NHL Skinny: Just win, baby

GOALIE HOT SEAT

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS RED HOT
1st Chair: Steve Mason(notes)
2nd Chair: (1a) Mathieu Garon(notes)
Skinny: It’s win-and-stay-in time in Columbus. Coach Ken Hitchcock met with both goalies Monday to announce the change. Garon gets the first shot, taking on the Coyotes to start the week. The policy makes Garon a must-own for Mason owners, but Jackets goalies are a matchup play at best these days, and it’s important to remember that coaches don’t always follow these mandates. For what it’s worth, Mason had little chance on the three goals he allowed in four minutes Saturday.


ANAHEIM DUCKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jonas Hiller(notes)
2nd Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes)
Skinny: Advantage, Hiller. After allowing at least three goals in seven consecutive starts, the 27-year-old won three straight, surrendering a total of five goals. Anaheim plays road games on back-to-back nights beginning Tuesday, so it would be a surprise if Giguere didn’t get a chance to regain some of the momentum he appeared to be building in late November.


DETROIT RED WINGS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jimmy Howard(notes)
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood(notes)
Skinny: Howard’s December ratios (2.00, .930) look better than his record (4-3). He still owns a significant work split advantage over Osgood, who has started only three December games (1-1-1). Not much is being made of this controversy of late, and that’s testament to just how effective Howard has been. Detroit’s pattern in recent seasons has been to ramp up Ozzie’s workload heading into the playoffs. Of course, as of Monday morning, the Red Wings aren’t a playoff team.


TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Smith(notes)
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki(notes)
Skinny: Expect more of the same: Tampa Bay doing everything it can to allow Smith (2.94, .906 in Dec.) to establish himself as a reliable No. 1 while giving Niittymaki (3.25, .877 in Dec.) the occasional start. You’ve seen the numbers. If you’re chasing wins here, you’re losing out in the long run.


TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jonas Gustavsson(notes)
2nd Chair: Vesa Toskala(notes)
Skinny: Gustavsson got his first career shutout Saturday, earning a second straight start Monday against the Leafs. His return from a second heart procedure comes just as Toskala hit another bump in the road. After a 4-1 streak mid-month, Toskala allowed four and five goals in consecutive starts against Phoenix and at Buffalo.


BOSTON BRUINS RED HOT
1st Chair: Tim Thomas(notes)
2nd Chair: Tuukka Rask(notes)
Skinny: Rask’s numbers are getting harder to ignore by the day. The big backstop hasn’t regressed at all in December, posting a 1.81 GAA and .942 save pct. in three starts (four games). The Bruins clearly want to see Thomas regain his No. 1 form, but we’re now talking about a guy who enters play Monday winless in four straight with back-to-back wins only twice on the season. Rask (57-percent owned) is a must-add in all formats.


WASHINGTON CAPITALS HOT
1st Chair: Jose Theodore(notes)
2nd Chair: Semyon Varlamov(notes), Michal Neuvirth(notes)
Skinny: Varlamov is targeting a Dec. 30 return from a groin injury, according to the Washington Post. Theodore is 2-2 since the injury and could get all three starts before Varlamov’s potential return.


NASHVILLE PREDATORS HOT
1st Chair: Pekka Rinne(notes)
2nd Chair: Dan Ellis(notes)
Skinny: The Preds are streaking again and unlike their November hot stretch, both goalies are benefiting this time. Ellis has three straight wins (one in relief) while Rinne has secured victory in three of five. Fantasy owners prefer their clear-cut No. 1s, but if you’re thin at the position the 14-percent owned Ellis makes a serviceable G3.


ATLANTA THRASHERS HOT
1st Chair: Ondrej Pavelec(notes)
2nd Chair: Johan Hedberg(notes)
Skinny: Pavelec has allowed five goals in three of four and at least four in six of eight. Hedberg is keeping the pressure on with a decent month (3-2, 2.19, .927). Atlanta is right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, so there are wins to be had here. But if you’re taking a shot on the 22-percent owned Hedberg, you’re investing in one of the most generous defenses in terms of shots allowed. It’s not a low-risk add.


MONTREAL CANADIENS WARM
1st Chair: Carey Price(notes)
2nd Chair: Jaroslav Halak(notes)
Skinny: Halak’s 40-save shutout Saturday earned him another start Monday. Price has dropped three straight (1 OTL), but his December splits remain acceptable (2.45, .918). No reason to panic here, but when you play the most scrutinized position in the sport (maybe all of sports), every little challenge is magnified.


NEW YORK ISLANDERS WARM
1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson(notes)
2nd Chair: Martin Biron(notes) (1a), Rick DiPietro(notes)
Skinny: DiPietro may be headed back to Bridgeport for another conditioning stint, according to Chris Botta’s Islanders blog. He’s reportedly not concerned about the leg tightness that forced him off the ice. The AHL trip would serve to knock the rust off before a return to NHL action.


PHILADELPHIA FLYERS WARM
1st Chair: Brian Boucher(notes)
2nd Chair: Ray Emery(notes), Michael Leighton(notes)
Skinny: Boucher’s ironman streak of eight straight starts hasn’t amounted to much fantasy-wise, as the Flyers are still in a collective funk. Philly has scored a total of eight goals in its last six games. That’s where the blame falls. Let’s hope things get worked out under Peter Laviolette by the time Emery returns in mid-January.


The NHL is kind enough to go dark for two days to give players a chance to spend the holidays at home. For fantasy owners, the break gives us at least 60 hours without any box scores to pore over. I’d say this allows us time to evaluate our rosters and create a plan of attack for 2010, but let’s face it, between spending time with family and agonizing over what to bring to the Fisher-Underwood engagement party, there just won’t be time.

I’m planning on a full disconnect … but if anyone in the Friends and Family league wants to pitch me a deal for a goal scorer, I’ll make the time to evaluate.

I hope you all enjoy a safe and eventful holiday season with your friends and families. Now let’s get Skinny …

The biggest fantasy news over the past few days can be found over there on the right, atop the goalie hot seat table. Steve Mason, the eighth goalie taken in the Yahoo! experts draft and the 14th netminder in Yahoo! ADP, has basically played himself out of the No. 1 job in Columbus.

Coach Ken Hitchcock informed his goalies Monday that a simple “win-and-stay-in” system would be implemented going forward. It’s not unusual for coaches to informally switch to win-and-play mode when searching for a hot hand, and it’s also not uncommon for such a system to be abandoned on a whim.

Actually sharing the news with the players involved – Mathieu Garon got the first start Monday – gives the process a little more legitimacy. Garon is trailing 3-0 to the Coyotes at press time, so we’ll likely see Mason on Wednesday in Dallas.

Hitchcock could very well reconsider things during the mandatory holiday break, but until he switches gears we have to use this news when setting daily lineups and of course Garon becomes a player of interest if he and the Jackets as a whole can heat up.

If you’re a Mason owner your marching orders for the goalie are pretty simple: “Just win, baby.” And really, Steve, you did it 33 times last year. It shouldn’t be that hard.

One-timers: Jakub Voracek(notes) has been elevated to Columbus’ No. 1 line. Kristian Huselius(notes) (five points in last 10) is a third-line checker, for now. … Another line shuffle: Steve Begin(notes) got some first-line duty Monday, lining up alongside Marc Savard(notes). … I don’t know what to say about the 22 percent of leagues where Andrei Markov(notes) is not rostered, but the Montreal defenseman returned Saturday with two goals in just over 20 minutes of ice time. … Simon Gagne(notes) had an assist Saturday in his return to the Flyers’ lineup. … Preds left wing Ryan Jones(notes) managed a four-game goal streak despite playing fewer than 10 minutes in two of the four.

It appears that Ryan Smyth(notes) is ahead of schedule in his injury rehab. Both he and Wayne Simmonds(notes) are expected to play when the Kings return from their eight-day break in the schedule. … David Backes(notes) (61-percent owned) scored twice Sunday and now has seven points in his last five. … Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom(notes) has assists in five straight games (seven total).

BARGAIN BIN: Available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Tyler Myers(notes), D, Buf (23-percent owned) – To a degree this has been the year of young defensemen in fantasy hockey. Guys like Jason Demers(notes), Michael Del Zotto(notes), Drew Doughty(notes) and Viktor Hedman have achieved various levels of success at a position notoriously hard on players just escaping their teens. The most consistent of late has been Myers, who won’t get a lot of headlines in upstate New York but deserves some fantasy attention anyway. Over the last month only three defensemen can match his total of 10 assists. You won’t get a lot of flash from Myers (just one puck on net in last three games), but when you’re talking about a D3 or 4 on your roster, you’re not looking for five-category gold. Sign him up and enjoy the boost in plus/minus and helpers, with the bonus power-play point mixed in.

Todd Bertuzzi(notes), RW/LW, Det (24-percent owned) – Can’t put much in print here to advance the endorsements previously published here and here. I recently scooped Bertuzzi for my Friends and Family entry and the returns so far (goal, two assists, 12 PIM in two) have been satisfying. Because there’s plenty of wear on the tires you really need a flexible roster position to sign Bertuzzi – you’re not sacrificing a sure thing when rostering this kind of injury risk.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Mason Raymond(notes), LW, Van – He’s been a good fit alongside Ryan Kesler(notes) and his recent production (five goals, three assists in last six) should play just fine in just about anyone’s LW2 slot. Going back a little further, Raymond has 15 points in his last 16 games.

Dan Sexton(notes), RW, Ana – With both Teemu Selanne(notes) and Joffrey Lupul(notes) sidelined, Sexton has been getting top-six run for the Ducks on a line with Bobby Ryan(notes) and Saku Koivu(notes). His four-game point streak from Dec. 8-16 included four goals, three assists and an eye-popping nine-shot performance against Marty Turco(notes) and the Stars (he scored twice). Not bad for a guy who started the season in the ECHL.

David Booth(notes), LW, Fla – Available in about 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Booth is a solid IR add and stash, particularly in deeper leagues where teams start three or more left wings. He hasn’t played since suffering a concussion Oct. 24 against the Flyers. While there still isn’t a firm timetable for a return to game action, he is back to light skating and is reportedly traveling with the team again. Booth was off to a slow start this year (three points in nine games) after posting career highs of 31 goals, 60 points and 11 power-play goals in 2008-09.

Patric Hornqvist(notes), RW, Nas – Hornqvist is streaky, so the value comes with an expiration date. But of all the hot Preds, he’s the one worth a roster spot. Ryan Jones (mentioned above) isn’t getting enough ice time and Marcel Goc(notes) (six points in three) is a fluke, but Hornqvist is a guy Nashville is counting on to score. Martin Erat(notes) (15 points in last 10 games) was mentioned here two weeks ago and remains rosterable.

Devin Setoguchi(notes), RW, SJ – He snapped out of a 10-game pointless drought Thursday with a goal and an assist and he’ll again line up on Joe Thornton’s(notes) wing Monday against Dallas. The Sharks will likely continue to shuffle their top six depending on matchups, but hopefully a short hot streak will lead to continued confidence regardless of line assignments.

Martin Havlat(notes), RW, Min – Havlat has probably burned everyone in your league at one time or another, which helps explain why someone of his immense talent is available in close to 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues. OK, so those probably aren’t the most competitive of leagues, but I have seen Havlat cast aside in some industry leagues, so there is some negative sentiment out there. For what it’s worth, he’s back in the lineup and has three goals and five assists in his last five games. Interested?

Drew Miller(notes), LW, Det – In case you haven’t noticed, the Red Wings have been a little snakebit in the injury department in 2009. With misfortune comes opportunity, however, which brings us to Miller, who has five points (two goals) in his last five games. Sometimes guys just kick around a while before finding the right fit. Miller remains a deep-league add right now, but he’s someone to monitor in all formats.

Chris Stewart(notes), RW, Col – The second-year wing scored again Monday, giving him goals in six of his last 10 games. Over the last month he’s the 8th ranked forward in standard formats, ranking just behind Jarome Iginla(notes).

Stephen Weiss(notes), C, Fla – Weiss was 44-percent owned when he was mentioned here two weeks ago. He’s now 61-percent owned, but that figure will likely jump again following Monday’s four point (goal, three assist) binge in Philadelphia.

Kevin Bieksa(notes), D, Van – His ice time is down and coach Alain Vigneault didn’t shy away from insinuating that the reduction was performance related.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
One of these weeks I’ll be able to report a first-place appearance for Team Romig, but until I win a game of Monday musical chairs, I’ll keep paying tribute to another owner, and this week it’s fellow Y! Scott Pianowski. Shutouts always move the needle and Pianow benefited from back-to-back shutouts from Cristobal Huet(notes). League-wide transactions involved Gilbert Brule(notes), Dmitry Kulikov(notes), Francois Beauchemin(notes), Steve Sullivan(notes) and Jeff Deslauriers, among others.