. He will be Steven Stamkos again. He will make the players on his line better by their proximity to him on the ice. It's just been a rough season if you've had to hang onto Stamkos all year through injury and recovery.
Thomas Vanek, LW; Tomas Plekanec, C; Brian Gionta, RW, MON: This is a safe space, right? Ok. I'll be honest. I was planning on picking out this line as being cold even before the Canadiens played the Bruins last night. Vanek had an assist, his first point with the Canadiens, which wasn't enough to change my mind. The Canadiens round up the man who was touted as the hottest forward on the trading block and... well, and they've got him for another 15 games. If it doesn't go well, they get a draft pick back. In the three games since Vanek's arrival in Montreal this line has one point. It was last night's assist. Look a little further out, Plekanec has no goals and two assists in his last eight games. Gionta has a goal and no assists in his last six. Something's gotta give in Montreal. If they want to hang onto that number three spot in the Atlantic all three of them need to fast-track some chemistry. Otherwise they've got that conditional pick they can look forward to rubbing in Garth Snow's face, hoping their trade for Vanek doesn't wind up looking as silly as the Isle's trade for Vanek. (Also, here's a good article about how Vanek came to line up on a defensive-minded line in Montreal.)
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL; Cory Conacher, LW, BUF; James Sheppard, C, SAN: We discussed Nichushkin above, so I won't rehash that, but I'm going to have a brief moment of weakness here and admit something (remember what we decided about this being a safe space): I like Cory Conacher. I think he's got a lot of promise. It's worrying that coaches and GMs seem to see the promise and then they trade or waive him not too long after acquiring him. Nonetheless, I like him. GMs seem to want to acquire him. Covered. Despite the fact that he's playing for a team Rostislav Klesla thought was so bad that he'd rather not play hockey than play for them*, I still think he's an interesting pickup for a very deep league. Conacher is a top line forward Buffalo. The talent pool is shallow. It'll grow in the coming years, but it's shallow right now. That means playing time for Conacher and he's playing alongside Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, who are about the best Buffalo has to offer. If you're grabbing him, know his plus/minus will be miserable. The team's goal differential is minus-63. Hes also not going to get you a goal a game. But he's only two games into his Sabres career and he's seen a season-high in ice time. I think there's a lot of potential there if you're in a very deep league and need to pull out sleeper to make the playoffs. He's also interesting in a dynasty format. Say you've to Tyler Kennedy in your lineup. It might be worth giving throwing the ball deep and giving Conacher a shot.
Wait, you say, Dustin, that paragraph was basically bereft of stats. Yeah, I know. It's called a gut call. I just made one. Wait, you say, Dustin, were you talking about football at the end there? I don't have time for questions right now, I've got a column to finish.
Also worth a look is James Sheppard, who has played slightly short of mediocre for most of the season. But once the complete forward corps in San Jose got healthy in early February, Sheppard came alive. Maybe all he needed was a little healthy competition to get the juices flowing. As I noted above, he's got a goal and six assists through his last eight games. (That's nine Sharks games. He was scratched once after the break.) Through those eight games he's also a plus-7. He's playing better recently than his season stats (2G, 11A) indicate. He's playing great and coach Todd McLellan wants, as long as Shep is playing well, to keep him centering the third line because that means he can keep Pavelski — who started the season as the third line center — on the top line where he's busy making defenseman and goaltenders look silly. Sheppard could have a drop off, but he has the support of the team and a healthy amount of competition around him with a rotation of Tyler Kennedy, Mike Brown, Adam Burish, Raffi Torres, and Martin Havlat vying for four open spots.
* This may or may not be totally true. He has decided to stop playing in the NHL and he has been suspended by the Sabres for failing to report to their AHL team.