History will tell poolies that NHL teams don’t shy away from playing the hot hand to close the year, plopping rookies and backups into starting roles, and sometimes with great success. Look at what Cam Ward did last season in rising off the pines to lead Carolina to the Stanley Cup. And what Montreal did with Ken Dryden in 1971 and Patrick Roy in 1986.
Consider now Jaroslav Halak.
His three wins in four straight starts after the Canadiens lost Cristobal Huet for the season are certainly impressive. This doesn’t necessarily mean that David Aebischer is on the bench to stay. But because history can and does repeat itself, poolies would be foolish to dismiss Halak’s potential. Go get him.
And Halak isn’t the only upstart target worthy of attention.
Jocelyn Thibault has been terrific in starting three of the last four games for the Penguins. Unless Marc-Andre Fluery can shake off a five-game funk that includes a horrible 4.40 GAA and .847 save percentage, the playoff-bound Penguins won’t hesitate to keep the veteran Thibault in goal.
Rookie Niklas Backstrom won’t easily give up his starting gig, either. In nine games since Wild incumbent Manny Fernandez went out with injury, Backstrom is 6-2-1 and has the team in a playoff position.
Meanwhile, the Stars say they are just giving Marty Turco some time off before the playoffs, but what would the team do if first-year backup Mike Smith continues his excellent play? Smith won his fourth game in five starts Friday and now has two shutouts and a scintillating 1.00 GAA in February.
If those numbers aren’t enough enticement alone, poolies learning lessons from the past will be encouraged to grab Smith and company, and take a net gain on the future.
Still with goaltenders, Fredrik Norrena is No. 1 again in Columbus, quite possibly for the rest of the year. Pascal Leclaire, after already missing 20 games with a knee injury, is hurt yet again. With a 40-save win Saturday, Norrena, 16-14-3, is on pace to be the first Blue Jackets goaltender to finish over .500.
The two-target tandem in San Jose is over, at least for the time being.
Vesa Toskala (groin) is on the injured reserve and Evgeni Nabokov takes the job full-time now.
Owners of Scott Hartnell (broken foot) won’t be happy to hear the Predators’ leading goal scorer is gone up to six weeks. Neither will be those who start the Capitals’ Chris Clark, another underrated points and PIM producer. A sprained shoulder sidelines him for a couple weeks.
It has been a dismal first season for Ed Jovanovski in Phoenix, and now an abdominal injury threatens to put what’s left on ice. Here’s something poolies should remember at next year’s draft – the brittle JovoCop hasn’t played a full NHL season since 2001.
Three rumoured rent-a-players – Marco Sturm of the Bruins, Darcy Tucker of the Leafs and Eric Brewer of the Blues – are staying put with their clubs. With their fantasy values now stalled, that’s bad news for poolies speculating on trades to better teams.
A change of uniform, however, has spiked values for Keith Tkachuk and Anson Carter. Tkachuk takes his 21 goals and 23 assists from St. Louis to a top-line position in Washington. He’s a must-start player for sure.
Carter was traded from Columbus to Carolina, where he played Saturday with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. Erik Cole (hip) is out at least two weeks so Carter might cling to this plum assignment.
Still, with his brutal stats to date and Cory Stillman’s return from injury, a wait-and-see position on Carter is advisable right now.
Some suggestions on players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. C Brendan Morrison, Canucks. Eight points in seven games keeps his many critics at bay.
2. RW J.P. Dumont. Predators. Breakout season continues with seven points in past five games.
3. C Paul Stastny, Avalanche. Rip-roaring rookie has points (18 total) in 12 straight games.
4. D Marc-Andre Bergeron, Islanders. A tidy three points, plus-three, in three games with new club.
5. G Scott Clemmensen, Devils. Yes, it was only one win. But hats off after his first start in 32 games. Who’s Not
1. D Brad Stuart, Flames. No points in seven games since trade – so much for increased fantasy value.
2. C Yanic Perreault, Coyotes. His skill at faceoffs can’t hide an abysmal two-point February.
3. LW Dainius Zubrus, Capitals. Heading for career year until recent five-game pointless skid.
4. RW Patrick Eaves, Senators. After a quick nine-point start to 2007, only two more since Jan. 13.
5. D Mattias Ohlund, Canucks. Jovo’s heir apparent has been nearly invisible for 17 games.