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Front Line: Dealing with slow starters

1/28/2013

While a lot of the focus early in the season has been about the hot starting players you should pick up, what about the players you drafted who have started cold? Some key fantasy players have begun the campaign in a bit of slump. One or two games is nothing to sweat about, but with five or six games of data, you might be starting to get concerned.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Ovechkin picked up his first goal of the season Sunday in the Capitals' fifth game of the season. Through five games he has one goal, one assist and a minus-2 rating. He has looked slower than usual and isn't playing with as much force as usual. Ovechkin's goal on Sunday was a textbook Ovie goal on a one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle, but he has been fanning on similar shots this season. He just has not looked like his dynamic self so far.
Should you be worried? No, not that worried. It's quite obvious the big bounce-back year we predicted for Ovechkin is probably not coming, but he will find his groove again sooner than later. During the lockout he was playing steadily and scoring consistently for Dynamo Moscow of the KHL (with Nicklas Backstrom as a linemate). In fact, he could end up finishing the season as the leading point-scorer for Dynamo Moscow despite coming back for the NHL season. Ovechkin drops in the rankings this week, but he'll work his way back up eventually.

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks: The rest of the Ducks stars (Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne) have a point per game so far this season. Ryan has one goal that was a wicked Selanne shot from the point that deflected off his stick halfway from the net. That is all.
Should you be worried? The emergence of the third line is somewhat concerning. Daniel Winnik looks like he has a new gear this season and Saku Koivu has been distributing the puck with equal impressiveness. Not only is there a new scoring threat to steal ice time, but the lockout seemed to make us all forget that Ryan and the Ducks were not happy with each other when the season was supposed to start. There was non-stop talk during the summer about Ryan wanting out and the Ducks exploring a trade. Is he content playing where he is? Ryan has looked OK on the ice, but if he goes much longer without a breakout game on offense, it definitely is time to worry.

Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers: Starting his season on Saturday after missing four games with a wrist injury, Briere is pointless through two outings with a minus-1 rating. The problem is that he came back to a Flyers squad that has suffered a major injury to Scott Hartnell. Briere was not supposed to share the ice with Hartnell, but the trickle-down means Briere will get linemates who aren't as strong as he would skate with if Hartnell were healthy. Playing with Tye McGinn and Brayden Schenn, Briere didn't get on the scoresheet during a 7-1 Flyers win on Saturday and was blanked on Sunday in a loss.
Should you be worried? A little bit. Things looked to be lining up for Briere to have a solid season on a secondary scoring line for the Flyers. The good news is that Briere did have an assist on Saturday that was later taken away by NHL review, so it's not like he was non-existent in the offense. There is also a likelihood that the Flyers give up on trying to have three scoring lines with Hartnell on the sidelines and condense their scoring to two units instead of three. Briere could still make some noise if he plays with some combination of Schenn, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: A healthy scratch for the past two games, Scheifele has no points in three contests this season. He played fewer than nine minutes in the past two games.
Should you be worried? If he isn't bringing anything to the Jets, there is no reason for them to burn a year from the entry-level contract of a player who will be very good when he is ready. Look for Scheifele to be headed back to the OHL at some point this week before he has played his sixth game of the season.

Sven Baertschi, Calgary Flames: There were some moments in the first few games of the season when Baertschi separated himself from the crowd and showed some serious offensive potential. There were other times when he would disappear for extended periods of time. He was given ample opportunity to display his skills playing with Mike Cammalleri and Mikael Backlund, but Baertschi is scoreless through four games.
Should you be worried? Big time. Baertschi's potential as a hotshot rookie depended on top-six minutes. When Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka returned to the lineup on Saturday, Baertschi's ice time plummeted to barely five minutes. Curtis Glencross, Backlund and Lee Stempniak have been too good this season for Baertschi to earn enough minutes to contribute. Keep him in the back of your mind, though, as Glencross and Stempniak have a track record of cooling off significantly after bursts of production.

Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers: Two of the three players who took the league by storm at the start of the 2011-12 season have begun this abbreviated campaign by getting hurt. Versteeg hasn't played yet as he deals with a groin injury, while Weiss played the first three games with no points and has missed the past two contests with a lower-body injury.
Should you be worried? Not yet. Weiss is day-to-day and Versteeg has been skating to get ready for a return. The Panthers have struggled for offense since their opening win, so having Versteeg, Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann back together is an exciting opportunity to see what they can do on offense. Having that top line back drawing attention from other teams would also do good things for rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Kovalev and Peter Mueller on the second line.

Devin Setoguchi, Minnesota Wild: When we weren't sure how the Wild would distribute the talent on their top two lines, Setoguchi was a very interesting fantasy addition. After five games, one thing is clear about the Wild's offense: It's top heavy.
Should you be worried? Very much so. With just one assist on the second line with Mikael Granlund and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Setoguchi does not look relevant for fantasy purposes this season. The Wild's first-unit power play is disgustingly good and Setoguchi doesn't come near it. Granlund and Bouchard have at least been getting occasional looks on the man advantage with Dany Heatley, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. That is not true for Setoguchi.

Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets: Jokinen has one assist in five games as a member of the Winnipeg Jets and he sports a minus-2 rating with just more than two shots on goal per game.
Should you be worried? Not at all. At least, not yet anyway. The Jets have been consistent with playing Jokinen with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, making them the top offensive threat on the team. Yes, Jokinen has disappeared for three of the games this season, but he has been buzzing in the other two. Specifically, Jokinen has played well against the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, while he didn't do much in games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators. That may be a trend to watch if he continues to disappear against teams with a strong defense.

Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: Four games, no points and a minus-3 for the former star center for the Philadelphia Flyers. Try to remember that this 27-year-old had an 80-point campaign four seasons ago and is now playing with one of his chief partners in crime from his days with the Flyers in linemate Jeff Carter. Richards had a solid postseason during the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup (15 points in 20 games) that made it look like he might have finally found some offensive swagger with the Kings after posting just 44 points during the regular season. But not only is he scoreless, Richards didn't even play 13 minutes in the Kings' most recent game.
Should you be worried? Absolutely. Richards disappeared for stretches last season, so there is precedent for this. The main concern is that Richards had a bad season last season, and anything less than what he produced last season would make him borderline fantasy irrelevant. He can't afford a slow start and he can't afford to see a reduction in ice time. The only good news is that none of the Kings' lines have been clicking and a change may be in order that could benefit Richards (playing with Anze Kopitar, hopefully).

Top 100 Forwards

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 points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. Sidney Crosby, Pit (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Corey Perry, Ana (6)
6. Claude Giroux, Phi (5)
7. James Neal, Pit (8)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (11)
9. Marian Hossa, Chi (17)
10. John Tavares, NYI (9)
11. Zach Parise, Min (13)
12. Martin St. Louis, TB (27)
13. Patrick Sharp, Chi (10)
14. Rick Nash, NYR (20)
15. Patrick Marleau, SJ (26)
16. Alex Ovechkin, Was (7)
17. Jonathan Toews, Chi (12)
18. Patrick Kane, Chi (32)
19. Marian Gaborik, NYR (34)
20. Tyler Seguin, Bos (18)
21. Anze Kopitar, LA (19)
22. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (23)
23. Jason Spezza, Ott (15)
24. Eric Staal, Car (21)
25. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (22)
26. Joe Thornton, SJ (36)
27. Dany Heatley, Min (38)
28. Joe Pavelski, SJ (43)
29. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (14)
30. Jordan Eberle, Edm (25)
31. Jamie Benn, Dal (58)
32. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (30)
33. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (33)
34. Logan Couture, SJ (42)
35. Mikko Koivu, Min (31)
36. T.J. Oshie, StL (52)
37. Thomas Vanek, Buf (47)
38. Phil Kessel, Tor (16)
39. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (37)
40. Matt Moulson, NYI (49)
41. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (28)
42. David Backes, StL (45)
43. Brad Richards, NYR (24)
44. Taylor Hall, Edm (40)
45. Ray Whitney, Dal (44)
46. Milan Lucic, Bos (48)
47. Jason Pominville, Buf (54)
48. Vladimir Tarasenko, StL (68)
49. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (51)
50. Alexander Semin, Car (46)
51. Teemu Selanne, Ana (35)
52. Andy McDonald, StL (63)
53. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (50)
54. Loui Eriksson, Dal (65)
55. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (64)
56. Radim Vrbata, Pho (60)
57. Evander Kane, Wpg (78)
58. Teddy Purcell, TB (53)
59. Nathan Horton, Bos (56)
60. Jordan Staal, Car (61)
61. David Perron, StL (77)
62. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (75)
63. Matt Duchene, Col (NR)
64. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (41)
65. Chris Kunitz, Pit (85)
66. Nail Yakupov, Edm (84)
67. Jeff Carter, LA (57)
68. Alex Burrows, Van (69)
69. Cory Conacher, TB (NR)
70. Johan Franzen, Det (72)
71. Kyle Turris, Ott (NR)
72. Alexander Steen, StL (97)
73. Jeff Skinner, Car (79)
74. Martin Havlat, SJ (89)
75. Brayden Schenn, Phi (59)
76. Milan Michalek, Ott (99)
77. Adam Henrique, NJ (91)
78. Mike Ribeiro, Was (87)
79. Shane Doan, Pho (96)
80. Jakub Voracek, Phi (66)
81. Olli Jokinen, Wpg (55)
82. Dustin Brown, LA (80)
83. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (71)
84. Patrik Elias, NJ (86)
85. Brad Marchand, Bos (NR)
86. Zack Kassian, Van (NR)
87. Curtis Glencross, Cgy (NR)
88. Stephen Weiss, Fla (88)
89. Cody Hodgson, Buf (NR)
90. Jonathan Huberdeau, Fla (74)
91. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (98)
92. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (NR)
93. Danny Briere, Phi (NR)
94. Justin Williams, LA (90)
95. Kris Versteeg, Fla (92)
96. Ryane Clowe, SJ (93)
97. Bobby Ryan, Ana (81)
98. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (NR)
99. Nazem Kadri, Tor (NR)
100. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (NR)

Rising and Falling

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning (up 15 spots to No. 12): The only thing missing for St. Louis last season was the Bolts' power play. That is not looking like a problem this season as the puck movement on the man advantage has been stellar for the Lightning. Not to mention, four different defensemen already have a power-play point. St. Louis is a star in his own right, but riding shotgun with Steven Stamkos makes him one of the best fantasy options out there.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 22 spots to No. 38): Following Ovechkin's goal on Sunday, Kessel is probably the next player that needs to find the back of the net the most. Unfortunately, things haven't looked so great for the Maple Leafs' prized sniper. Forming a dynamic duo last season with Joffrey Lupul pushed Kessel to new heights of stardom in Toronto. But Lupul has a broken arm and will be out at least six weeks. Since the injury, the Leafs have let James van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin be the team's first line, while Kessel flounders with lesser linemates. It does look like JvR will get moved to Kessel's line to see if the two have some chemistry, but he isn't the same type of player as Lupul. There is also some hope in that increased ice time for Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri will eventually find them with Kessel, but they aren't going to be as productive as Lupul would have been with Kessel either. Until he finds a new connection, he has to be discounted in the rankings.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (up 14 spots to No. 18): This dude is playing some inspired hockey. Kane looks like he found a new level of commitment for this abbreviated season and is making scoring chances happen every time he hits the ice. Playing with Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland most of the time, Kane has also been making connections on the ice with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews at crunch time. No matter who is on the ice with Kane, points are being produced. He knows he has the skills to back up his current play, so it was time for a big boost for Kane's ranking.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (down 23 spots to No. 64): This drop is not about his ice time or his linemates, and it's not about predicting a sophomore slump based on one goal in four games. This drop is about who is the catalyst for the Avalanche. It was Landeskog last season and he rode the role to a terrific fantasy debut. But watching the Avalanche play this season, there appears to be a new catalyst for the offense. Matt Duchene has shaken off his slump from last season and looks even better than when we last saw him playing good hockey in 2010-11. Landeskog is still a fantasy asset, but he isn't going to carry the Avalanche on his back this season.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (up 27 spots to No. 31): It is going to take some time for Benn to settle in, and his upside is even higher than this ranking. Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy are injured, so even if Benn gets his work visa in time to play Monday, the final line combinations still probably won't be known. The bottom line is that Benn will be the featured center and Roy will play down on the second line, but will Jagr and Ray Whitney flank Benn? Or will it be Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson? Or even some other combination of the four wingers. Either way, Benn will have good linemates but his potential is probably higher with a Hall of Famer like Jagr on his flank.

Scoring Lines

The theme for scoring lines this week is the production statistic (ice time divided by points), which shows you the players making the most of minimal ice time.

Nazem Kadri and Matt Fratti, Toronto Maple Leafs: Of players with at least two games played, Frattin leads the way for production versus ice time. He has played barely 12 minutes in both games with the Leafs since replacing the injured Lupul. Frattin played on a line with Kadri, who has been a revelation with minimal ice time this season and watched his responsibility climb. After starting off with fewer than 10 minutes in the season opener, Kadri is now eclipsing 16 minutes per game as he has 5 points in 5 games played this season. Both these rising talents will continue to see an increase in ice time, which will translate into more points.

Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens: The ice time shows that these two young guns aren't being relied on for the Habs' offense very often this season. But the 18-year-old Galchenyuk has now produced 3 points in 4 games while skating around 12 minutes per game. Gallagher, 20, has 2 points in 3 games while playing about the same amount of time as Galchenyuk. The pair skated on a line together on Sunday with Brandon Prust. Galchenyuk set up a goal by Gallagher and another by Prust. With news that Max Pacioretty will miss a few weeks following an emergency appendectomy, look for one or perhaps both of these players to get increased ice time. There is still a threat that Galchenyuk is sent back to junior hockey, but he has given the Canadiens enough reasons to keep him around.

Kyle Clifford, Los Angeles Kings: Clifford has somehow managed to lead the Kings in scoring so far this season while playing just 10 minutes per game. He was "rewarded" with a move to the second line alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on Saturday and still managed to notch a point. Clifford is up to a plus-6 with five points on the season. While it's hard to recommend a pugilist getting unexpected points, the trend has kept up for four games now. Besides, worst-case scenario will have you collecting some extra penalty minutes.

David Ullstrom and Keith Aucoin, New York Islanders: Aucoin was mentioned in this space last week and he has not only made good on his promise to score, but has helped his linemates join the action. Ullstrom has some goal-scoring instincts and Aucoin has helped bring them out in the past few games. After both being blanked in the season opener, both players have four points in four games playing on the Isles' third line. Aucoin has been given a few bonus minutes on the power play and in key situations, but Ullstrom has averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game. If ice time continues to increase for this pair, "Aucoin passes to Ullstrom and he scores" might become a somewhat common phrase.

Quick Hits

• Not so fast, if you are thinking about selling high on Daniel Winnik. Alternatively: Faster, if you are still thinking about picking Winnik up. The star of the Anaheim Ducks' first two games of the season was moved up to the first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on Saturday night. When the game with the Nashville Predators was still tight in the third period, Bruce Boudreau decided to shorten his bench, putting Winnik on the top line, while Saku Koivu was placed with Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan.

• The answer is both. Zack Kassian is playing with the Sedin twins on and off the power play and off the power play. That's right. Kassian is playing with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin in all situations. You might want to think about picking him up.

• Mikhail Girgorenko might be saying goodbye soon. He was given big minutes on Sunday and still failed to produce a point. If he suits up for the Buffalo Sabres again, they can no longer send him back to the QMJHL.

• In other Sabres news, Steve Ott moved to the second line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. The move broke a string off three goose eggs for both Ennis and Stafford. This would be bad news in the long term for Marcus Foligno. Though, to his credit, Foligno also scored in the game.

• This is a big week for the Carolina Hurricanes. The team found two lines that worked in two back-to-back contests against the Sabres. But the important question is whether the lines will also hold up against other competition. From a fantasy perspective, Jiri Tlusty and Zac Dalpe are the likely free agents to look at. Tlusty is playing with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, while Dalpe was skating with Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. Both units looked great in the wins against Buffalo.

• So Todd Bertuzzi came pretty close to a hat trick in his season debut with the Detroit Red Wings. He skated on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula. As always, Bertuzzi will have some fantasy value as long as he plays on an important line for the Red Wings. He finds a way to score some points and will collect some plus/minus.

Infirmary

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: Vanek just missed a day with "general soreness." Don't sweat it and keep him active in your lineup. With linemates Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson playing well, only the San Jose Sharks' top line has been better.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: As mentioned above, an emergency appendectomy will keep Pacioretty out for about a month. Erik Cole and David Desharnais will take a huge value hit, unless Lars Eller can prove he is ready to be an offensive catalyst in the NHL.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: We are still waiting on a timetable for Hornqvist's lower-body injury. An extended absence would open the door for the slumping Sergei Kostitsyn or seemingly forgotten Craig Smith to assert themselves.

Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers: This broken foot is devastating for a lot of fantasy teams. Even if you don't have an injured reserve roster spot, Hartnell is worth keeping on the bench. Four-to-six weeks is not the entire abbreviated season and Hartnell is a top-20 forward when healthy.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: Lupul, on the other hand, can be let go. He is missing a minimum of six weeks with a broken forearm and has his value tied specifically to that of Kessel. A lot of things can happen in six weeks, including Kessel finding new linemates that work.

Derek Roy, Dallas Stars: Day-to-day with a groin injury, Roy should be back soon enough. In the meantime, get excited by guessing which wingers he will end up playing with on the second line, behind Benn. It's a lottery Roy can't lose.

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: A favorite sleeper before the season, Atkinson has a lower-body injury that will keep him out a couple weeks. The good news is that, so far, it appears the Blue Jackets are no closer to scoring goals with regularity without him. He'll get another shot to inspire a top line when he returns.

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: Wait one more week to return Henrique to your lineup. The sophomore is coming off a thumb injury and, though he may play this coming weekend, he will likely need a game or two to be back to full strength. That's when the jostling begins to see who gets to play with Ilya Kovalchuk.