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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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Analysis: Brandon Manning was one of the more productive offensive rearguards in the AHL last season, scoring eight goals and 23 assists over 73 games for Adirondack. He earned a late-season promotion to the Flyers and appeared in six games, totaling two assists. He'll be given the opportunity to compete for a role on the blue line with the parent club in training camp, but more likely than not, he'll head back to the AHL to begin the 2014-15 campaign.

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News: Devin Setoguchi signed a one-year deal with the Flames on Saturday.
Analysis: Devin Setoguchi spent last season with the Jets, scoring 11 goals to go with 16 assists in 75 games. The seven-year veteran has amassed 127 goals and 122 assists in his career. It's a fairly low-risk move for Calgary, which can let go of Setoguchi after the season if he fails to regain the offensive touch that led to three straight 20-plus goal seasons with the Sharks.

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News: Danny Kristo re-signed with the Rangers on Thursday.
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