This week's article includes a Colorado center on a roll, a hot winger in Big D, a d-man having a career year in Carolina, a possible extended absence for a top pivotman in Vancouver and a sniper feeling Blue on Broadway.
First Liners (Risers)
Matt Duchene, C, COL - Duchene got a brief mention two weeks ago but deserves the full treatment this week. Duchene racked up a goal and an assist Wednesday - giving him 62 points in 63 games and a nine-game point streak - as Colorado iced the Blackhawks 3-2. The Avs' MVP is playing out of his mind - even by his lofty standards - and with offensive weapons P.A. Parenteau and Paul Stastny sidelined with injuries, he looks up to the task of carrying Colorado's offense. At this point, it's a no-brainer that he'll easily notch the five points required to eclipse his career high of 67 set in his sophomore season, but could get 80-points if he stays hot.
Mikael Granlund, C, MIN - Like Duchene, Granlund got a brief mention two weeks ago and deserves a bigger one this week. Gralund notched an assist in the Wild's 2-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday, giving him three goals and 12 assists in his last 14 games. Despite the return of Mikko Koivu, Granlund still has been skating with Zach Parise, which enhances his value the rest of the way.
Radim Vrbata, RW, PHX - Vrbata assisted on the Coyotes' first two goals and scored the third one in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Florida. The Czech winger's been responsible for a big share of the Phoenix offense recently, having tallied four goals, two assists and a plus-3 in his last four games. Overall, Vrbata has 19 goals and 27 assists in 64 games, and along with Antoine Vermette, he has been the Coyotes' most consistent forward.
Jamie Benn, RW, DAL - Benn scored the OT winner Tuesday against the Blues, added an assist and went plus-2. The high-scoring winger has points in five straight, with three goals and five assists over that stretch. It doesn't seem to matter whom coach Lindy Ruff puts with Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin -- they just keep scoring. Overall, Benn, who scored the game-winner and only goal against the U.S in the Olympic semi-finals for Canada, has 26 goals and 36 assists in 65 games, putting him one point behind his career-high.
Jarome Iginla, RW, BOS - Iginla scored the game-winning goal in Boston's 2-1 tilt against Phoenix on Thursday, giving him a point in each of the last three games. He has scored twice over those three games, giving the Bruins the offensive support they need as the team has reeled off eight straight wins. Overall, Iginla, after a slow start, has 21 goals, 30 assists and a plus-25 rating in 66 games.
Andrej Sekera, D, CAR - Sekera grabbed an assist for the third-consecutive game in Carolina's 4-2 win over Buffalo on Thursday, giving him 41 points on the season. Sekera remains one of the league's breakout stars among productive blue liners and has done most of his scoring this season at even strength, as 14 of his 41 points have come at even strength. We saw a flash of this several seasons ago in Buffalo, but Sekera is enjoying life in Raleigh.
Keith Yandle, D, PHX - Yandle picked up an assist Tuesday in a win over Florida to extend his point streak to four games. He was plus-1 and took four shots. Yandle has been on fire since the NHL resumed play after the Olympics with seven points in eight games. With 45 points this season he is tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen. Yandle also continues to get it done on the power play - his 23 power-play assists rank second in the NHL to Washington's Nicklas Backstrom.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, PIT - Fleury stopped all 32 shots the Capitals threw his way in Tuesday's 2-0 victory -- his fifth shutout of the season. Twenty-one of his league-leading 34 victories have come at home and the Flower has posted a career-best 2.26 goals-against average. Fleury has crumbled down the stretch in recent seasons, but so far, so good in 2013-14.
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL - Varlamov was spectacular again Wednesday, thwarting 37-of-39 shots as the Avalanche clipped the Blackhawks 3-2. It was also career win No. 100 for Varly, who helped the Avs beat Chicago for the fourth time this season and second time in eight days. His 33rd win of the year also keeps pace with the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury, who's won 34 times in four more starts. Oddly enough, Varlamov only has one shutout this season - November 23 at Los Angeles - but does have ten one-goal outings under his belt that helps offset the lack of goose eggs. The Avs (91 points) have officially leapfrogged the Blackhawks (90 points) in the Central Division and will ride Varlamov to ensure home ice advantage in the playoffs. In short, he's going to see a lot more rubber between now and the postseason and looks poised to flirt with 40-plus wins
Others include: Logan Couture (finding his stride again), Ryan Johansen (closing in on 30 goals), Valtteri Filppula (point streak at three, including three assists Thursday), Jordan Staal (hot all of a sudden), Joe Pavelski (no signs of slowing), John Mitchell (up to second line in Colorado), Derek Stepan (hot since Olympics), Anders Lee (up to top line on the Island), Mikael Backlund (top center now in Calgary, two goals and an assist Wednesday), Ryan Strome (five points in seven games since Olympics), Anze Kopitar (on fire lately), Ryan O'Reilly (goal and an assist Wednesday, 12 points last eight games), Alexander Semin (three goals and five assists in six-game point streak), Milan Lucic (point streak at three), Ryan Callahan (riding a three-game point streak in Tampa), Jiri Tlusty (producing out of nowhere), Jamie McGinn (top line in Colorado), Matthew Nieto (point streak at three), Ales Hemsky (hot since trade), Marian Gaborik (adjusting well in LA), Ray Whitney (five assists in five games), Tuomo Ruutu (benefitting from deal to NJ), Lee Stempniak (skating alongside Crosby), Jaromir Jagr (no signs of slowing), Zach Parise/Jason Pominville (red-hot in Minnesota), Mark Giordano (goal and assist Wednesday, nine points in his last seven games), Erik Johnson (solid in Colorado), Roman Josi (solid overall production in Nashville), Alex Goligoski (better recently), Marek Zidlicky (continues to produce), Ryan McDonagh (remains productive in New York), Kimmo Timonen (seven points in four games),Tyson Barrie (major step forward), Dustin Byfuglien (16 goals and 32 assists, but with a minus-17 rating), Darcy Kuemper (minor bobble but still No. 1 in Minnesota), Ryan Miller (red-hot since coming to St. Louis), Cam Ward (wins in back-to-back starts), Antti Niemi (three straight wins) and Joni Ortio (fairly solid since stepping in as No. 1 in Calgary),
Training Room (Injuries)
Vladimir Sobotka, C, STL - Sobotka, who had missed 12 games with a broken kneecap, made a triumphant return to the Blues' lineup Thursday, notching a goal and two assists. Coach Ken Hitchcock paired Sobotka with a pair of offensively-gifted Olympians in T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko, which bodes well for his value the rest of the way.
Ryan Kesler, C, VAN - Kesler suffered a knee injury in the second period of Vancouver's game against Winnipeg on Wednesday and will be sidelined for the remaining three games of the Canucks' road trip. Even though the Canucks collected a rare win Wednesday, the state of affairs continue to get worse in Vancouver, as the scoring-starved team was already without Daniel Sedin and Mike Santorelli. Kesler was spotted wearing a brace after the game and will be reevaluated back in Vancouver during the road trip before the team provides a timetable for his return. Things certainly don't sound good for the center returning to action even after the road trip, as coach John Tortorella speculated rather ominously that Kesler would be "out a while."
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL - Coach Lindy Ruff said Thurday that Lehtonen, who is out with a concussion, is close to a return and is awaiting clearance from doctors to practice. Once Lehtonen joins the Stars for full practice, Ruff said the goalie would be viewed as ready to resume playing in games. It still seems most likely that Tim Thomas will receive the start Friday vs. Calgary, but Lehtonen could be ready to go for Sunday's tilt with the Jets.
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR - Bernier suffered a lower-body injury Thursday against LA that forced him from the game. No word on the extent or severity of the injury, but there is speculation that it could sideline Bernier a week or two.
Others include Paul Stastny (back spasms, DTD), Markus Granlund (shoulder, IR), Mikhail Grabovski (ankle, not close to returning), Jiri Hudler (UBI, returning within a week), Michael Grabner (concussion, idefinite), Marian Hossa (UBI, could be back Sunday), Curtis Glencross (ankle, returned to action Wednesday for his first game since Dec. 21), P.A. Pareteau (sustained a right MCL injury Monday, likely to miss the rest of the regular season), Beau Bennett (wrist, could be back within a week), Dennis Wideman (UBI, could be out a while) and Carey Price (LBI, participated in Wednesday morning skate).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Patrik Berglund, C, STL - It's a bit odd to make someone who scored five points in his previous six games heading into Thursday a faller, but that's what happened to Berglund. Despite that recent output, coach Ken Hitchcock demoted Berglund to make room for the returning Vladimir Sobotka, who had missed the last 12 games with a broken kneecap. Berglund's recent productivity came primarily alongside offensively-gifted Olympians T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko, so it pains me to say that this round of line juggling is a significant hit to his value. Temper your expectations for the young Swede as long as he's on the wrong side of the Blues' top six.
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR - St. Louis failed to score again Thursday and has just one point in five games as a Broadway Blue. Rangers fans are starting to get concerned that St. Louis is the nest in a long-line of snipers who seemed to have forgotten how to score when they come to New York. Coach Alain Vigneault admitted after Thursday's game that St. Louis is pressing to prove the deal sending him to NY was a good one. St. Louis may just need one goal to open the floodgates, but your guess is as good as mine as when that will happen.
Torey Krug, D, BOS - Krug was a healthy scratch Thursday. With Dougie Hamilton slotting back in, Krug was the odd man out. The Bruins have played around with their blueline rotation all season, and Krug will likely rejoin the lineup soon, given that he played in each of the B's first 65 games this season. He has had a solid year with 13 goals, 22 assists and a plus-11 rating in those 65 games, but has just one point - a goal - his last seven contests.
Jonas Hiller, G, ANA - Hiller stopped two of five shots on goal before being pulled with 8:32 left in the first period of a 7-2 blowout at the hands of the Flames on Wednesday. The Ducks are just 3-6 in Hiller's last nine starts, though Hiller has played fairly well when between the pipes. This is likely just a blip in a long season but monitor the situation.
Others include David Backes (one goal since Feb. 4), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (no goals since January 26), Jannik Hansen (five points last 23 games), Scott Hartnell (no goals since February 8), Cam Atkinson (healthy scratch this week), Reilly Smith (rough patch), Eric Gelinas (defensive liabilities resulted in him being a healthy scratch), Shea Weber (minor dip in production recently), Jason Garrison (up-and-down), Ondrej Pavelec (arrow on down, as lost four in a row), Travis Zajac (31 points in 61 games), Derek Stepan (numbers are okay, but don't reflect on how poor of a season he really has had), Erik Cole (like Eakin, slumping in Big D), Teddy Purcell (36 points in 63 games, but could get shot as right wing on top line with Stamkos, so monitor that closely), Slava Voynov (25 points in 48 games last year, 23 in 64 this season), Dan Boyle (looks to be on downside of fine career), Henrik Lundqvist (three straight losses after the Olympic break) and Brian Elliott (opportunities will be limited with Ryan Miller in St. Louis).