Open Ice: Fleischmann thriving
They both involve Russian superstars who are going to miss a decent amount of time with their current injuries, but boy, are the situations for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals different. It's like night and day. The Penguins will suffer through the loss of Evgeni Malkin to a shoulder injury with a second line that looks lost and useless in his absence. The Capitals get to simply plug a spare part into their top line and see it continue scoring at an epic pace even without Alex Ovechkin.
With no Malkin, the Penguins now have a unit of Ruslan Fedotenko, Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams. With no Ovechkin, the Capitals are left with Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann. While the Penguins will be lucky to see any production from that second line, the Capitals have Fleischmann on a five-game scoring streak in which he's racked up seven points.
Fantasy owners who invested in any of the Capitals' top three players are sitting pretty. Semin and Backstrom owners will keep up their production, and if Ovechkin owners were fast enough, they already are enjoying the replacement stats from Fleischmann. Malkin owners have no in-house Penguins replacement to turn to. It's another argument for building your fantasy team with players from strong teams that have depth.
Now, depending on whom you listen to, Ovechkin is due back in two days, two weeks or more than a month. So this top-six production from Fleischmann will be relatively short lived. But he is an option right now and available in 94.5 percent of ESPN leagues, so get on board to enjoy a couple of weeks of riding his wave.
Michael Leighton, G, Hurricanes (owned in 0.2 percent of ESPN leagues): The news is already out that the Carolina Hurricanes are shopping for some outside help with their goaltending after Cam Ward was cut by Rick Nash's skate Saturday night and will miss "a fairly long period of time." But could Leighton be the answer if given an opportunity to start with some consistency? Obviously, his numbers as a backup goaltender are less than inspiring, and his career 3.06 goals-against average and .897 save percentage should make Canes fans begin chanting Martin Biron's name. Still, the level of talent that has been displayed by Leighton in recent years should at least have you intrigued. He is only two seasons removed from being named the AHL's goaltender of the year after he finished with a 2.10 goals-against average and .931 save percentage for a barely-.500 Albany River Rats team. You might remember his 98-save performance in a five-overtime marathon loss in the AHL playoffs that year, an effort in which he lost 9 pounds during the game. Now, I'm not saying Leighton will be your goalie savior if you pick him up, but I am suggesting he is worth a shot. Sure, his career path screams backup, but when given a chance to start with regularity, Leighton has shown a little more than that at times.
Niclas Bergfors, RW, Devils (1.6): Finally getting his opportunity to produce like a top-six forward, Bergfors is making the most of it. He's averaging more than 15 minutes a game on a combination of lines that at times includes Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. He also was lined up with Patrik Elias in the one game the Devils mainstay suited up for this season. Bergfors is up to nine points on the season, with seven of them in the past eight games.
Rich Peverley, C, Thrashers (70.8): It's quite simple: Peverley needs to be owned in 100 percent of leagues until further notice. Not only has he carried over his hot finish to last season as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, but he has continued putting up points without Ilya Kovalchuk in recent weeks. With 17 points in 14 games, he is 16th in the league for points per game this season. Playing with Todd White and Bryan Little, or playing with Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov, or playing with Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov, it hasn't mattered to Peverley's output this season. His shooting percentage of 26.9 percent is unsustainable, but even when that comes down, his production is valuable in the shallowest of leagues.
Owen Nolan, RW, Wild (58.4): The Minnesota Wild have other wingers to do their goal scoring now, making Nolan an afterthought in their offense. Last season, the veteran was playing on the first line and first power-play unit when healthy, and he scored 25 goals in 59 games. But with the influx of Petr Sykora, Martin Havlat and even Chuck Kobasew, Nolan is on the fourth line for the Wild and is far from playing power-play minutes. He shouldn't be owned in very many leagues at all, let alone in more than half of them.
Ville Koistinen, D, Panthers (77.1): His prospects were good coming into the season, but when Dmitry Kulikov made the Florida Panthers' roster, it was a harbinger for the lack of production we are seeing from Koistinen. Yes, he can move the puck on the power play, but no, he isn't on that power play often enough to matter. Kulikov, who already has five power-play assists, is working the point with Bryan McCabe on the man advantage and is owned in 0.3 percent of ESPN leagues. Koistinen and Kulikov should have their ownership percentages swapped.
It should be getting painfully obvious that Victor Hedman has no business on most fantasy teams for the 2009-10 NHL season. He'll miss a couple of games this week with a concussion, but even before that, he hadn't scored a point in nine games and has just four assists on the season. This, despite getting more than 20 minutes of ice time a game and a healthy helping of power-play minutes. No, Hedman isn't ready to be a fantasy staple yet. Alexei Kovalev is not fitting in with the Ottawa Senators. He is on pace for just 129 shots on goal this season after averaging more than 200 as a Montreal Canadien. Yes, I do think he is droppable in shallow leagues. James van Riemsdyk is day-to-day for the coming week after taking a shot off his finger and suffering a fracture. Something to keep in mind for future reference: When Mike Green is hurt, Brian Pothier becomes a stud. In a home-and-home series with the Panthers over the weekend, Pothier played Green's minutes and managed four points and a plus-6 in two games. Green might return for the Capitals next game, though. A cursory glance at the numbers suggests Ryan Malone is the key player for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On a line with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos to start the season, he settled in with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay over the past week. Each pair has scored better than a point per game only when skating with Malone. Now, if only they could clone him. Or, a simpler solution, find someone else to muck in the corners.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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