Monday night served as a reminder to fantasy owners: Few players possess the game-breaking ability of Sidney Crosby.
The 24-year-old scored on his first shot on goal since Jan. 5, and didn't stop there. Crosby (2 G, 2 A, plus-3, 1 PPP, 8 SOG on Monday) assisted on the Pittsburgh Penguins' next two goals, before capping off a near-perfect night with his second goal early in the third period as the Pens blanked the New York Islanders, 5-0. There's no question that his fantasy owners, especially the ones who made bold statements by taking Sid with an early first-round selection, channeled the excitement of the capacity crowd at Consol Energy Center on the night of his return to the lineup.
Sidney Crosby's two goal, two assist debut performance was impressive even by No. 87's high standards. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/NHLI)
Despite the fact that his brilliant performance came against the last-place Isles, Crosby's ability to attack the net at will and mesh with his teammates in game action after such a long period of rehabilitation from post-concussion syndrome speaks volumes about his sheer talent and determination in working his way back.
With 61 games left in the regular season for the Steel City's superstar, the sky is the limit. The proof? His 66-point season in just 41 games last season before suffering an injury that would set him back for nearly 11 months.
But the excitement surrounding Crosby, from a fantasy perspective, should not be limited to his owners alone. "Sid the Kid" wasted no time in clicking on all cylinders with his linemates, Chris Kunitz (7 G, 4 A, plus-1, 8 PIM, 63 SOG) and Pascal Dupuis (4 G, 13 A, plus-10, 6 PIM, 56 SOG). Dupuis had three assists on the night, and each of Sid's linemates had plus-3 outings. What's more, Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal, assisted by Crosby and top-5 fantasy defenseman Kris Letang, is further evidence that the addition of Crosby will put his teammates in prime position to succeed -- and produce phenomenal fantasy numbers -- on a nightly basis.
Carey Price earned the NHL's top star of the week and is proving that he belongs among the League's best fantasy goalies. (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/NHLI)
Price was more then deserving of the top star honor as he stopped an eye popping 72 of the 74 shots he faced over a three game stretch. On top of that, the red-hot Hab is currently enjoying a two-game shutout streak after blanking the Hurricanes and Rangers. Price has put his rough patch behind him and now sports a very respectable 2.16 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
The fantasy world is also taking notice of Price's hot play as of late. In his latest 'In the Cage' segment, goalie specialist Justin Goldman moved Price up two spots to fifth overall in his weekly rankings of NHL netminders. Price clearly has the ability to maintain that lofty standing. At just 24 years-old, Price has continued to show improvement throughout his brief career. He is surrounded by a solid defensive core and a Canadiens team that is talented enough to help provide him with plenty of wins.
Though the fantasy masses can't expect Price to perform week-in and week-out the way he did to earn top star honors, they can count on him to be an upper echelon No. 1 goalie going forward. Those lucky enough to have Price on their rosters should be able to ride the work horse goalie and only have to worry about rounding out their goaltenders behind him. Unfortunately for many fantasy GMs, that is something that is likely to be easier said than done.
To say the Penguins, their fans and fantasy owners have been eagerly awaiting Crosby's return to action may be the understatement of the hockey season. Sid has been sidelined since Jan. 6 when he was diagnosed with a concussion following a pair hard hits in successive games. Since that time, there has been constant speculation as to when Crosby would be cleared to play. All of that is now in the past, however, with Sunday's big news that Sid is ready to return.
When he was abruptly forced from the lineup last season, Crosby was having an MVP-caliber campaign. In 41 games Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points. He compiled 19 points on the power play, totaled 161 shots and was a plus-20 for good measure.
If Crosby can come close to producing the type of numbers he had prior to getting injured, then fantasy owners who took the risk of drafting or dealing for Sid will be ecstatic. Once Crosby shakes off the rust, there is no reason to believe he can't return to his elite status as one of the best -- if not the best -- players in the League.
The only concern the Pens and Sid owners should have is keeping him healthy and on the ice. In addition to the fear of Crosby suffering another concussion. The 24 year-old superstar has also been dinged up a few times with other various ailments. Injuries have been the only thing capable of slowing Sid down during his short career.
The fantasy impact of Crosby's return goes far beyond his giddy owners jumping for joy. Upon his return, Crosby will be reunited with the linemates he had most of last season, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. To date, Kunitz has been a steady fantasy contributor with 7 goals, 11 points, 60 shots on goal and an impressive 42 hits. Dupuis, not known to be as fantasy relevant as Kunitz, has opened some eyes this season with 4 goals, 14 points and 54 shots on goal with a plus-7 rating. But now back with Crosby, both players should see their production experience a big boost that should continue as long as they keep reaping the benefits of skating alongside one of the NHL's most dynamic playmakers.
Between Kunitz and Dupuis, Kunitz is the better play at this point due to his track record as a perennial 20-goal scorer who can be counted on to be a consistent contributor to the shots on goal and PIMs categories. Since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2008-09, Kunitz has shown the ability to elevate his game when paired with Sid. Dupuis might not have quite as a high a ceiling as Kunitz, but the underrated veteran left winger is a reliable fantasy option who, if not spectacular, can contribute to fantasy categories across the board for teams in deeper leagues.
With Crosby sidelined to this point, both Kunitz (owned in 38 percent of Yahoo! Leagues and Dupuis (owned in 19 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) are both undervalued. That won't last for long once Sid returns and inevitably boosts the play of both of these wingers. Go ahead and grab Kunitz off the waiver wire now in leagues where he is available and keep a close eye on Dupuis to see if Crosby's return allows him to keep performing over his head.
The 32-year-old forward posted a hat trick on Sunday, including an empty netter on the power-play to seal a 4-1 win in the Mile High City -- marking San Jose's sixth victory in eight games this month. Marleau is thriving alongside Joe Thornton (1 G, 6 A in last 3 games), and it's no secret that the Sharks are one of the most prolific offenses in the League when those two forces are in full swing.
Marleau (9 G, 10 A, plus-4, 9 PPP, 8 PIM, 55 SOG) has reeled off six goals and four assists in his last six games and is an experienced power-play orchestrator. Despite a five-game slump to start the season, Marleau has been extremely active in the offensive zone for the Sharks (6-1-1 in November) ever since, and is proving he is still at the top of his game. He is also center/left wing eligible, which is icing on the cake for his fantasy owners.
The Sharks, despite falling in the Western Conference Finals in each of the past two seasons, continue to be one of the most dangerous regular season teams in the League -- which has been the case since their President's Trophy-winning campaign in 2008-09. With Joe Pavelski emerging as a top-10 fantasy right wing and Thornton's production in full swing, Marleau is in prime position to live up to expectations and produce a 35-plus goal, 75-plus point season in '11-12.
While the club is not quite there yet, the two fresh faces of the franchise are taking major strides in their pursuit of becoming elite players night in, night out. Saturday night, the two spilled oil all over the Chicago Blackhawks, combining for three goals, five assists, eight points and seven shots. Not a bad night.
The tough part is deciding which player had the better night. Hall collected a hat trick, but Nugent-Hopkins amassed five assists. Let'Tyler s call it a tie.
This year, fantasy owners have seen unexpected greatness from Nugent-Hopkins, a small-framed, inexperienced rookie. Through 19 games, RNH has 19 points on seven goals and 12 assists and has thrown 40 shots on the cage. Fellow stud Hall, meanwhile, has 14 points in 18 games and has 52 shots thrown on net.
The dynamic duo in Oil Country could be emerging as the next Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin or Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane. Fantasy owners are taking notice, too. Nugent-Hopkins is owned in 68 percent of Yahoo! leagues and has jumped from an original ranking of 244 to 93, currently. Hall is owned in 82 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
While you search for the next long-term solution for your fantasy teams, look no further than the two headliners in Edmonton.
Dustin Byfuglien is having a November to remember after experiencing an October to forget.
Byfuglien had another big game Saturday, scoring a goal and adding two assists in Winnipeg's 6-4 win against Philadelphia. That makes three goals and seven assists for Byfuglien in nine games this month. During that span, the 26-year old defenseman has totaled 30 shots on goal while racking up 20 penalty minutes.
With 10 points in nine November games, Dustin Byfuglien appears to have put his slow start to the season behind him. (Photo: Getty Images)
Byfuglien's impressive month is quite the turnaround from his lackluster October in which he posted a meager seven points and was a minus-5 in 11 games. Concerns by the Jets and fantasy owners about Byfuglien in the season's opening month were only compounded by a disappointing finish to the 2010-11 season and growing concerns about his weight. However, Big Buff's strong November performance seems to indicate that he has put all his issues behind him and is ready to return to his elite status among fantasy blue liners.
In his latest On the 'D'-Fence segment, Brian Metzer moved Byfuglien up two spots to No. 12 in his weekly rankings. If Byfuglien can continue to produce up to his potential, then the offensively-gifted defenseman could easily crack the top 10 and even has the ability to soar into the top 5.
Unfortunately, fantasy GMs looking to buy low on Byfuglien may have missed their opportunity. However, if you are still looking to target Byfuglien in a trade, then you should feel confident Byfuglien is back on track and poised for his typical all-around stellar production at the always-thin defenseman position.
With his recent hot play, Giguere seems destined to wrestle plenty of playing time away from starting goalie Semyon Varlamov. The Avs paid a steep price to acquire Varlamov in the offseason and are committed to making the twenty-three year old their franchise goalie for the long term. All seemed to be going according to plan as Varlamov came out of the gates looking incredibly sharp while leading his young team to a surprisingly fast start. Things quickly cooled for Colorado and Varlamov however. Varlamov has not posted a win since October 30th and has lost his last six starts, erasing any remembrance of his hot start. Varlamov now has an ugly 3.30 GAA and .890 save percentage for the season.
Meanwhile, Giguere has taken advantage of his latest opportunity to play while the struggling Varlamov sits. In his start prior to shuting out the Stars, Gigure stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced in a tough 1-0 loss to Minnesota. Make no mistake, Varlamov is clearly the goalie of the future in Colorodo. However, the youthful Avs have played above expectations to this point and as long as they stay in contention in the Western Conference, coach Joe Sacco is likely to stick with the goalie that gives his team the best chance to win. At least for the time being, it seems like that guy is Giguere.
Giguere is currently owned in just 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If you are a Varlamov owner or are in need of some help in goal, you might want to consider taking a flyer on Giguere as it appears the savvy veteran still has something left in the tank.
Rick DiPietro appears to be in line for an increased work load in net for the Isles with Evgeni Nabokov sidelined indefinitely. (Photo: Mike Stobe/NHLI)
DiPietro stepped in admirably for the injured Nabokov on Thursday night, stopping 24 of 27 shots against the Montreal Canadiens for his second win of the season. With Nabokov expected to miss a stretch of games, DiPietro should have the opportunity to seize the No.1 job on the Island.
Nabokov owners, or any fantasy GM in need of help in goal, should scoop up DiPietro, who is owned in just six percent of Yahoo! leagues. DiPietro posseses plenty of talent, but an injury plagued career has prohibited him from reaching his potential. However, DiPietro is still just 30-years old and should be as motivated as ever to live up to lofty expectations and his hefty contract.
Don't forget about Al Montoya, too, as there is always the potential DiPietro will falter or once again get bitten by the injury bug. But for now, DiPietro appears to be the goalie in line to benefit the most from Nabokov's absence. As previously noted, no Islander goalie can be considered a very strong fantasy option at this point. However, the goalie pool is always shallow, and though DiPietro is a risky play, he could give fantasy owners some solid production, at least for the short term.
Russell gave the Blues some breathing room with a third period goal in Thursday's win over the red-hot Florida Panthers. Since joining forces with his former coach, Ken Hitchcock, in St. Louis via trade on Nov. 11, Russell has scored twice and compiled a plus-1 rating. To add even more intrigue to the situation, the Blues have won all three games since the addition of Russell, and are off to a 4-0-1 start since the organization made a coaching change earlier this month.
This 24-year-old showed flashes of promise as a puck-moving blueliner in Columbus, but never produced eye-opening numbers in his four-plus seasons with the Blue Jackets. Hitchcock, however, saw enough potential to reunite with his former player.
While the Blues are not likely to keep up their scorching start to the Hitchcock era, it's becoming less of a secret with each passing day that the 5'10 Russell is in his comfort zone in Hitchcock's system. If you're in a deep fantasy league and in need of a blueliner, look no further than Russell (4 G, 1 A, even rating, 13 PIM), who is owned in only 1 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Wrong. Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jaromir Jagr has surprised many with his consistent play through 18 games, in which he's amassed 17 points, a plus-7 rating, 10 PIMs and 44 shots.
Given his unlikey production, Jagr has evolved into a fantasy hockey gem for many owners or, worst case, a more-than-capable complimentary piece for many rosters. The Cinderella story took an unfortunate turn Thurdsday night, as the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a lower-body injury early in the game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The good news is that the injury is not believed to be serious, at least according to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. However, Jagr has dealt with lower-body injuries in the past and they tend to be nagging. Moreoever, Jagr is 39 years old.
Fantasy owners need not panic and should remain patient while the injury becomes more clear. Sooner rather than later the early exit from the game could be but an afterthought.