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Thursday, December 18, 2008
Brouwer wins the top-line lottery

By Jim Wilkie
Special to ESPN.com

Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer is in the right spot at the right time, and because of that, he's worth taking a gamble on in fantasy, at least for a short period of time.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound winger has landed on Chicago's top line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and scored two goals and an assist in a 9-2 rout of the Oilers Tuesday. "I like it. I'm not sure how they like playing with me," Brouwer told the Chicago Tribune. "It's a pretty good chemistry. You give them the puck and get to open areas and you get it back. We have a lot of finesse on our line, and we utilize it pretty well."

Brouwer, 23, has five goals, eight assists and a plus-7 in 23 games. Before this season he had played just 12 NHL games in the previous two seasons, but he had 35 goals with AHL Rockford last season and 41 the season before that. The 2004 seventh-round pick had 49 goals and 102 points in 72 games with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League in his final junior season in 2005-06.

"I'm known as a goal-scorer, but if you look at my stats, I'm an assists guy right now," Brouwer told the Tribune. "I'm playing really well right now. I would like to score more goals, obviously. Those will come with hard work and being in the right spots."

The right spot, really for anyone in the league right now, is alongside Kane and Sharp, Chicago's top two scorers. And with the Blackhawks filling the net with a league-leading 3.66 goals per game and their confidence soaring, Brouwer should enjoy the ride a little longer.

Ozzy's crazy "strain"

Chris Osgood
The Wings don't know the extent of Chris Osgood's injury, but it could force roster moves.
Chris Osgood's strained groin might force Red Wings GM Ken Holland into some creative roster-juggling if Osgood isn't well enough to serve as a backup to Ty Conklin.

If the Red Wings call up goalie Jimmy Howard from the minors, they might have to put Osgood on the long-term injured list that requires him to miss at least 10 games, according to The Detroit News. The other option is for the Wings to make a trade in order to make room on the roster for Howard, because any player currently on the roster would have to clear waivers (which takes 24 hours), even if that "waived player" is to be sent to the minors.

Either way, it's a good time to pick up and/or play Conklin. The News said Holland will wait until Thursday's game-day skate in preparation for their showdown with the Sharks before making a decision about his goalie situation.

Halpern on the way

Lightning forward Jeff Halpern will make his season debut Thursday night against the Avalanche after recovering from major reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason.

"I'm pretty confident in the stability of it and the structure of the knee. It's how it will respond to some of the battles and the hits and just the speed of the game," Halpern told the St. Petersburg Times. "There's definitely stuff I'm thinking about."

Halpern put up great numbers (10 goals, eight assists and plus-2 in 19 games) after Tampa Bay acquired him from Dallas as part of the Brad Richards deal at the trade deadline. But after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament, partially tearing the medial collateral ligament and suffering a small tear to the lateral meniscus, his age (32), combined with his dysfunctional team, give fantasy owners enough reasons to wait and see how Halpern performs before making a move to get him.

Senators bag it

Another disappointing performance for the Senators means more line-juggling by coach Craig Hartsburg.

If you're a fan of the coaching method known as "bag skates," then maybe Hartsburg's tactic of hard skating for 12 minutes to close Wednesday's practice will have a positive impact when the Senators play the Devils Thursday night.

For about the 400th time this season, Hartsburg will break up Ottawa's top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, who have combined for one point -- an Alfredsson goal -- the past four games.

"The three guys that we have counted on, for lots of different reasons, haven't been able to produce, and I can get in to all of them, but it is what it is, and we've got to change it," Hartsburg told TSN.ca. "[With] that line, there were times earlier I said we [couldn't] play them together. Then we had to play them together because we needed a spark, but you know what, we have to look at this team, and we are struggling to score goals, and these guys aren't scoring goals together maybe as much as they did in the past. We have to do something different."

Ottawa has scored four goals in its past four games, and the once-high-flying Senators are last in the league with 67 goals.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray told the media that he has pursued trades to shake up the team, but so far, what he could get in return wasn't enticing him to pull the trigger.

Changes for the Canadiens

Mike Komisarek
Mike Komisarek's return will help the Habs in many ways.
Mired in a miserable three-game losing streak, Montreal expects to get some good news with the recovery of defenseman Mike Komisarek, who is expected to be cleared by a team doctor Thursday to return from a shoulder injury, according to the Canadian Press.

Komisarek is serviceable in standard leagues thanks to his penalty minutes, plus-minus and ice time, but he's a valuable asset in custom leagues for his hits and blocked shots. More importantly, his return should help to get some disappointing Canadiens teammates back on track.

"He's such a big part of our team," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges told the Canadian Press about Komisarek, who has missed 16 games since he injured his shoulder in a fight with Boston's Milan Lucic. "He brings an element not a lot of guys in the league can bring -- his physical play, his intimidation, but he also makes that great first pass."

Komisarek is usually paired with Andrei Markov as the Habs' top defensive duo, so that will push Gorges to another pairing, according to CP.

Another Canadiens change expected for Thursday night's game against the red-hot Flyers will be the reunion of the Alexei Kovalev-Tomas Plekanec-Andrei Kostitsyn line that was Montreal's top unit last season but had been split up after a slow start this season.

"Last year they [formed] one of the best lines in the league," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau told CP. "They're the same players. They have the same skills. I don't see why they can't do it again."

The second and third lines in Wednesday's practice, according to CP, were center Robert Lang with wingers Alex Tanguay and rookie Matt D'Agostini, and center Ben Maxwell with wingers Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn.

And finally, Carbonneau told CP that injured goalie Carey Price and injured captain Saku Koivu could be ready by the weekend, but they won't play against the Flyers.

An opening for Raycroft

Avalanche goalie Andrew Raycroft will start against the Lightning on Thursday night, according to the Denver Post, and could be ready to take more starts away from No. 1 goalie Peter Budaj.

Although Raycroft stopped 34 shots in Colorado's 3-2 victory at Detroit Monday night, Budaj got the start the next night in Philadelphia. Budaj faltered, stopping 19 of 24 shots in the 5-2 loss to the Flyers, so coach Tony Granato is turning to Raycroft, who is 4-1 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .870 save percentage this season.

The Avs are also expected to get forwards Darcy Tucker and Ben Guite back from injury Thursday.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at espnpucks@comcast.net.