NHL Skinny: Last-Minute Push

Matt Romig
1st Chair: Robert Esche
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki
Skinny: Still no announcement from coach Ken Hitchcock. Esche has won three of four starts, while Niittymaki has lost three straight. Seems open and shut, but Niittymaki has been victimized by some poor defensive efforts. Since Hitchcock isn't talking, we'll lean on the Philadelphia Daily News, who speculated Monday that Esche would be the guy if the playoffs started today.
1st Chair: Sean Burke
2nd Chair: John Grahame
Skinny: Don't count out Johnny. That's what coach John Tortorella said before sending Grahame out to start Sunday's game at Florida. Johnny gave up five goals despite making a season-high 42 saves. Can we count out Johnny now? Probably. Burke has won three straight starts, allowing only three goals in the process. If the playoffs started today, Burke would be the guy.
1st Chair: Jason Bacashihua
2nd Chair: Reinhard Divis
Skinny: With Columbus, Phoenix and Chicago remaining on the schedule, the Blues may actually win a game or two. Looks like Bacashihua will be the guy to do it. He made back-to-back starts to close the week, beating Edmonton Sunday to snap a 13-game losing streak.
1st Chair: Ryan Miller
2nd Chair: Martin Biron
Skinny: Coach Lindy Ruff isn't convinced that Miller is the guy to lead the Sabres into the playoffs. Inexperience is an issue. So is recent performance. March was Miller's worst month of the season, and things have gotten worse in April. In three starts, he has a 4.01 GAA and an .871 save percentage. Biron won his past two starts and may be more than an insurance policy for Ruff. "He may be the guy that's going to play," the coach said of Biron. The Sabres have four remaining games.
1st Chair: Vesa Toskala
2nd Chair: Evgeni Nabokov
Skinny: Toskala backstopped another San Jose win Monday, his fifth in a row. There will be no meaningless games for the Sharks down the stretch, so coach Ron Wilson will likely keep turning to the hot hand. Nabokov's next chance to earn the club's confidence may come in one of San Jose's back-to-back games against Vancouver this week.
1st Chair: Jean-Sebastien Aubin
2nd Chair: Mikael Tellqvist
Skinny: After making five starts in eight days, Aubin had to be relieved to see a three-day break in the schedule. The time off also gives fantasy owners a chance to catch up. Aubin is available in more than 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but the number is dwindling by the day. The 28-year-old has a 1.82 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage since being recalled from the AHL.
1st Chair: Olaf Kolzig
2nd Chair: Brent Johnson
Skinny: The pair split Washington's past four starts, with Kolzig putting together the most impressive effort, a 2-1 win over Boston Monday. Johnson had a rough night his last time out, but was victimized by a poor defensive effort in a 5-0 loss to the Islanders.

There's a reason the home team gets to make the final line change after a stoppage in play. It's an advantage. Coaches don't just send their three best forwards out and hope for the best. Sometimes, it's about matchups. Likewise, fantasy owners should apply the same logic when setting their rotisserie lineups. Sure, Paul Kariya is a better hockey player than Brendan Witt. But which player is more valuable to your fantasy team right now? That could well depend on where you stand in certain categories.

If you lose your league by one rotisserie point after falling just short in the penalty minutes category, you only have yourself to blame if you've been rolling out a lineup stacked with Lady Byng candidates. Witt can help you rack up PIMs. Kariya cannot. Now more than ever, you have to understand that sometimes a double-minor can be more valuable than a hat trick. We'll start the Skinny this week with a closer look at a few stat categories, and list some widely available guys who can help you make a last-minute push there.

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

Goals: Available in roughly 30 percent of leagues, Carolina right wing Justin Williams continues to out-produce deadline acquisition Mark Recchi, who is available in a paltry 12 percent of leagues. Williams has five goals in his past four games. … In Montreal, center Christopher Higgins is averaging a goal per game over his past 10. … Ottawa's Patrick Eaves has benefited from his time on the Sens' top line. He has a goal in three of his past four games. … Boston rookie Brad Boyes is one of only three players with double-figure goals and assists in the past month … San Jose forward and Skinny favorite Steve Bernier has goals in consecutive games, giving him nine in the past month.

Assists: Maxim Afinogenov has seven assists in Buffalo's past four games. Only six players have more helpers over the past month. … Rangers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh remains available in more than half of Yahoo! leagues. Only three defensemen have more assists in the past month. … Florida's Jay Bouwmeester has at least one assist in six of nine games. He's been an underrated fantasy producer across all categories over the past month. – Tony Amonte finally scored a goal for Chicago, his first in 31 games. But for a fantasy boost, his four-game assist streak is more relevant. He has seven helpers in his past seven games. … In Ottawa, Brian Pothier has the same seven in seven streak as he capitalizes on the team's thinned out defense corps.

Goalie categories: Jose Theodore told the Rocky Mountain News that he expects to make his first start for Colorado Tuesday. He made his first appearance Monday in relief of Peter Budaj, who was pulled after allowing two early goals against Minnesota. – San Jose's Vesa Toskala won his second defensive player of the week award in three weeks. He remains available in roughly 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues. – Chris Mason is now officially the guy in Nashville now that Thomas Vokoun's season is officially over. Mason has won his past two starts, allowing just one goal while stopping 41 of 42 shots. Three of the Preds' final four opponents are non-playoff teams.

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

  • Dainius Zubrus, RW, Was
    The Caps have but four regular season games remaining, which at his current rate of production leaves Zubrus plenty of time to do some damage. The winger enjoyed another two point night Monday, giving him nine goals and 14 assists in his past 19 games. As of Sunday, Zubrus remained available in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Juraj Kolnik, RW, Fla – He's been filling in for Jozef Stumpel on Florida's top line, and last Monday he logged more ice time than any Panther forward. Kolnik enjoyed a three-point night and now has at least one point in three of five. Stumpel could return to the Florida lineup Tuesday.

Martin Havlat, LW, Ott – His return from shoulder surgery has been pushed back until Saturday. Only two regular-season games will remain by then, and Ottawa is unlikely to give him top-line minutes right off the bat. That said, the Sens will want him battle tested for the playoffs, so look for the left wing to play 10-12 minutes per night.

Chris Kunitz, LW, Ana – The weakest fantasy link on Anaheim's top line, Kunitz won't match the production of linemates Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald. But Kunitz scored twice Saturday and is averaging a point per game in his past 11.

Mike Dunham, G, Atl – Dunham will start at least one more game for Atlanta while starter Kari Lehtonen mends an injured ankle.

Steve Yzerman, C, Det – With an assist Saturday, Yzerman how has points in 11 straight games (5 goals, 9 assists).

Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor – He was held off the score sheet Saturday, but the 26-year-old had four goals and four assists in his previous six games.

Matt Carle, D, SJ – Days after winning the Hobey Baker award as the top college player for 2005-06, Carle assisted on San Jose's first goal in a 3-2 win over Phoenix. The defenseman has at least one point in half of his eight career NHL starts.

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