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Blue Line Buzz: Playing offense with defense

by | Rotowire.com
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While the Nashville Predators are never going to be mistaken for a high-flying, wide-open offensive juggernaut, the Preds are proving themselves to be one of the Western Conference's most formidable teams. Pekka Rinne has been providing outstanding goaltending and the team is getting the scant scoring they need from Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat and Craig Smith, save for Smith embarrassingly missing an empty-net goal last week. The backbone of this team though is the duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Certainly it's not a revelation to tout the Fantasy virtues of Weber and Suter, but if you're a Nashville fan, you want these two signed to long-term deals as quickly as possible; the Predators have already locked up Rinne.

Suter and Weber are one of the NHL's most productive defensive pairs and proved as much last week. In four games, Weber and Suter combined for 11 points and a plus-17 rating. Through Saturday's games, Weber leads all NHL skaters with a plus-19 and Suter is third at a mere plus-15. The duo boasts 27 points on the season, which is third in the league to Florida's Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov (32 points) and the Ottawa pair of Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar (31 points). Also music to the ears of Fantasy owners is the fact that Weber and Suter are third and fourth on their team in overall points, with just Smith and David Legwand ahead of them. While you can’t expect this deluge of production nightly from Weber and Suter, it's reassuring to see how vital a part of the team's attack those two defenders are, as both are among the team leaders in assists.

Another Oil Change

Cory Potter likely drew the ire of Fantasy owners that pounced on him following his breakout performances in early November, as the defender hit the skids with six pointless games through last Thursday. Those same owners will now receive nothing from Potter for the next month as he is due to miss at least that much time with an ankle injury. Edmonton's blue line has been a rotating door this season with Cam Barker squandering any chance to produce and Ryan Whitney once again proving himself the least durable player this side of Rick DiPietro. (Whitney is due to start practicing soon, however).

The Oilers continue to be one of the season's surprises and turned many heads Saturday night with a 9-2 thrashing of the NHL's best team, Chicago. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doled out five assists while Taylor Hall posted his second-career hat trick in this emphatic performance. Someone from Edmonton's makeshift blue line must have benefited, correct? Jeff Petry posted three assists and finished a plus-5, but he had just one helper in 11 games prior to Saturday. It appears that Tom Gilbert has once again entered the discussion for the Oilers.

Saturday was Potter's first game out, and Gilbert received 3:46 of power-play time, finishing the contest with a goal and three assists, with three of those points coming on the power play. Gilbert has 10 points on the season with seven in eight November contests. Gilbert appears to be the next person in line to run the Oilers' power play and he has a track record of producing, having averaged 33.75 points the last four seasons with a career-best of 45 in the 2008-2009 campaign. The veteran is owned in just 20 percent of leagues and Edmonton has a set of dynamic young forwards that should allow Gilbert to get assists simply by accident. If you're looking for a quick fix, Gilbert could be your man.

The Royal We

Jack Johnson continues to lead the Kings from the blue line with four goals and nine points through 20 games. The budding talent has three power-play goals and four assists on the man-advantage, making up a whopping 77 percent of his season's points. Johnson's more heralded teammate Drew Doughty sports seven points on the season with five on the man-advantage. The talk amongst Los Angeles defenders again centers around rookie Vyacheslav Voynov, as the highly productive Russian is back with the big club while Alec Martinez tends to a shoulder injury.

All Voynov did was grab a goal and an assist in the Kings' win over Anaheim last Thursday, however, Voynov was quiet in the Kings' other two games last week. Voynov is certainly one of the most vexing players for owners, as we are excited about what he can offer, but his roster spot on the big club seems tenuous at best. Voynoy has five points in eight NHL games, but he is not receiving much power play time with the first unit. Johnson and Doughty are hardly going to be usurped on the power play and the Kings already showed themselves willing to pass on keeping Voynov in the NHL earlier this season when Doughty returned from injury. Martinez appears close to returning to practice and you have to believe that the Kings will option Voynov back to their AHL affiliate in Manchester, where Voynov has three points in eight games. In shallow leagues, Voynov offers little comfort to owners but those in deeper leagues may want to roster him and await the official word on his status. Odds are Voynov will not spend the entire season in the AHL and another call-up should be imminent, as you can't find defenders that will produce at a clip such as Voynov's every day. He's well worth holding onto if you can afford the roster space.

Escape From Ohio

While Kris Russell will hardly be mistaken for Kurt Russell's iconic Snake Plissken character, Russell will feel the same sense of freedom as he was able to escape the sinking ship that is the Columbus Blue Jackets. When the St. Louis Blues canned Davis Payne and tabbed Ken Hitchcock as their new coach, one of Hitch's first moves was to trade for Russell, whom he had coached while at the helm of Columbus.

Russell has averaged 22 points the last three seasons with 14 total goals over that span. Still 24 years old, Russell has a healthy four goals and one assist on the season, but even more impressive is the fact that he has two goals in four games since his November 12 trade to St. Louis. The Blues have no shortage of offensive talent on the blue line with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, but Russell appears to add another source of offense for the Blues. Russell won't be among the league leaders come season's end, but you could do much worse than adding him in deep leagues.

Shattenkirk is sitting with a solid 12 points in 19 games while Pietrangelo is seeing the points come at a slower pace, with just seven points on the season and a mere two assists in the past eight games. Russell was traded for with the intent of St. Louis planning to get production out of him. We're not saying he will outproduce Pietrangelo at season's end, but Russell is going to get his points.

Coat Check

The Columbus Blue Jackets, essentially the doormat of the league, are not a Fantasy wasteland of blue line talent. James Wisniewski, he of the $33 million contract this offseason, has been quietly productive since missing the first eight games of the season due to a suspension stemming from an illegal hit in the preseason. Wisniewski sports a goal and six assists in 11 games and the requisite minus rating that accompanies any Columbus player (he is a minus-9 through Saturday). Columbus is not going to win many games this season, but Wisniewski appears to be earning a fraction of his salary with his recent run of play. The high-priced defender snagged a goal and an assist in Saturday's win over Nashville and has three points in the last four games. Play Wisniewski at your own risk, just be aware of the plus-minus albatross and the fact that he is on Columbus.

A subject of this column earlier in the season, the Jackets' Grant Clitsome is off to a solid start save for his minus-7 rating. Clitsome boasts three goals and 10 points through 18 games, putting him on a pace for over 40 points. Four of Clitsome's 10 points are on the man-advantage and he has five points in six games during November. If you can afford the plus-minus hit, make a play for him.

Jet Fuel

Dustin Byfuglien has been the brunt of many jokes this season, most stemming from his weight and his uncanny ability to operate a boat while under the influence, so it is a good thing there aren't many lakes in Manitoba. Buff is heating up during November with four multi-point games and five points during three games last week, all coming in wins over Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Of his season's 14 points, 10 have come in November. Also of welcome note to Byfuglien owners is the fact that he is currently second among all NHL defensemen in penalty minutes with 34, second only to Edmonton's Theo Peckham, who is hardly the scorer Byfuglien can be. Winnipeg is finding their scoring touch with 15 goals the last three games and Byfuglien is benefitting with Tobias Enstrom out of the lineup.

Feeling Shame

Speaking of league leaders in penalty minutes, Sheldon Souray is third on the list for defensemen with 33 PIMs to go along with his 13 points and plus-9 rating while Zdeno Chara (2-12-14 +12) and Dan Boyle are the only other defenders with more than 10 points and 20 PIMs. Those looking for cheap goon points on the back end should check out Peckham, Shane O'Brien, Sheldon Brookbank, Andy Sutton and Florida's Erik Gudbranson, although fans in the stands may have more points on the season than this group of pylons.

Power Up

The league leaders at the quarter pole of the season for power-play points by defenders are loaded with players most would expect. Brian Campbell leads the way with 11 power-play points followed by Alexander Edler with 10, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson with nine and a handful of other players with eight power-play points. What is surprising is the percentage of power-play points several players boast; Erik Johnson has nine points on the season with eight on the man-advantage and Chris Pronger sports eight of his 12 points on the power play. Of note for Pronger is his impressive 12 points in just 13 games. Chicago's Nick Leddy is showing little signs of slowing down, as he has 15 points through Saturday, but with just three power-play assists on the season. The Islanders are receiving solid production from Mark Streit with 11 points through 17 games, but the Swiss master also hangs a Columbus-esque minus-12 rating around his owner's necks.

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Player News
Jakob Silfverberg
Silfverberg Leads Ducks To Win Over Coyotes
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, ANA
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Analysis: The points give him 30 on the year (10 goals, 20 assists), already well above his previous best of 23 from last season. The Ducks' forward corps is a fairly crowded bunch at the moment, so the 24-year-old will probably continue to have a hard time consistently hitting the scoresheet. However, he has fired 144 shots on goal this season, making him an intriguing option in leagues that count the stat.

Jordan Leopold
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Jordan Leopold, D, MIN
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News: Jordan Leopold had two shots on goals and four blocks in 17:19 of ice time in Tuesday's win over Ottawa.
Analysis: Jordan Leopold was a minus-1, but spent much of his time on the ice in a defensive pairing with Matt Dumba, who scored two goals. Leopold didn't get any power play time in his first game with the Wild, however.

Nate Prosser
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Nate Prosser, D, MIN
10:55 AM
News: Nate Prosser was removed from Tuesday's win over the Senators in the first period due to an illness, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Nate Prosser was reportedly feeling sick heading into the game, but still suited up since the Wild had only five healthy blueliners on the roster. However, he couldn't summon enough energy to make it through the game and was removed after logging 4:54 of ice time. He should be viewed as questionable to play Thursday against the Capitals.

Tim Jackman
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Tim Jackman, RW, ANA
10:52 AM
News: Tim Jackman is slated to miss 4-6 weeks due to a lower-body injury, Curtis Zupke of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: With just seven points in 53 games to date, Tim Jackman's fantasy utility is restricted to leagues where his PIM (he has recorded 84 this season) are of assistance.

John Gibson
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John Gibson, G, ANA
10:48 AM
News: John Gibson is slated to start Wednesday's game against Montreal, Curtis Zupke of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: With Frederik Andersen having returned to the Ducks' net Tuesday against the Coyotes, John Gibson is in line Wednesday to make his first career start against the Habs, who were blanked (by a 4-0 score) by the Sharks on Monday.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott To Start Thursday
Brian Elliott, G, STL
10:34 AM
News: Brian Elliott will start Thursday's game against the Flyers, reports Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Analysis: Brian Elliott was backing up Jake Allen on Sunday, but was pressed into service when Allen struggled and gave up one goal on six shots to Vancouver. He has had a strong season for the Blues, backstopping 20 wins with a 2.20 goals against and .921 save percentage.

Klas Dahlbeck
Coyotes' Dahlbeck Makes Debut Tuesday
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10:26 AM
News: Klas Dahlbeck saw a season-high 16:18 of ice time in his Coyotes debut Tuesday; a 4-1 loss to the Ducks. He was minus-1 and took one shot while adding two hits.
Analysis: As expected, Klas Dahlbeck went straight into the Coyotes' lineup, which was down two defensemen following the team's recent trades. He should play regular minutes down the stretch as the Coyotes evaluate how he fits into their plans for next season and beyond. He is viewed as a steady, defensive defenseman, which may limit his fantasy stock, but at just 23-years-old he is still developing and could evolve his game in the coming years.

Jared Cowen
Sens' Cowen Iffy For Wednesay
Jared Cowen, D, OTT
10:22 AM
News: Jared Cowen (illness) is a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Jets, Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen reports.
Analysis: Jared Cowen did not play Tuesday against the Wild and it's not a lock that he'll feel well enough to return to action on Wednesday either. In any case, with nine points and a minus-13 rating over 49 games, he's only a fantasy option in deeper formats.

John Moore
Coyotes' Moore Debuts In Loss
John Moore, D, ARI
10:21 AM
News: John Moore skated 20:55 in his Coyotes debut Tuesday; a 4-1 loss to Anaheim. He was minus-2 and took one shot while adding a hit in the game.
Analysis: As expected, John Moore stepped right into the lineup and saw his highest ice time since November, including 2:27 on the power play. He doesn't have the skill to replace Keith Yandle, but he will soak up a lot of the minutes of the former Coyote through the rest of the season. The 24-year-old has a chance to secure a top-four position next season with strong play down the stretch.

Sam Gagner
Coyotes' Gagner Has Assist In Loss
Sam Gagner, C, ARI
10:16 AM
News: Sam Gagner picked up his 19th assist of the season Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to Anaheim. He was minus-2 and took one shot in the contest.
Analysis: Sam Gagner is one of the Coyotes' key veterans now that the team is committed to rebuilding. He has turned his season around after a really slow start to reach 31 points in 63 games. He will threaten the 40-point mark this year and should be in the plans going forward when top prospects like Max Domi, and newly acquired Anthony Duclair, arrive and need mentoring.

 
 
 
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