Icing It Down: Lehtonen letdown
Hockey being a reasonably violent collision sport, it's expected that pain and injuries will occur from time to time. As a fantasy owner, one must be agile enough to pounce on the best of the waiver wire when any of one's key players sustains such an injury. It can be quite maddening, however, when just as one key cog returns, another falls.
The Atlanta Thrashers served as a microcosm of that ebb and flow this week. Superstar Marian Hossa returned to action, adding a goal and an assist as the team grabbed its first win of the season on Thursday night, but in the very same game, the team lost starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen to a groin injury which has shelved him on injured reserve. While the Thrashers' management probably wishes it could hit the reset button on the 2007-08 season right now, it's still very early in the game for us, the fantasy owners. Worry not if you've been decimated by injuries this far, the season is young and many guys who will be brought in as temporary replacements could become your key to success down the road.
Erik Cole, LW, Hurricanes: We've all heard the stories of professional athletes getting hurt playing in pickup games, and you can now officially add Cole to that list, after he injured his foot doing his best Ronaldinho impression on Saturday. His timing couldn't be worse for his fantasy owners since this is a four-game week for the Hurricanes, normally a time to load up on stats. Reports have Cole returning by next week's games.
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Scott Walker, RW, Hurricanes: One man who was injured in the line of duty this past week was Walker, after a hit by Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu left him with a mysterious "torso" injury. In spite of a paltry 45 penalty minutes last season, Walker has shown a career propensity to find himself both on the score sheet and the penalty docket, his best recent season being 2003-04, when he tallied 25 goals, 42 assists and 94 penalty minutes. He, too, will unfortunately miss the heavy slate of games for Carolina this week.
Jaroslav Spacek, D, Sabres: A top power-play contributor, Spacek is nursing an injured shoulder that kept him out of two weekend games for the Sabres. His return date looks to be Friday night, but in the meantime, slot a different D-man into your lineup, especially you weekly lineup-setters.
Milan Hejduk, RW, Avalanche: Hejduk missed two games this past week with stiffness in his back, and while the injury is not considered serious, it is difficult to say with certainty that he won't miss more games here and there. When firing on all healthy cylinders, Hejduk should be hovering around the point-per-game level, but it's difficult to score when you're not in the lineup, so temper your expectations of him going forward. In his stead, look for Marek Svatos to take over the winger spot on the second line for the Avs.
Pavol Demitra, RW, Wild: Demitra left Sunday night's game in the third period with a strained right adductor, sending scores of Minnesota fans and fantasy owners to their online medical dictionaries to find out what that is. As it turns out, there are three major adductor muscles in the upper thigh, all of which are pretty important to ice-skating. It has been reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Demitra will be evaluated day-to-day, but that the injury is not serious, so it's OK to keep him on the active fantasy roster.
Martin Straka, C, Rangers: Part of the Rangers' Czech conglomerate that was wildly effective the past two seasons, Straka is paying a visit to a hand specialist this week for evaluation. With his status unclear, he should be taken out of lineups until more is known.
Alexander Semin, LW, Capitals: Reports out of Washington have Semin back on the practice ice this week in hopes for a return next week. Semin's absence provided an audition for Bemidji, Minn.'s Joe Motzko last week, who responded with an assist on Thursday, but who was promptly sent back down to Hershey this weekend.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Thrashers: Lehtonen left Thursday's game with a groin injury. In his place, the Thrashers will go with a mixture of Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec. As noted previously by colleague Sean Allen in "Open Ice," Pavelec is the man to pick up here for fantasy purposes, as he has the higher ceiling. His first appearance this year was unspectacular, as he came on in third-period relief of Hedberg on Saturday, giving up a goal on six shots, but we will have a better idea of his worth after a full start or two.
Sheldon Souray, D, Oilers: Souray, one of the hottest free agents this past summer and one of the top fantasy defensemen in the league, will miss the next three to four weeks with a separated shoulder. This injury deals a tremendous blow to the Oilers' power play, as Souray was the big gun on the point, so don't expect much out of your Oilers in the power-play department while he is out. No one from the trio of Steve Staios, Dick Tarnstrom and Joni Pitkanen is of much use to you unless your league goes deeper than four defensemen, and none of them is a recommended add as a replacement for Souray.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.