NHL Skinny: Pipe Dreams

Matt Romig
1st Chair: Niklas Backstrom
2nd Chair: Manny Fernandez, Josh Harding
Skinny: Fernandez saw a doctor Sunday. The visit opened some eyes, but team officials say it was a scheduled visit. He also dressed for two games over the weekend, but didn't see any action. Remember goalies coach Bob Mason had said Fernandez would take over the No. 1 job when he had his game back. So is Backstrom now the new No. 1? When asked, coach Jacques Lemaire replied, "He's one of the three." Glad that's cleared up.
1st Chair: Ray Emery
2nd Chair: Martin Gerber
Skinny: Coach Bryan Murray told the Toronto Globe & Mail that he's making his goalie decisions game-to-game, rather than by following a long-term plan. This would seem to indicate he hasn't yet decided on a playoff starter. Gerber, still available in about 25 percent of Y! leagues, hasn't lost in regulation in eight starts and has solid post-All Star splits. Emery just hasn't regained his pre-suspension form.
1st Chair: David Aebischer
2nd Chair: Michael Leighton, Jaroslav Halak
Skinny: Aebischer, available in roughly 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues, appears to have himself a job for the stretch run. Coach Guy Carbonneau hopes to avoid using a backup regularly for the final 12 games. If he does make a switch, there's no guarantee it'll be to Halak. The Montreal Gazette reports that the club may return the rookie to the minors after losing four straight starts.
1st Chair: Tomas Vokoun
2nd Chair: Chris Mason
Skinny: Coach Barry Trotz calls his goalies "interchangeable," so it's no surprise that Mason, the backup, has started three of the last seven games. Expect Vokoun and Mason to split games in the home-and-home against Detroit that begins Tuesday. Barring any performance issues, Trotz may ratchet up Vokoun's workload a bit to prep for the playoffs.
1st Chair: Sean Burke
2nd Chair: Mathieu Garon
Skinny: Burke has struggled a bit of late, posting a .890 save percentage while winning only one of five March starts. Garon still can't get a foot in the door, however, as he got only one start on the team's four-game, six-day road trip. He should get a chance Monday, however, as the Kings went OT with Burke in net Sunday.
1st Chair: Curtis Joseph
2nd Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
Skinny: Not a lot of value to be had here. Joseph has allowed four or more goals in seven of his last eight starts. Tellqvist was pulled Saturday after stopping only 12 of the 17 shots he faced in the first period against Chicago. I can't really think of a reason to start either of these guys unless you're desperate to meet the starts minimum in a head-to-head league.
1st Chair: Fredrik Norrena
2nd Chair: Brian Boucher
Skinny: Norrena started three games in four nights, a curious development considering Ken Hitchcock's concern over fatigue and the fact that Boucher won his only start for Columbus. Coach went against the grain once already, but we expect to see Boucher Friday in San Jose or Saturday in Los Angeles.

Two simple pieces of advice lead the Skinny this week. First, watch your games-played pace. It's a simple thing, but often overlooked. And there's always temptation, when you're in a category dogfight, to unleash your full arsenal of players on your opponents every day. Trust me, you don't want to miss out on two or three Sidney Crosby starts because you decided to milk a few games out of Petr Prucha in early March. If you're in a rotisserie league, click the "maximum games" link to see where you stand. Really ambitious owners can take the raw number of games remaining and map out today who they will start on which dates for the remainder of the season. There will be no surprises that way.

Second, get help where you need it. Again, a simple thing, but it's easy to continue using the same method to evaluate players today as you did on draft day. Would you still draft Joe Thornton early if you knew you had a 50-assist head start on your league? Probably not. Every add-drop at this time of year needs to be made with category standings in mind. Several attractive need-based acquisitions are featured in this week's update:

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

Let's start at possibly the most difficult position to find help – between the pipes. There are 12 teams in a standard Yahoo! league and most owners carry three goalies. That's 36 goalies owned in a league that features 30 starters. Not very good odds. But a few players have slipped through the cracks in several leagues. Exhibit A is Tampa Bay's Marc Denis, who stopped 25 shots Saturday to beat Calgary for his fifth win in seven starts. A few days earlier he was nearly perfect in a 3-1 win at Edmonton. He's available in roughly 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues and is still a candidate to be No. 1 down the stretch. Coach John Tortorella said he's "still waiting" for a playoff goalie to emerge. Johan Holmqvist has a spring training ERA-like 3.82 goals against average in his last seven games.

Considering he produced at a 45-point pace upon moving to the O.C. after last year's Columbus-Anaheim trade, Ducks rearguard Francois Beauchemin has to be considered a fantasy flop in 2006-07. Perhaps it was one that was easy to see coming, what with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer both being legendary for cannibalizing minutes. Still, it was reasonable to expect more than the 20 points he has accumulated to date, good only for a tie for 65th in defenseman scoring.

Does he have time to shed the flop label in the final 12 games? Probably not, but he has a short window of fantasy opportunity with Pronger back on the shelf. In Anaheim's last two games, he has four assists, three power-play points and is a plus-2. He'll get at least another week of increased responsibility on special teams. Pronger's injury also brought Ric Jackman back to life. He has two power-play points in three games since the injury. Both are worthy of No. 4 defense slots for the duration of Pronger's recovery.

One-timers: Flyers left wing Simon Gagne injured his groin Saturday and will miss at least two games. … John Grahame (available in 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues) may get a couple of starts for Carolina after starter Cam Ward suffered a laceration in Sunday's loss. … Proving there's life after being removed from Joe Thornton's line, Sharks winger Ryane Clowe has four points in his last four games.

BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Dustin Penner, LW, Ana – A Skinny favorite since the Western Conference playoffs of a year ago, Penner is getting hot once again as the postseason approaches. He has goals in four of six March games and looking back further has 11 points in 13 games. He went on tilt Sunday and picked up 17 penalty minutes, but he's much more than a big body with a mean streak.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Mike Fisher, C, Ott – Not an easy guy to pick up, as most owners have fantasy depth at center and many are pushing the games-played limit. However, goal-hungry owners may want to make a shift from a guy like Henrik Sedin to an option like Fischer, who has nine goals in his last 13 games.

Alexei Zhitnik, D, NYI – Still available in about half of Yahoo! leagues, Zhitnik has eight assists in six games since joining the Thrashers. Atlanta acquired him to quarterback the power play and move the puck around and he's doing just that. Kick your No. 3 or 4 defensemen loose and give him a shot.

Marco Sturm, LW, Bos – Finally healthy, Sturm has 11 goals and six assists for 17 points in his last 16 games.

Chuck Kobasew, RW, Bos – At least for now, he's lining up on Boston's No. 1 line and getting some prime power-play minutes. Sunday he responded with a goal and an assist in a 6-3 win at Detroit.

Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Det – Out since January with a broken foot, Samuelsson is back in the Detroit lineup in the fantasy-friendly role of Pavel Datsyuk's wingman. Though he's a minus-4 in two games, he has an overtime goal, a power-play assist and 11 shots.

Matt Carle, D, SJ – First the upside: Carle is averaging a point per game over his last eight, a barrage that includes three power-play goals. The downside: Coach Ron Wilson went super-conservative in the third period Sunday and Carle barely saw the ice.

Scottie Upshall, RW, Phi – With two points Saturday, Upshall now has nine points in 11 games since coming over in the Peter Forsberg trade.

David Koci, D, Chi – That he picked up 42 penalty minutes in his NHL debut would be shocking if not for the fact that he averaged 300 penalty minutes between 2003-05 in the AHL. Good need-based add here as three fights Saturday translated into a 6-3 Blackhawks win.

Shawn Horcoff, C, Edm – Things have gone predictably downhill for the Oilers since the Ryan Smyth trade, and one of the hardest hit fantasy-wise has been Horcoff. In six games since the deadline, he has no points and is a minus-4.

Vesa Toskala, G, SJ – Toskala finally returned to the San Jose bench Sunday, dressing as Evgeni Nabokov's backup. He has been out since Feb. 14 and now Nabokov is red hot, with three shutouts in his last four starts. It's unlikely coach Ron Wilson will return to the goalie rotation implemented for the season's first four months.

Alexei Kovalev, RW, Mon – He responded well with a two-point night, but it's worth noting that Kovalev was demoted to Montreal's fourth line for Saturday's win at St. Louis.

Anze Kopitar, C, LA – According to the Los Angeles Times, the Kings' promising rookie will miss another two weeks. With nothing left to play for, don't rule out a complete shutdown.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League
The Jaroslav Halak and Bill Guerin experiments didn't exactly go as planned. I cut both loose, going with Chris Mason for a solid GAA, save percentage option and Paul Stastny as a depth option at center as it's the only forward position where I had room to spare. Just a half-point separates first and second in what should be an interesting race to glory.