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Hockey: Points to be found below the top lines

Yahoo Sports

To be successful at fantasy hockey, you must be part P.T. Barnum and part Marie Curie. It also doesn't hurt to have a little patience.

The P.T. Barnum mentality helps you cope with the continuous circus act that can be an NHL coach's incessant juggling of lines. If you thought dealing with an NFL coach like Dan Reeves who can't settle on one running back for an entire quarter was tough, just try owning players under an NHL head coach who juggles lines like bowling pins in a two-bit comedy act.

Just when you think your players have found their stride, they find themselves adjusting to life on a new line. That's were it helps to have a Marie Curie-like understanding of chemistry. Coaches tinker with lines in hopes of finding the perfect match of personalities and styles.

When that match is found, a coach has found his chemistry and a fantasy owner has his or her opportunity. As fantasy owners, we can only hope that a coach will stick with his newfound combinations long enough for us to reap some benefits in our league standings.

Patience, as the saying goes, is also a virtue in fantasy hockey. Take a look at the top 10 goal scorers in the NHL. On the list, only three have yet to suffer through a five-game goal-scoring drought. Two of them, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk, have four-game streaks without a goal entering Monday's action.

When you own a struggling yet proven scorer such as Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars, you must keep him on your roster through a scoring drought. In a rotisserie league, store a frustrated scorer on your bench. In head-to-head leagues that feature no games-played limits, go ahead and start them on a daily basis. You've got nothing to lose.

Last week I took a look at some NBA players worthy of a 10-day look on your roster. Today, I'm building a few fictional NHL lines using some of the hottest players in the league who have yet to garner universal fantasy attention. While you don't want to part with a perennial All-Star based on a slow start, the 15th or 16th spot on your roster can be used as a rotating roster position until you find that long-term fantasy producer.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Smolinski, Todd White, Karel Rachunek
Ottawa is one of those teams that may be too good for fantasy hockey. The Senators are second in the league in goals but have no individual players in the top 10 in goals or assists. By contrast, Washington features Sergei Gonchar, who leads the league in assists, and Robert Lang, the NHL's top scorer.

The Caps are better than only Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Sens may well make good on Daniel Alfredsson's promise to bring the Stanley Cup to Canada's capital. The key to Ottawa's success is depth, and depth doesn't translate into much in fantasy sports. We'd just assume have the leading scorer on a loser than share the wealth on a title contender.

But there is fantasy value in Ottawa. Smolinski, available in more than 80 percent of Yahoo! Sports fantasy leagues, is one of the hottest players in fantasy hockey. Entering Sunday's game, he had a point in seven of his last eight games (three goals, seven assists). Based on his career numbers and his position on Ottawa's third line, he'll always be a short-term add. Better ride him while he's hot, though.

Where have you been, Todd White? After scoring 60 points in 2003, White was a player to watch this season. What we watched, however, was his exodus to the waiver wire after posting only 12 points through December. White, now owned in only 41 percent of leagues, is riding a four-game scoring streak and has five points through five January starts.

Another underachiever when measured against expectations has been Rachunek, who you'll find available in roughly 60 percent of leagues. He won't approach Gonchar- or Rob Blake-like numbers, but his recent streak of six points in eight games is more representative of his skills than the three points he recorded through November.

Montreal Canadiens: Michael Ryder, Saku Koivu, Mike Ribeiro
If you do one thing in your hockey league this week, check on the availability of Ryder. Show me an NHL rookie who is not at least temporarily overwhelmed by the speed of the game and I'll show you a 66 or 99 on their back.

Ryder wears a unique number (73) but was not immune to the NHL's adjustment period. Through December, he had a modest 21 points in 39 games. Those numbers are respectable by NHL standards but hardly worthy of fantasy attention.

Entering the New Year, Ryder was available in more than 90 percent of leagues. That, of course, was before he ushered in 2004 with a 10-point binge in his first five games. If you don't think this guy is the real deal, let someone else in your league sign him and see where he goes from here.

Koivu, available in almost 40 percent of leagues, represents more than a sentimental pick in fantasy leagues this year. Since Dec. 1, he's on a streak of 18 points in his last 19 games. You can expect roughly a point per game for the remainder of the season from Koivu.

Ribeiro has caught fire of late and could add some value to the fantasy wasteland often known as the left wing position. Ribeiro scores points in bunches, and he's currently on a streak of seven points in his past five games. He's available in almost 50 percent of leagues and merits a look for anyone desperate for left-wing production.

Atlanta Thrashers: Ronald Petrovicky
Of late, Petrovicky has been a one-man line – a scorer and an enforcer rolled into one.

Remember when career tough guy Chris Simon exploded for 29 goals in 1999-2000? Well, a similar transformation appears to be underway in Atlanta, where Ronald Petrovicky has gone from checking-line staple to sniper in a period of 10 games.

After enduring a six-game pointless streak in December, Petrovicky exploded for seven goals and eight points in his team's last 10 games. As a bonus, he added a fantasy-friendly 28 penalty minutes over that same span. Simon, who has seven goals on the season, is owned in four times more leagues than Petrovicky, who has 14 goals.

In hockey more than any other fantasy sport, activity is rewarded. Last week while Brian Boucher was in the midst of setting a modern-day record with five straight shutouts, he was owned in roughly 35 percent of leagues. During that same stretch of games, Andy Delmore, who has not played since Nov. 29, was owned in 40 percent of leagues.

Not exactly a flattering endorsement of the typical fantasy hockey owner, but certainly a signal that a Winners League invitation is out there to be claimed. Take a look at your available player list and sort stats by the last week or month. Chances are you'll find a few free agents that can help you on the road to that elusive league title.

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