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NHL Barometer: The Geno Who Saved Pittsburgh

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 "other" center in Pittsburgh stepping up, Gabby sniping, a San Jose winger out again and Ovie still slumping.


First Liners (Risers)

Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT -
The Penguins needed someone to step up with Sidney Crosby and boy has Geno fit the bill. He has three assists Tuesday, giving him eight points in his last two games and is riding a six-game, 15-point streak. Malkin now has 39 points in 27 games, two more than he scored in 43 games a year and is a big reason why Pittsburgh hasn't had a major fall-off while Sid has been sidelined with a concussion.

Jeff Carter, C, CLM -
Carter, who was acquired for Jakub Voracek and others, and the Blue Jackets as a whole are having a poor year, but Carter has shown some sign of life lately. Carter had a hat trick Thursday and now has points in six of his last seven games. Carter has 10 goals and six assists in 23 games, but is a minus-nine, which will likely be his big bug-a-boo this season, given the struggles of the Ohio squad.

Jordan Eberle, RW, EDM -
I gave Eberle some bold love earlier in the year and his recent play deserves another mention. Eberle struck for a pair of goals, one on the power play, in Edmonton's win over Minnesota on Thursday. He's recorded points in 15 of his last 17 games, looking like the budding superstar we expected him to be. The Oilers as a whole may be struggling but Eberle continues to be a rising star.

Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG -
Wheeler had his best outing of the season Thursday, notching two goals and an assist. Wheeler continues to benefit from playing on the same line as the Jets' points leader, Evander Kane. While the assist comes as no surprise to his fantasy owners, the right-winger now has 19 for the season. Wheeler's two goals versus Montreal were just his fourth and fifth on the year. He has had a strong December and remains on pace to finish the season with 50 to 60 points, which is a bit lower than has been hoped for him when he was drafted, but would represent a career-high.

Marian Gaborik, LW, NYR -
Gabby's role continues. He notched his 20th of the year Thursday against the Islanders, tying him with Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and Phil Kessel for the NHL lead. This was his ninth goal of December and fifth in his last three games as he continues to propel the Rangers' offense. In addition, his 20 goals are just two less than he scored in a disappointing 2010-11 season.

Matt Niskanen, D, PIT -
Like Malkin, Niskanen has seamlessly stepped in for an injured teammate. With Kris Letang sidelined by surprise, a concussion, Niskanen has nine points, including a goal and eight assists, in nine December games for the Penguins. Niskanen had a solid 2008-09 season for the Stars and looked to be on the verge of taking that next step forward, before dramatically regressing. He has resurrected his career this year for Pittsburgh. If Letang remains out - and there's been no talk of an immediate return - then Niskanen retains plenty of value on the man advantage.

Lubomir Visnovsky, D, ANA -
Visnovsky registered a goal and an assist for the second straight game Thursday against LA, his third goal in five games. Visnovsky, who led all defensemen in points with 68 last season, was off to a woeful start before a broken hand injury forced him from the lineup for a month. Now might be the time to pry him from a frustrated owner; Visnovksy has five points in five games since returning from injury.

Miikka Kiprusoff, G, CGY -
Kiprusoff won his second straight game with 29 stops in a 3-2 victory against Detroit on Thursday. Kipper continues to have a nice season after struggling a bit in 2010-11, with 17 wins and a 2.47 goals against average with a heavy workload. With Henrik Karlsson out at least another month with an injury and Leland Irving the back-up, Kiprusoff should continue to see a bump in action.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, COL -
Giguere originally signed with Colorado to serve as Semyon Varlamov's backup. However, with a 1.87 GAA and and .931 save percentage under his belt, Giggy has since surpassed Varlamov as the team's starter. He also has a 7-4-0 record, including a three-game winning streak coming into Friday's tilt with the Lightning. Fantasy owners who picked up Giguere on the cheap earlier in the season are reaping the rewards now and getting Giggy with it.

Others include Derick Brassard, Artem Anisimov, Olli Jokinen, Patrice Bergeron, Cody Hodgson, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, Jason Spezza, Colin Wilson, Adam Henrique, R.J. Umberger, Dustin Brown, Curtis Glencross, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Pominvile, Matt Moulson, Radim Vrbata, Jarome Iginla, Rya Whitney, James Neal, T.J. Oshie, Brad Marchant, Brenden Morrow, Jiri Hudler, Daniel Cleary, Martin Erat, Mason Raymond, David Perron, Evander Kane, Kuris Foster, John-Michael Liles, Shea Weber, Tomas Kaberle (solid in Montreal), Michael Del Zotto, Jared Cowen, Niklas Kronwall, Erik Karlsson, Andrej Meszaros, Erik Johnson, James Reimer, Martin Biron, Pekka Rinne, Roberto Luongo, Jimmy Howard, Ray Emery and Tim Thomas.

Training Room (Injuries)

Stephen Weiss, C, FLA -
Weiss left Thursday's game against Ottawa in the first period and did not return to action due an upper-body injury. Weiss has already been ruled out for Friday's contest by coach Kevin Dineen, so we're assuming there's some severity to his injury that could keep him out into next week, at least based on Dineen's initial tone. Perhaps the only bright side here is the timing, as the Panthers are off until Tuesday following Friday's contest. However, the loss of Weiss, who has spurred the Panthers' offense along with linemates Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg, would be a major blow to the Southeast Division leaders.

Martin Havlat, LW, SJ -
Havlat's hamstring surgery will sideline him up to eight weeks following his freak injury going over the boards Saturday versus Edmonton. He swcored his first goal in 18 contests in the game and then hurt himself by getting his skate caught on the boards as he attempted to take the ice for a shift. This is a blow to the Sharks as Havlat, who had 15 points in 26 games, provided speed to their lineup

Thomas Vanek, LW, BUF -
Vanek left Thursday's game in the second period with the same lower body injury that kept him out of practice last week. While Vanek has been able to play through the injury up to this point, he did not practice again Friday will meet with team doctors to see where he stands health-wise. Vanek has totaled seven points in his last four games, and 36 in 34 contests this season, so his loss would be significant if he is forced to miss any time.

Milan Michalek, LW, OTT -
Michalek (concussion) passed a baseline test and will be back on the ice for Ottawa Tuesday. This is highly encouraging news for the Senators as they were hoping to receive Michalek, who has been out since December 14 and has 19 goals in 31 games, back prior to Christmas, but they will wait another few days. Michalek's symptoms have diminished and he is good to go, boding well for his upcoming return to action.

Mike Green, D, WAS -
Green, out since Nov. 11 and who has played just eight games due to his groin injury, skated Thursday for the fourth straight day. Green is still practicing on a limited basis, but it's a good sign that he has been able to work out for a few days in a row. He continues to make progress in his recovery, but he'll have to take part in a few full practices before being cleared to play again. If for some reason he was waived, you might want to grab him now before someone else does.

Others include Peter Mueller (concussion, skating with team but not yet cleared to return), Jeff Skinner (concussion, placed on IR and out indefinitely), Mikko Koivu (leg, placed on IR, but possibly back soon), Mike Richards (concussion, returned to action this week), David Booth (sprained MCL, targeting January 9 return), Marc Staal (concussion, making progress, could be cleared for practicing with contact Monday), Al Montoya (concussion, out indefinitely), Kari Lehtonen (groin, back shortly after Xmas) and Mike Smith (groin, day-to-day).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB -
Lecavalier, who was held off the score sheet Wednesday in San Jose, has just four points in nine games in December. He has also been thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle this month. It's the latter that is raising a flag for us. His overall faceoff winning percentage so far this season is 46.5 percent -- his lowest since the lockout. But in December, he's at just 40.2 percent and that includes a 33 percent smackdown in San Jose on Wednesday. One has to wonder if there's a injury that's frustrating Vinny. Things are awfully quiet on that front but something is clearly going on with him. And right now, you're only activating him on hope. That's not how you manage a good fantasy team.

Alexander Ovechkin, LW, WAS -
Ovechkin posted just his 11th goal of the season in Washington's 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday, putting seven shots on goal for the second consecutive game. The shots on goals are a good sign and the goal Tuesday was his second in three games, but so far, it's been a lousy season for Ovie as he has just 23 points in 32 games. Ovechkin could heat up at any time but given his drop in 2010-11 and struggles this year; if this keeps up, will Ovie be a top-five pick next season?

P.K. Subban, D, MTL -
Subban was mentioned a week ago, thanks George for filling in for me, but he gets a second straight highlighting as a faller since was a healthy scratch Thursday night when Montreal lost to Winnipeg. Noted anglophone and new Montreal head coach Randy Cunneyworth shook up the slumbering lineup by sitting Subban and Lars Eller, but the Canadiens lost their fourth straight since the coaching change. Cunneyworth referred to the scratches, saying "we've got young guys and have to address a few things. Subban had notched a point in three straight earlier in the month and appeared to be turning the corner; but regressed with two bad games in a row leading to Thursday's spot in the press box. Those lofty goals after his solid playoff campaign a few years ago may never end up getting met, though we know that a defenseman's growth is not linear, so don't jump ship just yet.

Ryan Miller, G, BUF -
Miller allowed three goals on 31 shots Thursday in a loss to Toronto. He's lost two straight (it should be three) and allowed 15 goals in his last four games, so times are certainly about as tough as they've ever been for Miller. Jhonas Enroth did a ecent job while Miller was sidelined with a concussion, but coach Lindy Ruff likely will stick with Miler in the hopes he turns it around quickly. Now might be a good time to inquire into buying low, but be aware Miller has been up-and-down all season.

Others include Derek Roy (scored second goal in 16 games Thursday), Tyler Bozak (seeing some third line duty, so mild downgrade), Chris Stewart (down to third line and still struggling), Sergei Kostitsyn (points in two straight, but just 15 in 28 games and not shooting enough), Bobby Ryan (one point in last six games, will he be back on trade market?), Jack Johnson (one goal and two assists in last 16 games), Ryan Whitney (still not 100 percent after return from ankle injury) and Jonas Hiller (just 2-4-2 in December and 8-14-6 on year).