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NHL Barometer: Kovalchuk Gets Back on Track

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 the return of Peter the Great, Kovy on a roll, Ottawa’s captain out with an injury and Hank not playing like money in the bank.

First Liners (Risers)

Peter Forsberg, C, COL – Stop me if you have heard this before: Forsberg is attempting a comeback. In what seems to be an annual occurrence, Forsberg is trying to come back, and this time, he will lace them up and play in the NHL with his former team, the Avalanche. The questions are: how long will that comeback last, and what time of impact will he have? On the first, given his history, your guess is as good as ours. On the second, with Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, Colorado is set up the middle. That said, the Avalanche were shutout in back-to-back games, so coach Joe Sacco shook up the lines, moving, Duchene on a line with Forsberg. Forsberg was a minus-two in 17 minutes Friday, his first NHL action in three years.

David Krejci, C, BOS – Krejci picked up three assists and was a plus-five in Wednesday's 8-6 win over Montreal. Krejci now has 39 points (including 31 assists) in 48 games; and with Marc Savard now ruled out for the season, the Bruins will lean heavily on his playmaking going forward. The slick center displayed some nice jump and chemistry with linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton Wednesday, and we wouldn't be surprised if his scoring pace picks up as the season continues.

Michael Grabner, LW, NYI – Grabner scored game-tying goals in both the second and third period of Thursday’s shootout win over Montreal. He added two goals Friday against Pittsburgh, giving him lamp-lighters in four straight. Grabner has found his way onto the scoresheet in 12 of his last 14, a stretch over which he has collected 18 points. With 21 goals this season, Grabner is starting to live up to the potential that made him the 14th pick in the 2006 draft. He has been an absolute steal of a waiver claim by the Islanders.

Ilya Kovalchuk, RW, NJ – Fantasy sports are all about taking advantage of hot streaks and finding a way to avoid cold ones. Kovalchuk is on a hot streak right now, so everyone should be jumping on the bandwagon. With his five-game point-scoring streak in danger, Kovalchuk scored with 24 seconds remaining in overtime Thursday to send the Devils to a win over Toronto. He followed that up by notching the game-winner again Friday. We're finally seeing classic Kovalchuk on a Devils team that has figured out how to win again, going 12-1-2 in their last 15 contests. He's got 12 points (6G, 6A) in his last nine games, scoring in seven straight.

Sergei Kostitsyn, RW, NAS – Kostitsyn had a goal and an assist in Nashville’s 4-1 defeat of Detroit 4-1 Wednesday, earning the game’s number-one star. Just two games ago, Kostitsyn had two goals against Detroit in a 3-0 Nashville victory. He's having a nice bounce back season away from the glare of Montreal, with 32 points (15G, 17A) in 51 games – including nine in the last eight contests.

Jordan Leopold, D, BUF – With Tyler Myers suffering a nightmarish sophomore campaign, someone on the Buffalo blue line had to step up. That person has been Leopold, who now has 31 points in 52 games this season after finishing last year with just 26 total points. Leopold’s production has been sporadic, but his 31 points are just two off his career high, set back in 2003-04 when he was in Carolina.

Jack Johnson, D, LA – Johnson’s assist on February 5 gave him 37 points on the year. In itself that’s not significant, but the 37 points are already one above his career high, set just last season. Johnson has picked up some of the scoring slack from the struggling Drew Doughty, and his overall upside resulted in LA locking him up with a seven-year, $30.5million extension in January. Think Carolina wishes they hadn’t dealt Johnson for Tim Gleason?

Ilya Bryzgalov, G, PHX – After struggling around the turn of the month, Bryzgalov appears to be back on his game. Bryzgalov posted back-to-back shutouts and then followed those up by limiting Dallas to two goals Wednesday to notch another one. He has shown in the past that he can ride a hot streak for weeks, so surf the wave while it lasts and hope he can get you to shore (e.g. the end of the regular season).

Ryan Miller, G, BUF – Miller, starting his 30th consecutive game, made 24 saves on 26 shots Thursday at Florida to come away with his third straight win and seventh in his last nine outings. This has been one of Miller’s worse seasons as a starting goalie, but even so, he remains one of the best and he has been much more reliable of late. Miller’s availability has been key too – his 44 games and 24 wins have been a boon for fantasy owners.

Others include: Evander Kane, John Tavares, R.J. Umberger, Mike Fisher, Jeff Skinner, Mikhail Grabovski, Logan Couture, Brendan Morrison, David Backes, Pavel Datsyuk, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Frolik (gets bump following trade to Chicago), Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Dustin Penner, Drew Stafford, Alexei Kovalev, Joffrey Lupul, Max Pacioretty, Brad Marchand, Nikolai Antropov, Steve Downie, Cam Fowler, Tyler Myers, Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Grant Clitsome, Tomas Kaberle, Brian Boucher, Johan Hedberg, Mikko Koskinen, Steve Mason, Devan Dubnyk, Miikka Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Niklas Backstrom.

Training Room (Injuries)

Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT – Coach Dan Bylsma indicated that Kunitz's lower body injury, which he suffered in Tuesday’s morning skate, could put him out for a 4-to-6 day timeframe. The Penguins can ill-afford to lose another top-six forward, so the fact the injury appears to be mild has to be considered good news.

Daniel Alfredsson, RW, OTT – Alfredsson, out since mid-week with a lower back injury, doesn't know how long he'll be out of Ottawa's lineup, but it's likely to be at least two weeks. He has been hampered by the injury since early in the season, and while surgery isn't being considered, his back is bad enough that it needs a lot of rest. The injury would certainly explain Alfredsson's decreased production and the fact he has looked much slower on his feet.

Bryan McCabe, D, FLA – McCabe hopes to return within a week or so. That would mark just about four weeks since he suffered his broken jaw, so that return range is certainly plausible. When McCabe does return, look for the trade rumors to start up in earnest since several teams could use the services of a PP QB, especially the Rangers.

Keith Ballard, D, VAN – An MRI on Tuesday revealed that Ballard will be out 3-to-4 weeks with a mild knee sprain. That's a decent chunk of time, but when Ballard suffered the injury Monday, it was thought he might have suffered a major knee injury. Ballard has just five points in 42 games on the year, but the timing of the injury is unfortunate because he was expected to take on a bigger load with Alexander Edler sidelined at least eight weeks.

Jonas Gustavsson, G, TOR – Gustavsson, who was playing in the AHL on a conditioning stint, underwent another heart surgery Friday and has been placed on injured reserve. The procedure – an ablation – is his third in the last 17 months. It was characterized as minor, so he should be able to begin workouts again in seven days, according to his doctors. Doctors accessed his heart via the large artery that passes through the groin in his first two operations, but it is now believed that this was the cause of his groin problems. It is unknown where the access point was this time, but it could be the same place. "This ailment, unfortunately, cannot be remedied in a precise manner," said Leafs' general manager Brian Burke. "We are hopeful that this latest procedure will permanently eliminate this issue for Jonas." The first hope is that Gustavsson will be healed after this latest procedure. The second is that, with Toronto possibly looking to deal Jean-Sebastien Giguere by the trade deadline, Gustavsson will be healthy enough to pair with James Reimer the rest of the way.

Others include: Michael Cammalleri (shoulder, missed nine straight, recovery slower than expected), TJ Galiardi (wrist, out indefinitely), Matthew Lombardi (concussion, likely out for year), Trent Hunter (torn MCL, out for season), Ryan Malone (abdomen, may miss a month), Marco Sturm (knee tendinitis, close to returning), Ed Jovanovski (upper-body, out since Feb. 1, close to returning), Tobias Enstrom (fractured finger, returned to action Friday), Dimitry Kulikov (ankle, day-to-day), Kevin Poulin (dislocated kneecap, out for season), Martin Brodeur (knee, still sore and remains sidelined) and Alex Stalock (nerve damage behind left knee, out for season).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Tyler Seguin, C, BOS – Seguin was a healthy scratch Friday for the second straight game. Seguin's skills and long-term upside are undeniable, but given the Bruins' deep and talented forward ranks, it might take injuries or a trade for the rookie to get back into the lineup. Sit him until you see any roster changes in the Hub.

Phil Kessel, LW, TOR – Kessel was moved to the third line last week, but he is still mired in a goal-scoring slump, failing to light the lamp in 14 games. On the positive side, Kessel has assists in two straight, which shows you how few positives there are in his game right now. Being picked last in the All-Star Game choose-up was about as low Kessel could go, but coach Ron Wilson showed him that wasn’t the case with the move to the third line. Kessel is a streaky scorer, so eventually he will get it going. When that will be? Your guess is as good as mine.

Alexander Ovechkin, RW, WAS – Ovechkin's one-goal, three-assist outburst Feb. 4 stands as his only performance with points in the last six games. It has been a down year by Ovechkin standards, considering the player commonly picked No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts is on pace to finish with 81 points this season. Ovie has set the bar so high in recent years that watching him finish with "only" a near point per game average would be a disappointment, and a true regression from the 100-point level that we're used to seeing from the Gr8.

Brent Burns, D, MIN – Burns has assists in his last three games, but his scoring has fallen off dramatically since earlier in the year. After 36 games, he had 26 points, a remarkable pace for a blueliner; but in the ensuing 16 games, he has been blanked 12 times and has just seven points. Burns is still the Wild's most valuable rearguard – by a wide margin – but you should temper your expectations until he starts registering points consistently.

Kris Letang, D, PIT – Letang had a goal and an assist Saturday but he has been slumping overall. Prior to Friday, Letang had one assist in his previous 10 games and just one goal in his prior 21. Perhaps no Penguins player has been affected by the absence of Sidney Crosby more than Letang. With eight goals and 43 points in 56 games, the Penguins' defenseman has already surpassed all of his former career highs – just don't expect him to maintain that production while Crosby is sidelined.

Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR – The Rangers have lost six games in a row, and while the offense has been a big reason for that slide, Lundqvist’s play has not been up to its usual high standards. Lundqvist’s overall numbers – 2.36 GAA and 92.2 save percentage – are right on line with last year’s totals, but he is just 1-4-1 with a 4.04 GAA in his last six and was even benched for two games during that stretch. Hank will likely right the ship, but until you see that happen, you may want to bench him if you have another viable option to insert into your lineup.

Others include: Brian Boyle, John Mitchell, Jarret Stoll, Andrew Ladd, David Booth, Mats Zuccarello, Marian Gaborik, Erik Johnson, Sergei Gonchar, Pavel Kubina, Michael Del Zotto, Tuukka Rask, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ondrej Pavelec, Craig Anderson, Marty Turco and Semyon Varlamov.