NHL Skinny: Quick hits

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports


1st Chair: Jaroslav Halak
2nd Chair: Carey Price
Skinny: Halak was named the game's third star Thursday. It was in a losing effort and he only played because Price was yanked after allowing four goals on 15 shots. Welcome to life between the pipes in Montreal. Halak turned around and lost 5-2 to Toronto on Saturday. Montreal has a four-game homestand ahead, the first three games coming against non-playoff teams, so if there was ever a time to turn things around …

1st Chair: Patrick Lalime
2nd Chair: Ryan Miller, Mikael Tellqvist
Skinny: Miller saw extensive action at practice Monday, keeping those pesky ill effects at bay during the 75-minute workout. There's no timetable for his return. Miller says he won't rush anything and the Sabres certainly won't take any chances with their meal ticket, but man do they need him. Lalime had a rough weekend (10 allowed on 50 shots), so we could see a rare Tellqvist start Wednesday.

1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: Andrew Raycroft
Skinny: Budaj had a solid .936 save percentage through five March starts, but was left in for all eight goals against Thursday vs. Edmonton (24 shots faced). Enter Raycroft, who was strong (27 shots, 25 saves) against San Jose on Sunday, but still saw his winless streak reach six starts. Raycroft is probably the guy to own Wednesday against the Ducks, but really you have to be desperate to give either of these guys a fantasy start.

1st Chair: Jonas Hiller
2nd Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Skinny: In five March starts, Hiller is 3-2 with a 2.16 GAA and .925 save percentage. Giguere has one win in three starts and mediocre ratios (.298, .883). This is traditionally Giguere's time of year (career 2.31 GAA, .922 save pct. in March), but for now it appears that Anaheim's playoff push is in Hiller's hands.

1st Chair: Nikolai Khabibulin
2nd Chair: Cristobal Huet
Skinny: It looks like Chicago wants Khabibulin to get the bulk of the starts for the remainder of the regular season. He was in there Sunday (4-1 win over L.A.) and has started four of five since returning from what was likely a groin injury. March was Huet's worst statistical month of the season (3.13 GAA, .890 save pct.).

1st Chair: Chris Osgood
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin
Skinny: Good luck putting a finger on exactly what Conklin did to "lose" this job. He won six of seven February starts and was off to a 2-0-1 start in March before Osgood took over. Oh well. It's not like the Red Wings had made it a secret that they preferred Ozzie in the playoffs. Osgood brought a four-game win streak into Monday's start against Calgary. He's playing some of his best goal of the season.

1st Chair: Jon Quick
2nd Chair: Erik Ersberg
Skinny: Quick was solid in Boston (3-2 win) and Chicago (28 saves on 30 shots) during the first leg of the Kings' lengthy road trip, but the overall returns were somewhat predictable (1-2 record). It gets a little easier with a pair against outside-looking-in teams (St. Louis, Dallas), but as is always the case when juggling three or more goalies, finding the most "winnable" matchup is often step 1.

1st Chair: Brian Elliott
2nd Chair: Alex Auld
Skinny: Elliott's March ratios won't blow you away (2.37 GAA, .905 save pct.), but you don't win eight straight (four one-goal wins) without making that extra save or cutting out a soft goal here and there. He's only owned in about 31 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but we all know that figure is closer to 100 percent in competitive pools. Auld got a rare start Sunday to give a "tired" Miller some rest, and came up big with 28 saves in a 2-1 win on Broadway. Playoffs?

1st Chair: Martin Biron
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki
Skinny: Biron is a top 10 fantasy goalie over the past month (6 wins, 2.26 GAA, .934 save pct.). He's now the clear-cut favorite to backstop the Flyers in the postseason, but this job has changed hands so many times this season, we just can't bring ourselves to turn the burner off.

1st Chair: Karri Ramo
2nd Chair: Mike McKenna, Mike Smith
Skinny: Ramo hasn't lost in regulation in five starts (2 wins, .919 save pct.). Not bad, but full disclosure requires us to point out that all five games were against non-playoff teams. Mike McKenna was fed to the Caps. Smith hasn't been ruled out for the season yet, but getting more than one or two starts out of him seems unlikely.

The Skinny comes in three sizes. There's the Skinny, the Skinny Lite and the So Skinny You Can't Even See it. Last week, unfortunately, you were introduced to the Ultra-Lite version. The stretch run is obviously the worst possible time to put a column on hiatus, so rather than miss another week entirely, I'm pushing out a Skinny Lite today.

We'll try to remain a weekly fixture for the little time that exists between now and the end of the regular season. At the very least we'll break out the goalie hot seat and publish it in the Roto Arcade if a full column isn't feasible. And as is always the case our friends at goaliepost.com are on duty seven days a week to help you with last-minute goalie decisions.

Let's get to the rundown, minus a few of the regular bells and whistles.

Fantasy PIM pushes can be fueled by retribution this time of year. The schedule favors division matchups in the final weeks, which means more home-and-home series and more rematches in a short time frame. Look for games that end with bad blood and take advantage of Round 2 by spot-starting the relevant players. The NHL is frowning upon the "staged" fight these days, so you might not see gloves drop at the opening faceoff, but chances are if there's a score to be settled, there will be some action.

A couple games to consider in the days to come: Washington plays host to Tampa Bay on Friday. The Lightning didn't do much to defend home ice after the Alex Ovechkin 50th goal bonfire (no major penalties), but you have to wonder if Rick Tocchet's words will fuel the fire for the David Kocis and Ryan Malones on that roster. San Jose is in Nashville on Thursday and I'd put the odds of a Brad Staubitz-Jordin Tootoo rematch at about 100 percent.

Carrying enforcer types over a long period can be a drag across multiple categories, but you can avoid that by identifying games where a big PIM total seems likely and streaming hatchet men only under those conditions.

Nathan Horton returned to the Florida lineup on Monday, recording an assist and two shots in just under 20 minutes of ice time. Universally drafted – generally in the fifth or sixth round – Horton is now available in about 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Two weeks off due to a finger injury probably played a role in the decline of his ownership figures, but let's be honest, his two-points-in-nine-games slump prior to the injury was a bigger factor. If you couple his career body of work with the departure of Olli Jokinen, it's quite possible we just overvalued him entering the 20080-09 season. That said, I'm watching his return very closely as he's a free agent in at least one of my leagues.

One-timers: Marian Gaborik returned to the Minnesota lineup on Sunday, playing just shy of 18 minutes and recording six shots. The question for fantasy owners is whether to activate him from the IR, or just leave him there until he's IR-eligible again. … Toronto center Mikhail Grabovski has nine points in six games, including five goals. … Nashville winger Joel Ward is enjoying his second three-game goal streak in the last month. If you missed last week's Frozen Fantasy, there's more on him there. … Tampa center Steven Stamkos has points in five straight and 11 goals in 16 games dating back to mid-February.

BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Alex Burrows, LW, Van (53-percent owned) – He's been covered here several times over the past month and I suspect his active-league ownership figure has to be much higher. (As an aside, we'll have to add that to next year's to-do list; determining player ownership levels in leagues where all managers meet a baseline activity level.) But back to Burrows, he's No. 28 among all forwards and defensemen over the past month with 10 goals, 1 assist, 35 penalty minutes and a plus-9 rating. OK, so you're not adding him for the helpers, but otherwise you've got at least a point or a minor penalty in 10 straight games. And left wing is supposed to be a scarce position. We're cheating here with the 53-percent ownership, but really Burrows has done enough for long enough that he should be darn near universally owned.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Patrick Sharp, C/LW, Chi – After about a month of the shelf with a knee injury, Sharp returned Sunday with three points against the Kings. Sharp may be considered a mild fantasy disappointment, but he's actually scoring at a 37-goal pace this season, which isn't much of a dropoff from his 2007-08 output.

Raffi Torres, LW, Cls – If this time of year is all about riding the hot hand, then you have to at least consider Torres as a LW2 or 3. He has six goals in nine games and Monday was practicing with Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius on the Jackets' No. 1 power-play unit.

Antoine Vermette, C, Cls – See above. Vermette has five goals and eight points in seven games since joining the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline. This was supposed to be a breakthrough year for this popular fantasy sleeper, so reaching fantasy relevance is not unexpected. But did anyone really think it would take a move to Columbus to get him going?

Sam Gagner, C, Edm – So yeah, most teams in standard formats don't need a center. But in deeper leagues some C3 and C4s are probably expendible, and if you're looking to cut an underachiever loose, the 28-percent owned Gagner is a suitable replacement. He has eight goals and six assists for 14 March points in 10 games. Even if you discount those four points on all-you-can-eat night in Colorado, he's been a steady performer (points in eight of last 10).

Daniel Briere, C, Phi – The Flyers did some line juggling to get Briere more involved, and so far the results have been positive: two goals Friday, one assist Sunday, goal/assist Monday. Maybe there's hope for this contract yet. Joffrey Lupul tumbled to the third line as is scoreless in three.

Brendan Bell, D, Ott – The Sens are suddenly making a playoff push and Bell (3-percent owned) has had a big hand in the team's recent success. The key, as you might expect, has been power-play time. Bell has six points in four games, with two goals and two assists coming on the man advantage. Dating back to early February he has 10 power-play points in 17 games. Fifty-two percent owned Filip Kuba (eight points in eight games) is relevant again, too.

Kris Letang, D, Pit – Like Bell, Letang (29-percent owned) is a widely available defenseman performing at a D1 or D2 level. Given more responsibility since the Ryan Whitney trade, Letang has nine points in 11 games, including three on the power-play. This production won't be going away.

Sergei Kostitsyn, LW, Mon – He's back from AHL exile, where he put up a modest 14 points in 16 games. Whether his return has fantasy relevance really depends on how he's deployed.

Mikko Koivu, C, Min – If you're a Koivu owner, this note from the Star Tribune is required reading. Disclaimer: the news really isn't good.

Alexander Frolov, LW, LA – The Daily News (via Facebook) is reporting that Frolov will miss 7-10 days with a lower-body injury. H2H owners, adjust accordingly.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
With around 10 games left in the regular season for most teams, it still looks like Matt Buser's league to lose. Remember, this is a basketball guy. The "I don't follow hockey" excuse no longer flies for turning down fantasy invitations, friends. Rocky from NHL.com is making a late-season push, fueled in part by Martin Brodeur's spectacular return from the IR. Recent transactions involved Wade Redden, Kristian Huselius, Tobias Enstrom, Ryan Malone and Antoine Vermette, among others.

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