This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
Around the Rink
So, about that slow start….
After opening up the season with a disappointing 9-7-1 record, the Blackhawks have caught fire. Chicago has won five straight games, outscoring their opponents 19-8 in that span. The Hawks have also won eight of their last nine contests, outscoring their opponents 37-18 in that span.
Chicago has shot up the standings, sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference with 35 points. They are the highest-scoring team in the Central Division and trail the Nashville Predators by only one point. This is the team we have come to love in fantasy hockey.
The Blackhawks have been powered by Patrick Kane, who leads the team 12 goals and 26 points in 26 games. The 26-year-old has eight goals and 16 points in his last 10 games, putting him on pace for the first 35-goal and second 80-point season of his NHL career. He's a must-start every night. While Kane has been a fantasy beast this season, he is far from the only player responsible for the team's offensive success.
Kris Versteeg has re-emerged as a lethal threat, skating on the second line with Kane. In his last eight games, Versteeg has collected eight points (one goal) and a plus-8 rating, putting him on pace for a career-high 77-point campaign. The 28-year-old has only been held off the scoresheet once in his last 10 outings, making him a consistent and reliable fantasy option. Considering he is only owned in 54.2 percent of ESPN Fantasy leagues, Versteeg needed to be on your fantasy team..yesterday. Grab him while he's still available.
While Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are delivering solid numbers as expected, there is one player to keep your eye on. Brandon Saad has had an up-and-down season, recording five goals and 17 points in 26 games. If you want to jump in on the Chicago hype, Saad might be your guy (assuming Versteeg is already taken). Saad is currently riding a three-game point streak and has scored two of his five goals on the season in that span. He is heating up on the top line with Toews and Hossa. Only owned in 52.5 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, Saad is worth keeping an eye on, as he could be on to something with this recent scoring streak.
You can't talk about the Blackhawks without mentioning Corey Crawford. Crawford is out two-to-three weeks with a lower-body injury after he 'missed a step' at a Rise Against concert.
#Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford missed a step leaving a concert the other night and injured left foot. Wearing walking boot.— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) December 3, 2014
I guess he wasn't Ready to Fall, am I right? While he refused to say whether alcohol was involved, I don't think it's too hard to make out what happened here. What matters for fantasy owners is that it is time to hop on the Antti Raanta train. The 25-year-old backup goalie is 3-2-0 this season with a remarkable .942 save percentage. With the Hawks having won five straight games, Raanta is money on a high-flying offensive team. He is sure to rack up the wins while Crawford nurses his injury.
While the Blackhawks are in action Saturday, there are also 23 others teams that will be taking to the ice. Here's what you need to know.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
Senators (Craig Anderson*) at Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury), 1:00
Blues (Jake Allen*) at Islanders (Jaroslav Halak), 1:00
Flyers (Steve Mason) at Kings (Jonathan Quick*), 4:00
Canadiens (Carey Price) at Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 7:00
Blackhawks (Antti Raanta) at Predators (Pekka Rinne), 7:00
Capitals (Braden Holtby) at Devils (Cory Schneider), 7:00
Sabres (Michael Neuvirth*) at Panthers (Roberto Luongo), 7:00
Blue Jackets (Sergei Bobrovsky) at Lightning (Ben Bishop), 7:00
Rangers (Cam Talbot*) at Red Wings (Jimmy Howard), 7:00
Canucks (Ryan Miller) at Leafs (Jonathan Bernier), 7:00
Bruins (Tuukka Rask) at Coyotes (Mike Smith), 8:00
Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Flames (Karri Ramo), 10:00
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check out our Projected Goalies Grid.
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
Brandon Gormley, D (lower body) - Has been progressing with his recovery but isn't being considered day-to-day just yet.
David Moss, RW (upper body) – Considered day-to-day at this point.
Connor Murphy, D (upper body) – Questionable.
David Krejci, C (groin) – On IR.
Drew Stafford, RW (upper body) – Expected to play Saturday.
Cody McCormick, RW (concussion) – Placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Andrej Meszaros, D (concussion) – Questionable.
Matt Stajan, C (knee) – Will make his return Saturday.
Mason Raymond, LW (upper body) – Could play Saturday.
Mark Letestu, C -- Underwent surgery Tuesday to repair groin and abdominal injuries and is expected to be out six weeks.
Brandon Dubinsky, C (abdomen) – Questionable.
Artem Anisimov, C (triceps) -- Is expected to miss 2-3 months with a torn triceps muscle.
Patrick Eaves, RW (ankle) - Suffered a broken ankle Tuesday and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.
Justin Abdelkader, RW (upper body) -- Won't play in either of Detroit's two weekend contests.
Dave Bolland, C (groin) -- Has been ruled out for a return Saturday against the Sabres.
Alexsander Barkov,C (hand) -- Resumed skating Friday.
Scottie Upshall, RW (leg) -- Resumed skating Friday.
Marian Gaborik, LW (upper body) – Could return Saturday.
Lars Eller, C, (upper body) – Left Friday's game with an apparent upper-body injury and didn't return. Doubtful for Saturday.
Paul Gaustad, C (lower body) -- Currently listed as day-to-day.
Derek Roy, C (upper body) – Out indefinitely.
Patrik Elias,C (groin) -- Is considered day-to-day.
Adam Larsson, D (illness) -- Was reportedly feeling better Friday.
Jaromir Jagr, RW (illness) -- Noted that he was "feeling better" Friday.
Martin Havlat, RW (lower body) -- Was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D (upper body) -- Returned to practice Friday.
Johnny Boychuk, D (upper body) -- Coach Jack Capuano said after Friday's practice that Boychuk "isn't going to be playing anytime here soon".
Travis Hamonic, D (upper body) -- Was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 2.
Josh Bailey, RW (foot) – Questionable.
Cal Clutterbuck, RW (upper body) – Questionable.
Tanner Glass, LW (mumps) -- Skated on his own before Thursday's practice.
Mark Stone, RW -- (undisclosed) -- Will miss Saturday's game against the Penguins.
Patrick Wiercioch, D (muscle strain) -- Was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Robin Lehner, G (muscle strain) -- Was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Scott Wilson, C (lower body) -- Was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Chris Kunitz, LW (foot) -- Was moved to injured reserve Friday.
Patric Hornqvist, RW -- Is being evaluated for a concussion.
Kris Letang, D (groin) -- Pens coach Mike Johnston said Thursday that he expects Letang to miss about two weeks.
Robert Bortuzzo , D (suspended) -- Was suspended for two games for his illegal hit on Jaromir Jagr on Tuesday.
Jay Bouwmeester, D (groin) -- Will remain out Saturday against the Islanders.
Brian Elliott, G (knee) -- Skated Tuesday for the first time since suffering his injury last week.
Leo Komarov, RW (concussion) -- Wasn't on the ice for Friday's practice.
Mike Green, D (upper body) -- Will not play Saturday against the Devils.
Grant Clitsome, D (undisclosed) -- Has been ruled out for two weeks.
Tobias Enstrom, D (lower body) – Will be out for at least three more weeks.
Zach Bogosian, D (lower body) -- Will miss four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury.
Stephen Weiss, RW, DET – After missing 19 games with a groin injury, Weiss has returned to the Red Wings' lineup and been a revelation. The third-liner has three goals and nine points in six games, skating alongside Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan. While his production declined significantly over his last two seasons, the 31-year-old is now proving there is still lots of gas left in the tank. Weiss has a healthy 12 shots on goals in his last six games, to go with a plus-4 rating. Weiss has hit the 20-goal mark four times in his career and has put up 60 points twice. In his second season with Detroit, Weiss appears to be rediscovering the success of his glory days in Florida. While it's highly unlikely he maintains a point-per-game pace, especially considering he is being used in a bottom-six role, it's still possible he reaches 20 goals and 40-50 points in 2014-15.
Tyson Barrie D, COL – At only 23 years of age, Barrie has already become one of the league's best offensive defensemen. With two goals and eight points in his last nine games, Barrie is now up to 20 points (three goals) in 27 games on the season. Barrie sits fifth in defensemen scoring, but his 20:55 of ice time is the lowest amount of ice time averaged by any defensemen among the top 10 defensive scoring leaders. Barrie has produced more offensively than players such as Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, and Duncan Keith – guys who are logging significantly more minutes. After posting 38 points in just 64 games last season, Barrie is likely to land in the 50-60 point range this season. If he somehow happens to be available in your league, he needs to be added right away.
Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN – After a hot start, Spurgeon has cooled off tremendously, managing only one assist in his last ten games. Don't be worried, though, as he is still playing a large role on the blueline. Spurgeon is playing on Minnesota's top defensive pairing and is averaging a whopping 24:46 of ice time per game. Although Spurgeon is a plus-5 on the season, he is a minus-8 over his past five games, forcing fantasy owners to ask questions. The 25-year-old is just going through a rough patch and should still reach the 10-goal and 30-point mark. He remains an underrated defensemen in the NHL who plays a key role on the Wild.
Mikhail Grabovski, C, NYI – The Islanders are absolutely on fire right now, so Grabovski must be playing as key role in the team's success, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The second-liner winger is pointless in eight straight games, managing just one goal in his last 17 games. That's quite disappointing for fantasy owners who bought into Grabovski's hot start. The 30-year-old opened the season with three goals and six points in his first six games, but has since cooled off tremendously. While he may be struggling, he hasn't necessary looked off his game. He's due for a big game anytime now. He'll start producing soon, but if you're looking for elite offensive numbers, you've come to the wrong place.
Sean Monahan, C, CGY – The top-line center has delivered of late, recording a point in five straight games. Monahan has collected three goals, seven points, and 21 shots on goal in his last seven games. Considering no other team in the Western Conference has scored as many goals as the Flames have this season (87), there is no better time to ride the hot hand. The Flames are scoring bucket loads, and Monahan is right in the middle of it. With 19 points (10 goals) in 27 games of the season, Monahan could hit the 30-goal, 60-point mark in just his second NHL season. Give this 20-year-old stud a look.