Commentary

Look to the lowly Isles for fantasy help?

Updated: January 8, 2009, 11:19 AM ET
By Jim Wilkie | Special to ESPN.com

Now that we've reached the halfway point in the NHL season, it might be time for desperate measures. For those of you fantasy owners with some onions and an open roster spot, look way down the standings at a trio from the lowly New York Islanders.

If you want to live on the edge and risk your plus-minus category, consider Kyle Okposo, Mike Comrie and Blake Comeau. The line has scored in six of the past seven games and accounted for nine of the Islanders' 24 goals during that span.

"We're playing well, and we've got to keep it up," Okposo, who has three goals, five assists and a plus-3 rating in the past seven games, told Newsday. "We might get a little more attention from the other team now that we're starting to produce, and that means we've got to be that much better."

Keep in mind, of course, that this would be just a short-term option. Okposo is a rookie, Comeau is in his second year, and Comrie hasn't come close to being a consistent scorer in three years despite occasional teases such as this.

"They're making plays, getting in the right spots and forcing those chances on the forecheck. We're getting chances we weren't [getting] at the start of the season because of our urgency," Comrie, who has four goals and an assist and is minus-1 in the past seven games, told Newsday.

Comeau has two goals (one on the power play), four assists and an even plus-minus rating in those seven games, in which the Isles have gone 2-4-1.

Sharks regroup

With just two victories in their past five games (they're 2-1-2) and coming off a sloppy 5-2 loss to the Flames on Tuesday, the league-leading Sharks got back to the basics in a hard practice Wednesday in an effort to regain their once-dominating form.

"As a coaching staff, we spend probably too much time working on systems and power play and penalty kill," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "And we forget that there's that competitive aspect to the game -- the one-on-one battles, the back check, preventing turnovers. We had a chance to work on that this morning."

The Sharks had originally been scheduled to get the day off from practice, but Tuesday's result changed that, although the paper made it clear it wasn't a punishing bag skate without pucks.

"Nothing good can come out of that," McLellan said. "Part of working hard is getting better as a team, and I do know this for sure: For the 60 or 65 minutes, including the shootout, there's always a puck involved. It makes no sense to do it."

McLellan's reasonable approach and three days to stew over the loss in Calgary should produce better results Friday in Edmonton and Saturday in Vancouver.

The Calgary game also saw McLellan split up the line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi. Thornton's top line included Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, while Marleau moved to the second line to play center with Ryane Clowe and Setoguchi, which had Joe Pavelski sliding down to center the third line between Mike Grier and Tomas Plihal.

"I don't think coaches have a clock that goes off and says, 'Hey, it's time to do this,' but it's an opportunity for us to see the 'Big Three' apart," McLellan told the Mercury News. "It's a little bit of forward planning. If we get on the road in the playoffs and things aren't going well with the Big Three together, do we have the ability to play apart?

"Will it stay that way? We'll see."

Flyers infirmary

Daniel Briere
AP Photo/Tom MihalekDaniel Briere is due back for the Flyers soon.
The injury-riddled Flyers are closer to getting some key players back in the lineup. Namely, forward Daniel Briere could be back as early as Saturday, although the Philadelphia Inquirer says next week is more likely. Briere, 31, has been out as a result of a groin injury and told the newspaper he's 90 to 95 percent.

Briere has had two lengthy stints on the injured list this season because of abdominal and groin problems, so who knows whether he will hold up the rest of the season. He was productive, with five goals and nine points in the nine games he did play. Then again, Briere also had a minus-3 in those games.

Meanwhile, the outlook for forward Joffrey Lupul and goalie Antero Niittymaki improved, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

"Lupul actually skated this morning and felt pretty good," Stevens told the Daily News. "He's feeling a lot better. He's not going to play [Thursday night], but he's not going to be out as long as we thought."

Lupul's abdominal strain was originally expected to keep him out until around Jan. 16. Niittymaki strained his groin Saturday in Los Angeles but was back on the ice Wednesday.

"He felt pretty good (Wednesday)," Stevens said. "He was actually on the ice for a little bit, too. He's going to come down and [take part in Thursday's game-day] skate with us, so we'll see where it goes."

Black-and-blue Blues

Andy McDonald
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireThe Blues are itchin' to get Andy McDonald back, but they'll play it safe with him.
In need of some good news on the injury front, the Blues might be closer to getting forward Andy McDonald back.

McDonald practiced Tuesday for the first time since he fractured his ankle Nov. 16.

"I'm getting close, and hopefully I'll be back on the ice with the team pretty soon," McDonald told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's still a fair amount of pain there, but it's gotten a lot stronger, and I'm able to do a lot of things I wasn't able to do before."

McDonald had six goals and 12 assists (albeit with a minus-12) and was a big part of the power play (two goals and nine assists with the man advantage) in 16 games before the injury.

He is still weeks away from returning, and the newspaper said the team was still unsure whether McDonald would even go along for the team's three-game western Canada road trip that begins Friday in Vancouver.

"Do we want him tracing all over western Canada on a trip when it's not healed?" Blues president John Davidson told the Post-Dispatch. "He could practice with the team [Jan. 15, 16 and 17] and then make the trip to Boston and Chicago [Jan. 17 and 19], if he's ready. There's no rush with this thing. We all want him back in the lineup, he's an important ingredient. But we don't want him back at 80 percent. You can get knocked back 20 percent real quick."

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