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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
Jimmy Howard
Wings' Howard Starting Game 1
Jimmy Howard, G, DET
9:05 AM
News: Jimmy Howard will be in net to open the playoffs Friday against Boston, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: The Red Wings signed Jimmy Howard to a big contract for games like this, as Detroit is a big underdog against the burly Bruins. Howard played fairly well down the stretch to help Detroit get into the playoffs, but he'll need to find another level to get out of the first round.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason (Upper Body) Practices Friday
Steve Mason, G, PHI
8:46 AM
News: Steve Mason (upper body) participated in Friday's practice, the Flyers' official Twitter account reports.
Analysis: Steve Mason's injury forced him to miss Thursday's Game 1 loss to the Rangers, but considering his involvement in Friday's practice, Mason stands a good chance at returning for Game 2 on Sunday. While Mason's playing status will have to be monitored as Sunday's game draws nearer, it's encouraging to hear he's back on the ice.

Anders Lindback
Lightning's Lindback To Start Friday
Anders Lindback, G, TB
8:35 AM
News: Anders Lindback will be in goal for Friday's game against the Canadiens, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Anders Lindback will look to get back on track after surrendering five goals in an overtime loss to the Canadiens in Game 1 of the Lightning's first-round playoff series.

R.J. Umberger
Jackets' Umberger Could Return For Game 2
R.J. Umberger, LW, CLB
8:22 AM
News: R.J. Umberger (upper body) says he's "close" to returning to action, and could be back in the lineup for Game 2 of the Blue Jackets' opening round series against the Penguins on Saturday, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: He was in and out of Jackets coach Todd Richards' doghouse down the stretch, but the club will welcome the veteran winger back into the lineup as soon as R.J. Umberger is ready.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres Scores In Return
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
8:21 AM
News: Raffi Torres (knee soreness) scored the game-winning goal in his return to the ice for Thursday's Game 1 against the Kings.
Analysis: It was hardly a climactic game-winner, as it gave the Sharks a 4-0 lead in a game they would ultimately win 6-3. Raffi Torres was also quite active defensively, logging a team-high seven hits in his 8:42 of ice time.

J.T. Miller
Miller Healthy Scratch In Rangers' Win
J.T. Miller, C, NYR
8:12 AM
News: J.T. Miller served as a healthy scratch in the team's 4-1, Game 1 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday.
Analysis: Although he was recalled from AHL Hartford prior to the start of the series, there's no guarantee the gritty winger with offensive upside will actually dress in the first round. For now, it appears the organizations other highly-touted young winger, Jesper Fast, has the inside track on the team's 12th forward spot and with an assist in his playoff debut, J.T. Miller will be on the outside looking in for now.

Ondrej Palat
Lightning's Palat Likely Out Friday
Ondrej Palat, LW, TB
8:11 AM
News: Ondrej Palat (upper body) is unlikely to play in Friday's game against the Canadiens, Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Palat is officially listed as a game-time decision, but he did not take part in Friday's morning skate, and head coach Jon Cooper is not expecting him to play. While Palat will likely sit out Friday, he could return for the third game of the series Sunday.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers: Hagelin Draws Big Penalty, Nets Goal
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
8:03 AM
News: Carl Hagelin found the back of the net for a goal on three shots in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia.
Analysis: More importantly than the goal, Carl Hagelin drew a critical double-minor penalty on Jason Akeson for high-sticking. The Rangers' power play would end up scoring on both man-advantages, completely changing the momentum of the contest. The 25-year-old winger now has 10 points (four goals) through 30 career playoff games.

Derek Stepan
Rangers' Stepan Collects Power Play Goal
Derek Stepan, C, NYR
7:59 AM
News: Derek Stepan netted a power-play goal in Thursday 4-1 win over Philadelphia.
Analysis: The goal came on the back-end of a four-minute power-play and ended up as padding to their third period lead, serving almost as a nail in the coffin. Derek Stepan, who ended the season second (57 points in 82 games) in team scoring, has six goals and nine assists through 38 career playoff games.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers: St. Louis Collects Two Assists
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
7:51 AM
News: Martin St. Louis nabbed two assists in Thursday's 4-1, Game 1 win over Philadelphia.
Analysis: From fantasy owners to organizational brass, you could almost hear a collective sigh when Martin St. Louis dished the puck to Brad Richards for the eventual game-winning goal. With the team finishing off a four-minute power-play, St. Louis added his second assist of the night less than a minute later on Derek Stepan's goal. After collecting just eight points in 19 games since being acquired from Tampa Bay at the deadline, the 38-year-old winger is off to a healthy start in his first playoff-run with the blue shirts.

 
 
 
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