NHL Skinny: Blackhawk Down

Matt Romig
1st Chair: Marc Denis
2nd Chair: Johan Holmqvist
Skinny: Good news: Denis finally has his Visa issues worked out, allowing him to resume travel to Canada. That's key as Tampa Bay plays three of its next five north of the border. More good news: Denis got his 100th career win. It took him nine starts, but he blanked Atlanta Thursday to reach the milestone. It was his third straight start after Holmqvist was pulled eight minutes into his start on Dec. 2. Still pretty well up for grabs here.
1st Chair: Curtis Joseph
2nd Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
Skinny: Tellqvist lost Saturday, but was solid in stopping 40 of 44 shots against the Stars. It was his third start in four games since coming over from the Maple Leafs. Publicly, the Coyotes say they're just happy to have a capable backup to lighten the load on Joseph. This could develop into a full-scale position battle, but for now just be ready to live with fewer starts from Cujo.
1st Chair: Fredrik Norrena
2nd Chair: Pascal Leclaire
Skinny: Leclaire suffered a lower-body injury in Sunday's win over Ottawa and later said, "It's not great." He was noticeably limping after the game. Norrena had already seized control of the No. 1 job with four straight wins, two by shutout. He's widely available, too. Take a look in your league.
1st Chair: Dan Cloutier
2nd Chair: Mathieu Garon
Skinny: Cloutier made his fifth straight start Saturday, picking up a win against the Avs despite allowing four goals for the third time in four games. His save percentage in December is a modest .878. Garon should get a chance to win this job back when he returns from a groin injury next week.
1st Chair: Ray Emery
2nd Chair: Martin Gerber
Skinny: Gerber had a chance to build on two straight solid starts Sunday, but instead took a seat after allowing four goals on 13 shots to Columbus. He was replaced by Emery, himself struggling after losing two straight. This was a wasted opportunity for Gerber, who won't get too many more chances to capture this job.
1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: Jose Theodore
Skinny: Theodore returned from a hip flexor injury to beat the Sharks, but then allowed five goals in a tough loss at Los Angeles. His up-and-down season continues. Budaj lost his only start while Theodore was on the shelf.
1st Chair: Kari Lehtonen
2nd Chair: Johan Hedberg
Skinny: Hard to fault Lehtonen for Saturday's loss to the Penguins. He faced a season-high 43 shots and still managed to survive until overtime. Hedberg probably gets another shot with the Thrashers playing three games in four days later this week.
1st Chair: Jason Bacashihua
2nd Chair: Manny Legace
Skinny: First Curtis Sanford went down, then Manny Legace. Those injuries gave Bacashihua a shot, but he has underperformed in two December starts. The Blues are a mess, and coach Mike Kitchen could soon get fired. It's best to avoid this situation all together. Try Fredrik Norrena or Alex Auld if you need goalie help.

It's Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby again Monday night, with the added bonus of a little Evgeni Malkin thrown in. Still hard to like the shootout, particularly when almost nothing of fantasy consequence happens during those 3-on-3 exhibitions, but it's also hard not to root for this one to end that way after a 6-6 tie. Ovechkin quietly has a lot more help this year. One guy still flying under the fantasy radar (80 percent availability) is right wing Chris Clark, who has five goals and an assist in his last six games. The Skinny predicts a 4-3 win on home ice for the Caps. Now let's look back on the weekend that was:

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

The timing couldn't be better to run out and grab Chicago Blackhawks right wing Radim Vrbata. Back in October, when Martin Havlat was healthy and tearing up the league, Vrbata began the season with 10 points in seven games. On Oct. 20, the day Havlat injured his ankle, Vrbata recorded a season-high three assists. The production dried up then and there. Over the next five games, the Czech winger would record only a single point. In November the Blackhawks scored two or fewer goals in eight of ten games.

Havlat is back now, and he hasn't skipped a beat. He returned with two goals and three points Saturday against Minnesota. Sunday he recorded two points and was a plus-4 in a win over Edmonton. What has all this meant for Vrbata's production? Well, nothing. He's hurt now – sidelined by a wrist injury. That's not good news. But the upside is that he's available in slightly more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues and the injury has prevented a rush to the checkout line. Point-per-game production the rest of the way is not at all out of the question.

The Pittsburgh Penguins probably get too much attention in this space. But it's hard to avoid. There's just too much fantasy potential out there when you have a pair of superstar centers to build lines around. And coach Michel Therrien's habitual line juggling further fuels the over-analysis. As I've stated here before, memorizing the Pens' line combos is an exercise in futility. Once you have them down, Therrien will scrap them and start over. But there's no harm in keeping tabs on guys getting plenty of ice time with the big two centers.

Several guys in the rotation are widely available in Yahoo! leagues. Colby Armstrong has four goals in six games after a nearly two-month goalless drought. He was recently moved off Sidney Crosby's line, but a spot alongside Evgeni Malkin is hardly a downgrade. Erik Christensen has three goals and four points in five games playing on Malkin's wing. Ryan Malone set up on Crosby's wing, but has yet to record a point in three games since coming off the IR. Move all three to your watch list.

One-timers: Heard this one a few times now, but Cory Stillman is "cautiously optimistic" that he'll make his season debut Monday against Colorado. … Despite the fact that Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals Saturday, the San Jose Mercury reports that he didn't start on a line with Joe Thornton. Rookie Joe Pavelski started on one wing opposite Thornton, and coach Ron Wilson rotated left wings. … Washington netminder Olaf Kolzig is 8-0-1 when facing more than 35 shots. …

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

  • Ruslan Salei, D, Fla – With three points Saturday, Salei broke through the 20-point barrier for the first time in his career. This is the 10-year veteran's first season with Florida. Salei is tied for 11th in defenseman scoring and ranks third among blueliners with 12 power-play assists. Bonus: Salei is coming off back-to-back 100 PIM seasons and is once again on pace to record 80-plus penalty minutes. He's available in about 63 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det – Datsyuk got the message. Downgraded by The Skinny last week and stripped of Can't-Cut List status by the Yahoo! powers-that-be, Datsyuk responded with six points in three games. Maybe you don't want to cut him loose just yet.

David Vyborny, RW, Cls – Two more assists Sunday gives him four in the last two games. Apparently Ken Hitchcock knows a thing or two about teaching offense, too.

Dan Fritsche, C, Cls – More of an advisory for owners in deeper leagues. Columbus' Fritsche-Anson Carter-Jason Chimera line has been clicking of late. The trio combined for four points Sunday and Fritsche now has three goals and four assists in his last four games. Carter, by the way, has come alive with a four-game point streak.

Brad Stuart, D, Bos – At this pace (4 goals, 1 assist in 4 games), Stuart will make the Joe Thornton trade look like a steal for Boston. OK, not really, but as a guy available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he can fill a No. 3 or No. 4 defense slot.

Peter Bondra, RW, Chi – In case you missed it, Bondra signed with Chicago Sunday. He's got work to do to record a 15th straight 20-goal season, but that's what he does – score goals. The Blackhawks are 27th in goals and 28th on the power play. They need the help.

Daniel Cleary, RW, Det – He's streaking again. Earlier it was a seven-game point streak. This one: a five-gamer that includes four goals and three assists. Overall: 17 points in his last 15 games. Not bad for a guy with right around 90 percent availability.

Mark Parrish, RW, Min – You don't want to overreact to a random hat trick, but Parrish is a guy who can get hot. Why just last December he scored eight goals in 12 games. Maybe he digs the holidays.

Alexander Radulov, RW, Nas – With Steve Sullivan dinged, Radulov played more than usual (about 13 minutes) in Saturday's loss to the Sharks. Of course, he didn't score or record a shot. Still, his role is expanding. The rookie potted his first career power-play goal two nights earlier.

Bryan Smolinski, C, Chi – He's got a four-game point streak (2 goals, 3 assists) and could benefit from the presence of Peter Bondra on his wing.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League
Two more trades went down last week as the Rotowire guys continue to wheel and deal. When do they find time to actually publish content? In more conventional transactions, Michal Rozsival, Ron Hainsey and Pavol Demitra (he was available?) all found employment.