Crashing The Net: Spezza returns to prominence with new-look Sens
Jason Spezza has rebounded from injuries to post 11 points in first eight games
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played well but may be sent to minors fto save money
Chris Neil is on pace to tie for the most penalty minutes in an NHL season
From goal scorers to defenders to the men who keep the puck out of the net, each week we'll take a spin around the rink and touch on some of the players that are in the news.
Jason Spezza is the forgotten superstar. With all the exodus of talent from Ottawa, and two injury-filled seasons the last two years for Spezza, you rarely hear anyone talking about Spezza in the fantasy game. Shame on you if you forgot about him. Through eight games Spezza has 11 points, including five with the man advantage. Can he keep this pace up? It's certainly possible. After all, the guy does have 543 points in 534 career games.
Matt Duchene spent time on the fourth -- you read that right -- fourth line on Saturday night as he saw a season low 11:35 seconds of ice-time. Think someone is being sent a message? The 20-year-old future star averaged 26 goals and 61 points his first two seasons. Despite a slow start (four points in eight games), there's little reason to think he will not reach those totals in his third NHL season.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has recorded a hat trick, five goals and seven points in seven games, but that does not mean that the 18-year-old rookie will stay with the Oilers all year long (If he, or any rookie, appears in 10 games, their rookie level contract kicks in.). "I don't think we've really identified an internal time line," coach Tom Renney said. "We talk about all our players every day, and he's certainly one of the ones we talk about a lot. I can tell you that it's all favorable, you know?" I know, and you're crazy if you send him to the minors Oilers.
Jaromir Jagr scored two goals on Monday night, the first time since April 6, 2008 that he scored a goal in an NHL game. He hadn't scored a goal in his first seven games, but he does have seven points in eight games, with five on the power-play. Expecting him to stay at the near point-per-game pace this year is likely asking too much, but Jagr still has enough talent in his 39-year-old body to remain an effective offensive weapon, especially on the power-play, all year long.
Phil Kessel is on fire. Long known as a streaky skater, the fella is just blazing hot with something good seemingly happening every time the puck is on his blade. Through eight games Kessel has nine goals and 15 points. Both totals lead the NHL.
Eric Staal has a league worst (-10) rating on the year, and though he has three power-play goals, he hasn't scored once at even strength through eight games. He's also dished out only one assist, resulting in four points in eight games, a 0.50 point-per-game pace that is light years removed from his 0.89 career rate.
Are you already desperate for help up front? If you are, Leafs' center Dave Steckel has three goals in his last three games. Of course, he's a defensive-minded forward prized for his work in the face-off circle (he has only 27 goals in 317 career contests).
It's hardly a surprise to see Dustin Byfuglien again leading all blue liners with 30 shots on net (P.K. Subban and Dion Phaneuf are tied for second with 27 shots). Still, Dustin's 3.75 shots per game pace is well behind his rather astounding mark of 4.28 per game last season.
Jack Johnson has three goals this year for the Kings. All three have gone for game winners. Only one other blue liner has more than a single game winner this season and it's Sami Salo, who has two for the Canucks.
Erik Karlsson has nine points in eight games for the Senators. He's also been a miserable two-way option, sporting a dreadful (-6) rating.
Ryan Sutter is the only blue liner in the game who has recorded a short-handed goal in the young season.
Is it possible that all that Jaroslav Halak leading the Blues to the playoffs talk is already finished? Halak has started off miserably with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage in five starts, and the Blues may have no other choice than to turn over the keeper duties to Brian Elliott. "We don't want anybody sitting for too long," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "But we've said that performance plays and we're not backing off on that one." At this point there is no denying that Elliott is performing better (2.06 GAA, .935 save percentage), but to this point in his career Elliott has been nothing other than a replacement-level keeper (2.87 GAA, .902 save percentage). If the Blues have playoff aspirations this year, they are going to have to get Halak back on track.
Just checking in ... Nikolai Khabibulin has made four appearances and somehow is 2-0-2. That's hardly a surprise given that he protects the crease for an up-and-coming Oilers team that isn't quite over the hump yet. The real surprise is that he leads the NHL with a .072 GAA while his .967 save percentage ranks third. How long can he ride the wave before he crashes into the beach?
Kari Lehtonen is tied with Tomas Vokoun for the NHL lead with six victories, and neither keeper has suffered a loss this season. Both are also posting elite ratios with Lehtonen (1.48 GAA, .957 SV%) performing ever so slightly better than Vokoun (1.80 GAA, .944 SV%).
Steve Mason is 0-7-1 with a 3.53 GAA and .878 save percentage, and only once in those eight starts has he allowed less than three goals. Mark Dekanich (high ankle sprain) can't get healthy fast enough. The hope is that he will start practicing next week, but with a conditioning stint likely, he'll probably be unavailable until mid November. Sorry, Blue Jackets fans.
Jonathan Quick has three shutouts in six outings and set a record for consecutive scoreless minutes for a Kings' keeper. He's posted a 0.81 GAA and .972 save percentage to quiet all those doubters who wanted to see more of Jonathan Bernier this season.
Chris Neil leads the league with 46 penalty minutes through eight games. That puts him on pace for 472 penalty minutes, which would tie Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, for the most in league history. Neil is certainly as rough and tumble as they come, but he won't come within 200 penalty minutes of that mark this year. He has a career best of 231 PIMs from his rookie season in 2001-02, and he has averaged 213 PIMs per 82 games in his career. Neil is also the only player in the league with more than 30 penalty minutes who has also has more than 20 hits. His 29 hits places him in a tie with Cal Clutterbuck for third in the league behind Troy Brouwer (30) and Steve Ott (35).
Daniel Alfredsson has picked up the dreaded day-to-day tab for what is being described as a hip flexor issue. The Sens hope he will be able to return on Thursday. Still, after offseason back surgery, one has to wonder how the 38-year old's body will hold up this season. Alfredsson has five points in eight games, though he's also been saddled with a poor (-5) plus/minus mark.
Drew Doughty (shoulder) returned to practice on Monday but he was sporting the yellow no-contact jersey. He's getting close, but he's still being listed as day-to-day with no return date yet announced.
Evgeni Malkin (knee) is questionable to play on Tuesday despite the fact that he's skated seven of the past eight days. Teammate Sidney Crosby is inching closer to a return, but there is still no established date for his return from a concussion. It's amazing to think that the Penguins lead the Atlantic Division with a 6-2-2 record through 10 games.
Chris Pronger took a stick to the face from Mikhail Grabovski Monday night in an ugly incident (the stick hit Pronger on the follow through of a shot attempt). The good news is that Pronger appears to have escaped catastrophic damage to his right eye, but he will be bed-ridden for three days. If his recovery goes as hoped he will start skating in 10-14 days to prepare himself for a return to game action. He's likely to miss about three weeks (barring a setback). Will this incident push the league to press for players to wear visors?
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, and his NHL thoughts can be read at Rotowire.com. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account. To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at email@example.com.
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