Cullen: Familiar Sens and Devils duos still scoring

Scott Cullen
12/19/2011 2:00:37 PM
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Some old standbys are getting the job done in Ottawa, a former Senator is taking over in Chicago, Seguin's declining ice time, a Devils duo doing what they do and more.

While the Senators made some news over the weekend by acquiring Kyle Turris, it's important to note that Turris is being brought in to provide secondary offence down the middle, behind Jason Spezza and Spezza has been especially outstanding over the last few weeks.

In the last 11 games, amidst changing lines because of injuries, Spezza has six goals and ten assists and is a minus-1 in that span after tying a career-high with a plus-4 rating against Pittsburgh on Friday.

After Milan Michalek was injured, shaking up the Senators' second line, Daniel Alfredsson was returned to Spezza's wing and Alfredsson has five points in two games since the change.

As Corey Crawford has struggled to perform at the level he established for Chicago last season, G Ray Emery has taken the opportunity to stake his claim to the starter's job in the Blackhawks crease.

In 13 appearances this season, Emery is 9-1-2 with a 2.50 goals against average and .909 save percentgae. While those numbers (aside from the record) aren't out of the ordindary, they're dragged down by a couple rough starts earlier in the season, when Emery allowed seven goals on 27 shots at Edmonton and five goals on 32 shots at Tampa Bay.

After a little time on the sidelines, Emery was called in to relieve Crawford, who had allowed three or more goals in four of his last five starts and now Emery is on a decent stretch in December, going 5-0-1 with a 1.70 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

While the Blackhawks are more committed contractually to Crawford, who is signed for two more seasons, Emery is the better option right now and, in a meritocracy, should continue to see action until his performance slips.

Blackhawks C Patrick Sharp has been on a tear, especially since the Blackhawks ended their experiment with Patrick Kane at centre on the second line, moving Sharp there with Marian Hossa (and usually Marcus Kruger) on his wings.

Sharp has ten goals and six assists, with a plus-8 rating, in his last 11 games, giving him 35 points in 33 games this season. Along with Hossa and Jonathan Toews, Sharp gives the Blackhawks a league-high three players scoring at a point-per-game clip.

Even as the Flames have been struggling lately, C Olli Jokinen has been doing his part, skating alongside Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross on Calgary's top line. In the last nine games, Jokinen has six goals and seven assists with a plus-2 rating.

What's particularly encouraging for Jokinen is that, with 34 shots in those nine gamees, he's getting more chances and after a few years with a subpar shooting percentage (7.2% over the previous two seasons), Jokinen has a more respectable 10.8% shooting percentage. As a result, he's on his best points-per-game pace (0.82) since 2007-2008.

While starting G Kari Lehtonen is injured, it appears that the Dallas Stars have found an option better than Andrew Raycroft. 24-year-old rookie Richard Bachman has posted a 2.08 goals against average and .931 save percentage in five appearances. Despite allowing six goals to New Jersey on Friday, Bachman has yet to surrender a power play goal against.

While Bachman excelled in the AHL last season (2.20 GAA, .927 SV% in 55 GP), he was struggling this year (3.13 GAA, .887 SV%) when he got the call, so he could still return to the AHL when Lehtonen is healthy, with an eye towards being the full-time backup next season.

This seems like a story from 12 years ago but, recently, RW Petr Sykora and C Patrik Elias have been leading the way for the Devils offensively. Sykora has a point-per-game in the last seven, while Elias has nine points in the last eight games.

The duo have been skating with Dainius Zubrus, but there may still be some line-shuffling to take place now that Travis Zajac has returned to the the New Jersey lineup.

Bruins RW Tyler Seguin scored a couple of points Saturday against Philadelphia, while playing a season-low 11:51. How ice time is allocated in a blowout win is hardly indicative of a player's role in the bigger picture, but of Seguin's seven lowest single-game ice times this season, four have come in the last six games and, prior to Saturday's multi-point effort, Seguin had three points in the previous nine games.

While Seguin's offensive contributions have slowed from where they were at the start of the season, Rich Peverley has gone the other way. To be fair to Peverley, he's been going well for much of the season, scoring 20 points in the last 19 games, but he doesn't get quite the same pub as some of his Bruins teammates, so that point-per-game pace has been relatively quiet.

Penguins D Matt Niskanen looked like he would be a pretty fair offensive defenceman when he scored 35 points in 2008-2009, his second year in the league. As Niskanen's production has declined since, he's become an afterthought in fantasy circles and settled into a third pair defensive role for the most part.

This season has been different, however, as injuries have forced the Penguins to use Niskanen more -- he's played more than 20 minutes in eight of the last nine games -- and he's starting to produce offensively, with a point per game in the last seven. With Kris Letang injured, the opportunity is there for Niskanen to play on the power play and he's making the most of it.

Newly-acquired Devils D Kurtis Foster is getting a serious chance to contribute, playing 20:34 per game in his first three games with New Jersey (after averaging 15:07 in nine games with Anaheim) and picking up a couple of assists in Saturday's win against Montreal.

The Devils don't have any other defencemen who can shoot the puck like Foster from the point on the power play, so if he keeps getting pucks through, there will be a chance that he can put up some points.

Red Wings D Ian White has, not surprisingly, found playing with Nicklas Lidstrom to be rather beneficial to his numbers. White leads all NHL defencemen with a plus-21 rating in 27 games and is a ridiculous plus-20 in his last 16 games, a stretch during which he's also tallied 11 points. White hasn't been a minus since back-to-back minus-2 games on October 25th and 28th -- his only two minus games of the season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Jason Spezza (Photo: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
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