NHL Skinny: Getting Defensive

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports

GOALIE HOT SEAT
PHOENIX COYOTES RED HOT
1st Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
2nd Chair: Curtis Joseph
Skinny: Neither goalie was sharp exiting the All-Star break. Joseph got a win, but stopped only 23 of 27 shots against Colorado. Tellqvist was beaten seven times by Pittsburgh in front of the first sellout crowd of the year in Phoenix. Look for the duo to once again split starts on back-to-back nights against Western powers Nashville and Anaheim this week.
LOS ANGELES KINGS HOT
1st Chair: Sean Burke
2nd Chair: Mathieu Garon
Skinny: Burke has been solid in three starts, posting a .926 save percentage and giving the Kings a chance to win all three. Coach Marc Crawford will be faced with a decision when Garon returns to action. He was scheduled to resume practice after the All-Star break.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS HOT
1st Chair: Antero Niittymaki
2nd Chair: Robert Esche, Michael Leighton
Skinny: Quite a day for Niittymaki Sunday. He made 37 saves to mercifully end one streak and extend another. Over is his losing streak that spanned 15 starts and 58 days. At the same time he extended a personal winning streak against Finnish countryman Kari Lehtonen to six games. Esche also played well (33 saves on 35 shots) exiting the break, but was a hard-luck loser against New York.
FLORIDA PANTHERS HOT
1st Chair: Ed Belfour
2nd Chair: Alex Auld
Skinny: Belfour got the best of New Jersey and Martin Brodeur Saturday. It was his second straight win and third in four starts. We've yet to see Auld since he was pulled after two periods on Jan. 18.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING HOT
1st Chair: Johan Holmqvist
2nd Chair: Marc Denis
Skinny: General manager Jay Feaster confirmed that the club has initiated talks with Holmqvist with the end goal being a multi-year contract extension. That's a sign the team will not pursue a goalie prior to the trade deadline. Holmqvist has five wins and a 2.53 goals-against average in seven January starts.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS WARM
1st Chair: Tomas Vokoun
2nd Chair: Chris Mason
Skinny: Vokoun has won four of five starts since returning from the IR. Though his play has been characterized as "up and down," he has a .913 save percentage and one shutout since thumbing his way back into the lineup. Mason started the second of back-to-backs on Saturday, a pattern you'll likely see repeated frequently down the stretch.
COLORADO AVALANCHE WARM
1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: Jose Theodore
Skinny: The Denver Post characterized Theodore's performance against Detroit Sunday as "tremendous." Not bad for a guy thrust into a rivalry game after a month without a start. In the end, 38 saves on 41 shots wasn't enough, but Theodore certainly gained some credibility with team officials.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS WARM
1st Chair: Ty Conklin
2nd Chair: Fredrik Norrena, Pascal Leclaire
Skinny: Norrena left Saturday's start with a pulled groin. He accompanied the team on their road trip to Canada, but will not play against Edmonton or Vancouver. According to coach Ken Hitchcock, his earliest possible return date is Friday. Leclaire is reportedly a little more than a week away from completing his six-week rehabilitation that followed knee surgery.
Though not by design, the Skinny got defensive this week. As the Market Movers and Bargain Bin came together, the recurring theme was the number of blueliners showing up. Defense seems to be an underappreciated position in fantasy circles. Rotisserie owners tend to draft four, and only four, defensemen, choosing to populate their bench with surplus forwards and a No. 3 goalie. It's because of this that most owners are likely ahead of their season games-played pace at center and the two wings, but frequently have a double-digit surplus of unused games on defense.

Give your pace a look. If this is the case for your team, now would be a good time to add some blueline help, perhaps a need-based add to address penalty minutes and plus/minus. Because these guys generally aren't point-per-game producers, plenty of serviceable rearguards are widely available in Yahoo! leagues. Use the week to reevaluate your bench allocation, and while you're at it make sure your No. 3 and 4 defensemen are still worthy of a roster spot. Like I said, there's help out there at the position.

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

Jason Spezza returned to the Ottawa lineup Saturday, and as expected he did not assume his normal post between wingers Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. In fact, Spezza did not take the ice at all until nearly four minutes had elapsed and coach Bryan Murray sent him over the boards as part of the No. 2 power-play unit. Playing the majority of his time with new linemates Patrick Eaves and Antoine Vermette, Spezza would finish with one assist in just over 14 minutes of ice time. By many accounts, he was Ottawa's best player in a 3-1 win over Boston.

Chris Kelly remained on the Senators' No. 1 line, but was held without a point for the fourth straight game. It's hard to say where things will go from here. It's easy to say Spezza will re-join Heatley and Alfredsson as soon as he has his legs back. But Ottawa is on a 12-2-1 run and those who have been raving about the two-way play of Heatley and Kelly will say things are fine as they are. After all, the club has allowed two or fewer goals in six of eight games. While things work themselves out – and Spezza will probably rejoin his old mates within two weeks – the prudent move is to add Eaves (six goals in nine games) and Vermette (five points in six games) and enjoy the short-term production boost.

It's getting more and more difficult to slap a flavor-of-the-month tag on Sharks winger Ryane Clowe and expect it to stick. First the raw numbers: Clowe has nine goals and six assists in 10 games since joining Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on San Jose's top scoring line. In fantasy circles that translates to a No. 3 ranking among right wings over the last month, trailing only Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. That's not bad company. But for the most part fantasy owners aren't sold. As of Sunday morning, Clowe remained available in just about 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

The consensus must be that he won't be with Thornton long. Otherwise there's no denying him a spot as a No. 2 right wing. Clowe sticking around seems to make sense given the Sharks' plan for 2006-07. The Sharks, Thornton in particular, looked worn down by the end of their playoff series against Edmonton. Going into this season, San Jose wanted Thornton to concentrate more on playmaking and less on being a physical presence. It's not by accident that after three straight 100-PIM campaigns with Boston, he's on pace for fewer than 50 in his first full season in San Jose. Mark Bell was signed to bring toughness to the Thornton line, but he was a bust. Mike Grier got a shot, too, but his strength is on the penalty kill. Clowe brings a big body and a mean streak to Thornton's wing, but has also displayed skill. The key, of course, is for the Sharks to keep winning, but for now I can't see any reason why Clowe shouldn't be owned in all formats.

One-timers: Right wing Peter Bondra returned to the Chicago lineup after missing two weeks and recorded a pair of assists Saturday … Returning to the Colorado lineup after missing six weeks with a groin injury, defenseman Jordan Leopold scored his first goal of the season … Nashville prospect Kevin Klein scored his first NHL goal Friday, but could be headed back to the minors when Marek Zidlicky returns to health … Eric Fehr also scored his first NHL goal Saturday. The 21-year-old was a first-round draft pick of the Caps in 2003.

BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Bryan Berard, D, Cls – You pretty much know what you're going to get with Berard: A decent helping of points, power-play points by the truckload and a plus/minus that will make you cringe. Last year with the Jackets he scored 22 of his 32 points (in 44 games) with the man advantage. The tradeoff, of course, was a minus-29 rating. That's enough to give the category away, but there's hope this year with Columbus playing tighter defensively under Ken Hitchcock. Berard, who may return to game action this week after missing the entire season rehabbing from back surgery, is a free agent in all but a small percentage of leagues. At the very least he'll jump right into the power-play mix, which makes him instantly relevant in fantasy leagues.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Ric Jackman, D, Ana – One of Jackman's heavy shots led to Dustin Penner's game-winning goal Sunday. Defensemen Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin returned against the Stars, yes, but with Scott Niedermayer on the shelf with a stress fracture, Jackman remains relevant for the time being. He has seven points in seven games and will likely outperform your No. 3 and No. 4 fantasy blueliners over the next 4-5 games.

Rostislav Olesz, C, Fla – This 2004 first-round draft pick has really picked up his play since a brief demotion to the AHL. Since Dec. 15, Olesz has nine goals and 15 points in 18 games.

Nathan Paetsch, D, Buf – This rookie defenseman gave Buffalo's No. 1 power-play unit a shot in the arm, recording man-advantage assists in each of the last two games. Henrik Tallender is due to return Tuesday, but coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News he's looking for a way to keep Paetsch in the lineup. He hasn't ruled out dressing him as a fourth-line winger and power-play specialist on the backend.

Frantisek Kaberle, D, Car – Kaberle tied for 22nd in defenseman scoring last season. That's not spectacular, but with 48 defensemen occupying active roster positions in default leagues, that makes him a factor. Kaberle has missed the entire season after shoulder surgery, but was recently cleared to practice and should be considered day-to-day.

Ryan Malone, LW, Pit – I'm not even going to comment on this, I'm just going to report that Malone is riding a five-game point streak. Act on this information as you see fit.

Andrew Ladd, LW, Car – Here's a good guy for your watch list. Ladd, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 entry draft, was recently promoted to a line with Eric Staal and Scott Walker. He has a goal and two assists in his last three games.

Patrick O'Sullivan, C, LA – After scoring 17 goals in 38 games for Manchester of the AHL, O'Sullivan was recalled by the Kings and promptly scored goals in back-to-back games. He'll get a long look in what has become a lost season for the Kings.

Chris Campoli, D, NYI – Injuries to Brendan Witt and Bruno Gervais have upped the ice time for the pairing of Campoli and Freddy Meyer. Campoli, a frequent visitor to Ted Nolan's doghouse, has five points in seven games.

Taylor Pyatt, LW, Van – Back on the radar again, Pyatt has five goals and four assists in his last six games.

Milan Hejduk, RW, Col – Just 10 minutes of ice time Sunday for this struggling winger, who has only one goal in his last seven games.

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Things are tightening up a bit atop the standings, as The Skinny's lead is down to four points over Rotowire's Maingot entry. Hopefully the returns of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Chris Pronger will jumpstart my team. Mark Recchi, Andrew Brunette and Pavel Kubina all got tryouts from various owners in the past week.