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Neutral Zone Wrap: Start the stretch run right!

by | Rotowire.com
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Fact: Your players' performance does NOT improve if you are watching them on TV. Same goes for checking the boxscores or perusing the blogs every five minutes. I know these statements may seem absurdly obvious, but you'd be surprised how many times you'll return to whatever media in the hopes Player X will earn that point to put your team over the top -- even if it's only the second day of the week. You will even avoid social contact or hard labor to find out who scored, when it happened, and what that means in terms of your overall fantasy existence.

Like many other areas in life, the key to Roto is moderation. To borrow from a famous sage and chicken vendor, you have to know when to pursue these endeavors, when to cut back, and when to cease operations entirely. These decisions, like any other choice, are important and should be handled delicately. Thankfully, the All-Star break is upon us, thereby giving us an excuse to forget about statistics and related material for a few days. But remember come Monday, it's back to the grind whether you like it or not.

While the top NHLers are set to congregate in Raleigh, how about we meet right here and talk some hockey? OK? OK.

Boston now tops the Northeast and one can claim their success comes as a result of their collective contributions. Patrice Bergeron has led the way both on the stat sheet (15 points in 13 contests) and in the leadership department, especially with Marc Savard (concussion) out again. Brad Marchand (11 in 11, plus-13) has pushed his way into the conversation for top rookie. After a blistering beginning, Nathan Horton (two in 10) ain't what he used to be. Back on the blueline, Dennis Seidenberg (seven in 10) is continuing to be a force while University of Michigan product Steve Kampfer (nothing in four, but four in the previous three) is making a name with his speed and skill.

The Lightning are also leaders of their pack, thanks to the steady goaltending of Dwayne Roloson. The 41-year old has been magnificent since escaping from the Island, with three shutouts in 10 starts and other noteworthy numbers (2.25 GAA, .922 SV%). It took a while, but Simon Gagne (six in eight) is back on track. Some expected Teddy Purcell (five in the last two) to tail off as the season progressed, but the undrafted winger keeps proving 'em wrong. Victor Hedman may never be an elite point producer (although five in eight is ahead of pace), but his total package effort validates his pre-draft hype.

Yet another surprise division frontrunner is Dallas, who continue to defy the odds at both ends. Anyone who believed before the season Kari Lehtonen (22-11) could carry a club and hold the momentum for this long should go directly to Vegas and find the nearest gaming table (double down if you shared positive thoughts about Andrew Raycroft). With most of the pieces in place, the Stars re-acquired Jamie Langenbrunner (four in five, including two on the power-play) to add another veteran body and savvy skater. With most of the attention on #1 center Brad Richards (no slouch at 15 points this month), Mike Ribeiro (17 in 14, including six PPPs) has quietly lit up the opposition of late. Jamie Benn (nine in seven) banged his shoulder earlier this week, but word is the second-year pro will be back by early February.

St Louis are slowly regaining their injured contingent, but clearly need everyone on board if they are to jump back into the playoff race. While awaiting David Perron and Andy McDonald (both sidelined for weeks with concussions), T.J. Oshie (broken ankle kept him out eight weeks) has returned but hasn't matched his minutes (around 19 a night) with any significant scoring (only one goal in five). It's about time Patrik Berglund (seven in seven, including two PPGs) counted on a consistent basis. If there's anything we've learned about Brad Boyes, it's that the man can pass the puck effectively (11 assists in 11). Erik Johnson (zero in four following four straight markers) has continued his reign as fantasy tease, which along with some questionable defensive zone coverage, has opened the door for Alex Pietrangelo (five in eight) to surpass him.

How low can the Senators go? With the Devils surging and the Islanders on the upswing, Ottawa don't have much room to fall back. Even when Jason Spezza (banged-up shoulder) recovers, he'll join a squad with a pathetic offense (second-worst with 2.14 a game) and an even worse attitude. Expect the garage sale to begin soon, maybe with Mike Fisher (five in seven) earning the chance to finally treat Carrie Underwood to that better location she always wanted. Sergei Gonchar (two in nine) would dearly love to join a contender. Chris Neil (only one point in January, but 46 PIM) can be a valuable commodity elsewhere. With all their goalies either injured (hello again, Pascal Leclaire) or grossly underachieving (not much of an encore for Brian Elliott), maybe it's time Ottawa allowed Swedish WJHC sensation Robin Lehner the chance to start on a regular basis.

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Because it's that time of month, we'll have some sort of list next week. Don't know exactly what the topic will be, but I'm willing to take reader suggestions. Yes, I'm talking to all nine of you out there. Maybe 2011 will be the year this column hits double digits.

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I'd like to end by congratulating RotoWire's own Janet Eagleson in taking the 2010 FSWA Fantasy Hockey Writer of the Year Award for a third time. As far as writers go, she is definitely one of the best and deserves every bit of praise that comes her way. I was honored just to be mentioned in the final three. Kudos to fellow finalist Jan Levine for rounding out the RotoWire category sweep.

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Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

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Player News
Pekka Rinne
Preds Expected To Start Rinne On Saturday
Pekka Rinne, G, NSH
11/23/2014
News: Pekka Rinne is expected to be the starter in net for Saturday's game against the Panthers.
Analysis: After backup Carter Hutton got the starting nod Thursday against Ottawa, it would be a monumental surprise if Pekka Rinne wasn't in the net Saturday night. A winner of six of his last seven games, Rinne is expected to match up against the Panthers' Roberto Luongo.

Brad Marchand
Bruins Move Marchand To IR
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
11/23/2014
News: Brad Marchand (undisclosed) was placed on injured reserve Saturday.
Analysis: The retroactive placement on IR doesn't change Brad Marchand's situation much, as he'll be eligible to return to action at any point after Saturday's game since he last played Nov. 15. The Bruins continue to view him as day-to-day, but moving him to IR will at least allow the Bruins to bring a healthy forward into the lineup.

Devan Dubnyk
Coyotes' Dubnyk Will Start Saturday
Devan Dubnyk, G, ARI
11/23/2014
News: Dubnuk will start in net for Saturday's game against the Sharks, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Devan Dubnyk will get the start Saturday in the first of two games on consecutive nights for the Coyotes. Dubnyk has played well in his last two starts, winning both and allowing just one total goal.

Martin Hanzal
Coyotes' Hanzal Doubtful For Saturday
Martin Hanzal, C, ARI
11/23/2014
News: Martin Hanzal (lower body) is doubtful for Saturday's game against the Sharks, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Martin Hanzal took part in the team's morning skate Saturday, so it originally looked like he was going to be able to suit up against the Sharks, but now it looks like he'll have to wait for Sunday's matchup with the Ducks instead.

Andrew Shaw
Blackhawks' Shaw Likely To Sit Saturday, Sunday
Andrew Shaw, C, CHI
11/23/2014
News: Andrew Shaw, who has been ruled out for Saturday's game against the Oilers, is doubtful to play Sunday against the Canucks as well.
Analysis: Andrew Shaw wasn't on the ice for Saturday's morning skate, more than likely dashing his chances of playing Sunday since he won't have skated in consecutive days. His absence could enable the newly-recalled Phillip Danault to receive some regular run in the Blackhawks' bottom six.

Antti Niemi
Sharks Niemi On Tap For Saturday Start
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
11/23/2014
News: Antti Niemi was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate and looks to be the starter for Saturday's game against the Coyotes, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Antti Niemi's been burned for five losses his last six times out, but he's been a victim of poor support from his offense in his last two defeats. He's been roughly middle-of-the-pack as far as fantasy goalies go through 15 appearances this season, as he carries a 7-6-2 record, 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage into Saturday's contest. Niemi will have a great chance at turning the tide against the 8-10-2 Coyotes, who sit behind the Sharks in sixth place in the Pacific Division.

William Nylander
Leafs Prospect Nylander Dealing With Head Injury
William Nylander, RW, TOR
11/23/2014
News: William Nylander was hit in the head by a skate Saturday while playing with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: The eighth overall pick in this past June's NHL Entry Draft, William Nylander cemented himself as the Leafs' top prospect after narrowly missing out on making the squad out of training camp. The team ultimately decided to send him back to his club team in Sweden, where he's excelled to the tune of five goals and 14 points over 12 games. The 18-year-old will likely be held under evaluation for a concussion following Saturday's incident, but it's too early to speculate how much time he might miss.

Curtis Lazar
Sens' Lazar Won't Play Saturday
Curtis Lazar, RW, OTT
11/23/2014
News: Curtis Lazar (undisclosed) will not play Saturday against the Blues, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Head coach Paul MacLean said Curtis Lazar could play Saturday if he needed to, but the team would rather be cautious with him. The nature of Lazar's injury is still unknown, but it sounds like a good bet that he'll be back in the lineup Monday against the Red Wings.

Alex Burrows
Canucks' Burrows Not Practicing
Alex Burrows, LW, VAN
11/23/2014
News: Alex Burrows (upper body) wasn't present for Saturday's practice.
Analysis: Linden Vey was taking his spot on the second line at practice, seemingly indicating Alex Burrows is far from a safe bet to play Sunday versus the Blackhawks. The forward was previously a surprising scratch from Thursday's game with the injury.

Chris Kelly
Bruins' Kelly Will Not Play Saturday
Chris Kelly, C, BOS
3:36 PM
News: Chris Kelly (undisclosed) will not play Saturday against the Canadiens, Renaud Lavoie of Journal de Montreal reports.
Analysis: There's no word on what's wrong with Chris Kelly, but considering he was filling in for David Krejci (undisclosed) as the team's top line center, the Bruins figure to be shallow down the middle for the foreseeable future.

 
 
 
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