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NHL Barometer: Backstrom's Back!

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

This week’s article includes a top center in the Sunshine State, Pasta rolling, what a Maroon, down goes Letang (again) and Super Joe not so super.

First Liners (Risers)

Vincent Trocheck, C, FLA – Trocheck is also profiled in Neil Parker’s most recent Waiver Wire column but his fine play deserves the double billing. He extended his modest point streak to four games Saturday with a goal and an assist and added two more goals Tuesday. In his last 11 games, he has eight goals and seven assists, giving him 16 and 15 overall. Trocheck does have a minus-10, but most of that number came early on, as he is plus-five in those last 11 while picking up the slack for the injured Aleksander Barkov.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS – Backstrom, who was named the NHL’s First Star for last week, started the new week off fairly well with a goal – albeit with a minus-3 rating. He earned that honor by tallying three goals and seven assists in the four games during that time. After a slow start, the Swedish pivot now has 13 goals and 43 points in as many games and is tied for 10th overall in league scoring. Backstrom’s goal total puts him on pace to exceed 20 for the first time since the 2009-10 season when he hit 33 as a 21-year old.

David Pastrnak, RW, BOS – Pastrnak, affectionately known as Pasta, continues to eat up points. Two assists on Saturday give the Czech youngster 14 in 40 games. Despite getting shut out along with the rest of the Bruins on Monday against the Islanders, he still has seven assists in his last seven games. On the downside, despite the 19 goals, he has yet to light the lamp since Dec. 14. Pastrnak’s inability to score hasn’t been due to a lack of shots, with 47 in his last 14 games and 135 on the season, so his recent volume of shots is consistent to what he was doing when he was tickling the twine.

Conor Sheary, LW, PIT – Sheary is reaping the benefits skating alongside Sidney Crosby. His two goals in Pittsburgh's wild 8-7 win Monday give him 13 goals and 28 points in 36 games. He started last year in the minors but was promoted on Dec. 18 – right around when Mike Sullivan took over – and finished the season with 10 points in 44 games. If for some reason he is available in your league, jump on board now.

Patrick Maroon, LW, EDM – Maroon was held off the scoresheet Monday, but he still has 10 goals in his past 13 games and seven in his last seven contests. Edmonton lucked out after acquiring Maroon last year, as he posted eight goals and 14 points in 16 games after scoring 13 in 46 outings for Anaheim. This year, Maroon is skating to the left of Connor McDavid, so 30 goals looks doable.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL – Shattenkirk's impending unrestricted free agency and rumors of a possible trade haven't adversely impacted him on the ice. Nine goals and 21 assists put him on pace for an outside shot at 50 points. In addition, 17 of those points have come on the man-advantage, with the only major criticism being his minus-11 rating. At worse, Shattenkirk should end up in the mid-40 point range he posted in each of the past three seasons.

Jake Muzzin, D, LA – Muzzin has had a disappointing season overall, but lately has shown signs of life. His seven points in eight games give him 14 in 44 games, albeit with a minus-11 rating. Muzzin does have 86 hits and 65 blocked shots after posting 197 and 135 a year ago, supplementing his value in leagues that count those categories.

Ben Bishop, G, TB – Bishop returned on Jan. 12 after missing two weeks with a lower-body injury. Andrei Vasilveskiy failed to take advantage of his chance, opening the door for the incumbent to reclaim the top spot. All the towering American did was win consecutive games while allowing just three goals and posting a .948 save percentage. He stopped 19 of 21 shots on Tuesday, despite losing 2-1 in overtime. Look for Tampa to roll with Bishop as much as possible as they try and get back into a playoff spot, but be aware he could be dealt at the trade deadline in March if they fade.

Carter Hutton, G, STL – With Jake Allen struggling, Hutton has played in five straight games, three of which were starts. Over those outings, the erstwhile Blues' backup is 3-1-0 with a stellar 1.65 GAA. Hutton started again Tuesday against Ottawa, but allowed five goals in a loss to the Senators. That loss could open the door for Allen to get another shot. But if he struggles, St. Louis could turn back to Hutton.

Others include Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault, Tyler Bozak, Derek Stepan, Kyle Turris, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Carter, Jason Zucker, Thomas Vanek, Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel, Mats Zuccarello, Brock McGinn, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha, Filip Forsberg, Jeff Skinner, Matt Niskanen, Torey Krug, Jared Spurgeon, Dougie Hamilton, Pekka Rinne, Ondrej Pavelec, Cam Talbot and John Gibson.

Training Room (Injuries)

Kris Letang, D, PIT – The injury ninja has reached up and grabbed Letang once again. This time, a leg injury has Letang classified as week-to-week. This is the All Star’s second health concern of the season, as a lower-body injury cost him two weeks in December. When available, Letang is a beast, scoring 23 points in 30 games. Unfortunately, that injury history cuts into his value.

Others include Max Domi (hand surgery, weeks away), Mika Zibanejad (non-displaced fractured fibula, activated Tuesday), Aleksander Barkov (undisclosed, on IR, out indefinitely), Ryan Callahan (hip, placed on IR Tuesday, will miss four weeks), Matt Beleskey (knee, missed last 22 games, could play Wednesday), Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles, expected to return first week of March), Morgan Rielly (left Tuesday’s game with lower-body injury), Roman Josi (undisclosed, placed on IR Friday), P.K. Subban (groin, on IR, close to returning), Marc Staal (concussion, out since Jan. 3, progressing but no timetable for return) and Jimmy Howard (sprained MCL, on ice Monday for first time since Dec. 20 injury).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Joe Thornton, C, SJ – Thornton potted just his third goal of the season Monday against Winnipeg. Jumbo Joe does have 24 assists, giving him 27 points in 44 games, but that’s a far cry from the 82 he displayed a year ago. Some regression was expected due to his age, but the dropoff has been dramatic. As our player note stated the other day, it’s quite possible the extended playoff run, reducing his offseason, adversely affected his ability to rebound for this season. But if Thornton produces again in the postseason, his so-so regular season will be but a blip for the teal and white.

David Perron, RW, STL – Perron has five points in his last five games, but he is also coming off a stretch where he tallied five points in 18 games. That shows just how inconsistent Perro has been in his first season back in St. Louis. With 25 points in 44 games, expect Perron to ride the yo-yo the rest of the way, with a likely finish in the low-40s.

Shayne Gostisbehere, D, PHI – It has been a sophomore campaign to regret for Gostisbehere. Ghost burst on the scene a year ago, racking up 16 points in his first 22 games and 46 in 64 overall. This season, he has only 19 points in 43 games and has served as a healthy scratch at times while also playing on the third pairing. Maybe the offseason hip/abdomen surgery in May had a longer recovery time than we expected and set him back. Whatever the reason, Ghost has been mainly invisible this year.

Connor Hellebuyck, G, WPG – With Ondrej Pavelec’s promotion Tuesday, the goaltending situation in Winnipeg is now a three-headed monster – and we saw how well that worked out for the Islanders. Michael Hutchinson will lose most of his playing time but Hellebuyck will take a big hit as well. The latter was pulled in his last two starts and his save percentage was down to .907, prompting the call-up of Pavelec. Hellebuyck is the future but it looks like that time isn’t right now.

Others include Joe Colborne, Alexander Wennberg, Kevin Fiala, Tobias Rieder, Jussi Jokinen, Dan Girardi, Cam Fowler, Carey Price, Jake Allen, Antti Niemi and Henrik Lundqvist.