James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Halak is back in form

Friday, January 20, 2012

Going with a red-hot backup can make you feel savvy, but it always comes with the risk that he’ll be usurped by the No. 1. When you consider the typically large gulf between a team’s should-be starter and his relatively cheap No. 2, it’s almost tough to blame NHL teams for doing their best to force the top guy back into the mix at the first sign of weakness from his counterpart.


In the case of the St. Louis Blues goalie rotation, there’s not much of a weakness to be found.


On one end, you have Brian Elliott, a netminder whose story is one of the more stunning ones of the 2011-12 season. Elliott’s stock was so low last summer that he accepted a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues. That deal has to be one of – if not the – steals of 2011 free agency as he’ll make one of the most unlikely All-Star game appearances you’ll ever see. It’s great to see Elliott receive a contract extension because he absolutely deserves it.


The problem for Elliott owners is that Jaroslav Halak has really turned his season around since Ken Hitchcock took over for Scott Arniel. He’s been especially hot lately, with this array of accomplishments:


  • Two shutouts in a row
  • Three shutouts in his last four games
  • No regulation losses since Nov. 22, with a 10-0-3 record in that time.


With a typical break between games, it’s hard to imagine Hitchcock opting to go with Elliott instead of Halak tomorrow. He’s been going with the higher paid goalie quite a bit lately, in general, as Halak received six of the last eight starts.


It’s highly unlikely that Halak is available in your league right now, but you should absolutely check, because he won’t be around very long. The Blues netminder currently ranks as one of the better steals in fantasy – especially if you managed to scoop up Elliott at some point too.



One of the teams that can compare to the revamped St. Louis Blues is the surging Ottawa Senators, even if the two squads tend to do things rather differently. (One shared trait besides a new coach is that their should-be franchise guys are getting it done; Craig Anderson is 8-1-1 in January.)


The Senators are brimming with positive fantasy stories  - Jason Spezza’s return to near-elite status, Milan Michalek’s surprising work and so on – but one of the more interesting developments is that Kyle Turris is delivering on some of the hype that followed him as he was holding out to leave the Phoenix Coyotes. Just look at how his stats compare between his short bit of work with the Coyotes and his red-hot run to start things off in Ottawa.

Phoenix (six games): zero points, -2 rating, nine shots and 12:45 minutes per game.

Ottawa (16 games): four goals, nine assists for 13 points, +13 rating, 34 shots and 17:30 minutes per game.



Is John Tavares on the hottest streak of any forward in the league? OK, maybe Evgeni Malkin is enjoying a sexier run, but the New York Islanders center isn’t doing half-bad either.


Tavares has points in 11 consecutive games and he’s not just getting one on many nights. To be exact, the Isles blue chip has 19 in that span, with seven goals and 12 assists. Tavares is also sending a lot of shots on goal in this streak, so it shows that he’s creating a lot of offense – not just benefiting from “puck luck.”


It seems more and more possible that Tavares is making good on the breakthrough a lot of prognosticators were providing.



Don’t look know, but Evgeni Nabokov is starting to play really well for the Isles too. He’s on a three-game winning streak in which he has one shutout and has only allowed three goals in that streak. Despite a mediocre 9-11-0 record, he has very solid overall numbers, with a .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA. The Islanders aren't likely to give him the kind of support that will make him a huge steal over the rest of the season, but he's probably worth a shot in the short term … Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul didn’t play together on Thursday, but they still helped the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 … Speaking of the Wild, Mike Yeo was left livid after that game, but who could blame him? The Wild are 0-9-2 in their last 11 away games, scoring just 11 goals in the process … Jonas Gustavsson is producing the best work of his NHL career lately … Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t get the shutout or the win against the Blues, but he stopped 37 out of 38 shots and – by the way – is still playing well. Unfortunately, the team in front of him isn’t doing the same.



Add Patrick Kaleta to the growing list of banged up Buffalo players, as he’s dealing with a foot issue … Ryan Suter would like to return on Saturday. The same could be true for Alex TanguayCurtis Glencross has been placed on the injured reserve … Radek Martinek’s concussion issues will keep him out for the rest of the season. If that wasn’t bad enough, his confirmed absence opens the door for Brett Lebda. Yikes … Tomas Plekanec has a head injury … Henrik Tallinder will miss six-to-eight weeks with a blood clot … Daymond Langkow is day-to-day with an upper-body ailment. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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