Contributed by Tim Arnold
It’s hard to believe that 2010 is nearly one month old already! What’s not hard to believe is that in less than one month’s time, we will all be glued to our TVs getting ready to cheer on our respective countries hockey teams at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. With all the rosters named and players aware of their Olympic status (unless you’re from Russia), they are all doing their best to go into the Olympics riding a high and playing at the top of their game. Injuries have yet to play a very big factor in any major superstar’s status for the games, but that is bound to change with three weeks’ worth of hockey left before the break. It’s much easier for a county like Canada to call up a suitable reserve than it is for a team like Finland or Slovakia. Let’s hope we don’t lose any of the major players from teams like the aforementioned Canada, Russia, or the defending gold medalists from Sweden. Those three teams are looking like the pre-tournament favorites for a good shot at gold.
The starting 5 for Russia: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar, Andrei Markov.
Canada may have a better four-line team on paper, but there is not another team in the tournament who can ice a line with the power that this one has. This line is a big reason why we see someone like Brent Seabrook on the Canadian roster and not Mike Green. Green can score with the best of them, but he doesn’t stand a chance or trying to hold down Russia’s big boys. I don’t know if anyone really stands a chance of shutting that unit down, though.
This has been a tough week for goalies in fantasy hockey. A large portion of some of the top goaltending talent in the NHL has been getting shelled in the past seven days. Marty Brodeur took a loss to the Islanders, Miikka Kiprusoff got lit up like Las Vegas at night against the Sharks, and Pens starter Marc-Andre Fleury has been bothered by a fractured finger on his catching glove. Fleury is expected to return to action this weekend for the champs. If you own any of these players, you have no doubt had a tough week in the goalie points categories. Better luck next week!
Speaking of next week, let’s break down the schedule.
4 games: Calgary, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington
3 games: Anaheim, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver
2 games: Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose
LOVE: A couple of teams to watch out for this week on the love side of things. The Washington Capitals seem to be making more appearances in this category than anyone this season. This week is no different. The Caps’ four games have them matched up against the Islanders, Ducks, Panthers, and Lightning. Therefore, there’s a very good chance Washington wins three of those four games.
A little more love goes out to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks have probably the easiest schedule in the league during their three-game schedule this week. Lined up for the Hawks in the next seven days are two of the three worst teams in the league, the Oilers and Hurricanes, and also a stiff test coming in the form of the Sharks. Look for Antti Niemi to continue seeing his playing time increase and before we know it, he could very well be the undisputed number one guy in the Windy City. Depending on who you ask, he already is.
HATE: I picked them here a few weeks ago and they wound up torching my predictions, but the Buffalo Sabres are again going to be my goat team this week. Three incredibly tough games lie ahead for them vs. the Canucks, Devils, and Bruins. I am fully expecting to have the Sabres kill me again and likely pull off a three-game winning streak this week, but they’ll have a serious load in front of them to move if they hope to do that. I just don’t see it happening. Watch for them to have a tough go round.
The Ottawa Senators, who I will talk more about here soon, despite riding a stellar six-game winning streak, could see a total reversal of fortunes in the next seven days. Games vs. the Devils, Penguins, and Canadiens await the red-hot Sens, which is not an enviable task to be faced with. With the goaltending question marks in Ottawa, how long can this strong play go on for? Not long, and I say it ends this week.
The Senators have pulled off some sort of David Blaine like magic show in the last seven days since the return of their captain, Daniel Alfredsson. Alfie has scored in all three games since returning and has the Senators now riding a six-game winning streak. This is even more remarkable considering the cluster of a goalie situation they have on Ottawa right now. Brian Elliott appears as though he is going to carry the majority of the load for the time being, and why not? He’s been solid all week after rookie Mike Brodeur stood on his head last week. Notice how neither one of these guys are named Pascal Leclaire? With the Sens still needing some secondary scoring, they are certainly missing Antoine Vermette, who went the other way in the deal for Leclaire. Who’da thunk anyone would ever say they were missing Antoine Vermette?
Also on Saturday, the Senators welcomed back star center Jason Spezza from injury. Spezza has been sidelined for the past couple of months and has become sort of the forgotten man in the fantasy world this year due to his slow start, then followed by the injury. He is surprisingly available on quite a few waiver wires, and if you can grab him there, do it now! I preached the good word a couple of weeks ago giving you the heads up that he would be returning and was the ideal target for a buy-low situation! Hopefully you listened, found his owner, and were able to pawn off a Stephen Weiss-like player for him. Look for Spezza and the Sens to make a serious playoff push and for himself personally to have a rebound second half.
Mike Underwood, I mean Mike Fisher… look for him, too. A lot of owners dropped him after his poor play while Alfredsson was injured. In the time Alfredsson was out, Fisher was invisible on the ice for the Sens, but since Alfie’s return, Fisher has gone on a tear playing alongside the cap. He had five points in Alfie’s first two games back. Yes, one player can make that big of an impact on the rest of his team.
My must-add player of the week this week goes out to the Hawks’ Antti Niemi. Ant, as his teammates refer to him as, is only owned in 23% of Yahoo! Leagues right now, a number that should be and will be much higher very soon. If you’re in a league where he is available on the wire and you own Carey Price or Chris Osgood, make the move already! Niemi’s numbers are amongst the best in the NHL, with or without the required amount of games played for some of the stats to count. The Hawks clearly are not confident that Cristobal Huet can win them a Cup. Niemi may be the man who is there come playoff time. Get him now.
My must-drop player of the week: Nathan Horton of the Florida Panthers. Fractured tibia is the early prognosis on Horton who went down with the devastating injury Thursday night. He was leading the Panthers in scoring before the injury, and with him going down, the Panthers’ season may not be far behind it. He will need six weeks of recovery time, although nearly three weeks of that will be taken up by the Olympic break. Look for Andy MacDonald as a possible replacement. He has been putting up some solid numbers and consistent play in the past two weeks.
For fantasyhockey.com, I’m Tim Arnold, the fantasypuckdude