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NHL Barometer: Backes Carries Blues

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 St. Louis center not feeling Blue on fire, a former Blue solid for the Oil, a setback for Stamkos and a pair of California goalies struggling.

Enjoy the Olympic hockey; I will be back with a new column after the Olympics, though I may weigh in on the Olympic performances.

First Liners (Risers)

David Backes, C, STL -
Backes scored his 20th goal of the season in St. Louis' loss to the Senators on Tuesday. Backes led the Blues' 50-shot assault of goalie Robin Lehner with a seven shots of his own, ultimately finding the net in the second period for his third goal in as many games. With 42 points in 50 games this season, he's well on his way to passing his career-high 62 points. Backes may not get the publicity of other centers, but with 174 hits and 38 blocked shots, he plays a complete game and is a key component of Team USA's hockey squad.

Antoine Vermette, C, PHX -
It was just a few short weeks ago that I advocated staying away from Vermette despite the power play time he was seeing. Boy, how wrong I was. Vermette is on fire, riding an eight-game point streak, during which he has scored eight goals and three assists. If you own him like I do in the Rotowire Staff League, enjoy the ride. If you don't, be wary, since Vermette can be streaky, as he managed just a single assist between his Dec. 21 hat trick and January 16, going minus-9 in that 11-game span.

Jarome Iginla, RW, BOS -
Iginla scored a power-play goal and handed out an assist Tuesday in a win over the Canucks. Iginla's been all over the score sheet of late, racking up 11 points and a shiny plus-9 rating in his last six games. Of course, this hot streak comes on the heels of a cold spell, where he hadn't notched a point in six games. This has been Iginla's pattern much of the year,, so fantasy owners should ride the veteran winger and probable future Hall of Famer carefully.

Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL -
Landeskog accounted for Colorado's only goal in Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Rangers, notching his 17th of the year on a second-period power play. Landeskog's been red-hot lately, with points in seven straight games. He's also collected 10 PIM and gone plus-3 in that span. Overall, he has the aforementioned 17 goals along with 28 assists and a plus-13 rating in 55 games, just seven off his career-high in points set as a rookie two years ago.

David Perron, LW, EDM -
Perron picked up two helpers against the Sabres on Monday. Perron now has 22 goals and 19 assists in 54 games. He's already broken his career high in goals, and he's on pace to break his career-high point total of 50 points set in 2008-09 as well. Of course, part of that is because Perron has stayed healthy thus far. He hasn't played more than 57 games since the 2009-10 season. While he was in coach Ken Hitchcock's doghouse and the team wanted some cap room, I wonder if the Blues wish they had Perron over Magnus Paajarvi, who they acquired from the Oilers with a second round pick for Perron

Mark Giordano, D, CGY -
Giordano posted two assists in Calgary's 4-3 win over Minnesota on Saturday, extending his point streak to nine games. While the streak ended Monday, Giordano posted 10 of his 28 points this season during it. In addition, 12 of those 28 points have come on the man advantage, where he is averaging 3:39 of ice time. Calgary is not a hotbed for offense, but Giordano has been a solid productive blueliner.

Roman Josi, D, NAS -
Josi has 11 points in his last 10 games after he scored his eighth goal of the season in Nashville's shootout win over the Blues on Saturday. After an extremely slow start, Josi has really turned his season around and now has 25 points in 47 games. He is seeing just over three minutes of power play time and is paired with Shea Weber on the top pairing in Music City.

Steve Mason, G, PHI -
Mason, a former Calder Trophy winner, made 20 saves on 22 shots in a win over the Sharks on Monday. While there may have been talk of a goaltending controversy before the season between Mason and Ray Emery that has not been the case at all. Mason's played in 43 games, seventh-most among NHL netminders, and his 22 wins are ninth. His performance has been up and down recently, but his overall numbers are encouraging, and he does have two shutouts in his last four starts.

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, PIT -
Fleury allowed one goal on 25 shot attempts in Wednesday's win against the Sabres. Fleury lived up to the strong matchup in Wednesday's game against a meager Sabres offense. It was the 31st win of the season for the netminder, who is sporting back-to-back wins for the Penguins. Fleury has the best goals-against average in his career along with a solid save percentage and is big reason why Pittsburgh already has 40 wins.

Others include Jason Spezza (eight points in eight games, albeit with a minus-four rating), Ryan Johansen (no signs of slowing), Bryan Little (nine points last 10 games), Derick Brassard (rolling, goal and an assist Tuesday), Joe Pavelski (no signs of slowing), Gustav Nyquist (first career hat trick Sunday), Nathan MacKinnon (20 goals already), Jaden Schwartz (seven points last nine games), Boone Jenner/Nathan Horton (a hot top line with Johansen in Columbus), Brad Richards (back on the beam after a slump), Phil Kessel (red-hot), Martin Erat (five assists in five games), Scott Hartnell (productive again), Martin St. Louis (could replace Stamkos on Canadian Olympic team), Blake Wheeler (seven points last six games), Ondrej Palat (still racking up points in Tampa), Jason Chimera/Joel Ward (solid supporting production), T.J Oshie (13 goals and points in 55 games with a plus-16 rating), Mats Zuccarello (four assists last three games), Shea Weber (15 goals), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (13 points on man advantage), Tom Gilbert (25 points for the Panthers), John Carlson (six points last six games), Victor Hedman (scoring roll continues), Tobias Enstrom (back to close to his former self), Dougie Hamilton (better lately), Jacob Trouba (still producing in the ‘Peg), Justin Faulk (four points last seven games, 75 hits and 76 blocked shots), Niklas Kronwall (six goals, 278 assists and a plus-six rating through 54 games), Alex Stalock (outplaying Antti Niemi lately), Michal Neuvirth (new No. 1 in Washington?), Reto Berra (top netminder in Calgary with Karri Ramo out), Tuukka Rask (two goals or less in four of his past five games) Darcy Kuemper (may be entrenched as the Wild's starting goalie) and Anton Khudobin (started 15 straight, still red-hot, but Cam Ward is now healthy).

Training Room (Injuries)

Steven Stamkos, C, TB -
Stamkos will not play for Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Though Stamkos has been practicing and taking contact in the process, a CT scan Wednesday revealed that the tibia in the forward's right leg is not yet completely healed. On the plus side, GM Steve Yzerman noted that the healing process in Stamkos' leg has been going well to this point, but added that "the callus surrounding the fracture site is not 100 percent consolidated, and Steven will not be cleared to play in a game until that happens." The plan is now for the Lightning to evaluate Stamkos, who will miss the Olympics for the second straight time, in two-to-three weeks.

Matt Moulson, LW, BUF -
Moulson was injured last Thursday against the Coyotes after taking a hard hit from Shane Doan that rattled a good part of his whole body. That injury landed him on injured reserve, as he was expected to be out through the Olympic break anyway. An unrestricted free agent after the season, Moulson, who came to Buffalo in the Thomas Vanek trade, is likely to be dealt before the NHL's March 5 trade deadline with possibly more than a dozen teams showing interest in the winger. Moulson has tallied 15 goals and 18 assists in 51 games so far this season.

Pekka Rinne, G, NAS -
Rinne was able to skate on his own Tuesday. Although it's a good sign that he's back on the ice, head coach Barry Trotz admitted that Rinne's rehab from his hip injury is still a long way from over. Keep an eye out for him to start facing shots at practice, but he's still a few weeks away at this point. The goaltender hasn't suited up since Oct. 22, and was 4-4-1 before suffering the injury and Carter Hutton should continue to see most of the action between the pipes for Nashville.

Others include Mikko Koivu (leg, may miss Olympics), Pavel Datsyuk (knee, hopes to play Thursday), Logan Couture (hand, out until after the Olympics), Mikhail Grabovski (ankle, out until after the Olympics), Stephen Weiss (hernia, expected to go on a conditioning stint at AHL Grand Rapids during the break in the NHL schedule for the Winter Olympics), Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone, participating in non-contact practice), Mike Green (concussion, still sidelined), Kevin Bieksa (undisclosed, placed on IR), Viktor Fasth (LBI, practiced Thursday), Anders Lindback (ankle injury, may be serious) and Karri Ramo (MCL, placed on IR).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Artem Anisimov, C, CBJ -
While Anisimov may be listed as the "top-line center" in Columbus, that title is in name only. AA has just one assist in his last six games and 26 points in 56 contests for the season. The former Ranger who came over in the Rick Nash deal, is a solid player, but likely will average around 40 points in a campaign but won't likely ever be a big scorer. He is better suited to be the team's third center, which in actuality is a role he probably is filling now, even though it may be classified that way.

Justin Williams, LW, LA -
Williams has just one assist in his last 13 games. The Kings' offense has really dried up lately, so Williams isn't the only one struggling right now. He has 29 points in 58 games this year after scoring 33 in 48 last year and 59 in 82 games in 2011-12.

Johnny Boychuk, D, BOS -
Boychuk handed out an assist in the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Canucks on Tuesday. Though the Bruins have been firing on all cylinders offensively the last couple of weeks with three-plus goals in six of their last seven games, Boychuk hasn't really been a part of the scoring surge. The assist is his first point during that stretch of action, and he's compiled only two total points since returning Jan. 14 following the birth of his twin children. Fantasy owners should continue to rely on Boychuk more for what he contributes in the hits, blocks and plus/minus departments than for his scoring, especially with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton on the blueline for the Hub.

Jonathan Quick, G, LA/Antti Niemo, G, SJ -
A pair of California, Stanley Cup winning goalies having their struggles lately. Quick made just 25 saves on 30 shots in a loss versus the Blackhawks on Monday. He's taken the loss in four straight starts while not posting a save percentage better than .897 in any of those outings. In addition, Quick has lost seven of his last eight starts. Niemi was pulled in the third period of Monday's game against Philadelphia after allowing three goals on four shots in the first 3:56 of the period. He stopped 19 of 23 overall in the 5-2 loss to the Flyers. Niemi has gotten the hook too many times for comfort this season. His numbers are still solid, but it's been a roller-coaster ride for fantasy owners, especially in December and January, in which he totaled 10 games with a save percentage under .900 and has been outplayed by Alex Stalock. That sound you do hear is me throwing things since I own both goalies in the Rotowire Staff League.

Others include David Desharnais (empty-net goal Tuesday was his first marker of any sort in eight games), Matt Duchene (zero goals, though 16 assists, his last 22 games), Daniel Sedin (slump continues, four-year, $28 million contract extension Vancouver gave him earlier this season not looking like a wise move now) Ryane Clowe (slumping lately), Milan Michalek (second line in Ottawa but still struggling), Dan Boyle (overshadowed by other blueliners in San Jose and may be at tail end of his career), Ryan McDonagh )still the Mack Truck but production waned a bit in January), Joe Corvo (healthy scratch Monday), Eric Gelinas (sent to AHL to score up defensive game), Devan Dubnyk (sitting behind Carter Hutton in Nashville) and Braden Holtby (if Ryan Miller rumors are to be believed, he could be running out of chances in the Nation's Capital).