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NHL Skinny: Crosby the Seer

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GOALIE HOT SEAT
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING RED HOT
1st Chair: Marc Denis
2nd Chair: Johan Holmqvist
Skinny: "We have to turn it up a notch," Denis told the St. Petersburg Times. Yeah, no kidding. Entering play Saturday the Lightning ranked 29th in the NHL in save percentage. This after a season of fingers pointed directly at the crease. Denis got the last two starts and lost both. Holmqvist has lost three straight and owns a 7.22 goals-against in two December starts. Go with Denis if you must.
COLORADO AVALANCHE RED HOT
1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: Jose Theodore
Skinny: Coach Joel Quenneville says he doesn't feel obligated to play Theodore despite the $5.5 million contract attached to his goalie. It's not all talk. Budaj recently started three straight, winning all three and stopping 69 of 73 shots. Theodore was pretty good Sunday, but came up short in a 2-1 loss at Chicago.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS HOT
1st Chair: Fredrik Norrena
2nd Chair: Pascal Leclaire
Skinny: Leclaire spent about 30 minutes stopping pucks Sunday and looked healthy, the Columbus Dispatch reports. He suffered a sprained knee Dec. 10 and Norrena has thrived in his absence. That 33-save performance against the Red Wings Monday probably earned him at least another week in the top spot.
PHOENIX COYOTES HOT
1st Chair: Curtis Joseph
2nd Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
Skinny: Tellqvist has made six December starts, winning three and posting otherwise mediocre numbers. Joseph has been limited to two starts and remains winless this month. It's starting to look like more than easing Cujo's workload here, but until we hear otherwise, we'll buy that this time off is compensation for a busy November.
ST. LOUIS BLUES HOT
1st Chair: Manny Legace
2nd Chair: Jason Bacashihua
Skinny: So far Legace has made the most of his fresh start under new coach Andy Murray. He lost both starts since coming off the IR, but stopped 53 of 57 shots while earning the Blues a combined two points. Curtis Sanford is at least a month away from returning to action.
OTTAWA SENATORS WARM
1st Chair: Ray Emery
2nd Chair: Martin Gerber
Skinny: Emery allowed six goals on 14 shots Thursday at Nashville, but coach Bryan Murray characterized the tallies as "empty-net goals." In other words: Shoddy defense led to a couple of gimmes. Murray went right back to Emery two nights later at Buffalo and Emery responded by stymieing the Sabres.
LOS ANGELES KINGS WARM
1st Chair: Barry Brust
2nd Chair: Mathieu Garon, Dan Cloutier
Skinny: Truth be told, Yutaka Fukufuji is the current backup, but he's unlikely to play while Brust fills in for Garon (groin) and Cloutier (shoulder). First one back has dibs on the No. 1 chair and Cloutier is a slight favorite. Garon is not expected back until next week.
ATLANTA THRASHERS WARM
1st Chair: Kari Lehtonen
2nd Chair: Johan Hedberg
Skinny: Lehtonen's December numbers (1 win, 3.18 GAA, .910 save percentage) are wildly underwhelming. But Hedberg isn't exactly putting the pressure on. He allowed six goals in his last start Saturday on Long Island. Something neither goalie can do much about: Atlanta is giving up too many shots and taking too many bad penalties.
It's roster freeze time. No trades, call-ups or waivers from Dec. 19-27. If you're hoping for a deal to get you out from under that Vesa Toskala, Evgeni Nabokov platoon, you'll have to wait until after the holidays. Apparently while fistfights, lockouts and $95 club seats are perfectly acceptable, the National Hockey League can't stand the thought of a player getting a pink slip under the tree. Fair enough. No such restrictions in Yahoo! leagues, however. Fed up with Tom Poti? Cut him loose. Want to make a pitch for reborn winger Rick Nash? Offer away. First, let's take a look back at the weekend that was:

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

Add seer to the many talents of Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. "He's a natural scorer," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review before Friday's game against the Islanders, describing winger Ryan Malone, who entered play with one goal and six points in 12 games. Natural scorer? Sure Malone led the Pens with 22 goals as a rookie in 2003-04, but he was only able to match that total in his sophomore campaign and he entered this season with a career minus-45 rating. Maybe the "natural" part is his problem. Nobody doubts Malone's physical gifts, but the rap on him is that he lacks a grinder's heart.

That effort has been there lately. After missing more than a month with a broken forearm, Malone is clicking on a line with Crosby and veteran Mark Recchi. It began modestly with an assist Monday at Washington, built steam with a career-best four-point night Wednesday, then blew the roof off with another career-first, a hat trick Friday after Crosby's on-target assessment of his scoring ability. Malone is available in more than 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Considering the Coors Field effect that comes along with a line pairing with Crosby, he's worth a flyer in just about all formats. Linemate Recchi (70 percent owned) has seven points in three games.

Take note of a few blueline developments in fantasy leagues: Ottawa's Tom Preissing has the best plus/minus among all defensemen over the last month. … The second best plus/minus (plus-11) belongs to Sean Hill, who also has 22 penalty minutes and seven points. … After a slow fantasy start, Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin has come on with 10 points in his last 18 games. Half of his 32 penalty minutes have come in the last eight games. … Chicago's Duncan Keith is one of only seven defensemen with double-digit assists in the last month. … Brian Leetch may be close to a deal to begin his 19th NHL season.
One-timers: Cory Stillman is still available in more than half of all Yahoo! leagues. … Anaheim's George Parros has a fighting major in eight of the last 11 games he's played. … Pittsburgh's Erik Christiensen has seven points in eight December games.

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

  • Joe Pavelski, C, SJ – Jonathan Cheechoo has picked up his play of late, but despite the resurgence of last year's 50-goal scorer, Pavelski continues to log major minutes on San Jose's top two lines. Saturday he collected two assists in a pressure-cooker of a win over Anaheim. The totals through 12 games: 7 goals, 3 assists and 2 game-winners. He's been playing wing mostly (still logging minutes alongside Joe Thornton), so keep an eye out for a position eligibility change that would further boost his value.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Dustin Penner, LW, Ana – If you need goals, there are worse places to look. Penner beat Miikka Kiprusoff Monday, his fifth marker in the last six games.

Kyle Wellwood, RW, Tor – Not too many fantasy owners took notice when he was granted wing eligibility in November. Well, how about a five-point night to grab your attention? Wellwood had three goals and two assists Saturday to extend his point streak to four games.

Brett Clark, D, Col – Surprisingly, he's available in close to 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Clark has three goals, eight assists and 14 penalty minutes in the Avs' last 13 games. He's almost certainly out-producing your No. 3 and No. 4 defensemen.

Ruslan Salei, D, Fla – Last week's Bargain Bin defenseman no longer qualifies in that category. That's a start, but with multi-point games in three of his last seven games, Salei's ownership percentage should be closer to, say, 100 percent.

Petr Tenkrat, RW, Bos – Decent short-term add here as he's still skating with Marc Savard and Glen Murray on Boston's top line. Tenkrat scored goals in back-to-back games last week and remains playable as long as P.J. Axelsson is on the shelf.

David Vyborny, RW, Cls – No slowing these Blue Jackets. Vyborny had his second straight three-point night Monday and now has 12 points in his last six games.

Nathan Horton, C, Fla – He's averaging just about a point per game in December and has picked up the PIM pace as well. After spending 11 minutes locked up in 13 November games, he has 14 PIM already in eight games this month.

Christopher Higgins, LW/C, Mon – Remember him? Higgins was leading the Habs with eight goals through 13 games before suffering an ankle injury. He returned Saturday and recorded four shots on goal but no points against the Penguins.

Owen Nolan, RW, Pho – While veteran players continue to fall out of favor with coach Wayne Gretzky, Nolan continues to say and do the right things. Probably only watch-worthy at this point, but Nolan has come on of late with two goals, three assists and four penalty minutes in his last five games.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League
A pair of goalies found employment as owners rolled the dice on Hannu Toivonen and Chris Osgood. No trades this week as owners seemed to have resigned themselves to an inevitable Romig runaway.

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