If Bob Dylan owned a fantasy hockey team, he might be quietly crooning to himself “the lines they are a-changing,” as he peruses all of the early-season roster shuffling going on. Some of the changes are because of injuries, others to create more scoring balance, others yet simply to shake things up. All, however, have the potential to affect the fantasy landscape to varying degrees.
-- Perhaps the most amazing thing about James Neal’s torrid start — besides the fact that he scored only once in 20 games with the Penguins after his trade from Dallas last season — is that six of his seven goals have come without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as his centres. Since Malkin got hurt, Neal and LW Steve Sullivan have played four games with Mark Letestu in the middle and four now flanking Richard Park. And while some say Neal won’t keep this up once the team’s superstars return — and with a shooting percentage six points higher than his career average, that seems unlikely — we’re of the belief that the increased scoring chances created by Crosby and Malkin will only help him ... and his owners.
-- As expected, Brayden Schenn is back up with the Flyers, replacing fellow rookie Sean Couturier as the third-line centre between Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek on Thursday. Problem with that is the 18-year-old Couturier had done nothing but impress with 1-2-3 totals in his previous two games while playing great defence. For that, he wound up with 5 1/2 minutes of even-strength ice time. It has been suggested that Couturier could shift to the wing, but that would push Hartnell down to fourth-line status.
-- Brandon MacMillan, 20, has been switched from centre to replace injured winger Jason Blake on the Ducks’ second line with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. The move paid quick dividends as, in their second game together on Tuesday, Selanne scored his first two goals and Koivu notched his first two points.
-- The Lightning shuffled its top two lines on Thursday, moving Martin St. Louis back with Vincent Lecavalier and rookie Brett Connolly, while Teddy Purcell took St. Louis’ spot with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone. The two new lines clicked right away, so there will be no immediate rush to revert back to the old lines.
-- The Blues appear to have relegated top-six wingers Matt D’Agostini and Jamie Langenbrunner to checking lines and replaced them with Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Porter.
-- David Krejci returned to the Bruins on Thursday night to a revamped lineup that saw he and his two wingers (Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton) spread out over three lines. Given the 6-2 thrashing of the Leafs that night, expect these combos to stick for a while, though we anticipate that Krejci’s old No. 1 line to be re-united eventually.
-- Keep an eye on Petr Sykora. The veteran winger, signed late as a free agent by the Devils, has been skating in practice on the top line with his old mates, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias.
-- Pointless Tyler Ennis moved up Thursday to play wing on the Sabres’ second line with Nathan Gerbe dropping into a checking role.
ROUGH ROAD FOR VISNOVSKY?
Last season, Ducks D Lubomir Visnovsky was a beast on home ice with 12-29-41 totals and a plus-19. On the road, however, he was 6-21-27 and minus-1. We mention this because Visnovsky has struggled early this year and, with the Ducks, embarking on a six-game road swing, his fantasy owners may have to wait for that breakout.
GAMES THIS WEEK
4 ANA, CLB, EDM, LA, MTL, PHI, OTT, TOR
2 BOS, CGY, MIN, WAS
All other teams play 3 games
HOT AND NOT
(Defencemen the past week)
Marc-Andre Bergeron TB
Brian Campbell FLA
0-5-5, 5 PPP
Sami Salo VAN
Andrew Ference BOS
0-4-4, even rating
- - - - - - -
Keith Yandle PHX
P.K. Subban MON
Martin Brodeur’s sore right shoulder will likely keep him out for another week ... The Devils have also lost Jacob Josefson with a broken collarbone … Evgeni Malkin (knee) is practising but not likely to play for a few days yet … Sharks’ Torrey Mitchell took a shot to the head Friday and is out indefinitely … Scott Gomez left Thursday’s game with an upper body injury and was awaiting the results of an MRI … Drew Doughty (UBI) is back skating with an eye to maybe returning on Tuesday ... Mike Santorelli (shoulder) has practised for consecutive days and could make his season debut for Florida this week … Guillaume Latendresse is day-to-day after aggravating an old hip injury … Kimmo Timonen took a shot off his hand Thursday … Mikael Samuelsson is still feeling the effects of his sports hernia surgery in May and missed Thursday’s game.
With fantasy rating out of 5
Oliver Ekman-Larsson * *
Fantasy owners were scrambling for skilled rookie last Saturday after his two goals on the Jets gave him the NHL lead for defence goals with three. But he had no points in the next two games and still looks to be a work in progress.
Nikolai Khabibulin * *
Splitting the starts with Devan Dubnyk, he has looked like the Bulin Wall of old with a 0.95 GAA and .962 save percentage in three games. That makes him either one of the NHL’s best fantasy backups or a marginal No. 1.
Matt Read * * *
With six points in his first five games centring the third line, undrafted NCAA grad was promoted to RW on Danny Briere’s second line Thursday, but put up zeros. Has some offensive upside if he can adjust.
Cody Hodgson * * *
Former first-rounder was already playing second-line, but with Ryan Kesler coming off the injured list Tuesday, he slides over to the wing. This is as good an opportunity as he has had in his young career.
Andy Miele * * *
Hobey Baker Award winner joins a team desperately in need of his creativity and puck skills, so he’ll likely debut in a top-six role Sunday vs. Anaheim. Had a five-point game in the AHL before his callup.