Posted: Monday February 7, 2011 2:20PM ; Updated: Monday February 7, 2011 3:44PM

Crashing The Net: Vanek helping Sabres to find relevance

Story Highlights

Thomas Vanek has scored 13 goals in 14 games since start of New Year

Nicklas Lidstrom is on pace to post only second plus-minus in single digits

Marc-Andre Bergeron scored 27 times the last two years before good debut

By Ray Flowers, Fanball.com, Special to SI.com

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Thomas Vanek has helped push the Sabres within sight of a playoff spot in the East.
AP

Crashing the Net takes you around the league touching on hot and cold players, battles for ice-time and what's going on in net.

Fire

Teddy Purcell, Lightning

A somewhat talented offensive player, Purcell has often had spurts of success without being able to sustain success at the NHL level. In 53 games this season Purcell has a modest 11 goals and 23 assists, but his production has been ratcheted up of late. Though he lost his four-game point streak on Sunday, Purcell has four goals and five assists in his last five contests. Of course, this comes on the heels of a stretch that saw him produce one point in 14 games, so wade carefully into these shark-infested waters.

Alex Tanguay, Flames

From 2003-06 Tanguay recorded at least 78 points each season. Over the last three years he has been a shell of his former self, scoring 58, 41 and 37 points. The Flames hoped that a return to Calgary would help to spark some of the old scoring ways, and boy, has it. Tanguay is up to 42 points in 54 games for the Flames thanks to some hot play of last with includes points in three-straight games (2g, 3a). Moreover, Tanguay has nine points in his last seven games and finally looks to have recovered his scoring ways to the point that he is once again an asset in fantasy leagues.

Thomas Vanek, Sabres

When the Sabres have needed him most, as players are coming down with injuries, Vanek has stepped to the fore to resuscitate a once dormant season. In six of his last nine games he has registered at least two points and a total of three goals and 10 assists in that time. Going back a bit further, to the start of the new year, Vanek has recorded six goals and handed out 13 helpers in just 14 games. Someone is melting the ice on the offensive side of the rink.

Ice

Phil Kessel, Leafs

Mr. Irrelevant at the All-Star Game -- he was the last player selected -- has been in a dreadful slump for the Leafs. Not only was he benched on Sunday against the Sabres, he has also gone 10-straight games without lighting the lamp. Kessel scored 36 goals two years ago, and 30 last year, and he could still hit that mark again since he has 19 markers in 52 games. But still, he is paid to score goals, something he just hasn't done of late. One final nail in his sad sack coffin is that his plus/minus has fallen to minus-22, a ghastly total that is tied for third worst in the league among forwards.

Anze Kopitar, Kings

Anze has 50 points in 53 games, but that doesn't come close to telling the whole story. He has just one point in his last four games, and five in his last 12 games, but that's not the worst part. Kopitar has been held goalless in nine-straight games, and he has just goal since Dec. 26 (a span of 19 games). For a guy who has averaged 31 goals the past three seasons that is a dreadful run of failing to slip a puck past a goaltender.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Wings

Lidstrom owns a career plus/minus mark of plus-478. He has only one season in his career with a plus/minus mark in single digits, and that was back in 1994, when he was a plus-six. Therefore, his current mark of minus-four is shocking to behold. That mark has been even worse of late as the Wings' captain owns a minus-seven mark over his last 10 games. Obviously he hasn't just lost it; you can blame a large part of his recent downturn on the fact that so many Wings are on the shelf. That situation should begin to change this week with the return of Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, so look for Lidstrom's overall play to turn around soon.

Movin' On Up

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Lightning

Recalled from the minors, MAB had a wonderful first game for the Lightning. He skated more than 17 minutes in his first contest with the Bolts recording two assists, one on the power-play. A deficient defender, Bergeron is a wonder with the puck and an offensive dynamo who merely needs to be given time on the power-play to be a major weapon. After all, this guy scored 27 times the past two years, in just 132 games, and that is fourth among all defensemen.

Peter Forsberg, Avalanche

Peter the Great signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Avalanche (it's pro-rated). There is no telling when he will return to the ice; estimates put his return on Saturday, or how effective he will be when he returns. Still, he was arguably the greatest all-around player in the game, and even through injuries he has continued to put up the points whenever he has been able to drag his body onto the ice. If you need help at the center spot, he's worth a shot even at 37 years old.

Keeper Corner

Martin Brodeur, Devils

Finally starting to round into form with six wins in his last seven appearances, Brodeur "tweaked" his knee on Sunday. "I don't know what I'm going to have to go through, but I don't think it's something that's major at all," said Brodeur. That sounds like he escaped serious injury, which is a good thing for those that have waited for him to finally turn around his dreadful season. It's also a good thing for the Devils, who would be forced to turn to Johan Hedberg if Brodeur is out. Hedberg has two victories in his last 13 appearances.

Jonas Hiller, Ducks

Hiller will be given the first half of the upcoming week off to deal with being lightheaded and fatigued. Everyone with the Ducks is saying that this is not a concussion related issue, but it makes you wonder when you hear about his symptoms. The Ducks have recently signed Ray Emery (hip surgery) to a deal, but one would think he'll have to continue to work himself back into shape before he would be considered for starts (plus, he'll have to go through waivers as well). That means Curtis McElhinney will take over in net, even if it is for a few days. Keep an eye on those medical reports with Hiller, and grab McElhinney if you are desperate in net.

James Reimer, Leafs

The Leafs seem to be intent on riding the youngster in net until the wheels fall off. Jonas Gustavsson was sent to the minors on a "conditioning assignment" leaving Reimer as the starter ahead of veteran J-S Giguere. Reimer has wonderful numbers on the year with a 2.38 GAA and a .929 save percentage over 10 appearances, though he has only one win in his last four appearances, during which time he has allowed 11 goals. Reimer could stick with the Leafs, especially if they move the veteran Giguere at the trade deadline as expected, but it's tough to trust any net minder with that club in front of them.

Looking Ahead

* Eleven teams play four games this week: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Detroit, Edmonton, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Toronto.

* Three teams play only two games this week: Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Washington.

Ray Flowers is Managing Editor for Fanball.com Owners Edge and RotoTimes.com. You can also follow the happenings of the game of hockey on our Twitter Page, as well as listen to his daily three hour radio show on Sirius 211 and XM 147. For more information on the show click on the link to the Fanball Fantasy Drive.

 
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