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Blue Line Buzz: Defensemen coming on strong

by | Rotowire.com
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If you have watched an NHL game on either Versus or the NHL Network the last three weeks, you have undoubtedly seen the new hockey-themed USA Prime Credit commercials with "Peggy" advertising a certain credit card company. These two commercials feature Chicago's Patrick Kane and Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas. The irony of the ads is that Thomas is the one trapped in a taxi cab with a Kathy-Bates-from-Misery type fan and is unable to pay his cab fare.

The mere opportunity for comedic gold was missed by the makers of this commercial, but you have to believe Kane wanted nothing to do with the taxi commercial after his rather unfortunate incident several summers earlier in Buffalo. The spot would have worked better if Kane had called Thomas with instructions on how to avoid paying one's cab fare. Other possibilities for USA Prime Credit commercials could include the Islanders' Rick DiPietro calling from the hospital unable to pay his most recent medical bill and Jeff Carter ringing them up from a Columbus bar complaining he can't pay his tab. The potential for these ads are quite endless actually.

With the season at its unofficial quarter pole, let's examine several notable statistics from the league:

• Florida, Toronto and Minnesota are owners of three of the league's best records.

• Edmonton, Phoenix and St. Louis are currently in position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

• The Florida Panthers boast one of the league's highest scoring blue lines thanks to the re-emergence of Brian Campbell and the breakout seasons of Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov.

• The Islanders’ goaltending situation is about as settled as the BCS standings, although Al Montoya was strong in two recent games against New Jersey.

• First-round draft selections Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo are seeing their playing time usurped by talented backups such as Jhonas Enroth and Cory Schneider.

• In San Jose, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has more points than Dan Boyle and Brent Burns through Saturday's contests.

• Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is only a minus-3 through 22 games, but also boasts 19 points.

Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Fowler and Mark Streit have a combined nine goals and 38 points with a total rating of minus-30.

• Big Buff has the dubious distinction of boasting the most points among defenders, 16, with the worst plus-minus, as Byfuglien sits at a minus-9 through Saturday.

Nick Leddy has more points than Tyler Myers and Alex Goligoski combined while Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Wilson have as many as Myers and Goligoski combined.

• Montreal's Josh Gorges and Ryan McDonagh each have 10 points through Saturday's games.

Travis Hamonic has just two assists through 21 games. Even further disappointing to owners that drafted him is he has as many fights as he does assists.

Erik Karlsson, Dan Boyle and P.K. Subban have combined for 197 shots and just three goals.

Jason Garrison is shooting an astounding 13.6 percent with eight goals on 59 shots.

Jordan Leopold and Steve Montador have a combined 10 goals on 60 shots.

• If you picked Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Joffrey Lupul to be in the top four of the Art Ross Trophy race, you can buy my Powerball ticket tonight.

One-Adam-12

The Devils knew they grabbed a gem at the fourth overall pick with Adam Larsson when the Panthers opted for Jonathan Huberdeau at No. 3. Larsson was quiet offensively in his first month, as it usually takes rookie defenders some time to acclimate to the NHL game. Larsson recently turned 19 and has been one of the league's hottest defenders in the month of November, as the Swede has all eight of his points in 13 games and is currently riding a five-game points streak through Saturday with one goal and four assists during that span.

Larsson has seen some of his power-play time slip to teammate Mark Fayne and the Devils have been surrendering shorthanded chances to opponents often, allowing four shorties in their last 10 games. Larsson is still prone to the large defensive error, such as allowing several of those shorthanded chances, but the kid has been jumping into the play often. Saturday's goal in a loss to the Islanders saw Larsson be the fourth man into the zone and fire a slick wrist shot past Al Montoya. The Devils are freely deploying Larsson and he is well worth a pickup if you have not snagged him already. November's production seems to be more of a harbinger of his ability than his stats from the season's first month.

The Devils do not offer much else from the blue line, but Larsson appears to be an anchor in Newark for years to come.

Buffalo Bites

If anybody could predict the future, they surely would succeed in Fantasy sports and in plenty of other walks of life. When the Buffalo Sabres signed Christian Ehrhoff to a massive contract and brought in Robyn Regehr from Calgary last summer, the signs pointed to a bounceback season from the towering Tyler Myers. Myers was the subject of much debate in this column and its wholehearted endorsement. Myers' poor start earned him a healthy scratch from coach Lindy Ruff earlier this month, only to see Myers return to the lineup with his season's best game, a two-goal effort in a loss to New Jersey on November 16. The hockey gods were as cruel to Myers as they were to Lubomir Visnovky, as Myers suffered a broken wrist two games later and figures to return around Christmas.

Conversely, teammate Jordan Leopold is having another solid season with nine points and five goals through 23 games and a plus-5 rating. Ehrhoff isn't quite living up to his contract, but has respectable numbers with two goals and 13 points, including six during the month of November. With Myers out of action, Marc-Andre Gragnani should see an expanded role as he already receives 3:48 of power-play time per contest with eight points in 21 games. He has been quiet of late with two assists in the last six games, but his name is worth remembering, as Gragnani is a power-play specialist of sorts.

One has to wonder how Myers will play upon his return to action, as it can't be any more frustrating for owners than the opening of the current NHL campaign.

Cook County Assessor's Office

Nick Leddy has been producing at a steady rate (16 points in 24 games) but the high-priced talent on the Chicago blue line is starting to be more consistent offensively. Duncan Keith has been active of late with 10 of his season's 16 points in the last nine games including back-to-back two-assist contests during the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Keith started much too slowly for Fantasy owners hoping for a repeat of his 2009-2010 season, but the Winnipeg native has come on strong the last three weeks. Of Keith's recent outburst, five of the 10 points have come on the man advantage, which tends to happen when your playmates are Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. We should expect this consistency from Keith over the season, as he's showed it before, but now may be the time to jump in and grab the former Norris Trophy winner.

Corving a Niche

Boston moved quickly this offseason to add a defender that would provide an offensive spark, an end they hoped last year's trade for Tomas Kaberle would have achieved. Kaberle proved to be invisible during the team's Stanley Cup run and the Bruins brought in journeyman Joe Corvo. Corvo's numbers are serviceable with nine points on the season, but just one assist in the last five games. Corvo has yet to light the lamp for Boston, but he is seeing 3:57 of power-play time per contest and averaging over two shots per game. He is the only other defender with offensive acumen on the team's blue line after Zdeno Chara as Dennis Seidenberg appears to be able to hit the goal, but not get the puck past the goalie.

Corvo has a track record of being productive, as the veteran had 23 of his 40 points on the power play last year with Carolina and has cracked the 10-goal mark four times in his career and registered 35 or more points five times. He will not hurt your plus-minus (along with every other play on Boston's roster) and Corvo should be seeing his name on the scoresheet more often; he has six of his nine points in November.

Saturday's hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty on Kris Letang was a textbook example of the lateral hits to the head the league is hoping to eliminate. No penalty was called on the play, but Pacioretty was given a three-game suspension from the league on Monday. Pacioretty has no prior record and Letang returned to the game, eventually scoring the overtime winner.

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Player News
Brandon Sutter
Penguins' Sutter Tests Negative For Mumps
Brandon Sutter, C, PIT
9:03 AM
News: Brandon Sutter has tested negative for the mumps virus, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Brandon Sutter missed two games earlier this week with an illness, but it turns out he is not dealing with the mumps virus that is bothering a couple of his teammates. Sutter will likely be available for Pittsburgh's next game Saturday, but an official call on his status may not come until after the team's morning skate.

Thomas Greiss
Penguins' Greiss Dealing With Mumps
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
8:46 AM
News: Thomas Greiss has been diagnosed with the mumps, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: A mumps test performed on Thomas Greiss last week came back negative, but it turns out he is actually dealing with the same setback that has affected numerous NHL players over the last several weeks. Jeff Zatkoff figures to serve as the backup goaltender behind Marc-Andre Fleury until Greiss is able to resume playing sometime in the next week or two.

Steve Downie
Penguins' Downie Diagnosed With Mumps
Steve Downie, RW, PIT
8:42 AM
News: Steve Downie has been diagnosed with the mumps, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Steve Downie first started showing mumps symptoms earlier this week, and it turns out he is the latest to come down with the disease that is sweeping through the NHL. He will remain isolated from his teammates until he has recovered, but figures to resume playing sometime in the next week or two.

Matt Moulson
Sabres' Moulson Expected Back Saturday
Matt Moulson, LW, BUF
8:36 AM
News: Matt Moulson (illness) is expected to return to the lineup Saturday against the Islanders, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The illness has knocked Matt Moulson out of the Sabres' past three games, but the three-day holiday break appears to have been exactly what the wingers needed to regain health. The Sabres have already reassigned three of their forwards back to AHL Rochester, a sign that Moulson is fully expected to be available for the match against his former team.

David Desharnais
Habs' Desharnais Loving Third Line
David Desharnais, C, MON
4:34 AM
News: David Desharnais scored a goal in Tuesday's win over the Islanders and now has three goals and two assists in his last five games.
Analysis: The surge in production coincides with his move to the third line with Lars Eller and P.A. Parenteau. David Desharnais continues to get work on the man advantage as well.

Jiri Sekac
Habs' Sekac Dropped Mid-Game
Jiri Sekac, LW, MON
4:27 AM
News: Jiri Sekac was replaced on the second line by Dale Weise after one period in Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Islanders, the Montreal Gazette reports. He had a turnover and a penalty in the opening period, prompting head coach Michel Therrien to make the move. "Sekac wasn't playing well and I went with [Brandon] Prust and Weise," Therrien said.
Analysis: Jiri Sekac, who averages nearly 14 minutes a night, ended up with just 8:21 of ice time in the win. It's likely a one-game thing -- how long can the Habs thrive with Weise and Prust in top-six roles? It's just a reminder that Sekac is young and new to the NHL, and this sort of thing can happen.

Taylor Chorney
Pens Reassign Chorney
Taylor Chorney, D, PIT
12/25/2014
News: Taylor Chorney was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Wednesday.
Analysis: Taylor Chorney was one of three players that was reassigned to the minors Wednesday, joining Jeff Zatkoff and Dominik Uher. It likely signals that the three players that were isolated from the team the last two games out of concern that they might be dealing with the mumps -- Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter, and Thomas Greiss -- have tested negative for the virus. Official word on their status should come when the team resumes practicing Friday. Chorney had averaged just 5:32 of ice time over his two contests.

Jeff Zatkoff
Pens Reassign Zatkoff
Jeff Zatkoff, G, PIT
12/25/2014
News: Jeff Zatkoff was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday.
Analysis: Jeff Zatkoff's reassignment perhaps hints that Thomas Greiss tested negative for the mumps, which had forced him to isolate himself from the team for the past two games. Zatkoff had taken over backup duties during that time, very nearly leading the Penguins' to a comeback victory over the Lightning on Tuesday. He'll rank as the organization's first call-up option if Marc-Andre Fleury or Thomas Greiss are forced to miss future action.

John Curry
Wild's Curry Gets Reassigned
John Curry, G, MIN
12/25/2014
News: John Curry was reassigned to AHL Iowa on Wednesday.
Analysis: John Curry was an emergency call-up prior to Tuesday's game after Niklas Backstrom came down with an illness and was unavailable. It sounds like the Wild expect Backstrom to be back at full health coming out of the Christmas break, so Curry will head back to the minors, where he's been sharing goaltending duties with Johan Gustafsson this season.

Victor Hedman
Bolts' Hedman Snaps Scoring Slump
Victor Hedman, D, TB
12/24/2014
News: Victor Hedman registered an assist in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Penguins.
Analysis: Victor Hedman also chipped in with a season-high six blocked shots, though he did bear some responsibility for a miscue that resulted in one Pittsburgh goal. In any case, the Bolts value Hedman primarily for his abilities on the offensive end, which haven't been readily evident of late. The assist snapped a streak of six games without a point for Hedman.

 
 
 
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