It was a perfect storm, a ferocious fury unleashed Saturday when three powerful forces collided in Canada’s capital.
It began building momentum Thursday when Dany Heatley returned after missing four weeks following shoulder surgery, and then picked up strength with Daniel Alfredsson back after four games off with a hip flexor. Waiting for them in the eye of the storm was their centre Jason Spezza.
Poolies galore were positively salivating at having this terrific trio on ice again. They did not disappoint.
Burying the Canadians like a February blizzard, the best line in fantasy hockey piled up a total of 15 points in a 6-1 Senators win. Spezza had a career-high six points and Heatley added three of his own. With his five points, Alfredsson moved into second place in the NHL scoring lead behind Washington whiz kid Alex Ovechkin.
That title is really up for grabs now, what with Vincent Lecavalier, eight points in 13 games, cooling off somewhat. Sidney Crosby remains sidelined but the greatest challenge for the Art Ross Trophy is still coming from Pittsburgh.
The blazing rise of Evgeni Malkin has been as stunning as it’s been glorious for his pool owners. A 15-point explosion after five successive multi-point performances has shot Malkin into the scoring stratosphere and into a second-place tie with Alfredsson after the weekend.
Just like in the 2005 NHL draft, Ovechkin and Malkin are 1-2 again. For now, anyway. Those storming Senators will be hard to hold off with all three roaring and perfectly healthy.
Lacking the star-studded appeal of Ottawa’s top line and the marquee names of the Richards-Lecavalier-St. Louis unit in Tampa Bay, the No. 1 line in Pittsburgh nonetheless can rival most others in pool production.
Malkin, of course, is the big man but linemates Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora have quickly become the most sought after commodities in fantasy hockey.
The Canadiens also feature a lethal line with an unexpected scoring prowess that has made Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec two of the most popular waiver picks since Christmas. The line has 31 points in nine games, with credit to veteran Alexei Kovalev for the coming-of-age of his linemates.
Then again, it might be youthful exuberance that has finally roused Kovalev from his four-year slumber.
Tyler Arnason gets poolie props for taking full advantage of a golden opportunity in Colorado. With Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny out, Arnason has picked up 16 points in 13 games as the Avalanche’s top centre.
That’s impressive, indeed, but poolies would be advised to trade him right away.
Stastny (appendicitis) is ready to return now, Ryan Smyth (ankle) is back next week and Burnaby Joe (hernia) is probably three weeks away. Arnason’s value, and production, will never be better than it is now.
There is more good news on the injury front as many big names get back on their skates again after long absences. Defenceman Bryan McCabe (hand) returned to the Leafs last week and rookie sensation Jonathan Toews (knee) was in the Blackhawks lineup Sunday.
Toews’ teammate Jason Williams (groin) could be back next weekend as might Blue Jackets centre Sergei Fedorov (concussion). Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (ankle) is working out in the minors and should return next week while reports out of Vancouver have defenceman Kevin Bieksa (calf muscle) on target for a return in three weeks.
On the down side, the season is over for Oilers’ top scorer Shawn Horcoff who had shoulder surgery last week. Rookie Sam Gagner, with five points in three games, is looking good as his replacement now.
Poolies can also drop Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, who is done for the rest of the regular season with a broken jaw. The under-achieving Johan Franzen gets first crack at his spot of the third line but the Red Wings will try to trade for a scoring forward.
Greg Dennis can be reached at theCanadianpress.pool(at)hotmail.com
A look at players who are hot and some who are not around the NHL
Some players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. LW Darcy Tucker, Maples Leafs. Three goals in two games boosts his trade value but can’t save a bad season.
2. C Tyler Arnason, Avalanche. Streak of eight points in four games helps his injury-depleted team stay afloat.
3. W Jonathan Cheechoo, Sharks. One of fantasy hockey’s biggest busts shows life with five goals in five games.
4. D Sami Salo, Canucks. Finally healthy, he almost doubles his season total with five points in five games.
5. RW Jason Pominville, Sabres. Six-game streak gives him nine points in two weeks and on pace for 70.
1. C Valtteri Filppula, Red Wings. The clock has loudly struck midnight for this former free-agent darling.
2. D Marek Zidlicky, Predators. Pointless streak hits eight games and blocks his shot at a career-high season total.
3. C Saku Koivu, Canadiens. Poolies and the player show frustration as penalties pile up while his points go down.
4. RW Jaromir Jagr, Rangers. Six-game drought is another dip in the roller-coaster ride with this enigmatic star.
5. G Martin Biron, Flyers. Three straight losses come packaged with an ugly 3.38 GAA and .882 save percentage.