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NHL Skinny: Check Yourself

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1st Chair: Evgeni Nabokov
2nd Chair: Vesa Toskala
Skinny: As the guy who carried San Jose to the Western Conference finals in 2004, Nabokov is coach Ron Wilson's first choice to lead this year's playoff charge. Nabby returned to action Sunday after missing five games with an abdominal injury. He wasn't sharp, but the Sharks won anyway. Both goalies figure to stay busy as San Jose plays five road games in the next eight days. If Toskala remains the hotter of the two, he may be asked to shoulder the load this season.
1st Chair: Robert Esche
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki
Skinny: Niittymaki won his 20th game Saturday. Not a bad rookie season, particularly when you factor in his sliver-medal run at the Turin Games. Fairly typical of this goalie battle lately, he was thrust back into action after Esche allowed five goals in a loss Friday. Niittymaki hasn't won back-to-back starts since early January. For Esche, the drought goes back to Feb. 10. Expect more of the same, relegating both promising goalies to No. 3 fantasy status.
1st Chair: Tim Thomas
2nd Chair: Andrew Raycroft, Hannu Toivonen
Skinny: A nomad no more, Thomas signed a three-year contract extension with the Bruins Saturday. He also capped the week by beating Carolina and Ottawa. Though some of Boston's magic is gone, Thomas is still a worthwhile fantasy play, having posted a .925 save percentage through seven March starts. The club says it still wants to re-sign Raycroft, but it looks like Thomas will be the clear No. 1 for the rest of this season.
1st Chair: Cristobal Huet
2nd Chair: David Aebischer
Skinny: Montreal fans were crying for Huet by the end of Saturday's 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh, a second straight home defeat in which Aebischer allowed five goals. In a sense it was a surprise start, but coach Bob Gainey was pleased with Aebischer's Montreal debut and probably wanted to give him a chance to rebound after a hard-luck, 5-1 loss. There's little doubt that Huet will get the call Monday at Washington.
1st Chair: John Grahame
2nd Chair: Sean Burke
Skinny: Tampa Bay took a long look at goalies at the trade deadline, a sign that the team isn't sure either Grahame or Burke can lead it deep into the playoffs. Right now, just getting a goalie deep into a game is a victory. Grahame has allowed 24 goals in his past five starts, alarming numbers when you consider he was pulled early twice. Burke also got yanked back on Feb. 9, then allowed four or more goals in each of his next two starts. There's nowhere else to turn now, so expect Grahame to get another shot after Burke failed Saturday.
1st Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
2nd Chair: Ed Belfour
Skinny: Belfour did not respond well to his latest back treatments, the Toronto Star reported Sunday. Tellqvist made the most of his fifth straight start, blanking Pittsburgh for his second shutout of the season and third win in those five starts. Even before Belfour's back pain flared up, coach Pat Quinn had discussed limiting his workload down the stretch. If you had to own one or the other for the final month, Tellqvist is your guy.
1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin, Jussi Markkanen
Skinny: Roloson has been solid after getting off to a rough start with Edmonton. It's a crowded race for the final Western Conference playoff spot, so he doesn't have much margin for error, but he looks safe for now.
1st Chair: Vacant
2nd Chair: Pascal Leclaire, Marc Denis
Skinny: Prediction: Leclaire should get the start Tuesday as Columbus continues to rotate goalies every game. It's a decent spot-start opportunity as Phoenix is hardly tearing up the league. Just be sure to steer him to you bench (or the waiver wire) before Saturday's start at Detroit.
Less than a month remains in the NHL regular season. Seems like just yesterday that Brett Hull retired and Wayne Gretzky's biggest worry was that botched lineup card against the Kings. Now here we are gearing up for the playoffs and the fantasy stretch run. It's now or never in those fantasy leagues, folks. Remember, under certain circumstances it's possible for a guy like Sean Avery to be more valuable to you than Jaromir Jagr. More on that topic as we begin our weekend update:

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

If you do two things Monday in a rotisserie league, you should check your games-played pace and expand your league standings to identify category needs. Both actions can provide critical insights. In my Yahoo! public league, I'm 10 games ahead of the pace at left wing, which is the price you pay for carrying Alexander Ovechkin, Rick Nash and Simon Gagne all season (I never could pull off that trade). As a plus-76 to my closest pursuer's plus-73, I'm at risk of dropping a point in the plus/minus category. Looking at the expanded standings further, a gain of nine penalty minutes would bump my team up one spot in the PIMs category. Putting it all together, Gagne (plus-26) and Nash (41 PIMs in 40 games) look like the smart plays (I can afford to sit Ovechkin as I'm not at risk in goals or assists).

With scoring up as it is league-wide, it's likely that some of your bench players are putting up starter's numbers. With production like that comes the tendency to substitute freely, even when one of your regular starters isn't healthy. Perhaps this season more than ever, rotisserie managers will be running up against the position limits before the end of the season. Take inventory of how many games you have left now, as that knowledge will help you start the right players against the right teams for the right reasons in the final month.

Three years ago, Steve Bernier may have taken issue with being placed with a group of forwards dubbed the "heavyweight" line. After all, it was doubts about his conditioning that lowered his draft stock in 2003. When the San Jose Sharks finally called his name with the 16th pick of the first round that year, many felt it was a reach. Sunday the right wing played his 23rd game in a Sharks uniform, and his play of late could be a big reason why San Jose didn't make a bigger splash at the forward position on deadline day.

All three forwards on the Milan Michalek–Patrick Marleau–Bernier line weigh in at 220-pounds or heavier. Lately, they've been a load to handle. Sunday Bernier set up two Marleau power-play goals, the second coming on a gorgeous between-the-legs drop pass. In his last six games, Bernier has four goals, four assists and a plus-4 rating. Michalek has pitched in with two goals, six assists and a plus-5. With teams having to devote so much attention to silencing the Joe Thornton–Jonathan Cheechoo combo, the "heavyweights" should continue to find some open ice. Both wings make solid under-the-radar fantasy pickups for the season's final month.

Line changes: Scott Nichol replaced Scottie Upshall in Nashville's lineup Saturday and had a goal and a fight in a 9-4 win. Upshall had scored in two of the previous three games for the Preds. … David Vyborny has replaced the injured Sergei Fedorov on Columbus' top scoring line. … Mike Richards will continue to center Philadelphia's top line as long as Peter Forsberg, who is day-to-day, is out.

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

  • Kris Draper, C, Det
    Draper has figured out the key to scoring on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Brendan Shanahan. "You just go out and try to get the puck to Pavel as quick as possible," Draper told the Detroit Free Press. That did the trick again Sunday. Draper set up Datsyuk for one of his two assists against Vancouver. The center now has two goals and six assists in Detroit's last seven games. As long as coach Mike Babcock keeps him on this explosive line, Draper is a solid alternative to any center currently producing under a point-per-game pace.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit – In his past five starts, Fleury has three wins, a shutout and a .935 save percentage. You may remember that the Penguins went 10-4-3 in March to rescue an otherwise miserable 2003-04 season. A similar run this year would make Fleury relevant in fantasy leagues again.

Petr Prucha, RW, NYR – The kid can move the puck, too. Before his knee injury, Prucha posted a rather one-dimensional 25 goals and nine assists. In four games since returning to the lineup, he has a balanced two goals, four assists and four power play points. He's a free agent in far more leagues than he should be.

Martin Havlat, LW, Ott – Havlat practiced on a line with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson Wednesday, the Ottawa Sun reports. Out since November shoulder surgery, he could return any day. Now would be a good time to check for his availability in your league.

Mark Cullen, C, Chi – Cullen has a ticket to Norfolk (AHL) in his future, but he's making the most of his stay with Chicago. Sunday he was one of the most active Blackhawks with eight shots in 16 minutes of ice time. One found the net for Cullen's third goal in as many games.

Justin Williams, RW, Car – So far it's been Williams, and not deadline-day acquisition Mark Recchi, who has picked up the scoring slack for the injured Erik Cole. Williams has points in seven of eight games, tallying five goals and five assists.

Daniel Briere, C, Buf – Seems like everyone on the Buffalo roster has been red-hot, but Briere is the best of the best. In 10 March games, the center has six goals, 12 assists and a plus-4 rating.

Tom Preissing, D, SJ – Preissing has three goals in three games. He and teammate Christian Ehrhoff have become solid No. 4 defenseman options in fantasy leagues.

Keith Ballard, D, Pho – He had a decent fantasy run, but Sunday's game marked his 10th straight without a point.

Peter Budaj, G, Col – Upside: Colorado doesn't have other healthy options right now. Downside: Budaj crashed down to earth after shutting out Calgary March 12.

Ryan Whitney, D, Pit – He's day-to-day with a neck injury, which is too bad as his increased responsibility on the power play had his value on the rise.

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