NHL Fantasy Fare: Blues' system hurting Backes

JOEL COLOMBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:21 AM ET

TORONTO - The Blues are giving top-line centre David Backes the Mats Sundin treatment these days.

Since Ken Hitchcock moved in as head coach in early November, the young captain has found himself in a glorified shutdown role, hopping the boards to skate against the opposition’s top forwards.

This was the often frustrating modus operandi for the Maple Leafs with Big Mats, but was unavoidable as long as their best offensive player was also their best defensive player. And, like Sundin, it is suppressing Backes’ offensive numbers and fantasy value.

The strapping 27-year-old, coming off a bounce-back 31-31-62 season, scored his 10th goal on Tuesday to get back to a 30-goal pace. However, his assists (8), points (18), penalty minutes (28) and plus-minus (+6) are way off the stats pack that made him such a valued commodity on draft day this season.

Will it change? The problem with the Blues right now is that they are a defensive-minded side, having scored two or fewer goals in 18 of 28 games. That has forced their top six forwards into thinking error-free hockey and taking few chances. But it’s a formula that has been working under Hitchcock. The Blues have lost only twice in regulation in their past 16 games, with 11 of those games being decided by one goal.

— The recent coaching change in Washington has had a positive effect on D John Carlson, who with 1-7-8 totals in his past four games under Dale Hunter had vaulted into third on the Capitals scoring chart. That’s no surprise. Carlson was a key cog on the Hunter-coached London Knights in 2008-09 (his only year of major junior), finishing second by just two points to Nazem Kadri in team scoring. And while Carlson’s fantasy stock is beginning to soar, it remains to be seen how the return of Mike Green will impact it.

— Hurricanes D Jamie McBain had zero goals this season with Paul Maurice behind the bench. Since Kirk Muller took over, he has three goals in three games, all with roughly the same amount of ice time.

— Don’t know about this one. After finally breaking out of his scoring slump with three goals in two games, RW Bobby Ryan of the Ducks was moved off the first line and shifted to centre between Teemu Selanne and Andrew Cogliano for Saturday night’s game, replacing the injured Saku Koivu. Even if it is only short-term (Koivu is day-to-day), why shake things up when a key is finally hitting his stride?

— The Sharks have broken up their top line, dropping Patrick Marleau down to the third unit with Michal Hadzus and Jamie McGinn. Brad Winchester takes Marleau’s spot with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski while the second line of Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture remains intact. All three lines chipped in during a 5-2 win over Dallas on Thursday so, unfortunately for Marleau owners, this new lineup will last a little longer.

— Will you look at Sam Gagner, now! After going the first 19 games without a goal, the speedy Oilers winger now has three in three games, including two in a win over Colorado on Friday. Particularly impressive was his first goal, when he out-muscled rugged Shane O’Brien for the puck in the corner, drove to the side of the net and banged in his own rebound. Being rewarded for that kind of second effort bodes well for Gagner and his owners.

EMPTY FEELING

Olli Jokinen is the Flames’ unlikely leading scorer these days, thanks to coach Jim Playfair who sends him out regularly to help protect late one-goal leads. Jokinen leads the NHL with three empty-net goals and also assisted on the Flames’ only other two gimmes by Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque. That’s a quarter of his 20 points coming with no netminder.

WAIVER WATCH

With fantasy rating out of 5

Nick Foligno, C, Senators

* * * *

He is on a six-game points streak heading into Saturday, accumulating nearly half of his 19 points over the past eight games centring Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson. Get him if he’s is still available.

Nikita Nikitin, D, Blue Jackets

* * *

Don’t look now, but he has amassed 1-9-10 totals in 13 games since being acquired from the Blues a month ago — fantasy-worthy numbers for any blueliner. Playing top-four minutes and getting decent power-play time.

Leland Irving, G, Flames

* *

Henrik Karlsson’s torn ACL finally gives Flames’ one-time goalie of the future his NHL debut. Kiprusoff remains the starter, but Irving has sparkled in the AHL the past year and a half.

Nick Johnson, LW, Wild

* *

Who? Third-liner has been on a tear with points in six of his past seven games, going 2-5-7 in that span to run his season total to 14 points. Managed five points in 10 games during brief callups with the Pens the previous two seasons.

Ryan Jones, RW, Oilers

* * *

Owned in just 3% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues despite solid numbers (9-6-15 with a plus-7 and 17 PIMs). Ten of those points have come since Hemsky’s return knocked him off the Horcoff-Smyth line.

GAMES THIS WEEK

4 CGY, CLB, NJ

2 EDM

All other teams play 3 games

HOT AND NOT

Forwards, the past two weeks

Evander Kane WPG

6-2-8, plus-6, 13 hits

Ryan O’Reilly COL

4-5-9, plus-3

P.A. Parenteau NYI

1-7-8, plus-4

Kyle Brodziak MIN

3-3-6, 19 PIMs, plus-2

- - -

Alexander Semin WAS

1 assist, minus-3

Anze Kopitar LA

0-3-3, minus-2

INJURY UPDATES

The Bolts continue to list Martin St. Louis as out indefinitely after taking a puck to the face on Thursday and suffering nasal and facial fractures. Good news is his eye wasn’t affected … Kristian Huselius’ return lasted all of two games. He’s back out for up to six weeks with a groin injury ... Barring any unexpected setback in practice on Monday, Sidney Crosby should be in the Pens lineup Tuesday against the Wings ... Lubomir Visnovsky (finger) should be back in about a week … Alex Tanguay and Jeff Skinner have both been way-laid by the flu … Paul Stastny injured his torso last Sunday … Corey Potter (ankle) hopes to be back on the Oilers blue line this coming week … David Booth is out for a month with a sprained knee.


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