NHL Skinny: A New Year

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports
1st Chair: Chris Osgood
2nd Chair: Manny Legace
Skinny: Legace stopped 20 of 22 shots in his lone start with Grand Rapids of the AHL. His conditioning assignment over, he'll be with the Red Wings Tuesday when they host the Wild. As a winner of eight of nine December starts, Osgood won't be asked to step aside immediately. Legace should get a start as soon as coach Mike Babcock thinks he's physically ready, but Detroit will likely go with the hotter hand and that could be either guy at this point.
1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: David Aebischer
Skinny: Coach Joel Quenneville hasn't had a lot of good things to say about his goalies this season, so when he told the Rocky Mountain News that Budaj was "rock solid" Saturday, the words carried weight. Just one night earlier Aebischer had given up five goals in a loss to San Jose. Patrick Roy's former understudy has now given up 17 goals in his past eight-plus periods of play. It's a tenuous hold at best, but Budaj occupies the No. 1 chair now after Saturday's 30-save effort. If you're looking for Vitaly Kolesnik, he was returned to the minor leagues after the holiday roster freeze expired.
1st Chair: Ty Conklin
2nd Chair: Jussi Markkanen, Michael Morrison
Skinny: Conklin heard some boos Wednesday after allowing goals on the first two Minnesota shots he faced. Give him credit for stopping 19 of the next 20 shots, but the damage was done. Markkanen was given back-to-back starts to close the year, but he coughed up six goals Saturday in a 6-5 loss at Calgary. Coach Craig MacTavish has played hunches and ridden the hot goalie all season. Absent a hot backstop, we're left to predict his next hunch. Our guess is Conklin gets another shot.
1st Chair: Michael Garnett
2nd Chair: Kari Lehtonen
Skinny: Coach Bob Hartley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was "very happy" with the play of Lehtonen Friday. Playing for the first time in nearly 90 days, Lehtonen stopped 25 of 29 shots in a 4-1 loss at Buffalo. The coach had previously indicated that the rookie would start 95 percent of the team's game upon his return from multiple groin injuries. Will he stick to that plan? Maybe. First Lehtonen has to stay healthy. No guarantee there. He also has to perform. Atlanta was a mess in goal until Garnett earned the team 15 points in his lpast nine starts. The Thrashers are now just three points from a playoff spot, so they're less likely to suffer through poor play from Lehtonen.
1st Chair: Ryan Miller
2nd Chair: Martin Biron
Skinny: Both Buffalo goalies have a reason to play angry. Miller wasn't named to the U.S. Olympic team. He's 4-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average since learning of the snub. Miller would have loved to play for Team USA. Biron, he just wants to play for his own team. He broke Dominik Hasek's franchise records for consecutive wins, but now he's a backup. Coach Lindy Ruff hopes to keep both happy. He's not talking trade, he's talking about ways to keep both guys involved. "Maybe the reward for playing well is you play back-to-back," Ruff told the Buffalo News. Thanks Lindy, but what if Miller plays well every night? Biron owners should continue to pray for a trade.
1st Chair: Hannu Toivonen
2nd Chair: Andrew Raycroft
Skinny: Curiously, Raycroft is owned in 78 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Toivonen has been claimed in only 33 percent of leagues. Now fantasy owners can be forgiven for being lukewarm on Boston's goalie situation, but if you're going to own one of these guys, why not own the starter? Toivonen has started four of Boston's past five games, winning three while allowing a total of seven goals. In Raycroft's lone start, he allowed three goals on the first five shots he faced in a 6-4 loss at Florida. He has just two wins in his past 14 starts.
1st Chair: Curtis Sanford
2nd Chair: Jason Bacashihua
Skinny: Sanford is back after missing six games with a hip-flexor injury. He backed up Bacashihua Saturday, but got the call early in the first period and stopped 26 of 27 shots in an eventual loss. Bacashihua actually won three starts in December, which means in just eight starts he's accounted for one-third of the team's wins. Seems like a lot of Yahoo! owners have held onto Patrick Lalime. If you're curious, Lalime is 1-3 with a 4.88 goals-against average with Peoria of the AHL. Don't expect to see him in St. Louis any time soon.
1st Chair: John Grahame
2nd Chair: Sean Burke
Skinny: Coach John Tortorella let Grahame have it after Wednesday's loss – essentially demoting his goalie in an expletive-laden post-game tirade. The coach would later soften his stance and call his reaction "bad coaching," but that didn't stop him from starting Burke Friday against Boston. Burke was solid, but Tampa Bay lost again, 2-1. His methods may be questioned, but there's no denying that the Lightning need better play from their goalies.
1st Chair: Henrik Lundqvist
2nd Chair: Kevin Weekes
Skinny: No letting up for Lundqvist. Despite a loss Saturday, he closed December with five wins in nine starts, a 2.39 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Weekes was pulled early in his past start and his challenge to for the No. 1 chair appears to be running out of steam. The Rangers lost three of his four December starts.

What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago hockey fans were being teased by optimistic labor updates while wondering if a compressed four-month season was really worth all the trouble. Now we have the shootout, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, zero-tolerance and, here in the Bay Area, Joe Thornton in teal and black. The Skinny is still not a huge fan of the shootout, but it's great to be following hockey again. Hope you all enjoyed a safe and happy new year's celebration. Here's what you missed while buried in party poppers and champagne glasses.

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

The Florida Panthers had lost four straight when coach Jacques Martin shuffled lines and teamed Olli Jokinen with Gary Roberts and Chris Gratton on Dec. 13. Since then, the Panthers have won seven of 10, success that can be traced to the play of one of the hottest lines in fantasy hockey. Roberts netted the game-winner Sunday. A free agent in roughly 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he has six goals, six assists and plus-8 rating since the line was formed 10 games ago. Gratton's contribution has been more modest. He has two goals, three assists, a plus-7 rating and 20 penalty minutes with his new crew.

As for Jokinen, Roberts and Gratton have been a shot in the arm. The Fin failed to score at a point-per-game clip in each of the season's first two months. Since joining his new line, he has a 10-game point streak. Jokinen has six goals and 10 assists during that span. Center Joe Nieuwendyk has also pitched in. He scored Florida's first goal Sunday to extend his goal streak to three games (four goals, one assist). Of all parties involved, Roberts has the most fantasy value. He's widely available and he carries eligibility at left wing – a bonus in a player pool overstocked with productive centers.

Kristian Huselius scored Calgary's game-winning goal Saturday, capping a two-point night with a goal in the final two minutes. Jarome Iginla assisted on the goal for his only point of the night. Incredibly, that's just about how the points have been distributed between these two linemates in the past month. Huselius had a productive fantasy month, piling up 14 points in 12 games with a plus-5 rating and 14 penalty minutes. Iginla had the type of month that has prompted What is wrong with Iginla? headlines in Calgary. The Flames' captain had seven points in 13 December games.

Drop Huselius and sign Iginla? Or course not. But you should give your left wings a good look as we flip the calendar to 2006. Huselius, a left wing, is available in roughly 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With Florida, he tallied four points on the power play in 24 games. Since joining the Flames' top power-play unit, he has eight points on special teams in 12 games. Looks like a change of scenery has done the trick for this 2002 Calder candidate. As for Iginla, who knows? Fantasy owners obviously have to wait out this dry spell. If it's any consolation, his current goals pace is ahead of his 2003-04 clip, and that year he wound up tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy. That season he scored 28 goals from January through March after scoring just four in his first 21 games.

With a little less than a minute left in the second period of Sunday's Atlanta-Washington game, rookie Alexander Ovechkin crashed the net and plowed over goalie Kari Lehtonen. On a night that didn't feature too many tests – Lehtonen stopped 19 of 21 shots to earn his first win of the year – the collision served as the game's defining moment. It was the first physical challenge for a goalie who has missed almost 90 days with a myriad of groin problems. Lehtonen got up. Fantasy owners exhaled.

Lehtonen has been hyped here in the past several weeks, with little results apparently. As of Sunday morning, Lehtonen was owned in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Exiled St. Louis goalie Patrick Lalime was owned in 47 percent. Now that may speak more to the activity level of some Yahoo! owners than the perceived value of each goalie, but Lehtonen is still under-owned. The Thrashers have turned a corner by winning six of their past nine. They'll get Peter Bondra back in the next 1-2 weeks. And now they have their No. 1 goalie back between the pipes. At the very least, Lehtonen is deserving of a No. 3 goalie position on your roster ahead of the likes of Kevin Weekes, Jason LaBarbera and Ray Emery.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Nils Ekman, LW, SJ
    Ekman was sheepish after Friday's four-assist performance – an effort that more than doubled his previous assist total. "I'm trying to make the best of this opportunity," Ekman told the San Francisco Chronicle. The opportunity he referenced is playing wing on San Jose's top line. He was promoted to Joe Thornton's line the previous game. In the Sharks' past four games, Ekman has two goals and five assists. The Swede recorded just two points in his previous 10 games. This could be the revival the Sharks have been waiting for. Ekman had 55 points in 82 games with San Jose in 2003-04, but he's been a disappointment so far this year.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Bryan Smolinski, C, Ott – According to the Ottawa Sun, Smolinski will stay on Ottawa's top line now that Daniel Alfredsson is out with a cracked rib. Smolinksi had two goals and five assists in four games as Jason Spezza's replacement as No. 1 center.

Michael Cammalleri, C, LA – Cammalleri enjoyed a season-best three-point night Thursday while extending his goal streak to five games. The 5-foot-9 center has eight goals and two assists in his past 11 games.

Darcy Tucker, LW, Tor – With a goal and an assist Saturday, Tucker closed his most productive month of the season. In 13 games, the left wing tallied eight goals, five assists and 28 penalty minutes.

Sami Kapanen, RW, Phi – He's still making the most of his ice time with Philadelphia's top scoring lines. Kapanen scored a goal in his third consecutive game Saturday to extend his point streak to five games. In his past 11, Kapanen has seven goals and seven assists.

Michel Ouellet, RW, Pit – Since joining his former AHL coach with the Penguins, Ouellet has four goals and four assists in five games. The fourth-round pick in 2000 closed the year with a three-point night in a win over the Rangers.

Scott Gomez, C, NJ – The roller coaster is cresting again. After another dry spell (two points in eight games), Gomez is on fire again. The center scored all three New Jersey goals in a 6-3 loss Saturday and he now has eight points in his past three games.

Brad Stuart, D, Bos – One of the few bright spots for coach Mike Sullivan, Stuart has two goals and four assists in his past five games. He took a season-best seven shots Thursday against Florida.

Shawn Horcoff, C, Edm – In his past eight games, Horcoff has five goals and eight assists. Linemate Ales Hemsky has also been on a roll, with five goals and eight assists over his past eight.

Dan Hamhuis, D, Nas – All you want out of your No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman is a contribution, and Hamhuis has been good for that over the past two weeks. He's riding a streak of 10 straight games with at least an assist or a minor penalty (nine assists, 14 penalty minutes).

Alexei Yashin, C, NYI – No stranger to the doghouse, Yashin was demoted to the fourth line Friday while playing a season-low 10:16 against Ottawa.

Alexander Frolov, LW, LA – He finally snapped his goalless streak at 16 games Saturday. "He's looking at diminished ice time if he doesn't compete harder," coach Andy Murray told the Los Angeles Daily News. So far he's still getting his 20 minutes.

Daniel Briere, C, Buf – Bad news on the medical front, where Briere was finally diagnosed with a sports hernia, an injury that will sideline him for three months.

Scott Thornton, LW, SJ – Nils Ekman's gain is Thornton's loss. He's no longer skating on a line with cousin Joe, so for now he's just another gritty checking-line forward.