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Solid goaltending leads the way on Fantasy Saturday

by Matt Cubeta

As we reach the midway point of the NHL season, a lot of fantasy owners may have their roster right where they want it for the remainder of the year; others may need to make some changes. Whether it's via trade or hitting the waiver wire, there are many ways to improve a team. Players like Tomas Plekanec or Stephen Weiss have certainly helped teams thus far, while guys like Eric Staal or Alexei Kovalev have killed fantasy rosters to this point.

Now that the Winter Classic is behind us and the selection process for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics is over, fantasy owners can concentrate on solidifying their squads with hopes of a championship.

The second day of the New Year was yet another action-packed Fantasy Saturday; 24 teams played with six Eastern Conference squads having the day off -- the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.

Win, 27 saves
Saturday's first game of the day saw Ray Whitney score in overtime to give Carolina the win over the Rangers. The veteran's tally extended his points streak to three games -- Whitney's a good source of production for a fantasy bench with 11 goals and 16 assists on the season. Marian Gaborik contributed the Rangers' lone goal with his linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Erik Christensen assisting on it. With Vaclav Prospal currently sidelined, Christensen has filled in on the top line and has 3 points in his past two games -- he's a good option if you need immediate production. Gaborik and his linemates are about the only worthy fantasy forwards right now from the disappointing Blueshirts.

VAN 3, DAL 1
Roberto Luongo
Win, 31 saves
Vancouver's Ryan Kesler scored his 11th goal and added an assist -- if you can acquire the young American Olympian, do so now. He's on pace for a career year with 36 points in 42 games. Some people expected Stars forward Loui Eriksson to have a down year after scoring a career-high 36 goals in 2008-09, but the Swedish Olympian continues to rake for Dallas -- he netted his fifth goal in the past three games and has 17 on the season. Vancouver's Henrik Sedin set up brother Daniel for his 11th goal, a power-play marker -- Daniel has 4 goals and 6 assists in his previous six contests. Continuing with the theme of players scoring their 11th goals of the season, Alex Burrows tallied an empty-netter to ice the game -- his first goal since Dec. 12.

TBL 3, PIT 1
Steven Stamkos
2 assists, +2, 4 SOG
Despite not being selected to Team Canada, sophomore center Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay continues to show that he is an elite player. Stammer chipped in two assists giving him 3 goals and 5 assists in the last seven games (21 goals, 18 assists in 41 games on the season). Tampa Bay's Zenon Konopka, the NHL's leader in penalty minutes with 146, scored a rare goal on his 29th birthday -- it was just his second goal of the season. Konopka is valuable for his PIMs, but that's about it. There's a reason the Pens have lost four straight games -- Sidney Crosby has just 1 goal in the last seven games while Evgeni Malkin has been held without a goal in his past four games. Not that you should ever bench either superstar, but their owners hope they snap their slumps.

GAME STAR: Jonathan Quick
Win, 26 saves
Just one day after being named to Team USA's Olympic squad, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick proved he was a worthy selection by stopping 26 shots to beat Washington 2-1. He has been one of the brightest surprises in the fantasy community and if you own him, you should continue to ride the youngster. It appears Ryan Smyth may be returning to his pre-injury form with the Kings. After being held pointless in his first three games since returning from an upper body injury, the veteran left wing scored his second power-play goal in as many games. With Semyon Varlamov sidelined and Jose Theodore struggling, Michal Neuvirth made his fifth start in the last six games for the Caps. He stopped just 17 shots and took his second straight loss. Varlamov was sent to the AHL for a conditioning stint but his return is near.

GAME STAR: Ilya Kovalchuk
1 PPG, 3 assists, +3, 1 SOG
In the night's most offense-packed game, the Thrashers' top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Maxim Afinogenov and Nik Antropov really lit up the scoresheet -- combining for 4 goals and 5 assists against the Islanders. Afinogenov has really thrived playing on a line with Kovalchuk, and he is a must-start in all fantasy leagues. Youngsters Matt Moulson, Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen each had multi-point efforts for the Islanders while veteran Trent Hunter scored his eighth goal of the season to go along with eight shots on goal. John Tavares has just one goal in his last 12 games -- it might be a good idea to keep him on your bench until he gets hot again. Despite surrendering 5 goals on 27 shots, Dwayne Roloson improved his record to 4-0-1 in his last five games. Defenseman Tobias Enstrom should be owned in almost all leagues -- he was a plus-2 and added three assists, giving him 31 on the season.

GAME STAR: Craig Anderson
W, 26 saves
Yes, it's been said at least once this year, but could Steve Mason finally be rounding into last season's form? After a 34-save shutout against the Wings and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Islanders, Mason stopped 34 more shots despite taking the loss in Columbus' 3-2 defeat to Colorado. It might be time to start the youngster, who has too much talent to continue to struggle like he has. Avs defenseman Kyle Cumiskey scored his fourth goal and first career power-play goal. Winger Chris Stewart continues to shine in Colorado as he topped last season's goal total with his 12th goal. Kristian Huselius of Columbus finally broke out of his prolonged slump scoring his first goal in 15 games (he also added an assist). He got off to a good start with 22 points in his first 24 games, but with the Jackets' ongoing struggles, Huselius just isn't reliable enough to start on a regular basis.


GAME STAR: Curtis Glencross
2 goals - 1 PPG, +1, 4 SOG
Curtis Glencross, who has bounced around from the top line to the fourth line for the Flames, scored his ninth and 10th goals, one coming on the power play -- he's approaching his career high of 13 goals of last season. Jarome Iginla was involved in all three Calgary goals, scoring once and assisting on the other two. The other linemate with Iginla and Glencross was Daymond Langkow -- all he did was have three assists. You get the point; whoever is playing with Jarome will get points. After scoring his 10th goal, Toronto's Jason Blake now has goals in three of his last four games. Blake isn't very useful unless you're in need of shots -- he has 136 on the season. Jonas Gustavsson went 2-1-2 with a 1.86 GAA and a .928 save percentage in the month of December and started January by stopping 32 of 34 shots in a losing effort. You can expect him to get the majority of the starts going forward for the Leafs, with Vesa Toskala spending more time on the bench.

GAME STAR: Tomas Kopecky
2 goals, +2, 4 SOG
In an extremely physical game, the Blackhawks scored six goals on Saturday night, but superstars Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews accounted for none of them. Tomas Kopecky led the way with his second and third goals of the season, both coming in the first period -- they were his first goals since Oct. 15. Patrick Sharp also scored twice for Chicago while Colin Fraser, Hossa and Brent Seabrook each had two assists in the blowout. St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk extended his point-scoring streak to five games with a power-play goal late in the third period -- he got it the hard way, as the puck deflected off his face into the back of the net. Tkachuk left the game and didn't return. David Backes, who was named to the USA Olympic Team on Friday, tallied two assists as well as a fighting major against Canadian Olympian Toews (his second career fight).

GAME STAR: Shea Weber
1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 10 SOG
Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller did everything he could to keep the Ducks in the game, but 33 saves wasn't quite enough to beat Nashville. Mike Brown provided Anaheim's lone offense with his fifth goal. Preds defenseman Shea Weber had a goal and an assist as well as a whopping 10 shots on goal, giving him 114 on the season. Captain Jason Arnott broke out of a small slump with a goal and two assists. Martin Erat, Nashville's leading goal-scorer, missed his second consecutive game with a sprained knee. He could miss another game, so keep him sidelined until you hear otherwise. Pekka Rinne earned the first start of the New Year for Nashville and made 25 saves for the win. Rinne made eight starts in the month of December as opposed to Dan Ellis' seven; this is clearly an even timeshare.

GAME STAR: Jamie Langenbrunner
3 goals - 2 PPG, -1, 7 SOG
Recently named USA Olympian Jamie Langenbrunner scored two power-play goals in the second period and added an empty-netter for his first career hat trick in New Jersey's 5-3 win at Minnesota. Langenbrunner has at least a goal in three consecutive games -- it's also the captain's first multi-goal game of the season. Patrik Elias recorded three assists and was a plus-2 on the night. There are only a few Wild players (not including goalie Niklas Backstrom) that are worthy of a fantasy spot right now -- Minnesota's leading scorer, Mikko Koivu, who netted his first shorthanded goal after recording four last season, Martin Havlat, who had an assist, Andrew Brunette who scored his 13th goal, and defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who had two assists. This squad doesn't score enough to have players that will help your fantasy team.

GAME STAR: Pavel Datsyuk
1 PPG, 1 assist, +3, 3 SOG
The Red Wings' current top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom continues to shine. Holmstrom scored his team-leading 14th and 15th goals -- his first goals since Dec. 19. Datsyuk had a goal and an assist and has been playing like his old self lately. Bertuzzi continues to put up fantasy elite stats -- he led the way last Fantasy Saturday and hasn't slowed down since. With an assist on Saturday Big Bert now has 8 goals and 3 assists in his last 11 games. Jimmy Howard was outstanding for Detroit stopping 35 Phoenix shots. His counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov held his own with 32 saves, but wasn't provided any offensive support -- Matthew Lombardi scored the Coyotes' lone goal.

GAME STAR: Patrick Marleau
1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 5 SOG
In the final game of the night, the usual suspects did the damage
for the Sharks -- Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau each scored while Joe Thornton had two assists. Although he had allowed only three goals in his last two games, Oilers goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers struggled against the Sharks, surrendering four goals on 27 shots. San Jose's Douglas Murray scored his second goal of the season and added an assist -- his first multi-point effort since Jan. 17, 2009. Dustin Penner assisted on Robert Nilsson's goal -- Penner's first point in six games. The Oilers left wing is having a tremendous season with 39 points in 42 games, but let's not forget that his career high in points is just 47 back in 2007-08 -- so keep your expectations in check with him.

There are four games on the NHL schedule on Sunday with the Penguins, Ducks and Blackhawks all playing on back-to-back nights. Looking for some Sunday production? These guys may be available in your free agent pool:

Claude Giroux, RW, PHI -- Was tabbed as a breakout player prior to the season but got off to a slow start. He may be rounding into form: Skating on the top line with Simon Gagne and Mike Richards, the youngster has 8 points in his last 11 games.

Jochen Hecht, C, BUF -- Was not named to Germany's preliminary roster, so the motivation is there. In his first game since finding out the news, Hecht had 2 goals and an assist.

James Wisniewski, D, ANA -- He won't score any goals for you, but he has 3 assists to go along with a plus-6 rating and 8 shots on goal in his previous two games.

Antti Niemi, G, CHI -- He is likely to get the call on Sunday and is arguably the best backup goaltender in the NHL. The Hawks are 5-0-0 in Sunday games this season with Niemi starting three of them -- two of them were shutouts.

Philadelphia (Michael Leighton) at Ottawa (Brian Elliott), 1 p.m. ET
Buffalo (Ryan Miller) at Montreal (Carey Price), 3 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh (Marc-Andre Fleury) at Florida (Tomas Vokoun), 5 p.m. ET
Anaheim (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) at Chicago (Antti Niemi), 7 p.m. ET


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