Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Giordano, Foster rising

Updated: January 13, 2010, 2:02 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Let's face it, even fantasy hockey team owners can experience the "January blahs."

The novelty of a fresh, new season has completely dissipated, and yet the playoffs still seem so far off. Plus, the holidays are over, and many of us are a little pastier and/or pudgier, and also dealing with bad weather. But those won't do as excuses; complacency is not an option.

If there are holes in your collection of blueliners because of injury or lack of production, here are a few options to freshen your lineup. These aren't fantasy studs, mind you, so don't expect them to turn your entire team around. But they could provide a pleasant little boost, and you'll feel better once the deadweight is gone.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Mike Green, Was (1)
2. Dan Boyle, SJ (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (3)
4. Duncan Keith, Chi (4)
5. Chris Pronger, Phi (5)
6. Andrei Markov, Mon (6)
7. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (7)
8. Drew Doughty, LA (8)
9. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (9)
10. Dion Phaneuf, Cgy (10)
11. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (11)
12. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (12)
13. Mark Streit, NYI (13)
14. Brian Campbell, Chi (15)
15. Stephane Robidas, Dal (16)
16. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (17)
17. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (14)
18. Lubomir Visnovsky, Edm (19)
19. Ryan Whitney, Anh (18)
20. Shea Weber, Nsh (20)
21. Brian Rafalski, Det (21)
22. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (22)
23. Sheldon Souray, Edm (23)
24. Matt Carle, Phi (25)
25. Brent Seabrook, Chi (24)
26. Erik Johnson, StL (26)
27. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (29)
28. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (28)
29. Bryan McCabe, Fla (30)
30. Tyler Myers, Buf (37)
31. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (27)
32. Kyle Quincey, Col (31)
33. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (32)
34. Pavel Kubina, Atl (33)
35. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (34)
36. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (36)
37. Braydon Coburn, Phi (35)
38. Marek Zidlicky, Min (41)
39. Andy Greene, NJ (42)
40. Alex Goligoski, Pit (39)
41. Zach Bogosian, Atl (38)
42. Cam Barker, Chi (40)
43. Rob Blake, SJ (43)
44. Alexander Edler, Van (44)
45. Craig Rivet, Buf (45)
46. Joni Pitkanen, Car (52)
47. Filip Kuba, Ott (46)
48. Dennis Wideman, Bos (48)
49. Ryan Suter, Nsh (49)
50. Sami Salo, Van (50)
51. Kris Letang, Pit (51)
52. Anton Stralman, Cls (53)
53. Keith Yandle, Pho (55)
54. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (56)
55. Derek Morris, Bos (57)
56. Kurtis Foster, TB (67)
57. Niklas Kronwall, Det (47)
58. Victor Hedman, TB (58)
59. Dennis Seidenberg, Fla (59)
60. Tom Gilbert, Edm (60)
61. Mark Giordano, Cgy (75)
62. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (61)
63. Ian White, Tor (63)
64. Denis Grebeshkov, Edm (64)
65. Matt Carkner, Ott (62)
66. Chris Butler, Buf (66)
67. Tom Poti, Was (78)
68. James Wisniewski, Anh (68)
69. Jack Johnson, LA (69)
70. John-Michael Liles, Col (72)
71. Mattias Ohlund, TB (54)
72. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (70)
73. Matt Gilroy, NYR (73)
74. Randy Jones, LA (74)
75. Brent Burns, Min (71)

Owned in only 5 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames is one such dark horse. Paired with Jay Bouwmeester at even strength, Giordano skates alongside Dion Phaneuf on the Flames' top power-play unit and has averaged a point every two games since the start of December. Giordano also has a healthy plus-7 and is on pace for 86 penalty minutes.

Another solid choice, Kurtis Foster, is available in more than 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Thankfully, the power-play specialist with the Tampa Bay Lightning is getting substantially more opportunities at even strength these days, and he's far less of a liability in regard to the ice-time category. As for scoring, Foster has had a heck of a month, with 13 points in his past 13 games, and yet he hasn't received the fantasy attention he deserves. Until now.

If Giordano and Foster aren't available, you might want to consider Tom Poti of the Washington Capitals. His stats won't blow you away, but the 32-year-old veteran has 308 points in 754 career games. Plus, he's contributing at the moment, with seven points in his past six contests. Also, to give fantasy star Mike Green an occasional breather, Poti will even get a sniff of power-play action here and there. To this point, the Capitals have scored about 30 percent more goals than the league average. You could do worse than grabbing a guy immersed in that scene.

Rising and Falling

Tyler Myers, Sabres (up seven spots): As a member of one of the hottest teams in the NHL, Myers continues to improve on an already impressive rookie campaign. The young giant has seven points in his past seven games, including four with the man advantage. Furthermore, he averages more than 23 minutes of ice time per contest. To think, many questioned whether Myers would even make the grownup squad at the start of the season. Ha!

Matt Niskanen, Stars (off): Dallas Stars head coach Marc Crawford is seemingly as annoyed with Niskanen as his fantasy owners are. A healthy scratch over the weekend, the 23-year-old Niskanen returned to action against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday and netted an assist. Not good enough. At minus-10 and having only nine points through 42 games, Niskanen no longer belongs among the top 75 defensemen.

Mattias Ohlund, Lightning (down 17 spots): The aforementioned Foster, Victor Hedman and Andrej Meszaros are all garnering more ice time with the man advantage than Ohlund. Although the veteran Ohlund offers a great deal to the Lightning in terms of leadership, he currently has little fantasy upside.

Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (down 10 spots): First the good news: An ultrasound Tuesday revealed no structural damage in Kronwall's left knee. The bad news? It reportedly still hurts -- a lot -- and no one seems to know why. Positive ultrasound results aside, Kronwall still can't skate comfortably, and that's all we really know for sure.

Key injury notes:

Cam Barker of the Chicago Blackhawks remains day-to-day because of an upper-body ailment after taking a hard check Jan. 3. There still isn't a set timetable for his return, but he is skating at least.

Having missed a couple games because of an upper-body injury, Filip Kuba might return to the Ottawa Senators' lineup for Thursday's tilt with the New York Rangers. If not, he should be back in action over the weekend.

Power Play Performers

One has to hand it to Joni Pitkanen for not only hanging in there health-wise, but filling in nicely for the injured Joe Corvo. Leading the entire NHL in average ice time per game (more than 27 minutes per game), the 26-year-old Finn has 15 points since the start of December while floating a respectable plus/minus (minus-1) since then. Considering he's at minus-11 for the season, that's not bad. Plus, there's even more room for improvement: The Carolina Hurricanes are performing better as a team, and have won three straight. If he can stay fit and healthy, Pitkanen could finish the season strongly.

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