- Sean Allen
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As we wait with bated breath for this year's Winter Classic on Saturday, we can only hope that any downpour doesn't affect this highlight event for the NHL. Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby on an outdoor rink (with or without a 25-game point streak on the line) is a dream game.
The rest of the league continues to march on with one team in a particular amount of turmoil. The Nashville Predators have dropped five in a row and by a combined score of 18 to 5. To that end, the team is making some adjustments to try to spark the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the NHL.
The Preds were not a scoring sensation by any means last season, but the departure of Jason Arnott, who was the focal point of the offense, has hurt this team. Then, key offseason acquisition Matthew Lombardi went down with a concussion after just two games and is not expected back anytime soon. That means the Preds have been forced to use inexperienced Cal O'Reilly as a top-line centerman. He has done as well as could be expected from an unheralded prospect, putting up 18 points in 36 games, but without the star playmaker at the top of the depth chart everyone else has suffered. Notably, Patric Hornqvist is on pace for 18 goals instead of the 30 he scored last season. It's not for a lack of effort, as evidenced by Hornqvist's 14 shots on goal in one game this week, but I suspect a lack of quality set-ups is to blame.
To make matters worse, the Preds forwards have started dropping like flies. Martin Erat is on injured reserve with back spasms, just as he was beginning to click with Sergei Kostitsyn and produce some offense. Top scorer Steve Sullivan is out for two weeks with a lower-body injury. Even second-line stalwart David Legwand can't shake a lower-body injury that has him day-to-day.
So what to do about it all. To steal a turn of phrase from fellow ESPN fantasy columnist Victoria Matiash, the Preds got cheeky. After the St. Louis Blues worked out a deal with former 30-goal scorer Marek Svatos to return to the NHL, the Preds snatched him off of the re-entry waivers he was forced to clear. Svatos hasn't exactly been tearing up Russia with his play for Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, and I'm sure the Preds would have rather brought Alexander Radulov (the KHL points leader with 57 points in 39 games) back into their fold, but a former 30-goal scorer is a former 30-goal scorer. Svatos will surely get more than the 12 minutes of ice time he was receiving while buried on the depth chart of Jaromir Jagr's team. His three goals and eight points in 19 games don't look good, but considering he had fewer than 30 shots and minimal ice time, when he did get a chance the puck was going in. I'd be more excited if the Preds had a strong playmaker to play the middle between the speedy Svatos and crease garbage man Hornqvist, but Svatos is still worth a speculative pickup in any fantasy league deeper than your ESPN standard.
The Preds also went fishing in the AHL for some help. They called up the top two scorers from their affiliate Milwaukee Admirals. Linus Klasen was signed out of the Swedish Elitserien where he finished fifth in the scoring race despite playing for a team that had to fight relegation from the top division. He is a flashy forward with huge offensive talents, currently sporting 27 points in 29 games in the AHL. Chris Mueller isn't nearly as flashy on offense but boasts a two-way game with some scoring mixed in. Klasen is the one you want to keep an eye on. Of late, he has been playing with Kostitsyn, who is about as hot as a Predators player has been this season (12 points in past 13 games).
Are these solutions enough to dig the Predators out of the offensive hole they have been? Not at all, but it is a start. If the team managed to work Svatos and Klasen into a top six that included a healthy Sullivan, a rejuvenated Hornqvist, a steady Kostitsyn and an improved Colin Wilson, it could make a move to get out of the basement of league scoring. But that is asking a lot. Still, there will be some fantasy movers and shakers out of this group as the season progresses. Svatos and Klasen are the two I've suggested, but every forward except Sullivan and Hornqvist are available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues.
As a transitional note: Take some time to consider whether to make an immediate move, as the Predators have a horrible week on the road ahead according to the Forecaster.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Red hot Wings: The Detroit Red Wings have scored 40 goals in the past three weeks. During the 11-game run, 13 of those 40 goals have come on the power play. During the past four games, with offensive leader Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup, the power play has been scorching. Nicklas Lidstrom has seven power-play points in his past four games. Henrik Zetterberg has as many power-play points in the week since Datsyuk was hurt (four) as he does in the entire month prior. It certainly appears as though the Red Wings have stepped up their game while they are missing Datsyuk. Even the third line (mainly Patrick Eaves) is on fire. Certainly there aren't as many easy benefits to the fantasy owner searching the free-agent list for help, as most Wings are universally owned, but there is some. Jiri Hudler has really picked things up since being moved to the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi. He has only played two games in that role and has four points to show for it. He hadn't notched a point in 13 games prior. Bertuzzi and Filppula are available in a minority of leagues. Eaves has likely had his one-and-done big performance, however, so leave him be. The Wings have a huge week ahead on the Forecaster, rating a nine on offense despite having just three games. Pick up some help as the team embarks on a three-game Western Canada road trip.
If it quacks like a Duck: Although things will change for a couple games as Ryan Getzlaf sits with some broken facial bones (sounds worse than it is), the Anaheim Ducks are in a transition since Joffrey Lupul shook up the offense with his presence back from injury. Bobby Ryan is the biggest victim, as coach Randy Carlyle has been using Ryan to try to spark Lupul by pairing the two on what is essentially the Ducks' third line. Ryan's ice time has dipped close to 15 minutes in recent games, despite averaging the 10th highest average time on ice in the NHL among forwards. The Getzlaf injury should give Ryan some reprieve, but if Carlyle doesn't reunite Ryan in the top six soon, it could have a devastating effect on his game. If you are looking for a bright spot for fantasy, deep leagues should once again look at Matt Beleskey. He was playing with Corey Perry and Getzlaf in Ryan's place.
Roy-less Sabres finding identity: Maybe we need to stop looking at which players get the chance to line up with Thomas Vanek, now that Derek Roy is out for the season, and simply concentrate on what appears to be the new top line for the Buffalo Sabres. Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht each have four points in three games since Roy was hurt. Drew Stafford is the third member of the trio, though his points have lagged behind the other two. In whatever line combination he has been a part of since Roy was hurt, Vanek has no points and is minus-2. Though, to be fair, he also had no points and a minus-3 in the three games prior to Roy being injured. Vanek, talented as he may be, runs hot and cold throughout the season. Take away his best weapon -- Roy's playmaking -- and we might not be left with much. If I were a Vanek owner, I'd be pulling the cord now. Even if Tim Connolly comes back strong, he had his best chemistry of the past several seasons with Hecht and Pominville.
• Minnesota Wild defenseman and power-play quarterback Marek Zidlicky is expected to miss several games with a shoulder injury. The exact quote from coach Todd Richards is "out for a little while." The team's power play, which is the biggest asset for players such as Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat, should slow down in his absence.
• I do like what the James Wisniewski deal could do for the Montreal Canadiens power play. Wisniewski, though not a proven power-play quarterback veteran, has shown flashes of his ability, especially in the early going this season. This is great news for Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, who have just begun to heat up and earn power-play minutes. Wisnewski's 13 power-play points with the Isles would be tops for the Canadiens this season.
• Originally called up for a checking role, Zach Boychuck has found his way onto a pseudo scoring line for the Carolina Hurricanes. With Patrick Dwyer and Brandon Sutter, the trio has combined for seven points in two games.
• His stats in the AHL this season are only average and he isn't a top-notch prospect by any means, but what Cedrick Desjardins has going for him is that he is not Dan Ellis or Mike Smith. Desjardins made his NHL debut for the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 4-1 win over the Canadiens on Thursday. Desjardins was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL last season, and even though Ellis is expected to carry the load while Smith is out with an injury Desjardins could squeeze in more starts and help his stock.
• It seems to be two steps forward, one step back for the Chicago Blackhawks in the injury department, but at least they are making some progress. With Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane back, we learn Jonathan Toews will miss up to three weeks. Again watch the depth chart for how things shake out with a keen eye to Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. All three have picked up their games with expanded ice time in recent weeks.
• The Phoenix Coyotes have turned to some youth from the AHL lately. Future star Brett MacLean scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game on a line with young Kyle Turris and fellow recent AHL callup Mikkel Boedker. If coach Dave Tippet has some patience with this trio, they have the talent to break out.
• Jason Spezza's injury should help put a lot of fantasy owners still attached to him out of their misery. Mike Fisher was already acting as the team's top centerman before Spezza was hurt, and little spark was being shown between Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson and Nick Foligno. Peter Regin should see an increase in ice time with the top six, but to be honest I'd say there is little to gain from Spezza's absence.
• New coach Jacques Lemaire has cobbled together the right lines for the New Jersey Devils. Ilya Kovalchuk, Mattias Tedenby and Travis Zajac are the top trio with veterans Arnott, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner in support. A few more practices and games and we should see the benefit of the change in bench bosses (things have not looked good, yet, but give it a little time).
• The NHL debut of Patrice Cormier with the Atlanta Thrashers is noteworthy for his potential to put up penalty minutes, points and plus/minus. At worst, he should put up Paul Gaustad-like stats. At best, he could be a power forward in the mold of Bertuzzi or Steve Downie. It won't come this season though, as Cormier is out of the lineup again when Nik Antropov is healthy.
• An injury to Erik Christensen will buy Mats Zuccarello more time at the NHL level. The rookie was highlighted in this week's Front Line. Give him a once over. Anyone playing with Marian Gaborik is worth paying attention to. I love the idea of Gaborik, Zuccarello and Vaclav Prospal forming the top line. Hopefully Zuccarello can hang around long enough for Prospal to return from a knee injury that has kept him out all season.
• Watch the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending situation closely, as Michael Leighton is back in the picture. Sergei Bobrovsky was in the press box while Brian Boucher wore the ball cap on the end of the bench. This could become very interesting in the next week or two.
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.
12hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler