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NHL Barometer: Cracks in the Armor

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 Captain Cally heating up, a top-line winger in Florida, healthy and productive, a devastating loss to the Jets blue line and the face of the Avalanche having his second consecutive down year.

First Liners (Risers)

Martin Hanzal, C, PHX -
Hanzal notched another assist Wednesday, giving him points in three consecutive and four of his last five contests. Really, now, did you have Hanzal penciled in for 10 points (3G, 7A) in his first 11 games? Neither did I nor likely most fantasy players. But enjoy the ride while it lasts, which could go for a while, especially if he sticks with Ray Whitney and Shane Doan. However, he missed Thursday's game with a lower-body injury, so check his status before jumping on the bandwagon.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS -
Our preseason outlook looks to be coming true: "Backstrom had his worst season as a pro last year and many critics say the big contract he received went to his head. With that lesson out of the way, look for the young pivot to get back on track and push the 100-point mark and 200-shot plateau." Backstrom has six points in his last four games, giving him 14 in 10 contests with 30 shots, putting him on an early pace to exceed both projections. Of course, I had to choose last year to own him (sour grapes).

Ryan Malone, LW, TB -
Malone has the luxury of skating on a line with Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell but has the most of that opportunity. He is usually good for 40-50 points and 70-80 penalty minutes, making him a borderline top-30 left winger. This year, despite an upper-body injury that is somewhat worrisome, given July's shoulder surgery, his point production through 12 games is right on that pace while his PIM might drop a bit as he tries to stay healthy.

Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR -
After a slow start, Captain Cally has started to heat up with four goals and an assist in his last five games. Three of those goals came in the two games after he and Brandon Dubinsky joined Brad Richards on a line. If that combination stays together, given how good of a passer Richards is - and if Callahan can stay healthy, always an issue due to his style of play - Cally could exceed the 23 goals and 25 assists he notched a year ago.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, FLA -
Fleischmann posted a 12-19-31 stat line last season in 45 games, splitting time between the Capitals and the Avalanche. But the winger's season was cut short when blood clots were discovered in his lungs. Fleischmann, who signed a four-year, $18-million deal this offseason with Florida, was cleared to play and is making up for lost time. Paired with Stephen Weiss on the top line in South Florida, Fleischmann has five goals and five assists in 11 games, which could enable him to exceed the 51 points he scored in 2009-10.

Alexander Edler, D, VAN -
Edler potted a goal and dished out two assists in Tuesday's win over the Flames. That effort gives Edler, who has 12 points in 12 games this season, back-to-back three-point games. He has taken full advantage of the departure of Christian Ehrhoff to step up his game and production. While he won't keep up this point-per-game pace, Edler is primed to set career-high marks in scoring this season.

Nick Leddy, D, CHI -
Leddy continues to impress, as he scored his second goal of the season in the Blackhawks' 5-4 win over the Predators on Monday and followed that with an assist Thursday. The best-scoring Blackhawks defenseman is not Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook, it is Leddy, who has exceeded his point total from his 2010-11 rookie season. Leddy had four goals and three assists in 46 games last season. In 11 games skated this season, he has two goals and six assists. In addition, he is the only Blackhawks defenseman who has scored a goal so far this season.

Josh Harding, G, MIN -
Harding, starting for the third straight game, collected his third consecutive win by stopping 24 of 25 shots in the Wild's 5-1 stomping of the Canucks on Thursday. After three rousing successes against the Red Wings, Harding finally got to face a different team and kept the good times going. It's been a long road for the talented Harding, who's been limited to a career backup role by multiple injuries and the presence of Niklas Backstrom. He remains Backstrom's backup, but if he stays healthy, Harding could carve out 20-30 starts. For as long as Harding remains hot, Minnesota likely will roll with him, so keep him active.

Mike Smith, G, PHX -
Smith turned aside 39 of 40 shots Wednesday night as Phoenix downed Colorado, 4-2, giving him three consecutive wins. Smith is 5-2-2 with a .927 SV% and a 2.40 GAA, making the Coyotes look good for signing him to replace Ilya Bryzgalov. Smith was unable to beat out/hold off Dan Ellis and Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay last year but should keep the job over Jason LaBarbera in the desert and be a good third goalie in most formats.

Others include Evander Kane,Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cody Hodgson, Patrik Elias, Logan Couture, Kyle Wellwood, Patrick Kane, Jason Spezza, Vincent Lecavalier, Clarke MacArthur, Martin St. Louis, Phil Kessel, Luke Adam, Joffrey Lupul, Purcell, Marian Hossa, David Clarkson, Claude Giroux, Patrik Hornqvist, Ryan Smyth, Scott Hartnell, Milan Michalek,, Brian Campbell,John-Michael Liles, Dan Girardi, Corey Potter, Johnny Oduya, Adam Larsson, Sheldon Souray, Ryan McDonagh, Nikolai Khabibulin, Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Greiss.

Training Room (Injuries)

Daniel Alfredsson, LW, OTT -
Alfredsson, who was hit by a Wojtek Wolski elbow last Saturday, suffered a concussion that now has him described as week-to-week. Originally there was hope he would be back in action this weekend, but Alfredsson is dealing with "lightheadedness" that is making any physical activity difficult. Given what we know - and don't know - about recovering from even mild concussions, monitor the situation but don't be surprised if Alfie is out a while.

David Perron, RW, STL -
Perron, out since suffering a concussion last November, reported feeling good during practices with the Blues, but said his timing is still off. Perron traveled with the Blues on the team's recent four-game road trip and has been practicing steadily the past few weeks, though he's taking no contact at this point. No timeline for his return is available, but he's in better shape and getting closer every day out.

Jussi Jokinen, LW, CAR -
Jokinen, who injured his leg Tuesday, could return to the ice sooner than expected. Jokinen was originally expected to miss three-to-four weeks, but the results of two MRI exams taken Wednesday confirmed that he was not seriously injured. In fact, coach Paul Maurice said Jokinen is closer to "day-to-day" than "week-to-week." Jokinen could resume skating soon, so though he will likely miss a few games, fortunately it doesn't appear he will miss a few weeks. When he does return, Jokinen should regain his spot on the top line, set up to score at 50-plus point pace.

Tobias Enstrom, D, WPG -
Enstrom, who was forced to leave Monday's game following a hit by Jack Skille, is out four-to-six weeks with a broken collarbone. Enstrom has been one of the Jets/Thrashers franchise's most reliable producers, notching 40 assists in each of the last two seasons and regularly posting about 25 minutes on the ice per game. The loss is a big one for an already weak Jets team. Johnny Oduya or Zach Bogosian is likely move up to the first line as a result.

Others include Mike Rupp (knee, could end up on LTIR), Jeff Carter (broken foot, inching closer but no set return date), Travis Zajac (Achilles, may skate soon), Jordan Staal (LBI, missed two straight), Ilya Kovalchuk (leg muscle, DTD), Troy Brouwer (right shoulder, DTD), Wojtek Wolski (groin, DTD), Mark Staal (concussion, expected to be placed on LTIR) and Chris Mason (groin, injured reserve).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Paul Stastny, C, COL -
Stastny was held scoreless during Colorado's 4-1 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, his third consecutive game without a point. Stastny now has just seven points (2G, 5A) in 12 games with a minus-4 rating. Perhaps more frustrating is how streaky Stastny has become this year, with most of his points seemingly coming in bunches with two multi-point games under his belt. As a result, he's been held off the scoresheet in seven of the 12 games he's played. Obviously, much more is expected of the Avs' highest-paid player and former face of the franchise. In addition, theses struggles come on the heels of last year's production drop, adding to the concern. If you have better fantasy options at your disposal, feel free to use them until Stastny gets his game sorted out.

Matt Moulson, LW, NYI -
The entire Islanders team is struggling offensively, with Moulson one of the primary causes of those struggles. His scoring drought extended to six games without a goal thanks to Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Jets. Moulson has just one assist in that span, and of his season's five points, four have come in two games. He has 10 shots on goal over that span, which is below his usual shot/game pace, and coach Jack Capuano is talking about line shakeups, which either will help Moulson or move him down to play with lesser talent. Monitor the situation closely.

Marek Zidlicky, D, MIN -
Zidlicky was moved to the second power-play unit, replaced by Jared Spurgeon. Zidlicky has scored 42 of his 60 career goals and 116 of his 227 career assists on power plays while being a stalwart in Minnesota. He had an injury-plagued 2010-11, but most, including this writer, expected a solid rebound campaign this year. This move is probably not permanent, but it definitely affects his short-term value.

Martin Brodeur, G, NJ -
Wednesday's start was Brodeur's first since injuring his shoulder in a game Oct. 13, and it didn't go well. Brodeur allowed five goals in 23 shots in a loss to Toronto, a few of which likely should have been stopped. Johan Hedberg manned the nets Thursday and led New Jersey to a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers while Brodeur, despite some soreness in his shoulder, is tentatively slated to play Saturday. With Brodeur taking longer to recover from injuries and showing some cracks in the armor, there are whispers that he may need to think about hanging them up sooner rather than later and ceding additional time to Hedberg.

Others include Brendan Morrison (no points in seven games since return from injury), Derick Brassard (down to fourth line), Chris Stewart (just two goals on season), Dustin Penner (one assist in 10 games), Andrew Ladd (Jets captain with just three goals and an assist in 12 games), Brandon Dubinsky (five assists, no goals, in 11 games), Blake Wheeler (dip in ice time and production), Travis Hamonic (whole Islanders team scuffling) and Jaroslav Halak (struggles continue).