Icing It Down: Fallen Star in Texas
With most NHL teams having reached the quarter pole for the season, we can reflect on some of the major goings-on as per the injuries so far. Compared to what some seasons have brought, this has been a fairly mild campaign when considering big-time injuries to major stars. Aside from the Martin Havlat injury in Game 1 (his latest return date is now Wednesday), we have Sheldon Souray still rehabbing in Edmonton, Simon Gagne's concussion issues in Philly, and an on-again off-again Dominik Hasek in Detroit. All things considered, it could be a lot worse, and it's surely a bit of good fortune that has kept the vast majority of top-tier players in action thus far.
As promised last week, the annual Thanksgiving football game brought a right knee contusion and some sort of left foot strain to yours truly, so I'm writing the column this week from inside the "'Tis But a Scratch" section. It's this type of immersion writing that makes what we do here so much better for all the readers out there. On to this week's key fantasy hockey injuries
Mathieu Schneider, D, Ducks: Schneider's chronic hip flexor ailment had him out until Wednesday's game, when he returned and skated more than 20 minutes. He also played in the team's games on Friday and Sunday, chipping in with an assist in the latter contest. As mentioned last week, Schneider had stated that he only wanted to return when he felt that the hip flexor was back to a level that could withstand a full workload for the long haul, so he should be reactivated in all formats now that he's made his return.
Joni Pitkanen, D, Oilers: After missing more than a month, Pitkanen made his return to the ice Thursday night, and played more than 26 minutes Saturday night, finishing with four shots on goal. Although he has been kept off of the score sheet so far in his return, he has not displayed any nagging signs of the knee injury, so it is safe to put him back on your active roster.
Martin Straka, LW, Rangers: After a month on the shelf, Straka returned to action Friday night. After leaving the game that night with a hamstring strain in the third period, he was penciled in to rejoin the "'Tis But a Scratch" ranks, but apparently the injury was not serious at all, and Straka skated more than 20 minutes in Sunday afternoon's game. Straka's value can clearly be seen by the 146 points he scored in the past two seasons combined, so go ahead and use him if you need a guy who'll score but not do much else.
Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Senators: A little more than a week after getting franchise center Jason Spezza back, the Senators lose their franchise right wing (at least temporarily). Alfredsson missed Saturday night's loss against the Flyers, although he does believe he will be back for Wednesday's game. During Saturday's game, Dean McAmmond picked up an assist on Dany Heatley's first-period tally. However, I wouldn't put much stock in continued production from McAmmond. Weekly leaguers should stay away from Alfredsson this week if you have a four-game option as a replacement, but the Senators have a game against Nashville on Thursday, and I'm not convinced goalie Chris Mason is done being a sieve quite yet in spite of a few recent good starts. Therefore, you might be best sticking with a two-game Alfredsson instead of a three-game second-liner this week.
Drew Stafford, RW, Sabres: Stafford has not had a great season to this point, and he's not alone in Buffalo. I still hold out hope that the scoring machine we saw last season did not completely fall apart after losing two cogs; as important as Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were to the team, there is still a lot of offense on this squad. Stafford missed the weekend home-and-home against Montreal where the Sabres showed off some of that latent firepower (four goals on Friday and three on Saturday), but his shoulder injury is mild enough that he anticipates playing on Monday night. He's certainly a buy-low candidate at this point, and will have good value in deeper leagues from here on out.
Marek Zidlicky, D, Predators: With Shea Weber out for the first month of the season, Zidlicky was forced to shoulder the burden of making up for Weber's offensive production. Due in part to this -- and predominantly other, less metaphorical factors -- the fourth-year defenseman missed Saturday's game with a back strain. Nashville coach Barry Trotz called it a "minor injury," so do not expect a long layoff for Zidlicky, who is at a half-point-per-game pace, a little bit behind his average career pace.
Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings: After tweaking a nagging groin injury, Frolov missed Sunday night's game against Anaheim and it is reported that he will also miss Wednesday's matchup against the Sharks. Weekly leagues should bench him for the week, but daily lineup leagues should keep an ear to the ground because he might make it back for Saturday's game against Colorado.
Jere Lehtinen, RW, Stars: Lehtinen was well above his usual scoring pace this season before sustaining a sports hernia injury during Wednesday night's win against Anaheim. Usually just a sniper, Lehtinen had shown a newfound talent to consistently pick up assists this season, and before the injury was near a point-per-game pace. Based on the reports available now, the injury will keep him out of action for a minimum of 10 weeks, and it could be up to three months before he gets back on the ice. This opening will provide an opportunity for another winger -- possibly rookie Antti Miettinen -- to get some time on the line with Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro, a duo that has been leading the offensive charge during the team's recent winning streak. Pay close attention to the box scores, because whoever ends up riding shotgun will provide some long-term fantasy dividends while Lehtinen recovers.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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