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NHL Skinny: So little time

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports

GOALIE HOT SEAT

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS RED HOT
1st Chair: Steve Mason(notes)
2nd Chair: Mathieu Garon(notes)
Skinny: Win-and-stay-in mode has been suspended, which tends to happen when one goalie is effective (Mason 1.28 GAA in last three) but the team as a whole can't support him (Jackets have scored two or fewer goals in 10 straight). Mason will start his second straight game Tuesday.


MONTREAL CANADIENS RED HOT
1st Chair: Carey Price(notes)
2nd Chair: Jaroslav Halak(notes)
Skinny: Some in Montreal are calling for an open battle. This amid talk that GM Bob Gainey might be under pressure to trade Halak while the goalie's value is high. Price has a 1.76 GAA in his last four while Halak has won five of six. Halak's ownership figure (42 percent) is a curiosity given his ratios (2.64, .922), and of course a trade to the right place could skyrocket his value.


NASHVILLE PREDATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Pekka Rinne(notes)
2nd Chair: Dan Ellis(notes) (1a)
Skinny: The Preds have flip-flopped starters for six consecutive games. Coach Barry Trotz indicated that he may use prior success against an opponent to choose his starter (put those splits to use) and even joked that flipping a coin is a possibility. The takeaway here is that this job is up for grabs, and the 15-percent owned Ellis deserves your attention.


ANAHEIM DUCKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jonas Hiller(notes)
2nd Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes)
Skinny: There's no consistency here and the Ducks are very likely on the verge of a roster overhaul, making this toxic situation one to avoid. Give Hiller the edge, as Giguere hasn't had a useful fantasy start since Dec. 8 (those assignments @SJ and @Chi didn't help any).


DETROIT RED WINGS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jimmy Howard(notes)
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood(notes)
Skinny: We're hearing our first rumblings that Osgood is not happy with the workload split in Detroit. Since Dec. 1 Howard owns a 12-3 advantage in starts. The rookie posted a .935 save pct. and 1.90 GAA in December, so it's hard to argue with coach Mike Babcock's decision making. Howard is now owned in 62 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The Wings are down, yes, but that figure should be much closer to, oh, about 100.


BOSTON BRUINS HOT
1st Chair: Tim Thomas(notes)
2nd Chair: Tuukka Rask(notes)
Skinny: Thomas has won four of five and all signs point to this self-proclaimed slow starter hitting his stride. Rask (1.39 GAA, .951 save pct. in Dec.) remains a backup of interest for fantasy owners, particularly in January when the B's play three times on back-to-back nights with travel involved.


TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS HOT
1st Chair: Jonas Gustavsson(notes)
2nd Chair: Vesa Toskala(notes)
Skinny: Gustavsson was effective in a losing effort Saturday. Toskala has been predictably mediocre since mid-December (and beyond). Toronto still doesn't feel either player has put a firm grip on the No. 1 role. Expect both to get a look this week as the Leafs play four games in five nights.


WASHINGTON CAPITALS HOT
1st Chair: Michal Neuvirth(notes)
2nd Chair: Semyon Varlamov(notes), Jose Theodore(notes)
Skinny: Theodore's Dec. 28 "confidence building" start was a disaster, as he and the Caps lost 6-3 to Carolina. It's telling that Neuvirth started back-to-back games after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Sharks on Dec. 30. Few details yet, but it appears that Varlamov may have hit a bump in the road in his conditioning assignment with Hershey.


ATLANTA THRASHERS HOT
1st Chair: Johan Hedberg(notes)
2nd Chair: Ondrej Pavelec(notes), Kari Lehtonen(notes)
Skinny: Both healthy options have been fantasy killers of late. Handle with care. For what it's worth, Lehtonen could be about 2-3 week away from returning to the lineup.


TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING WARM
1st Chair: Mike Smith(notes)
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki(notes)
Skinny: Smith has found a groove (four allowed in last three starts), which clearly has been the team's desire all along. Niittymaki's December splits (3.25, .877) were his worst of the season, further giving Smith the advantage here.


NEW YORK ISLANDERS WARM
1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson(notes)
2nd Chair: Martin Biron(notes) (1a), Rick DiPietro(notes)
Skinny: DiPietro ramped up his workload over the weekend and is close to returning. Stashing him on the IR isn't the worst plan for fantasy teams not currently carrying anyone in their infirmary slot.


PHILADELPHIA FLYERS WARM
1st Chair: Michael Leighton(notes)
2nd Chair: Ray Emery(notes), Brian Boucher(notes)
Skinny: Emery (72-percent owned) could return to action as soon as Saturday, which would be well ahead of the original timetable. Leighton's hot streak (four straight wins) earned him a Winter Classic start, but after allowing two late goals in that 2-1 loss, he got an early hook in that wild 7-4 loss to the Sens on Sunday.


If you're wondering how you fit a full NHL regular-season schedule and an Olympic hockey tournament into the same calendar year without awarding the Stanley Cup on July 4th weekend, just pick a team at random and check out their January schedule.

Take the St. Louis Blues, for example. They play eight games in 13 days at one stretch, and have three different sets of road games on back-to-back nights. Anaheim is currently in the midst of playing seven games in 13 days. They play four games in a week twice in January. Chicago has more than one day off between games just twice all month. Toronto will pack 11 games into one 19-day stretch.

Sure some teams have it easier, and scheduling anomalies are hardly a new thing in the NHL. But it will be a rough few months for teams, and that's not even considering the grind of a deep playoff run.

If I'm a fantasy owner, I'm using the compacted schedule to my advantage this time of year. If your No. 3 goalie is a starter who is doing your team more harm than good (think situations in Atlanta, Toronto, Columbus, Anaheim or on Long Island), then consider giving an extended look to a guy like Ty Conklin(notes) in January. He was acquired to, among other things, make sure Chris Mason(notes) doesn't have to start on back-to-back nights. He could get as many as four or five starts this month. Same goes for a guy like Tuukka Rask as the Bruins deal with not only a busy month on the schedule, but the fact that their No. 1 is heading to Vancouver, not home, during the Olympic break. Dallas plays seven of nine on the road (including two separate trips to the East Coast), which should give Alex Auld(notes) (.917 save pct. in December) a chance to see some action.

You don't have to make long-term adds here. It's a good bet the Sharks will start Thomas Greiss(notes) on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles after playing in Calgary the night before. Sign him the 18th, cut him the 20th. For those of you who may be ahead of the games-played pace in goal, use the schedule to find situations to sit your regular goalies – either because the matchup itself is unfavorable, or because the circumstances (second night of back-to-backs, end of road trip, etc.) are less than ideal. Same goes for trimming down your forward or defense starts if you are ahead of the pace right now. It's better to expend a valuable game played on a set of fresh legs.

Happy New Year, everyone. Let's jump right to the bullets …

One-timers: David Clarkson(notes) suffered a setback in his return from a broken leg and has missed the last two games. It's not classified as a serious injury, however, so the 28-percent owned winger remains a solid points/PIM bargain. … Tampa defenseman Kurtis Foster(notes) has nine points in nine games and has sustained value long enough that I'd roster him in just about any format. … Pascal Leclaire(notes) has started six straight in goal for the Senators. … Florida right wing Radek Dvorak(notes) has 12 points in his last 11, punctuated by Sunday's hat trick. … After some encouraging signs in recent weeks, it now appears possible that David Booth(notes) could miss the entire season for the Panthers.

BARGAIN BIN: Available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Steve Downie(notes), RW, TB (14-percent owned) – There's plenty of buzz in the Tampa area about just how much Downie has improved since joining the organization last season. Most of the accolades deal with the finer points of his game – passing in particular. His ability to agitate has never been in dispute. And his latest offensive contributions – Downie has two goals and five points in his last five – have not come at the expense of the gritty stuff (he recently had a streak of 11 straight games with at least a minor penalty snapped).

It's hard to project the long-term offensive upside here. He's seeing some ice time with Vincent Levacalier and it's not like Downie has never shown signs of being capable of offensive production. The Flyers had high hopes for him when they drafted him in the first round back in 2005. But he's had a hard time putting it all together and if anything has just left the impression around the league that he's a dirty player. Maybe coach Rick Tocchet has pushed the right buttons. Either way, the nice thing here is that most leagues utilize PIM as a scoring category and that aspect of Downie's game probably isn't going away, even if his recent offensive spike proves to be a mirage. It's nice to at least have a little offensive potential for your prime PIM producers.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Miroslav Satan(notes), RW, Bos – Satan has signed with the Bruins and could be ready for game action in a week to 10 days. There have been rumblings that he could find himself on Marc Savard's(notes) wing when makes his Boston debut (they certainly didn't sign him to be a checking forward). Of course it has also been pointed out that Satan didn't exactly light it up (36 points in 65 games) in Pittsburgh, and he played alongside an elite center there, too. Save your waiver claim (he'll be added to the player pool shortly) in all but deep formats.

Daymond Langkow(notes), C, Cal – He had three helpers Saturday and now has back-to-back games with a point on the power play. There are numbers to be mined here under the right circumstances, and right now those circumstances include top line billing with Jarome Iginla(notes) and Curtis Glencross(notes). Give the eight-percent owned Glencross (three goals in two games) a similar bump.

Mark Giordano(notes), D, Cal – Speaking of hot Flames, Giordano has eight points in 13 games, a pace that can boost a fantasy team from the D3 or D4 spot. He's getting more power-play time of late, too, which could help him maintain at least a 40-point pace. Kevin Bieksa(notes) owners can seek refuge here.

Brandon Yip(notes), RW, Col – The recent call-up scored twice Thursday has a modest four points in seven career games. There are rumblings that his spike in ice time could erode some of Chris Stewart's(notes) value, but Stewie tallied a goal Saturday and has at least three shots in four straight games.

Ryan Shannon(notes), RW, Ott – Shannon has filled the scoring void created by injuries to Daniel Alfredsson(notes) and others among Ottawa's top six, piling up seven points (four goals) in his last five games. Alfie won't be back until early- to mid-February, giving Shannon's fantasy value some shelf life for owners struggling for offensive punch.

Dustin Byfuglien(notes), D, Chi – On the list of motivators, Olympic snub may actually outrank the healthy scratch when it comes to lighting a fire under a player. Truth is, his own inconsistency probably cost Byfuglien a shot at the Team USA roster. That said, he is on a four-game point streak (0 goals, 5 assists, 7 PIM) and his penalty-minute upside makes him a borderline RW2 (probably better suited for deeper leagues) even if he no longer qualifies for that defense-eligible loophole.

Andy McDonald(notes), C/LW, Stl – A three-game goal streak helps keep McDonald in his position for a second consecutive week. The rest of the recommendation remains the same: he's dual-wing eligible (with a bonus that one of those positions is LW) and he's a power-play asset (two man-advantage points in last three). Don't forget McDonald had 44 points in 46 games for the Blues a season ago. It's not like we're hoping for a return to 2005-06 glory here (though he was pretty good that year, too).

Tim Connolly(notes), C, Buf – Most fantasy owners know the book on Connolly by now: He's prone to injury and even when healthy can disappear for stretches. He's also sublimely skilled, and it's the latter trait that has him on a six-game point streak (five goals, four assists). The 34-percent ownership figure isn't exactly criminal given the depth of talent at center, but Connolly is likely an upgrade over several rostered C2s or reserve pivots out there.

Ryane Clowe(notes), LW, SJ – Clowe's 10-game scoring streak (he also had points in 14 of 15) didn't quite gain universal attention in Yahoo! leagues. As of Monday's faceoff against the Kings the left wing remained available in about 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The scoring has dipped a bit (five points in last 10), but Clowe has dropped the gloves twice and tallied two points on the power play.

Milan Michalek(notes), LW, Ott – You can possibly blame the injuries that have thinned Ottawa's forward corps, but Michalek is mired in a seven-game point drought and has just a lone goal to show for his last 13 games. There's little doubt that Michalek has the complete size/skill package, but this is the type of maddening inconsistency that made him expendable in Northern California.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
Scott Pianowski makes it back-to-back weeks at the top of the charts, holding a narrow lead over Team Romig and Rotowire's Peter Maingot. Recent transactions involved Brandon Dubinsky(notes), Patrice Bergeron(notes), Brian Elliott(notes), David Perron(notes) and Kari Lehtonen, among others.

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