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NHL Skinny: Finish the Job

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1st Chair: Manny Legace
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood
Skinny: Detroit visited its closest divisional pursuer Friday, and then visited the No. 2 team in the Western Conference Sunday. Legace got the start against Nashville and backed up his shutout of St. Louis with a second straight win. He wasn't scheduled to play Sunday, but was pressed into duty after Osgood allowed six goals in just over two periods against Dallas. It was Osgood's second straight loss. The hot hand belongs to Legace right now, and coach Mike Babcock has said recent performance would dictate playing time in this battle.
1st Chair: David Aebischer
2nd Chair: Peter Budaj
Skinny: If Aebischer is going to return to his 32-win form of 2003-04, now is his best chance. He made 33 stops Thursday to beat Minnesota, and then backed it up Saturday with a shootout win over Columbus. It was the third straight win for Aebischer, who hadn't even started three straight games for Colorado since the end of November. Budaj takes a backseat as coach Joel Quenneville begins to display renewed confidence in Aebischer.
1st Chair: Ty Conklin
2nd Chair: Jussi Markkanen
Skinny: Will anyone step up in this battle? Edmonton ranks fourth in the Western Conference in scoring, but consistent goalie play has eluded coach Craig MacTavish and the Oilers. Conklin shut out Chicago Tuesday, but everybody beats the Blackhawks. He was just average in stopping 16 of 19 shots Saturday in a loss at Toronto. Markkanen's last shot at back-to-back starts followed a similar formula – a 4-2 win over Nashville followed by a six-goal meltdown at Calgary. Is a trade far off?
1st Chair: John Grahame
2nd Chair: Sean Burke
Skinny: This is still a heated battle, even if coach John Tortorella has cooled off a bit. Burke started two of three games after the coach dressed down his goalies in a post-game tirade. Burke went 1-1 while stopping 63 of 68 shots faced. Grahame earned some respect Tuesday by shutting out the Rangers in an overtime win, but was right back in the hot seat after allowing five unanswered goals in Sunday's loss at Boston. The team has five days off to reevaluate this situation.
1st Chair: Ryan Miller
2nd Chair: Martin Biron
Skinny: Miller started his fourth straight game Saturday and has yet to give coach Lindy Ruff a reason to look elsewhere. He's 2-2 during the stretch but has allowed only seven goals, extending his streak of games allowing three or fewer goals to 14. Time to cut Biron loose? That's probably too risky at this point. If a deal is struck before the trade deadline, Biron could wind up the No. 1 guy in Vancouver, Edmonton, Colorado or any number of goalie-starved cities. Ruff has said he hopes to keep both goalies busy, but history shows he prefers to let one guy carry the load.
1st Chair: Andrew Raycroft
2nd Chair: Hannu Toivonen, Mike Brown?
Skinny: Raycroft hopes to be available Tuesday when the Bruins face Joe Thornton and the Sharks. He told the Boston Herald that the injury that forced him out of Saturday's game with less than a minute remaining was "just a bit of a tweak" of the right leg. Raycroft was in there because Toivonen had sprained his ankle in Thursday's win over the Senators. There is no timetable yet for his return. Due to some complicated waiver issues, the Herald reports that Brown, recently promoted from the ECHL to the AHL, may start Tuesday if Raycroft can't go.
1st Chair: Curtis Sanford
2nd Chair: Jason Bacashihua
Skinny: Sanford has been solid since returning from a hip-flexor injury, but in St. Louis you need to be spectacular to win. For Sanford, decent January numbers (2.68 goals-against and a .906 save percentage) have amounted to just one win in three starts. The Blues begin a four-game road trip Monday. I'd hate to own either guy right now, but if pressed into starting one, it's gotta be Sanford at this point.
1st Chair: Kari Lehtonen
2nd Chair: Michael Garnett
Skinny: Lehtonen has started five of six games for the Thrashers since returning from a series of groin injuries. Coach Bob Hartley had said he would give Lehtonen roughly 95 percent of the team's starts down the stretch and so far he's sticking to the plan. Garnett had a nice run to close the year, but it's time to look elsewhere for help. Lehtonen's health is still a concern, but there's not much chance Garnett will be signed if cut loose in your fantasy league.
1st Chair: Henrik Lundqvist
2nd Chair: Kevin Weekes
Skinny: Ranger fans were chanting "we want Lundqvist" during Weekes' last start, a 4-3 loss to the Flyers that ended just seven seconds into overtime on a soft, odd-angle goal. They got what they wanted Saturday, and the rookie responded with a shutout in a 4-0 win over Florida. Lundqvist hasn't allowed a goal in his past six periods of regulation. Under Coach Tom Renney's new "win and stay in" system, Lundqvist will almost certainly start Tuesday.
Most NHL teams have reached the halfway mark of the 2005-06 season. That explains why you've been seeing all those mid-term grade columns in your local papers. Taking stock of my own fantasy fortunes, I give myself a B-plus. With a half-season worth of chasing remaining, I stand in second in both my Yahoo! leagues. My first order of business for the second half is breaking up the Alexander Ovechkin-Rick Nash-Simon Gagne logjam I've got going at left wing in my Public League. One of those guys should be good for an upgrade at right wing.

Best of luck to all of you in the second half. And please, stay active. I didn't make any New Year's resolutions for myself, but if I could will one upon the fantasy community, it would be to have everyone finish what they started. Since Brett Hull is still owned in more than 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues, I fear not everyone out there is invested for a full season. Remember, all your teams go on your permanent record on your new Yahoo! player profile. On to The Skinny:

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

Patrik Elias admits that he's tired. He can be forgiven for that. He could also be forgiven if he was struggling. After all, while his New Jersey teammates were celebrating the end of the lockout, he was battling hepatitis A. While the Devils were struggling to their worst start in recent memory, Elias was fighting just to get his strength back. Nobody expected much from him right out of the gate. "These are his exhibition games," interim coach Lou Lamoriello warned. "It's going to take me time," Elias admitted. How much time? Well, he needed 15 minutes of ice time Tuesday to record his first assist. Thursday he packed two goals and two assists into 14 minutes, 50 seconds of work.

Saturday he hit the wall. Well, relatively speaking anyway. Elias played more than 19 minutes and assisted on the game-winning goal, but he called it the worst game of the three. In all the left wing – available in slightly more than 14 percent of Yahoo! leagues – has two goals and four assists in three games, all New Jersey wins. His entire line is clicking. Center Scott Gomez – you'll find him on the waiver wire in 21 percent of leagues – has two goals and four assists in three games and 14 points in six games overall. Right wing Brian Gionta (two goals) hasn't missed a beat, either. Gionta won't be available in your league, but both Elias and Gomez are worth a quick scan of the waiver wire. After all, this trio should only get better once its "exhibition" season is over.

Scott Walker was also back in action this weekend. After missing 33 games with a sports hernia, the Nashville right wing returned Sunday on a line with Steve Sullivan and Yanic Perreault. True to his word, coach Barry Trotz limited Walker's minutes. The 32-year-old forward played just over 11 minutes and was held scoreless in a 5-1 Predators victory. Once he's up to speed, however, Walker should make a fantasy impact. He led Nashville in scoring in 2003-04 with 25 goals and 67 points in 75 games and he had five points in seven games this season before suffering the injury.

Though Nashville is just four games out of the top spot in the Western Conference, it has missed Walker. The team averaged just 1.8 goals in the five games prior to his return. The Predators have leaned heavily on goalie Tomas Vokoun while winning 15 one-goal games. Blowouts such as Sunday's laugher over laughingstock Chicago have been rare. A mid-round draft pick in most Yahoo! leagues, Walker is now available in roughly half of those leagues.

The fact that a rookie leads Pittsburgh in power-play goals will come as a surprise to no one. It's the identity of the sniper that will come as a shock to most outside the Steel City. His name is Michel Ouellet, he's 23 years old and he's done all his damage in a 10-game span since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre of the AHL. Saturday he scored his seventh and eighth power-play goals of the season in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta. Just one night earlier the right wing had a goal and an assist, both on the power play, in 6-4 loss against the same Thrashers.

He's not doing a ton of scoring at even strength, but who cares? In those 10 games since joining his former AHL coach with the Penguins, Ouellet already has more power-play points than Milan Hejduk, Glen Murray and Bill Guerin, and just two fewer than the likes of Jarome Iginla and Mike Knuble. He can't possibly maintain his current scoring pace (16 total points in 10 games), but he's a legitimate fantasy bargain available in just about every Yahoo! league out there. He's gained coach Michel Therrien's confidence and will continue to log huge minutes on the power play, often with that other Pittsburgh rookie Sidney Crosby on the ice.

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

  • Patrice Bergeron, C, Bos
    Even before Alexei Zhamnov broke his ankle, Bergeron was being leaned on heavily for ice time and point production. In two of his three January starts, the 20-year-old center has led all Boston forwards in ice time. Saturday he contributed a goal on six shots and an assist in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay. Two nights earlier he assisted on two goals as Boston beat Ottawa. Overall, he has at least a point in 13 of his past 16 games.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Petr Sykora, RW, NYR – The Rangers have received nearly 40 percent of their goals from two players, Jaromir Jagr and Petr Prucha. In a search for balance, the team acquired six-time 20-goal scorer Petr Sykora from Anaheim Sunday. According to the New York Times, Sykora could join a line with countrymen Martin Straka and Prucha.

Christopher Higgins, C, Mon – A recent lineup shuffle has landed Higgins on Montreal's top line with Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder. The rookie had a goal and an assist Thursday and has three points in his past three games overall.

Nils Ekman, LW, SJ – Last week's Bargain Bin forward still qualifies, as he's owned in just 43 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The recent addition to the Joe Thornton line has eight assists during San Jose's three-game winning streak.

Sergei Fedorov, C, Cls – First he ended his 13-game goal-less streak Friday. The next night he recorded four assists to double the number he accumulated in the same span. Could the Rick Nash effect finally be kicking in?

Martin Straka, C, NYR – He hasn't exactly been struggling, but the addition of fellow Czech Petr Sykora could invigorate New York's No. 2 scoring line. Straka already has 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists ) in the Rangers' past seven games.

Ian Laperriere, C, Col – A few more fights would be helpful. Laperriere hasn't dropped the gloves since mid-December, but he's landing on the score sheet in other ways. He had three assists Thursday and has 11 points in his past 10 games overall.

Brendan Shanahan, LW, Det – The ice time is still there. The production is not. Shanny was held without a point Sunday for the sixth straight game. He'll probably get it going again, but at his age it's a trend you have to keep an eye on.

Brad Richards, C, TB – Any number of Lightning underachievers could land here, but we'll single out Richards, who has just a lone assist in his past eight otherwise unproductive games.

Jiri Slegr, D, Bos – That was a nice run for Slegr in early December (11 points in 10 games), but the party's over. He has zero points in his past 10 games and now he's sidelined by back spasms.

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