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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Front Line: Stars shine

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

There are at least 14 games on the books for every NHL team now -- almost a fifth of the season -- and we are really getting a good snapshot of which offenses work and which ones do not. Some of the storylines are playing out exactly as expected: The San Jose Sharks can score and the Nashville Predators cannot. There are also plenty of surprises.

Nine teams finished last season scoring better than three goals per game on average. There are nine teams currently scoring more than three goals per game. Most folks would have included the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks on such a list if asked before the season and all four teams did finish better than that threshold last season. Instead we have the Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers. (Interestingly enough, the other five teams remain the same from last season: the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and Sharks.)

It's time some of these offenses that are scoring get more respect (and some of those offenses not scoring get taken down a peg).

Top 100 Skaters

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards 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. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (2)
3. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (3)
4. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (5)
5. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (4)
6. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (6)
7. Mike Richards, C, Phi (7)
8. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (9)
9. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (8)
10. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (10)
11. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (11)
12. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (12)
13. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (17)
14. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (14)
15. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (13)
16. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (15)
17. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (20)
18. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (22)
19. Marc Savard, C, Bos (16)
20. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (18)
21. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (25)
22. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (21)
23. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (23)
24. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (24)
25. Eric Staal, C, Car (19)
26. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (28)
27. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (30)
28. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (34)
29. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (35)
30. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (32)
31. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (26)
32. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (27)
33. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (33)
34. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (44)
35. John Tavares, C, NYI (31)
36. Brad Richards, C, Dal (47)
37. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (38)
38. Paul Stastny, C, Col (46)
39. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (36)
40. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (29)
41. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (40)
42. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (37)
43. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (41)
44. Brooks Laich, C, Was (43)
45. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (45)
46. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (49)
47. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (39)
48. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (50)
49. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (59)
50. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (68)
51. David Clarkson, C, NJ (53)
52. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (42)
53. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (58)
54. Derick Brassard, C, Cls (48)
55. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (57)
56. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (65)
57. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (51)
58. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (54)
59. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (64)
60. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (61)
61. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (62)
62. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (63)
63. David Booth, LW, Fla (52)
64. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (55)
65. Jakub Voracek, RW, Cls (66)
66. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (60)
67. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (72)
68. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (69)
69. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (73)
70. Michael Ryder, RW, Bos (56)
71. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (70)
72. Ales Hemsky, RW, Edm (74)
73. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (76)
74. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (82)
75. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (75)
76. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (78)
77. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (79)
78. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (71)
79. James Neal, LW, Dal (87)
80. David Perron, LW, StL (80)
81. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (81)
82. Sean Avery, C, NYR (67)
83. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (89)
84. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (90)
85. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (85)
86. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (91)
87. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (92)
88. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (86)
89. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (88)
90. Danny Briere, C, Phi (83)
91. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (94)
92. J.P. Dumont, LW, Nsh (NR)
93. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (98)
94. Dustin Byfuglien, LW, Chi (95)
95. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (99)
96. Ales Kotalik, RW, NYR (NR)
97. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (96)
98. Derek Roy, C, Buf (NR)
99. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (97)
100. Alex Tanguay, LW, TB (NR)

Take the Dallas Stars for example. The Stars finished 20th in the league last season for scoring, were a collective minus-63 and were coming into this season with essentially all the same puzzle pieces except for their blue-line offensive catalyst who bolted for Russia (Sergei Zubov). Most folks expected things to turn around a bit for the Stars if they were blessed with a healthy Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards, but to be tied for fifth in the league in scoring at this point was not expected. The Stars have four players on pace to top 30 goals after having only one score more than 24 last season.

Loui Eriksson and Richards are the two biggest risers this week as I have to tip my hat to coach Marc Crawford and the Stars. Crawford is letting his players attack the net and relying on the burgeoning stalwarts on the blue line to handle things in their own end. Richards is on pace for a career high in shots on goal. Eriksson should have no trouble repeating his 36-goal breakout season as he is currently on pace for 39. One of the reasons for the success could likely be attributed to another Crawford coaching staple: consistency and familiarity. As long as no one is hurt, Crawford has rolled the same top two lines for most of the season and in most situations. Both those lines also have the traditional combination of playmaker, scorer and grinder. Richards is flanked by James Neal and Loui Eriksson, while fellow playmaker Mike Ribeiro has Morrow and Jamie Benn alongside him. These top-six forwards are responsible for more than 70 percent of the Stars' goals this season, which is also typical of a Crawford offense.

The Stars' offense is absolutely for real this season. They may even get better so long as injuries aren't a factor. Remember that the team is still not clicking on the power play as it lacks an adequate power-play quarterback to put the whole thing together. Ivan Vishnevskiy is biding his time in the AHL to assume that role and if given the opportunity, his presence would improve the forwards' ranks even further by adding the element of power-play success.

So trade for Richards, trade for Eriksson, trade for Ribeiro and look to see if you're in one of the 15 percent of ESPN leagues with Neal still on the waiver wire. Pick up Benn if you play in a deeper format and ignore low-ball offers for Morrow. These Stars are going places this season.

Rising and Falling

Dustin Penner, LW, Oilers (up 10 spots): Penner continues his assault on the rankings in what can only be dubbed a comeback season for the winger. His price may be inflated on the fantasy trade market at the moment, but it's still worth looking into the possibility that his owner may be trying to capitalize on his current value. On pace for 101 points right now, Penner should finish with between 80 and 85 points on the season, which would make him a borderline point-per-game performer for the final 65 games this season, which is completely realistic.

Michael Ryder, RW, Bruins (down 14 spots): A few elements are missing from the Bruins and Ryder's game this season, and it's starting to look as though it could be awhile before things turn around. First, without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic drawing the attention of opposing coaches, the B's second line is in the spotlight a bit more. Second, Ryder's success last season had a lot to do with David Krejci's breakout season, but Krejci didn't look 100 percent after offseason hip surgery made him miss training camp and the preseason and now he is coming back from a bout with the H1N1 virus. Third, Ryder typically gets a third of his goals on the power play, and given that the Bruins are fourth-worst in the NHL on the man advantage, he can't count on scoring double-digit tallies on the power play this season. We'll reconsider Ryder's situation after the Bruins have righted the ship.

Scott Hartnell, LW, Flyers (up 6 spots): The man never gets enough respect in fantasy hockey. Hartnell has been the fourth-most productive forward on the ESPN Player Rater over the past 15 days, but it's not like his production has spiked way above what he can do. Despite the hot start (which is actually out of character), Hartnell is on pace for only 10 more points than he finished with last season. So sure, he'll hit a cold spell at some point this season, but it will be more than offset by his numbers at other times. Note that he has been key on the Flyers' power play this season as well with all five of his goals coming on the man advantage. For ESPN Standard Leagues that makes him even more attractive.

Scoring Lines

•It's Nik Antropov who is proving to have chemistry that has helped Rich Peverley keep scoring with Ilya Kovalchuk injured. Seven times this season when the Thrashers have scored, both Antropov and Peverley have earned a point.

David Jones has been planted firmly next to Paul Stastny on the Colorado Avalanche's depth chart. The result has been a three-game goal-scoring streak for Jones in which he has four points.

•An important element has been established as coach Todd Richards attempts to get the offense flowing for the Minnesota Wild: consistency. It seems the four lines and power-play units have been established in recent games, and we should start to see some production as the players adjust accordingly.

Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville are proving to be a deadly combination for opposing goalies. The two have each registered a point on eight Buffalo Sabres goals this season. That's the same number of times Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have hooked up on a goal for the Anaheim Ducks.

•If you need a placeholder while dealing with injuries on your roster, consider Manny Malhotra. He won't score you many points and will often leave a score sheet lacking, but he won't hurt you in any way. In seven games since Devin Setoguchi was hurt, Malhotra has three goals and an assist, a plus-5 and has not finished any games with a minus rating.

Power Plays

Phil Kessel is bringing out the best in Jason Blake, on and off the power play. Each player has a goal and two assists in three games since Kessel's Toronto Maple Leafs debut. Blake has managed 14 shots in those three games and two of Kessel's points have been on the man advantage.

•The New Jersey Devils have found a potent rotation for the power play. David Clarkson, Zach Parise and Niclas Bergfors each have three power-play points the past three games, while Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac have two. Clarkson and Bergfors have taken turns as the third forward with Parise and Zajac, while Langenbrunner mans the point.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here

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