Lombardi Trophy (Prucha, Upshall)

March 31, 2009
Matthew Lombardi is no longer a Flame, but he's on fire for his new squad

Matthew Lombardi is no longer a Flame, but he's on fire for his new squad.

I’m here to talk Phoenix Coyotes hockey.

Before you ask if I’m on crack click away in avoidance of boredom, consider the Yotes’ upcoming schedule: at the Colorado Avalanche (4/1), vs. the Los Angeles Kings (4/2), and at Los Angeles (4/4).

The Avalanche need no introduction: They rank 29th in goals allowed per game (3.22). The Kings (2.81) rank 14th, but lately they’ve been softer, losing four of their last five and surrendering four goals in three of those losses.

Phoenix, by contrast, has lit it up. Last night, the Coyotes went to town in their 6-5 win vs. the Dallas Stars. In their last seven games, the Coyotes have scored 24 goals, never tallying fewer than two in a single contest during that span. The first line of C Matthew Lombardi, RW Scottie Upshall, and LW Petr Prucha has kicked it like this:

The last seven games

Lombardi: four goals, three assists, +4, eight PIM, 23 shots on goal

Upshall: two goals, four assists, +1, 10 PIM, 22 shots on goal

Prucha: two goals, four assists, +1, two PIM, 16 shots on goal

All three players are available in more than 93 percent of both Yahoo! and ESPN leagues.

Interestingly, the Coyotes obtained all three at the trade deadline in separate deals; at the time, NHL.com’s Darren Pang penned a sagacious piece praising the Coyotes for the moves. Three weeks later, the results are showing on the ice. Now the 14th-place Coyotes have a reason to believe in 2009-10.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Glengarry Glencross (Moss, Lundmark, Vandermeer)

March 29, 2009
Calgary Flames LW Curtis Glencross is a sneaky Monday night starter

Calgary Flames LW Curtis Glencross is a sneaky Monday night starter.

I smell a breakout for the Calgary Flames at home vs. the San Jose Sharks on Monday night.

It seems like a strange prediction. After all, prior to last night’s 3-2 home win vs. the Minnesota Wild, the Flames had not scored in their two previous games at Columbus (a 5-0 loss on 3/26) and at Pittsburgh (a 2-0 loss on 3/25).

Moreover, despite last night’s victory, the Flames have not scored on their last 16 power play opportunities.

So why am I optimistic? For one thing, the Flames have kept the shots coming. Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots; the next night, Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason stopped 33 shots; last night, Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped 37 shots, including a whopping 18 of 20 in the first period.

Now here come the Sharks, having lost three straight road games, sauntering into Calgary for a Monday night clash. The last time these teams played in Calgary, on January 6, the Flames won 5-2. Flames RW David Moss tallied one goal and one assist, as did Flames LW Curtis Glencross.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Sharks’ destruction of the Flames 6-1 on November 13 in San Jose — the only other time the teams have played this season. Let us note, though, that Glencross assisted on the lone Flames goal in that contest.

So what can the fantasy owner expect Monday night? I would earmark four Flames for the game: Moss and Glencross, certainly, as well as defenseman Jim Vandermeer, who leads all players in penalty minutes (61) in the last month. I’d also snag center Jamie Lundmark, who has five goals and three assists in his last eight games, not to mention +5 and seven PIMs.

All four Flames are available in more than 93 percent of both ESPN and Yahoo! leagues. Any member of this quartet will help you maximize your squad’s Monday night output. And remember: Flames-Sharks is one of only three Monday games. The other two — New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers and Dallas Stars at Phoenix Coyotes — are downright drowsy by comparison.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Craig Anderson: Your last resort if you own Kiprusoff or certain Blackhawks personnel (Anderson, Vokoun, Kiprusoff, Huet, Khabibulin)

March 27, 2009
Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson is a backup, but if you need help in goalkeeper categories, he may be your only hope.

Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson is a backup, but if you need help in your goalie categories, he may be your only hope.

Fantasy owners, I feel your pain.

You have fewer than 10 games left, and you need help in net.

Your current goalies are not getting it done, either because they play for the Chicago Blackhawks (27 goals allowed in their last seven games) or because they can’t get it up for regular-season foreplay (see Calgary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who has allowed 31 goals in his last nine games).

To whom can you turn?

The Genius recommends Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson (13-6-5, .925, 2.72, three shutouts), fresh off last night’s 40-save effort in an impressive 4-2 road win at the Philadelphia Flyers.

Yes, Anderson is the backup to Tomas Vokoun (23-22-6, .925, 2.49, six shutouts). But here’s what we know about this situation:

(1) Vokoun is 0-2-1 this week, lowlighted by the Panthers’ 5-3 road loss at the Buffalo Sabres, in which Vokoun stopped 40 out of 44 shots (the Sabres added an empty netter).

(2) Anderson has played superbly in stretches this season. In seven games in November, when he was subbing for the slumping Vokoun, he posted a 3-0-3 mark with a 1.44 GAA, .959 save percentage and two shutouts.

I’m not saying Anderson is going to take over the job. I am saying that if you pick him up — and he is available in 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues and 92 percent of ESPN leagues — he will likely add one or two wins (and perhaps even a shutout) to your goalie stats.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


So long, Travis, it’s been swell (Zajac, Lundmark, Handzus, Kopitar, Justin Williams, Stamkos, Gagner)

March 25, 2009
Calgary Flames center Jamie Lundmark (four goals, two assists, +4, seven PIMs in his last five games) is finally displaying his first-round pedigree.

Calgary Flames center Jamie Lundmark (four goals, two assists, +4, seven PIMs in his last five games) is finally displaying his first-round pedigree.

New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac’s last four games:

Zero goals, zero assists, a +/- of exactly zero, zero penalty minutes, and four shots on goal (one in each game).

So, like the headline says: So long, Travis. It’s been swell. You earned your money.

You might think it’s a hasty goodbye for a bona fide No. 2 center like Zajac, who ranks 17th among all centers and whose astonishing +36 ranks first.

You might also think it’s a hasty goodbye for a center who — in the four games prior to his recent drought — notched two goals, three assists, + 5, and 12 shots on goal.

Just remember: This is not real hockey. This is fantasy hockey. And there are 10-12 games left. If you’re trying to win your league, you no longer have the time to endure the cold streaks of non-elite talent like Zajac — especially at an incredibly deep position like center, where there are, by my count, four red-hot (and widely available) alternatives:

1. Jamie Lundmark, Calgary Flames (99 percent available in Yahoo! leagues, 100 percent available in ESPN leagues). A former first-round pick — ninth overall in 1999 — Lundmark has tallied four goals, two assists, +4, and seven PIMs in his last five games. Might he finally have “figured it out” at age 28?

2. Michal Handzus, Los Angeles Kings (97 percent available in Yahoo!, 97 percent in ESPN). After scoring goals in three straight games — in addition to his March 5 hat trick at home vs. the Dallas Stars — the Kings promoted Handzus to the first line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Granted: Handzus has no points in his last two games. But expect some productivity in the next three: at Dallas (3/26), at the Nashville Predators (3/28), and home vs. Dallas (3/31).

3. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (75 percent available in Yahoo!, 42.5 percent in ESPN). Since our March 20 entry in praise of Stamkos, the 19-year-old has registered a two-goal game (vs. the Atlanta Thrashers on March 21) and a two-assist game (vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 24). Stamkos now has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in his last 13 games.

4. Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers (70 percent available in Yahoo!, 90.3 percent in ESPN). In his last 11 games, Gagner has eight goals and seven assists. Moreover, Gagner has at least one point in nine of those 11 games. The sixth overall pick in 2007, the 19-year-old Gagner has shaken free from his season-long sophomore slump.

***

Let me add this final note of encouragement, to all owners who might be on the fence about dropping a trusty veteran like Zajac for a young hotshot like Gagner or Stamkos: It is a universal fantasy truth that your knowledge of any player increases exponentially after you have owned that player for a period of time. Spending a few weeks now with Gagner or Stamkos will help you immensely when it’s time to prepare for next season’s draft.

And trust me: Gagner and Stamkos will figure prominently in next season’s draft.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The fantasy gem of New Jersey (47-21-3) at Boston (45-17-10) — Kobasew…plus Iginla, Lucic, Krejci, Thomas, Clemmensen, Langenbrunner, Elias, Wideman, Savard, Salvador

March 22, 2009
Quietly, as the Boston Bruins have slumped, right wing Chuck  Kobasew has displayed signs of life.

Quietly, as the Boston Bruins have slumped, right wing Chuck Kobasew has played like a No. 2 fantasy RW.

Scan the preview, study stats, watch game highlights, try all you like: It’s tough finding patterns in the three Bruins-Devils games that have taken place this season (the Devils lead the series 2-1).

On December 23, the Bruins prevailed 2-0 on goals by LW Milan Lucic and an empty netter by C David Krejci. Bruins G Tim Thomas stopped 25 shots. Devils G Scott Clemmensen stopped 23 of 24.

It was a different game entirely January 29, when the Devils prevailed 4-3 in OT in Boston. This time, Clemmensen defeated Thomas and the Devils outshot Boston 30-27.  RW Jamie Langenbrunner scored twice for the Devils, with LW Patrik Elias and LW Zach Parise notching the other New Jersey goals. For the Bruins, the goal scorers were D Dennis Wideman, C Marc Savard, and RW Chuck Kobasew.

Now, what would a fantasy hockey owner observe about all of the above names? Simply this: among them, only Kobasew  is not a highly owned fantasy entity.

In the third game — at New Jersey on February 13 — the Devils won 1-0, with Clemmensen again defeating Thomas. The thing is, the Bruins fired 31 shots on goal, while the Devils launched only 18. D Bryce Salvador, a fantasy nonentity, scored the only goal.

The point of recapping all three games is simply to illustrate this: If you’re looking for an under-the-radar fantasy scorer in Sunday’s Devils-Bruins clash (3:00 p.m. EDT) based on recent history, Kobasew (seven percent owned in Yahoo! leagues, five percent in ESPN leagues),  is the closest thing.

Moreover, in Kobasew’s last 18 games, he has eight goals, four assists and 17 PIMs. No, you won’t confuse him with Jarome Iginla. But if you need a weekend scoring burst from an under-owned RW, Kobasew just might be your guy. Among all right wings in the last month, he ranks 27th. That makes him a No. 2 RW in most leagues — someone well worth rolling the dice on if you’re looking for fantasy action in the weekend’s biggest game.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


A prodigy in proper context (Stamkos, Crosby, Kane, Erik Johnson, Marleau, Gomez)

March 20, 2009
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (six goals, five assists in his last 11 games) is finally playing like a man worthy of a fantasy roster spot.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (six goals, five assists in his last 11 games) is finally playing like a man worthy of a fantasy roster spot.

The first overall pick in 2008, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos disappointed fantasy owners who speculated he’d produce rookie numbers like those of a certain previous top-pick center:

In 2005-06, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (the first overall pick in 2005) notched 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists), not to mention 110 PIMs, 47 power play points, and 278 shots on goal. Crosby was 18 years old at the time.

It’s far more flattering to Stamkos if we compare him to the next two top overall picks: St. Louis Blues D Erik Johnson (2006) and Chicago Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane (2007).

Johnson (ACL, MCL) is out for the season. After spending what might have been his rookie campaign at the University of Minnesota, Johnson had a decent debut in 2007-08: five goals and 28 assists in 69 games. Our point here is simple: Johnson, gifted though he is, didn’t exactly stop the world and melt the ice.

Kane, by contrast, has excelled from day one. He tallied 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 82 games as a rookie; this season, Kane has lived up to his billing as a No. 1 RW: 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) in 67 games. No wonder Kane is a universally owned fantasy gem.

And so at last, we return to Stamkos: 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 68 games. It still seems disappointing.

But if we view Stamkos’ stats through a more recent prism, his production verges on the point-per-game we’ve seen from Kane:

Stamkos’ last 28 games: 12 goals, 10 assists

Stamkos’ last 19 games: 10 goals, seven assists

Stamkos’ last 11 games: six goals, five assists

What does all of this mean for fantasy purposes? It depends on how deep your team is at center. Clearly, if Stamkos keeps up his late-season production, he has value to any roster as a No. 2 center.

Of course, if your No. 2 center is already someone like Patrick Marleau, Stamkos is not worth the +/- risk. But if your No. 2 center is an assists-and-shots-but-nothing-else guy like Scott Gomez, why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old phenom?

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


A fighting forecast for Thursday (O’Brien, Backes, Montador, Lucic)

March 18, 2009
Vancouver Canucks D Shane O'Brien is due to rack up some penalty minutes in Thursday night's home game vs. the St. Louis Blues

Vancouver Canucks D Shane O'Brien is due to rack up some penalty minutes in Thursday night's home game vs. the St. Louis Blues.

It’s that time of year — roughly 13 games left — when fantasy owners have to take things one category at a time.

For example, if your team leads comfortably in +/- but is in a tight race for 3rd in PIMs, it might be time to drop some of your better +/- players for a pugilist.

Pugilists in fantasy hockey are like stolen-base specialists in fantasy baseball: they are always available. Everything depends on your team’s ability to weather their mediocrity in other categories.

If you need penalty minutes, you have three superb Thursday night options:

1. Shane O’Brien, D, Vancouver Canucks (83.8 percent available in ESPN leagues, 78 percent available in Yahoo! leagues). The league leader by a wide margin in defensemen PIMs, O’Brien is widely available to any owner who would have him. And get this: he has no PIMs in his last five games. I believe he’s due for a Thursday night fight when the Canucks host the St. Louis Blues (10:00 pm EDT).

2. David Backes, RW, St. Louis Blues (63 percent available in ESPN, 53 percent available in Yahoo!). We’ve lauded Backes in this space before. How is a right wing with six goals and four assists in his last seven games so widely available? All this from a guy with 153 PIMs too (ranking ninth). Might he end up trading fists with O’Brien?

3. Steve Montador, D, Boston Bruins (84 percent available in ESPN, 56 percent available in Yahoo!). In his last three games, Montador has skated between 17-19 minutes. Hosting the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night (7:00 pm EDT), the slumping Bruins (6-9-3 in their last 18 games) may look to rile up the home crowd with some first-period fisticuffs. With 129 PIMs this season — second only to O’Brien among defensemen — Montador is a prime candidate for action. So is LW Milan Lucic (102 PIMs), who is 49 percent available in ESPN leagues and 54 percent available in Yahoo! leagues.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons