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NHL Skinny: Handcuffing

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports

GOALIE HOT SEAT
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS RED HOT
1st Chair: Sebastien Caron
2nd Chair: Jocelyn Thibault
Skinny: The Penguins are still convinced that Marc-Andre Fleury needs a full season as a No. 1 goalie in the AHL, which explains why they sent him back down after Wednesday's 45-save effort in a win at Philadelphia. Well, there's that and the truckload of bonuses they'd owe him if he meets several performance incentives at the NHL level. Caron was activated for Saturday's game, but served as Thibault's backup in a 6-3 loss. Before injuring his quadriceps, Caron had started seven straight games for Pittsburgh, winning four. Thibault had his moments after taking over, but coach Ed Olczyk will probably give Caron a shot to return to his winning ways.
NEW YORK RANGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Kevin Weekes
2nd Chair: Henrik Lundqvist
Skinny: Weekes has four wins in six November starts and solid numbers across all categories (2.15 GAA, .919 save percentage). Backstopping Saturday's revenge win over Carolina had to bolster coach Tom Renney's confidence in him. Just two nights earlier the Hurricanes had beat Lundqvist five times in a 5-1 Rangers loss. Of course, the rookie rebounded with a solid performance Sunday against Boston. Renney continues to say that his No. 1 is whoever starts on a given night. Lundqvist could easily occupy the No. 1 chair, but we give Weeks the nod in acknowledgement of his November numbers.
LOS ANGELES KINGS RED HOT
1st Chair: Mathieu Garon
2nd Chair: Jason LaBarbera
Skinny: According to the Orange County Register, LaBarbera returned to the Kings Saturday and could get his first start in 13 days Tuesday at Chicago. He had left the team prior to its Nov. 15 game against Nashville to attend to an undisclosed family matter. His departure gave Garon a chance to settle in, and he did just that. In five starts this month, Garon has four wins, a .917 save percentage and a sub-3.00 GAA. Coach Andy Murray will likely give both goalies their share of starts, but Garon has the upper hand now.
ATLANTA THRASHERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Adam Berkhoel
2nd Chair: Michael Garnett, Steve Shields
Skinny: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution rolled out a goalie infirmary report Friday that could have been its own bonus section. According to the AJC, Steve Shields (knee) may be ready to return by Thanksgiving. Dunham, who was injured Nov. 12, has a slight groin tear and will be out 2-3 more weeks. Good to know, of course, but what the fantasy world is waiting for is the return of rookie Kari Lehtonen. He's the only impact goalie on the Atlanta roster, healthy or injured. Circle Dec. 9 on your calendar for a possible return. Atlanta is 5-3-1 in November and could complete the turnaround with a healthy No. 1.
COLORADO AVALANCHE HOT
1st Chair: David Aebischer
2nd Chair: Peter Budaj
Skinny: Budaj made back-to-back starts for the first time in his career last week. He won both and now boasts solid November numbers in all categories: Two wins in three starts, 1.85 GAA, .934 save percentage. Aebischer was back in net Saturday, but he took the loss and has now allowed 12 goals in his past seven periods of action. Coach Joel Quenneville left the door open for Budaj to start again soon. "We like the way Peter's played," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "We'll see what we're going to do going forward."
ST. LOUIS BLUES HOT
1st Chair: Curtis Sanford
2nd Chair: Patrick Lalime
Skinny: There's no stopping Curtis Sanford. Wednesday he recorded his second shutout in 10 career starts and three nights later he beat the Red Wings – at the Joe no less. That's three straight starts for the 26-year-old, who carries a lofty .949 save percentage into Tuesday's home tilt against the Kings. Not bad for a guy promoted by coach Mike Kitchen in part to send a message to his struggling team.
CAROLINA HURRICANES WARM
1st Chair: Martin Gerber
2nd Chair: Cam Ward
Skinny: Gerber started three games in a five-day period, so Ward got the call in the second of back-to-back games Sunday against Tampa Bay. It was just Ward's second start of the month, and it didn't go so hot. He allowed five goals to the Lightning, meaning he has yielded 12 goals in his last five periods. Gerber has been red-hot in November, winning five games while posting a .944 save percentage and 1.79 GAA. It may be a while before we see Ward on the ice during a national anthem again.
BOSTON BRUINS WARM
1st Chair: Andrew Raycroft
2nd Chair: Hannu Toivonen
Skinny: Raycroft told reporters he's having trouble finding the puck. Lately, it's been behind him all too frequently. Raycroft allowed three goals in Saturday's loss to Buffalo. It marked the first time in six games that he allowed fewer than four goals. GM Mike O'Connell and coach Mike Sullivan are ready to make some changes, and a goalie shift isn't out of the question. Toivonen started his fifth game of the month Sunday.
MINNESOTA WILD WARM
1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson
2nd Chair: Manny Fernandez
Skinny: Fernandez has yet to allow more than three goals in any of his 10 starts, a noteworthy feat in a season punctuated by frequent scoring explosions. This week's broken-record update: Both goalies have started four games this month and posted almost identical numbers. Expect more of the same the rest of the way.
BUFFALO SABRES WARM
1st Chair: Martin Biron
2nd Chair: Mika Noronen
Skinny: Noronen made a case for more playing time Saturday, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 win at Boston. Biron has won three of his past four starts, but in two of those appearances he allowed five or more goals. Beginning Tuesday the Sabres play five games in eight days. Expect Noronen to get two of those starts. According to a report in the Buffalo News, injured goalie Ryan Miller (broken thumb) is about 2-3 weeks away from returning to action.
EDMONTON OILERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jussi Markkanen
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin
Skinny: Conklin is back after a three-game stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Well, sort of back, anyway. He practiced with Edmonton Wednesday, but he's nursing an injured groin. Coach Craig MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun that he would wait until Conkin was 100 percent before making a decision on who stays and who goes. Michael Morrison had been serving as Markkanen's backup with Conklin out of town.
DETROIT RED WINGS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Manny Legace
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood
Skinny: Legace hasn't been terrible lately – just human. Since winning 12 of his first 13 starts, he has dropped three straight, posting a 3.33 GAA along with a modest .881 save percentage. That opened the door a crack for Osgood, but he wasn't exactly stellar in allowing six goals Thursday at Edmonton. Coach Mike Babcock seems to think a little competition is a good thing, so watch this situation closely if Legace continues to struggle.
We've reached the quarter-pole of the NHL season. Do you love the new NHL – your NHL, if you will – or do you hate it? Conventional wisdom says scoring is up, so everyone is happy. Not so. And it's not just goalies who are raising a stink. Detroit captain Steve Yzerman is the latest high-profile star to counter the goals-are-good logic.

"It's not hockey," Yzerman told the Detroit Free Press. Sure his comments came after a tough loss, but he's not the only established veteran who thinks referees should have some discretion when enforcing obstruction. He has no tolerance for zero tolerance. Sorry, Steve, but you won't find many allies on the fantasy front. Fantasy games are based on stats, and the game is decidedly more compelling when stats are actually accumulated. You can actually make up a deficit in all scoring category these days and – get this – there is legitimate help available on the waiver wire.

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

Mark Bell narrowly missed a hat trick on Nov. 13 when he shot wide at an open net late in a 3-1 win over Edmonton. Bell, a physical forward more accustomed to time in the penalty box than curtain calls, hasn't missed much since. He scored two more goals Friday and added a goal and two assists Saturday as Chicago won back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton for the first time since 1995. In his past six games, Bell has six goals, three assists and a plus-6 rating.

The rest of Bell's line is sizzling, too. Winger Kyle Calder has six assists and is a plus-7 in his past three games. Then there's Rene Bourque, who scored twice Saturday, including the game-winner, after assisting on two tallies the night before. Bell is regularly logging 18-20 minutes per game after beginning the season as a 10-14 minute guy. Chicago has been decimated by injuries this year, particularly at the center position. Expect Bell and his mates to continue to see increased ice time and productivity.

Normally, a few nights off is the last thing you want when you're on one of those can't-miss streaks. For Shawn Bates, the NHL's leader in shooting percentage and one of the league's hottest snipers, a little rest might be just the tonic. Bates scored two goals at Florida Saturday, giving the center eight goals and two assists in his past seven games. Unfortunately for the Islanders, he left the game late in the third period after a collision with Martin Gelinas. He was on crutches after the game, nursing what the team is calling a hamstring injury.

New York is off until Wednesday, so it is possible Bates won't miss any game action. As of Sunday Bates, was owned in fewer than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Linemate Jason Blake is owned in roughly half of all leagues, but both remain solid fantasy bargains. Blake has benefited from Bates' hot streak with five points in three games, including two assists Saturday.

In fantasy football circles, there is a lot of talk about handcuffing on draft day. The logic being that if you have a No. 1 running back with a questionable performance or injury track record, you can't afford not to own his backup. Normally the same doesn't hold true in hockey. An established No. 1 goalie is going to start 60-plus games, leaving only 10-20 games for a backup, hardly enough to justify a roster spot.

Things are different this year. More shots, more rebounds and more traffic in front of the net have all added up to make the crease a dangerous place to set up shop. Officials are beginning to crack down on goalie interference, but we'll still likely see a record number of goalie games lost due to injury. And physical problems aren't the only thing forcing fantasy owners to scramble to acquire backups. There have been struggles, too. Most recently Peter Budaj moved back into a time-share with David Aebischer in Colorado. Hannu Toivonen should see increased time in Boston. And there are health issues with starters in Washington and Anaheim. Don't hesitate to dedicate your No. 3 goalie spot to a backup. Ray Emery, anyone?

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

  • Chuck Kobasew, RW, Cal
    When you think of top-line forwards, the name Chuck Kobasew probably isn't the first to come to mind. His career numbers (10 goals in 93 games entering the season) scream checking line. But the speedy winger recorded 38 goals last year in the AHL and now finds himself opposite Jarome Iginla on Calgary's featured line. He's more than justifying the promotion. Kobasew scored a goal Friday, his fifth tally in the past six games. As long as he keeps pressuring the net – he is averaging 4.7 shots in his past seven – you can expect him to maintain that scoring pace.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Brian Sutherby, C, Was – He didn't score a point in October, and by the end of the month he was logging a mere six minutes per game. Suddenly among team leaders in ice time for forwards, Sutherby is a scoring machine. He scored twice Saturday and now has seven points in his past six games.

Alexei Zhamnov, C, Bos – He played the best game of his young season Sunday, recording an assist in 14:38 of ice time. Projected as Boston's No. 2 center before injuries delayed the start of his season, he now has points in back-to-back games.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor – This physical winger took a season-high six shots Saturday, finding the net twice and adding an assist. He has four goals in his past six games and appears to have found a home on the Jason Allison line.

Justin Williams, RW, Car – With goals in three straight games and points in four straight, Williams is lobbying for more ice time in Carolina.

Brian Campbell, D, Buf – Campbell has at least one power-play point in five of nine November games. He scored two goals Thursday on a season-high six shots.

Shawn Horcoff, C, Edm – It's been an assist binge of late for Horcoff, who has 13 helpers in 10 November games. Linemate Ales Hemsky has seven points in his past three games.

Pierre Turgeon, C, Col – He hasn't averaged a point per game since 2000-01 with St. Louis, but the Colorado veteran is on that pace so far this year. Turgeon scored two goals Saturday to run his current point streak to seven in three games.

Erik Christensen, C, Pit – Called up along with Ryan Whitney, Christensen is making the most of his ice time. He has four points in his past three games, including a goal Saturday against the Flyers.

Mikko Koivu, C, Min – You may remember that Koivu won the No. 1 center job in training camp before injuries delayed the start of the season. Well he's back now, and he recorded three assists Saturday. He also scored his second goal of the season in his previous start.

Milan Hejduk, RW, Col – Hejduk scored a goal Thursday, but the tally represented only his fourth point in nine November games.

Sean Hill, D, Fla – After matching a career-high with 13 goals last season, Hill was a popular defenseman on draft day. So far, he hasn't matched those lofty expectations. Hill has only two points in November and no goals overall this season.

Steve Sullivan, RW, Nas – Like many in the league, Sullivan has been slowed by a groin injury. He missed Nashville's past two games and is considered day-to-day.

Marco Sturm, LW, SJ – He's been shuffled between lines frequently as coach Ron Wilson continues to search for a combination that complements his speed. The search goes on, as Sturm hasn't scored since Oct. 26.