Mining for gold, but finding pyrite? Here are some tips for teams on the playoff bubble and those looking to strengthen their lineups. Good luck to everyone down the stretch!
1.) David Perron’s return to the ice after missing ninety-seven games did not go unnoticed. Perron scored a goal while playing on the Blues’ second line alongside teammates T.J Oshie and Matt D’Agostini. The left winger is capable of finding the back of the net and is more than adept at dishing out the puck to his line-mates. St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt it safe enough to deploy Perron for nineteen minutes and so should managers across fantasy formats. Perron’s ownership in ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy formats are relatively low (16.8% and 10% respectively), and owners who are looking for an increase in scoring should snag him while he is still in the free agent pool.
2.) Dustin Penner’s return to the Los Angeles Kings’ lineup also comes at a great time. Mike Richards’ head injury and subsequent trip to the injured reserve deprived the Kings of one of their primary scorers. Penner scored his first goal of the season upon his return and his offensive presence will be much needed, especially to a Kings team that is currently ranked 28th in terms of goals per game. Penner was inserted into the second line alongside Jarret Stoll and his ownership in ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy formats is below 20%. Until further news on Mike Richards’ injury is available, feel free to add and use Penner in your everyday lineups.
3.) Josh Harding has been receiving significant time between the pipes for the Minnesota Wild and his numbers indicate that he is doing more than a serviceable job. The American netminder has saved over 93% of his shots and has been vying for playing time. While it is unlikely that Harding will pry the starting job away from Niklas Backstrom, Wild head coach Mike Yeo might stay with the hot hand as he did earlier in the season. Recent shaky performances by Backstrom against the Devils and Flames have left the door open for Harding and his ownership rates in both Yahoo! and ESPN formats (almost 50%) suggest that more than a few managers have taken a flyer on the Minnesota backstop. Add Harding up if you need help in goaltending categories as his strong play has made him a candidate for more starts in Minnesota.
4.) Kevin Bieksa has been slowly returning to form and has a modest four game point streak. The Vancouver defenseman is owned in over 90% of ESPN leagues, but his 52% availability in Yahoo! leagues offers some lucky owners a possibility to stash this d-man. Bieksa started the 2011-2012 season very slowly, but over the past 10 games his +/- rating (+7) and offensive production (2 goals, 7 assists) have steadily increased. While Bieksa has been oft-injured, he can provide significant fantasy contributions as his average time on the ice (22:37) indicates that he can be used by owners that need to plug a defensive slot.
5.) Max Pac is Back! Fresh off of a three game banishment, expect Montreal’s leading goal scorer to keep on trucking. Pacioretty might not be the most widely available player on the waiver wire, but the left winger is definitely worth the investment if available. Even though Max Pac may be confused as to the application of rule 48, he certainly knows his role on the ice and seems to deliver some of his better performances while playing banged up.
Vanishing and Banishing:
1.) Steve Downie continues his miserable year with the Tampa Bay Lightning and only has six points (3 goals, 3 assists) to show through the quarter mark of the season. Downie’s horrific -14 rating isn’t doing owners any justice either, but some might take solace in the fact that his time in the sin bin has not decreased. Either way, with the Lightning playing the trap it’d be safer to look elsewhere for help at left wing. The widely available Paul Gaustad can fill Downie’s shoes quite easily as his point totals are identical, he wins more faceoffs (C/LW eligibility), racks up penalty minutes, and even manages to sport a positive +/- rating.
2.) The Bulin Wall astounded and rewarded fantasy owners early on in the season, but his previous nine games have indicated that the Russian netminder might be snapping back to reality. Khabibulin still holds formidable overall statistics (2.00 GAA, .932 Save Percentage), but has given up at least 3 goals in five out of his last nine games and has only managed two wins in that span of time. The Oilers are still young and have a blue line that might not be the best supporting cast for an aging goaltender. Drop or trade Khabibulin if you can, lesser owned options such as Josh Harding and Al Montoya have been making cases for more playing time and would be safer options than Khabibulin at this point.
3.) Jhonas Enroth tried to man the fort in Ryan Miller’s absence, but 11 straight starts is a challenging task for any goalie. The Stockholm, Sweden native allowed 3 or more goals in five of his last eight games and Miller’s return spells the end of Enroth’s run as number one. While it would be safe to hold on to Enroth while Miller shakes off the rust, other options such as Tuuka Rask offer more in the long run out of goalies who are relegated to backup duties.
4.) Brandon Dubinsky’s slow start to the season (1goal, 10 assists) merited him a demotion to the Rangers’ fourth line. Dubinsky is on pace to finish well shy of his 2010-2011 total of 54 points and his lack of consistent scoring wouldn’t be missed by fantasy owners. Until Dubinsky digs himself out of the depths of the depth chart with strong performances, feel free to let him go in favor of lesser owned centermen such as Bryan Little and Ryan O’Reilly.
5.) Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s seven point week seems to have been just that, a seven point week. After posting a goal and six assists in the span of three games, Vlasic has one assist in the last 5 games. The San Jose blue line features offensively talented weapons such as Dan Boyle and Brent Burns, so fantasy owners should not look to Vlasic to be a dominant and consistent offensive force. Those looking for offensive defensemen could take a flyer on Nikita Nikitin instead. While Nikitin’s -5 rating with the Jackets isn’t attractive, his eight points in ten games certainly deserve a tryout at the least, especially since he is barely owned in ESPN and Yahoo! formats.
Keeping a Watchful Eye:
1.) Jakub Voracek was a key piece in the offseason trade that sent Jeff Carter from Philadelphia to Columbus. While Voracek only has 3 points in his last 5 games, he remains on Philadelphia’s top line and could be a very interesting option for fantasy owners looking for a right winger. If Voracek can stay healthy, he looks to be on pace to set career highs in point totals. Fantasy owners should keep the Czech on their radar as he is owned in less than 35% of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues.
2.) Ryan McDonagh has been a steady fantasy option thus far and has helped to stabilize the New York blue line in the absence of Marc Staal. While there is still no accurate timetable for Staal’s return, he has resumed skating and might have an impact on McDonagh’s defensive pairing and minutes played once he returns. McDonagh continues to log top minutes (25:16 ATOI) for the Rangers and should remain on every owner’s radar, if not their roster.
3.) Vladimir Sobotka is centering the St. Louis Blues’ third line as David Perron’s return forced head coach Ken Hitchcock to juggle his lines a bit. Sobotka added an assist on Chris Stewart’s goal in the Blues’ last contest and has four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in his last seven games played. At the rate that he is playing, Sobotka could set career highs in points and would be a welcome addition to a third line that boasts the likes of Chris Stewart and Jason Arnott. While nobody expects Sobotka to be added in droves, his statistics and work ethic suggest he could be a pleasant surprise for those in deeper fantasy formats.
4.) Kyle Brodziak’s strong play should be noted as Minnesota’s second line center has 3 goals and 2 assists in his previous five games played. The Wild, who are sometimes offensively challenged, need Brodziak to keep up his recent play. Fantasy owners should keep Brodziak on their watch list as he has shown more confidence in his abilities and continues to register shots on goal. Playing alongside Nick Johnson should give Brodziak and the Wild the offensive jolt that they needed and fantasy owners should continue to monitor the progress of the center.
5.) P.A Parenteau gets the last noteworthy mention as his seven points in four games has definitely sparked interest amongst fantasy owners. Although the top line for the New York Islanders has looked stellar at times, they have also gone dry their fair share of times. P.A Parenteau, Matt Moulson, and John Tavares seem to be clicking once again and Parenteau is the most widely available of the three aforementioned players. While Parenteau’s 3 assist night was overshadowed by Matt Moulson’s four goal effort, fantasy owners should keep a tight watch on New York’s top-line right winger.