Contributed by Philip Barrington
Watching the Olympic hockey tournament was a treat for me and hopefully a treat for all of you hockey fans out there. I must say even though the Americans lost the gold medal, they should be proud of the tremendous effort that they displayed during the tournament. Congrats to Canada for winning the gold medal, and it was certainly was a tournament that many hockey fans will not forget. Now as we head towards the home stretch, fantasy owners need to start thinking about the latest developments in the Western Conference.
The Ducks traded Vesa Toskala to the Calgary Flames, which should be good news for Jonas Hiller fantasy owners. This is a clear sign that Hiller will play most of the remaining games down the stretch and considering how he played for Switzerland during the Olympics, I think it is safe to say that the Ducks are in good hands. Corey Perry is the hottest Duck at this present time with11 points in his last 10 games. His confidence is still high after scoring some key goals for Team Canada, so ensure that he is in your lineup. Bobby Ryan also has five points in his last six games and it looks like he is ready to get on a roll down the stretch. Watch out for Jason Blake, who has three points in his last four games. He is starting to look comfortable with his new linemates and with the Ducks in a fight to make the playoffs, look for Blake to be a motivated down the stretch. Keep him in your lineup because he is a nice depth forward to have in your lineup. The Ducks also traded for Lubomir Visnovsky, who will receive significant time on the power play and is very apt at making a quick first pass. I think Visnovsky could have a big impact for the Ducks down the stretch, and the only thing that would hold him back would be his own motivation. Also on the defense, Scott Niedermayer has eight points in his last seven games, but he has still been troublesome for fantasy owners this season with an uncharacteristic (-19) rating.
It looks like Jarome Iginla has finally returned. With ten points in his last six games, Iginla is finally producing at a level that fantasy owners are accustomed to seeing from him. It looks like he is starting to develop some chemistry with Matt Stajan who has six points in his last six games. Stajan looks comfortable playing beside Iggy, so I would say that fantasy owners will be happy with their production down the stretch. Nicklas Hagman was expected to solidify the second line but he has been cold recently with one point in his last five games. Hagman has not benefitted to date in Calgary and I anticipate that he will continue to struggle down the stretch. Do not pick up Christopher Higgins! While the Flames will argue that he could rejuvenate his game in Calgary, he has not been able to find his game in the past two years. This also drops David Moss down on the depth chart, so now is the time to stay away from Higgins and Moss.
Patrick Kane continues his strong play with a current eight-game point streak. Current projections suggest he should finish the season with 93 points. He looks like he will continue to play well down the stretch. Duncan Keith continues to emerge as a legitimate top five fantasy defenceman. With a six-game point streak, Keith is currently on pace to score 72 points, by far his highest single-season total. Ride him for the rest of the season because the Hawks have been scoring goals in bunches and it seems that Keith is consistently in the middle of all of those goals. Jonathan Toews might be the hottest Blackhawk right now with eight points in his last five games. I would say that Toews and Kane are getting along just fine despite playing against each other in the gold medal game. While all of this is a positive for the Hawks, goaltending is a huge concern at this present time. Cristobal Huet was pulled from yet another game on Sunday against Detroit and Antti Niemi had to finish the contest. If I am a Huet fantasy owner, I have to be pretty worried at this point. Huet is overplaying his angles along with his tendency to let in one bad goals at inopportune times. Niemi has been the better goalie to date and the most consistent, so it looks like he may start to reach the bulk of the starts down the stretch. Fantasy owners need to have both goalies on their team because the Hawks will win a majority of their games down the stretch, but now might be the time to seriously starting looking for other goaltenders on the waiver wire if you own Huet.
The Avs traded away Wojtek Wolski, but the emergence of Chris Stewart made it a much easier decision for the team. With 24 goals this season and scoring seven points in his last three games, Stewart has established himself as a legitimate top six forward in the Avs’ lineup. Although Milan Hedjuk is a fixture on the top line, Stewart could be making a strong case for a promotion. All of this is good news for Stewart fantasy owners. Matt Duchene may not be as hot as Stewart, but he does have three points in his last three games. It does not look like fatigue is affecting the 19-year-old, which is good news for fantasy owners at this point in the season. Peter Mueller is now an Avs forward and while he has struggled this season, he might benefit from a fresh start. He will not be relied on as much to score offensively as he was in Phoenix, so it might be the jolt that he needs to get his game going down the stretch. I would not suggest that fantasy owners pick him up now, but they should monitor his progress in the next few Avs games.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Antoine Vermette has been the hottest Blue Jackets forward with six points in his last six games. He is currently on pace to score 60 points but if this streak continues, Vermette could be line to set career highs in goals and points. Ride him while he is on this current streak. Rick Nash has not recorded a point in his last two games, but I would not worry if I am a fantasy owner, treating this as a minor blip in a long season. I would worry if I am a Kristian Huselius fantasy owner. With no points in his last two games, a prolonged slump that is customary in his play could occur. You may consider benching him until he wakes up but you never know with this forward. Jakub Voracek has played well lately with eight points in his last six games. The young forward is not showing any signs of fatigue to date so this should be good news for his fantasy owners.
Marty Turco continues to struggle and has seen his GAA rise to 2.75. With the Stars fighting for a playoff spot, head coach Marc Crawford is simply riding whichever goaltender is hot. Kari Lehtonen received the start against the Penguins and gave up six goals. It looks like the carousel will continue, which is not a good sign for Turco fans. For now, it looks the goaltending duties will be shared amongst Lehtonen and Turco. Even though Brad Richards did not go to the Olympics, he continues his strong play with eight points in his last seven games. Richards will be relied on heavily to score and so far he is answering the call, which is good news for fantasy owners. James Neal might be cooling off a bit with one point in his last five games. Neal has set career highs in points and goals, but now that he is being relied on offensively, fantasy owners need to watch and see if his play starts to significantly drop as the fantasy season winds down.
Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard will be the Red Wings goaltender down the stretch. Howard has been solid this season, but realize that he could give up three or more goals on some nights. It looks like Pavel Datsyuk is finally producing at a level that is justifying fantasy owners’ high selection of this forward. With points in nine of his last ten games, Datsyuk is heating up and now is the time to ride him as he attempts to help the Wings make the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg has also been doing his part recently with five points in his last three games. Nicklas Lidstrom has also been rejuvenated lately with seven points in his last six games. If Johan Franzen is available in your league, pick him up right away. He has missed a significant chunk of the season but he played well during the Olympic tournament and since his return from the injury, he has picked up five points in seven games since returning from injury. He is a solid number 3 or 4 forward, and he his presence opens up the ice for Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.
Dustin Penner has cooled significantly from his hot start with only one point in his last five games. He does not seem to be getting as many chances as he did earlier in the season, so you might have to consider benching him from time to time and playing him in matchups where the Oilers have a chance to score. Sam Gagner has also cooled as well with only two points in his last five games. He is a solid player but you might want to consider other options in your league if you are in the marker for an offensive player. Ryan Whitney is a solid addition, and expect him to receive significant time in 5 on 5 situations and on the power plays. While the supporting cast in Edmonton is not as good as in Anaheim, Whitney will probably get more chances to contribute offensively than he was getting in Anaheim.
Drew Doughty was Canada’s number one defenceman during the Olympic tournament as was relied on heavily during the goal medal game. Riding that wave of confidence, Doughty has returned and he has picked up four points in his last three games. He was playing well before the break, but I anticipate that he will continue to be a force down the stretch. You need to have him in your starting lineup for the rest of the fantasy season. Dustin Brown has not scored in his last four games, which is not a good sign for fantasy owners. With Ryan Smyth picking up three points in three games, Brown will probably be dropped down to the second line. Brown is a solid player but it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to his reduced role. Alexander Frolov has four points in three games and he is showing signs that he wanted to receive more significant minutes. This is good news for fantasy owners because it is a clear sign that Frolov will be motivated to score down the stretch. Jonathan Quick has developed into a solid goaltender. He should receive the bulk of the starts for the rest of the season, and he could be in line for winning as many as 40 to 45 wins this season.
Guillaume Latendresse has been a pleasant surprise this season. With seven goals in his last nine games, Latendresse is on pace for 27 goals this season, but he has an outside chance of reaching 30 goals this season. He is really emerging as a goal scorer and his rise is similar to Alex Burrows, who also emerged as a legitimate 25 to 30 goal scorer. Mikko Koivu continues to be a force for the Wild with seven points in his last six games. However, he is not the only Wild player that is on a hot streak, as Andrew Brunette has scored five points in his last five games. Brunette is not a flashy player but he gets the job done and for fantasy owners, he continues to be a solid contributor in your lineup. While Nicklas Backstrom gave up four goals against Calgary, Backstrom was playing extremely well for the Wild since his return from the Olympics with a 0.48 GAA in his previous two games. Backstrom will receive most of the starts down the stretch as the Wild try to make nab a playoff spot, and his strong play after the break is a good sign to fantasy owners that he is up to the challenge that is currently in front of him.
Jason Arnott is back to scoring points for the Predators, with nine points in his last ten games. Arnott owners will be glad that he is currently scoring right now so insert him into your lineup. Quietly Martin Erat has picked up five points in his last five games and he is now leading the team in scoring with 40 points. Erat is benefitting from the resurgence of Arnott; ensure that he is in your lineup. Patric Hornqvist had a goal taken away from him on Sunday by a brilliant save by Roberto Luongo, but it still does not hide the fact that he has only picked up two assists in his last nine games. Nashville is in dire need of goal scorers, so Hornqvist will not lose his spot on the power play or on the first or second line. However, fantasy owners need to be aware of Hornqvist’s struggles and may want to bench him for the time being until he shows signs of turning things around.
Wojtek Wolski makes his way to the desert after being traded away from Colorado, and he has immediately made an impact with three points in two games with his new club. He finds himself on a line with Shane Doan, who has picked up only one point in his last four games. The hope is that Wolski will develop some newfound chemistry with Doan, and I personally believe that along with Matthew Lombardi, this line has the potential to be a very good line for the Coyotes. I anticipate big things down the stretch from these three players if that can all get on the same page. Lee Stempniak arrives in the desert to solidify the second line and so far the results have been good with two points in his last two games. Stempniak is surrounded by a better cast and he will be given every opportunity to contribute offensively. Pick him up if you are looking for a depth forward because he will be motivated now that he is in the midst of helping the Coyotes secure a playoff spot.
San Jose Sharks
Dan Boyle may have only one point in his last four games, but he had numerous opportunities to score multiple points in the Montreal game on Thursday. I would not worry if I am a Boyle owner, as the points will start rolling in the upcoming days. I was not impressed with Joe Thornton’s performance during the Olympics, but the guy knows how to score in the regular season. With 13 points in his last 14 games, Big Joe is on a major roll. Dany Heatley is also on a considerable roll with 12 points in his last 11 games. Evgeni Nabokov may have a 2.26 GAA but after giving up 6 goals in Russia’s loss to Team Canada in the quarterfinals, I wonder how Nabokov will respond in the next couple of weeks. So far he has looked good, so it might be a sign to fantasy owners that Nabokov has put that loss behind him. Joe Pavelski is another player who has struggled mightily with just three points in his last ten games. I would stick with Pavelski because he is still the second line center and will be given every opportunity to break out of his slumber.
St. Louis Blues
TJ Oshie has currently scored six points in his last four games, and he leads the team in scoring. He has played well lately and if you are looking for a depth forward, he might be a nice addition to your lineup. Andy McDonald continues his strong play after the Olympic break and has picked up five points in his last six games. McDonald scored his 20th goal in his last game and he has an outside chance of reaching the 30-goal mark, which would be a pleasant surprise for many fantasy owners, considering his early struggles at the beginning of the NHL season. Let’s face it: Brad Boyes has had a disappointing season. However, with three points in his last three games, it might be a sign that he might finish the season on a high note. Put him back into your lineup if you had benched him for the time being.
Ryan Kesler is currently riding a nine-game point streak, but what has been most impressive is the fact that Kesler has been a factor offensively without a dominant forward on his wings. Pick up Pavol Demitra if he is available in your league. Out of all of the stars at the Olympics, Demitra led the tournament in scoring. He is picked up from where he left off with points in seven of his last eight games. He definitely looks like he is healthy and has an extra spring in his step, so I would anticipate Demitra being a consistent scorer down the stretch. Mikael Samuelsson has picked up goals in each of his last three games. He is currently on pace to score 30 goals, and he has definitely been a nice surprise for fantasy owners and the Canucks. Roberto Luongo was lit up in Chicago on Friday, but he rebounded with some some key saves in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Nashville. He will continue to receive the bulk of the starts down the stretch, so make sure you ride him every time the Canucks play this season.
Well, that is all for now. Good luck down the stretch!