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Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Front Line: Ovechkin suspension costly

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Alex Ovechkin has fallen out of the top spot in these rankings for the first time this season.

The guy received a two-game suspension for what the NHL called a "reckless" hit, and now this? It seems as though I'm piling on poor Ovechkin, but this decision was easy. Ovechkin has been way out in front in the rankings this season, but a two-game absence when just 13 games remain is a big deal. Sidney Crosby hasn't let Ovechkin pull away to the point where missing 15 percent of the remaining games wouldn't allow The Kid to pull into first. Remember the key here: These rankings are from this point on in the season.

And that is why you will continue to see some wild swings. Mikael Samuelsson went from not being ranked to No. 29?! A week ago, his spot in the Vancouver Canucks' top six was usurped by Pavol Demitra thanks to his Olympic performance, and he was wallowing on the third line. A quick coaching decision by Alain Vigneault to swing Samuelsson up with fellow Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the top line, and voilą! Instant top-30 player.

As the season continues, the little things are what will continue to mess havoc on these ranks. I even went so far as to dock rankings from players based on how many games their teams have left. Seriously, we are that close to the wire, and that sort of thing matters. Would you rather have 12 games of Scott Gomez or 15 games of Stephen Weiss? I dropped Gomez behind Weiss in the ranks because I think those three extra games matter.

Keep a close eye on the rankings, as even injuries knock players down a few pegs. As the season continues to wind down, you'll also start seeing new names on the list, because a hot streak means a lot more when there are only eight or 10 games left. There are 10 names on the top 100 that weren't there last week, including Nikolai Kulemin, who I was even surprised at myself for including. But hey, he is skating with a red-hot Phil Kessel and getting a ton of ice time for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has skill and now opportunity. That's what makes a fantasy player, after all.

Top 100 Skaters

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN.com standard leagues from this point on, not the statistics that already have 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. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (2)
2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
3. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (12)
4. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (3)
5. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (5)
6. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (4)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (7)
8. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (8)
9. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (9)
10. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, NJ (10)
11. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (15)
12. Mike Richards, C, Phi (11)
13. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (6)
14. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (13)
15. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (14)
16. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (16)
17. Corey Perry, RW, Ana (17)
18. Eric Staal, C, Car (19)
19. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (20)
20. Bobby Ryan, RW, Ana (21)
21. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (22)
22. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (23)
23. Alex Burrows, C, Van (24)
24. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (26)
25. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (29)
26. Steve Downie, RW, TB (27)
27. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (18)
28. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (28)
29. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (NR)
30. Brooks Laich, C, Was (36)
31. Paul Stastny, C, Col (31)
32. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (34)
33. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ana (25)
34. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (35)
35. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (40)
36. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (NR)
37. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (37)
38. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (39)
39. G. Latendresse, RW, Min (42)
40. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (43)
41. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (44)
42. Olli Jokinen, C, NYR (45)
43. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (49)
44. David Booth, LW, Fla (64)
45. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (32)
46. Brad Richards, C, Dal (33)
47. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (30)
48. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (50)
49. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (52)
50. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (53)
51. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (54)
52. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (56)
53. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (48)
54. Paul Kariya, LW, StL (67)
55. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (58)
56. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (77)
57. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (51)
58. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (59)
59. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (60)
60. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nsh (61)
61. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Pho (62)
62. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (63)
63. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (47)
64. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (55)
65. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (65)
66. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (57)
67. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (68)
68. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (38)
69. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (NR)
70. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (69)
71. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (71)
72. Jussi Jokinen, LW, Car (73)
73. Alexander Steen, LW, StL (83)
74. David Backes, C, StL (74)
75. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Pit (75)
76. Teddy Purcell, RW, Tam (NR)
77. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (76)
78. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (78)
79. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (79)
80. Teemu Selanne, RW, Ana (72)
81. Benoit Pouliot, LW, Mon (70)
82. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (80)
83. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (81)
84. Nik Antropov, RW, Atl (82)
85. Johan Franzen, C, Det (96)
86. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (NR)
87. Nikolai Kulemin, LW, Tor (NR)
88. Ray Whitney, LW, Car (85)
89. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (66)
90. Matt Duchene, C, Col (86)
91. Brandon Dubinsky, C, NYR (NR)
92. Troy Brouwer, RW, Chi (89)
93. Niclas Bergfors, RW, NJ (99)
94. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (90)
95. Derek Roy, C, Buf (NR)
96. Radim Vrbata, RW, Pho (92)
97. Peter Mueller, RW, Col (NR)
98. Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR (93)
99. Danny Briere, C, Phi (NR)
100. Claude Giroux, RW, Phi (94)

Rising and falling

Tomas Holmstrom, RW, Red Wings (returns as No. 69): Since Johan Franzen returned to the Detroit Red Wings, he, Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk have been manning the top line. Franzen has four goals and two assists in eight games since the Olympics, but Holmstrom has bested that with five goals and four assists in those same games. The top line certainly can do a lot of damage thanks to its supporting cast as well. Holmstrom is overlooked and unappreciated by fantasy owners, but make sure he is in your lineup going forward.

Teddy Purcell, RW, Lightning (debuts at No. 76): He hasn't busted out just yet, but Purcell is locked down on the Tampa Bay Lightning's second line with Vincent Lecavalier. Alex Tanguay has been on the other wing, and if Ryan Malone gets healthy, he will replace Tanguay. Either way, Purcell is a talented scorer working with one of the league's most well-rounded players in Lecavalier. He is at least getting a chance to show his stuff, and if he keeps getting close to 18 minutes a night, I expect him to start scoring often.

Brenden Morrow, LW, Stars (down 30 spots): Since the Olympics, Morrow has one goal and one assist while the Dallas Stars have lost six of seven games. He is a minus-3 and was held to two or fewer shots in four of those seven games. On the current depth chart, Morrow is on what you almost would call the Stars' third line with Mike Ribeiro and Brandon Segal. We could almost forgive him if the penalty minutes were there, but he has just two minutes in the sin bin in March after only four in February.

Scoring lines

• Eager to get back to their winning ways, the Carolina Hurricanes moved Erik Cole back up the depth chart to the top line with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. Jussi Jokinen was still with Staal and Whitney on the power play, though. The situation is worth checking into in a few days' time if you own Jokinen.

David Clarkson appears to be back at full speed after missing time since late November. He is skating with Brian Rolston and Rob Niedermayer on the New Jersey Devils' third line. Clarkson chips in points, PIMs and plus/minus at a mild but consistent pace.

• The San Jose Sharks fell back to their previous lines on Sunday in a loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau were reunited for the majority of a hockey game for the first time since winning Olympic gold for Canada. For the remaining weeks, it means all three players would retain their high value and Devin Setoguchi would lose some of the sleeper value he had.

Alexandre Burrows owners don't need to worry about him losing the Sedin twins for a while. He seems to be doing just fine on the second line with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler.

• Give Eric Belanger a whirl this week. With Alex Ovechkin serving a suspension, Belanger would slide up to wing alongside Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin to form the Washington Capitals' strongest line on paper. The top unit without Ovechkin likely will have Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and Tomas Fleischmann, but it doesn't look as strong as the second line.

Andrew Ebbett, who has showed some assist prowess in the past, is skating on the Minnesota Wild's second line with Martin Havlat and Guillaume Latendresse. Nothing wrong with a setup artist skating with a pair of snipers.

Andrew Cogliano is making some waves for the first time this season for the Edmonton Oilers. On a line with Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule, Cogs has four points in his past four games. We have seen Penner go on streaks this season, so maybe Cogliano can be dragged along for another one.

Power plays

• There is still some value on the Columbus Blue Jackets, even when Rick Nash is hurt. Kristian Huselius has missed a few games with a hand injury, but in the two most recent games he suited up, he has mustered six points on a line with Antoine Vermette and Derek Dorsett. Huselius, Vermette and R.J. Umberger are also performing well on the power play.

• One of the few New York Islanders generating some offense at the moment is Blake Comeau. With five assists in his past three games and a role on the first power-play unit, Comeau has been taking advantage of his opportunities. I know, it's the Islanders, but going back even further, Comeau has six goals and six assists in his past eight games.

Chris Drury has found his way onto the New York Rangers' first power-play unit and has three extra-man assists in his past two games. On the ice for the man advantage with Marian Gaborik, Olli Jokinen and Vaclav Prospal, it's no wonder Drury has done so well lately.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.