Commentary

Forecaster: NHL returns from break

Updated: March 5, 2010, 2:59 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

It sure does feel like a lot longer than two weeks have lapsed since we last saw some NHL hockey. We aren't going back into things lightly, either. After just one game on Monday between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche, 13 other NHL teams manage to cram a four-game week into the six remaining days.

With so many games being played, you will be hard-pressed to find too many weaknesses in your lineup, so just try to use this first week back to refocus on the task at hand (hopefully baseball hasn't been stealing too much of your attention yet).

The player who spent the past two weeks in Vancouver for the Olympics may or may not be affected by the lack of a break. I think some of the guys who end up winning gold will be on a bit of a high and some of the guys who lose in the semifinals and finals will be on a bit of a low, but since I'm writing this before the semis, obviously I don't have that knowledge at hand.

Still, there have been a couple of standouts from the Vancouver games who have already made me pause, and the main one didn't have to travel very far.

Pavol Demitra, LW, Canucks: Demitra didn't play his first game of the season until Jan. 16, and he shares the points lead at the Olympic tournament through the quarterfinals (seven points). He certainly hasn't made much noise at the NHL level this season with four points in 11 games, but there is plenty of potential for Demitra even as low as the third line on the Vancouver Canucks' depth chart. Demitra showed some life at the Olympics that fantasy owners haven't seen from him for several years. He and Marian Hossa had paced the Slovakian attack through their first five games. Demitra should be available in almost every league, and if he can carry over some of his confidence from the Games, he could be a boon to fantasy owners.

Jaroslav Halak, G, Canadiens: Not that Slovakia really caught my attention or anything. Seriously though, Halak's value was on the rise before the Olympic tournament, and backstopping his country to its best-ever finish at the Olympics certainly won't hurt his confidence. As my goalie-centric colleague Tim Kavanagh pointed out prior to the break, Halak has been the better goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens not only on the season as a whole, but also in recent weeks. Halak has come out on top of a couple goaltender duels at the Games, and even if the Slovaks miss out on a medal, the Olympics have to be seen as a positive for his mindset going forward.

Offensive Highlights

Habs rate well on road: A four-game road journey for the week has landed the Canadiens with the best offensive rating in the Forecaster. Both Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn are expected to come off the IR after the break, and both players were on a hot streak before they were injured. Whether they can recapture the same swagger this week is not guaranteed, but making up a top six with Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Sergei Kostitsyn certainly bodes well. Don't forget about Halak in net. He should get at least a couple of these starts.

Quality, not quantity: The only other offensive ratings in the Forecaster that equal the Canadiens come from the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators, but both squads have only three games on the week. Still, that is no reason to shy away from tapping these teams for your reserves. Matt Cullen played only 10 minutes in his debut with the Sens, but should play more into the team's plans now with some practice time. The Senators have three balanced lines that have looked solid over the past 12-15 games, but there is still room for Cullen to slide onto one of them. The best fit is likely alongside Alex Kovalev and Peter Regin, but no matter where he fits there will be some quality talent to work with. Don't get me wrong, Cullen will miss having Eric Staal as a center man, but he should find a way to continue to score with the Sens. It could help that Kovalev has been ridiculous lately: seven points in the past four games and 16 points in his past 14. For the Capitals, see if you can pick up Brendan Morrison. Jason Chimera is likely still out another week with a strained groin, which leaves the Capitals to stack two lines instead of spread themselves over three. Morrison will skate with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich on the second unit.

Forget the forecast: The Red Wings don't look so hot on paper for the coming week, but what they lack in prognosticable qualities, they make up for in reinforcements. Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and even Jason Williams are back for the Wings and the two Swedes have even had a chance to get their momentum back in the Olympics. Returning from a knee injury prior to the break, Franzen had managed three points in three games on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Williams. No matter whom he ends up playing beside, expect Franzen to help boost the overall performance of the Red Wings by giving them the extra scoring option they lacked in his absence.

Defensive Highlights

Alberta Wild: In a three-game week facing only teams from Alberta, the Minnesota Wild should have a defensively sound return from the Olympics. While Niklas Backstrom may have seen game action only once during the Olympics (the Finns may use him again), he did post a shutout against Germany. Backstrom doesn't even need to be his best for two games against the Calgary Flames and one against the Edmonton Oilers. Perhaps a restful Olympics, and this relatively easy schedule to return to, will help pull Backstrom out of the funk he has been in of late.

Better Leighton that never: With Ray Emery likely down for the count, Michael Leighton has been the quality starting goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers that he always had the potential to be during his years as a backup. Leighton played the final six games before the break for the Flyers and won four of them while never allowing more than two goals. As much as he has bounced around during his career, Leighton has been solid when he got the chance to start. In fact, in his last starting gig for the AHL's Albany River Rats in 2007-08, Leighton led the league in most of the goaltending statistics with 28 wins, a 2.10 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and seven shutouts. Whether you are an Emery owner or not, give this guy a chance. It's a good week to try him out since the Flyers' four-game schedule yields a strong defensive rating on the Forecaster.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.