If you're reading this, you've most likely made the playoffs in your head-to-head league or you're fighting for placement in your rotisserie league. Things get a little tricky down the stretch in fantasy hockey leagues -- with some NHL teams out of the playoff hunt, young kids usually get more ice time than veterans, veterans you may own on your squad. Make sure you look into who gets called up and whose ice time gets diminished as the season nears an end, it could be crucial.
This Saturday was jam-packed with 12 games on the schedule, so it's assumed that most of us had to make at least one managerial decision -- I hope you chose wisely on whom to bench and whom to start. Away we go:
Tim Thomas has been a fantasy mystery this season. After winning the Vezina Trophy a year ago, the veteran Boston goaltender has been a disappointment for the most part this season. However, on Saturday he proved he still has some gas in the tank, recording a 31-save shutout -- his fifth shutout, which surprisingly matches last season's total. Thomas isn't exactly trustworthy right now, especially considering the fact he has become the backup to Tuukka Rask (Saturday was Thomas' first start in six games) -- but who knows, maybe he's gearing up for the playoffs and could help out your fantasy squad the rest of the way. Playing in his 13th game since joining the Bruins, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg recorded his first goal -- he now has a goal and seven helpers with the B's and makes a solid play for the time being. Marco Sturm recorded an assist for his first point in eight games.
Johan Backlund made his first NHL start -- he stopped 22 of 24 shots before leaving after two periods due to a lower body injury. Brian Boucher is still the de facto starter for Philadelphia with injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton -- he has struggled and shouldn't be trusted in fantasy leagues right now. Pascal Dupuis netted his 18th goal of the season -- he's two away from his career-high of 20 back in 2002-03. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26 of 27 shots for the win, snapping a three-game losing streak in which he gave up three goals in each start -- he's usually clutch down the stretch, so if you own him, have confidence in the Pens' goaltender despite his recent struggles.
Derek Roy put together his best game of the season, recording his first hat trick of the season and adding an assist. With 60 points in 71 games, Roy should come close to his 70-point season from a year ago. Linemate Jason Pominville remained red-hot as he chipped in three points, giving him 7 goals and 8 assists in 10 games. Ryan Miller received a rare night off as backup Patrick Lalime stopped 22 of 23 shots. Both Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith struggled in goal for Tampa Bay -- Niittymaki stopped just three of six shots before being yanked, and Smith wasn't much better, allowing four goals on 20 shots. The lone bright spot for the Bolts was Steve Downie, whose career year continues -- Downie scored his 21st goal and now has 45 points.
Jonas Gustavsson made his second straight start (his first time going back-to-back since late January) and stopped 36 of 38 shots, outdueling his Swedish Olympic teammate Henrik Lundqvist, who denied 29 shots in a losing effort. Nikolai Kulemin is one of the young kids receiving plenty of ice time for the Leafs down the stretch -- he notched his 16th goal and 19th assist. Brandon Dubinsky and Erik Christenson should be owned in most leagues down the stretch as long as they remain on the Rangers' top line with Marian Gaborik. Yes, coach John Tortorella changes his lines frequently, but I think his latest may stick. With a goal on Saturday, Dubie has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last five contests and looked like the best player on the ice against the Leafs. Christensen has four helpers in his last three games and seems to have found some definite chemistry with Gaborik; they're both worth a look right now.
Patrik Elias netted just his second of this campaign. Don't worry though; Elias has been dominating at even-strength play with 2 goals and 4 assists in his last three games. Like Tortorella, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire frequently changes his lines. David Clarkson started the night with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, but got into a fight early on and finished the night with just 8:47 of ice time. If Clarkson stays with that line, he is certainly worth a flyer. Andrei Kostitsyn registered a goal and an assist giving him just 3 goals and 3 assists in 13 games since returning from an injury -- he is a risky play as he continues to struggle. Playing in his third game since returning from his knee injury, Michael Cammalleri recorded his first points (two assists). I think it's safe to say you can start the Canadiens star for the rest of the way.
Pascal Leclaire was going to be the everyday starter for Ottawa, Brian Elliott has again come out of nowhere. He earned his fourth straight win on Saturday, stopping 20 of 22 shots. If you own either Sens goalie, I recommend picking up the one you're missing and paying close attention to who starts each night. Erik Karlsson, the Sens' first-round draft choice in 2008, recorded a career-high three assists. The 19-year-old defenseman has 20 points on the season and could be a fantasy factor in the future, but not quite yet. Stephen Weiss' productive season continues -- he scored his 26th goal and is closing in on his career high of 61 points from last season (he currently has 55). Daniel Alfredsson extended his point-scoring streak to seven games (3 goals, 7 assists) by getting his 20th goal.
Rich Peverley has been pretty cold of late. He tallied his 21st goal on Saturday giving him two goals in 14 games -- I wouldn't recommend him down the stretch. After losing four straight games, Johan Hedberg stopped all 34 shots he faced for his fourth win in his last five games. Hedberg could be useful in the fantasy community as the Thrashers remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. Evgeny Artyukhin scored his third goal in 11 games since joining Atlanta. Niclas Bergfors recorded a game-high seven shots on goal and notched his 21st goal of the season. The Swedish youngster has 41 points on the season to go along with 201 shots on goal -- if you're in need of shots, you know what to do. Despite taking the loss, 'Canes netminder Manny Legace made 39 saves just two nights after stopping 41 Capitals shots.
Josh Bailey broke out of a five-game pointless streak by scoring the overtime-winner, adding an assist and being a plus-3 on Saturday night. Bailey now has 15 goals and 34 points in 68 games and is a solid depth forward. Blue Jackets goalie Mathieu Garon made his fist start since March 19 -- he made 24 saves and took the loss. Expect Columbus to go with youngster Steve Mason for the majority of starts with the Blue Jackets officially out of the playoff race. Jackets defenseman Grant Clitsome netted the first goal of his NHL career. Rick Nash tallied a goal and an assist, giving him just 3 goals and 2 assists in eight games during an injury-filled month. Islanders blueliner Mark Streit recorded his 32nd assist of the campaign -- he ranks 13th among NHL defenseman with 42 points.
Jimmy Howard, and you should too if you're lucky enough to have him on your squad. Howard stopped all 33 shots and allowed just one goal in the 11-round shootout win for his second shutout. The New York native earned his fifth straight win and eighth in his last nine starts while boosting his record to an outstanding 32-15-9. On the other side, Pekka Rinne stopped all 38 shots in regulation and overtime and was credited with his seventh shutout in the shootout loss. Rinne has already matched his 29-win season from a year ago and has backed up his stellar '08-'09 season with an almost impressive sophomore campaign.
Lee Stempniak continues to be one of the great pickups at the trade deadline. The former Maple Leaf scored his 11th and 12th goals and added his third assist in 12 games with the 'Yotes -- he had just 14 goals in 62 games with Toronto! He's certainly worth a flyer as we come down the stretch. The other great pickup for Phoenix was former Avs forward Wojtek Wolski, who tallied a goal and two assists on Saturday -- he has 5 goals and 7 helpers in 12 games with the Coyotes (four of those points coming in two games against his former mates). Veteran Milan Hejduk scored his 22nd goal of the season -- the consistent Avalanche forward has scored 20-plus goals in 10 of his 11 NHL seasons and has 5 goals and 2 assists in his previous seven contests. Taylor Pyatt recorded his first Gordie Howe Hat Trick (1 goal, 1 assist and a fighting major) of the season. The gritty forward has 10 goals and 11 assists to go along with a solid plus-12 rating and 37 penalty minutes.
Joe Thornton left the game late in the second period with an apparent facial injury -- details were not provided, but if this is anything serious it could be a devastating blow to any fantasy owner that has Jumbo Joe on his squad. While a lot of people may have thought Patrick Marleau's 71-point season last year was a bit over his head, he has proven that it was anything but that. After notching a goal and three assists on Saturday, the Sharks star now has 42 goals and 80 points in 75 games. Alex Burrows, arguably the most productive five-category player (goals, assists, plus/minus, shots on goal and penalty minutes), scored his 34th goal and added an assist. With 62 points, a plus-31 rating and 111 penalty minutes, Burrows has done nothing but reward those who spent an early draft pick on him.
Brad Richards has easily put together the quietest 80-plus point season in the NHL. The Stars center scored two power-play goals, giving him 12 PPGs for the season, and added an assist for a total of 85 points. Despite being a minus-13, Richards has easily been one of the biggest surprises in the fantasy world, especially considering he had just 48 points in 56 games last season. Michal Handzus got his 17th goal of the season (fifth power-play marker) and has proven to be a very valuable depth forward this season. The 6-foot-4 center has been playing on the Kings' top power-play unit and with 39 points, Handzus should help any squad the rest of the way. Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen was in net and made 29 saves. Lehtonen and veteran Marty Turco have alternated starts in the last four games. Turco is worth owning, but Lehtonen has struggled in his time with Dallas and shouldn't be relied on at this point. Stephane Robidas tallied two assists for his first multi-point game since Jan. 27. While Robidas still has 40 points as a defenseman, his production has clearly slowed down prior to tonight; be cautious.
With six games on the Sunday schedule, here are a few suggestions if you have the space to add a player:
Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT -- After getting his 13th goal on Saturday, Kunitz carries a three-game points streak into his matchup against Toronto -- he's a definite must-start on Sunday.
David Clarkson, RW, NJD -- As stated earlier, he could be on a line with Kovalchuk and Zajac. Clarkson has the potential to score goals using his big body in front of the net, and is a likely candidate for some penalty minutes when the Devils visit division rival Philadelphia on Sunday.
Manny Malhotra, C, SJS -- Malhotra has a goal and two assists in his last four games and has been getting top-six forward ice time recently. If you're in need of plus/minus help, Malhotra's your guy, as he carries his plus-16 rating into Sunday's matchup against the Avalanche.
SUNDAY'S PROJECTED GOALIES:
Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff) at Washington (Jose Theodore) 3 p.m. ET
Toronto (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) at Pittsburgh (Marc-Andre Fleury), 5 p.m. ET
Edmonton (Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers) at St. Louis (Chris Mason), 6 p.m. ET
New Jersey (Martin Brodeur) at Philadelphia (Brian Boucher), 7 p.m. ET
Columbus (Steve Mason) at Chicago (Cristobal Huet), 7 p.m. ET
Colorado (Craig Anderson) at San Jose (Evgeni Nabokov), 8 p.m. ET
Have a fantasy question you want answered? Want advice on a trade proposal, or have a hot tip you want to share with the NHL.com fantasy community? Write to us at email@example.com and your question may be answered in the Fantasy Forecast.