I never understood people who traveled with the Grateful Dead, or those who would catch the U2 show in San Jose on Thursday before jumping on highway 680 for the Sacramento show two nights later. Again? Didn't you see them last night? But then Evgeni Malkin bolted Russia and Sidney Crosby came of age and the Pittsburgh Penguins began a West Coast tour that NHL officials, in their infinite wisdom, have made as rare as a full-lineup Guns N' Roses reunion. And I began to understand.
Watching Malkin and Crosby and their tape-to-tape act – yes, cassettes went out of style long ago, but trust me, you have to see this – on Thursday in Los Angeles just wasn't enough. So I booked a flight and caught a second show in San Jose. This one was historic, and not just because of the buzz in the building that comes only when collectively, everyone in attendance realizes they're onto something before mainstream America. It turned out to be the first goalless game in Malkin's career. And there was another slightly less historic first that leads our weekly roundup:
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From the moment Joe Thornton arrived in San Jose last season, he and winger Jonathan Cheechoo worked magic. Cheechoo scored two goals in their first game together, scored 48 more before the season was done and never went more than three games without a goal. But things have changed this year. Cheechoo hasn't scored in five games and Saturday, for the first time since the blockbuster trade that brought Thornton to San Jose, the two were split up. Thornton centered Milan Michalek and the instantly relevant Mike Grier while Cheechoo was shipped down to the third line to play with Marcel Goc and Pat Rissmiller.
So how did it work out? Well that's hard to say. Thornton assisted on three goals and was a season-best plus-2. Grier scored twice and didn't look at all out of his league. But Cheechoo gets an incomplete. He was ejected after a receiving a boarding major on his first shift. There's no telling where he would have fit into the power-play puzzle, though it's hard to image coach Ron Wilson messing with the league's best PP unit. This is a situation to keep an eye on Tuesday when San Jose hosts Minnesota. Wilson has messed with line pairings frequently of late, so seeing Cheechoo back with his old linemate wouldn't be a shock.
Buffalo has decided to be understandably tight-lipped about the condition of injured winger Maxim Afinogenov, but fantasy owners need to be prepped for a minimum two-week absence from the lineup. Team officials are classifying the injury – suffered Saturday against Toronto – as an upper-body injury. Very helpful. The Buffalo News believed he suffered a separated shoulder.
The short-term beneficiary is rookie Drew Stafford, who made his NHL debut on Buffalo's red-hot line with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. The 14th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Stafford was having his way with AHL opposition in his 11 games with Rochester. He picked up an assist in just under 13 minutes of ice time in his debut. Fantasy owners who prefer a bit more seasoning in their injury replacements may want to call on the likes of Glenn Murray or Mike Sillinger.
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- Taylor Pyatt, LW, Van – The same formula worked last year for Vancouver: Place a journeyman winger alongside the wildly underrated Sedin twins and see what happens. In 2005-06, the result was a career-best, 33-goal season from Anson Carter, who was making his sixth NHL stop. Carter bolted to Columbus, totally sapping his fantasy value and robbing us of one of the all-time great line nicknames, the Three Brothers Line.
Now the man is Pyatt, who replaced Markus Naslund on the Sedin line a few games into the season. The results have been predictable. Playing alongside a pair of pass-first playmakers, Pyatt has a goal in six of his last nine games and at least one point in five straight. He has had an up-and-down career since joining the league in 1999, coincidentally going eighth in the same draft that saw linemates Henrik and Daniel taken in the top 5. A run at 30 goals isn't out of the question if his line assignment sticks.
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Doug Weight, C, Stl – Had to figure he was due for a turnaround. Weight is still a playmaker, and even during his seven-game pointless streak was regularly logging 20-22 minutes per game. The Stanley Cup hangover now over, Weight led the entire player pool with six assists last week. Consider him a need-only add, as he'll likely pot no more than 12 goals this season.
Michel Ouellet, RW, Pit – Ouellet was begging for more top-line ice team even before Saturday's goal, assist performance against the Sharks. Already a power-play fixture alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Ouellet will start Monday's game on Pittsburgh's No. 1 line, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
Joel Kwiatkowski, D, Fla – Kwiatkowski has three goals in five games dating back to Oct. 28. Not bad for a defenseman, but there's a catch. Kiwi has actually been pressed into forward duties by injuries. As long as he's a fourth-line center, he's worth a look as a No. 4 fantasy defenseman.
Mikko Koivu, C, Min – In a lineup shuffle, Koivu wound up centering a line alongside Pavol Demitra in Saturday's loss to Nashville. The result was his second straight two-point night. Remember that Koivu grabbed No. 1 center duties after training camp last season, but never really got going due to injuries. Keep an eye on him.
Johan Hedberg, G, Atl – Regular Kari Lehtonen has struggled lately. Not quite a Hot Seat battle here, but Hedberg is on the radar as a valuable fantasy No. 3. In three starts, all on the road, Atlanta's backup is 3-0 with a .921 save percentage.
Ville Peltonen, LW, Fla – Linemate and countryman Olli Jokinen projected Peltonen as a 60-point guy this season, which makes him playable in some formats. Out of the league and playing overseas since the end of the 2001 season, Peltonen has assists in back-to-back games skating on a line with Jokinen and Nathan Horton.
Colby Armstrong, RW, Pit – According to Monday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Armstrong is off the Sidney Crosby line. So much for those points by osmosis we were all anticipating. He's a bench player at best when not skating with Crosby and Malkin.
Alexander Semin, RW, Was – The bottom dropped out on Semin Saturday as the winger found himself on Washington's fourth line along with Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon. That point-per-game start looks like a distant memory.
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Kensik and Romig are tied atop the standings. The experts soured on Mark Bell and Kyle Wellwood among others while Bill Guerin and Jason Blake were inked to deals.