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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
Paul Gaustad
Preds' Gaustad Takes Hit To Upper-Body Area
Paul Gaustad, C, NSH
12:59 AM
News: Paul Gaustad left Tuesday's game against the Canucks after he took a high hit from Alexandre Burrows. The Predators didn't have an update on Gaustad's condition Wednesday, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Burrows was ejected for the hit, but isn't expected to face any supplementary punishment from the league office. It's possible that Paul Gaustad, who picked up an assist earlier in the contest, suffered a concussion from the impact, but nothing on that front will be known officially until the team provides more information.

Matt Beleskey
Ducks' Beleskey To Remain Out Wednesday
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA
12:51 AM
News: Matt Beleskey (lower body) will not play Wednesday against the Oilers, Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Matt Beleskey wasn't able to return to the ice during the Ducks' morning skate, which will prevent him for suiting up for a second straight game. Jiri Sekac is slated to skate on the top line in Beleskey's absence.

Jonas Hiller
Flames Stick With Hiller On Thursday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
12:43 AM
News: Jonas Hiller is slated to start Thursday's game against the Blues.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller will thus make his third straight start for the Flames, who compiled a 9-3-3 record in March, a month that was capped by back-to-back triumphs by a combined tally of 10-5, both backstopped by Hiller.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Remains Out Wednesday
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
12:42 AM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not return to the Oilers' lineup Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Boyd Gordon is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before reentering the lineup. Though he could be ready to play Thursday against the Kings, Gordon will be forced to sit out a fourth consecutive game.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Third Straight
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
12:40 AM
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before re-entering the lineup. He'll head to the press box for a third consecutive game and could be a candidate to play Thursday against the Kings.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Likely To Sit Out Another
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:35 AM
News: Clayton Stoner (lower body) isn't expected to play Wednesday against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner resumed skating with the Ducks on Wednesday, but his absence from a regular defensive pairing suggests he'll sit out a second straight game. With only eight points in 67 games this season, Stoner will struggle to provide fantasy players with value once he does return to the lineup.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Confirmed For Thursday
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:33 AM
News: Frederik Andersen is confirmed as the starter in goal for Thursday's game against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: After receiving the Ducks' previous game off in favor of John Gibson, Frederik Andersen will get back in the net Wednesday looking to extend his winning streak to three games. Andersen has won his previous three career starts against the Oilers, producing a 1.67 GAA and .935 save percentage.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers' St. Louis Set To Return
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
12:32 AM
News: Martin St. Louis (knee) is slated to play Thursday against the Wild.
Analysis: Martin St. Louis, who is bouncing back from a sprained right MCL, last suited up for the Rangers on March 15. Based on Wednesday's practice, look for St. Louis to work on a line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin upon his return to the Rangers' lineup on Thursday. Prior to his injury, St. Louis had recorded 20 goals and 47 points in 68 games.

Ryan Kesler
Ducks' Kesler A Game-Time Decision
Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
12:27 AM
News: Ryan Kesler (elbow) will be a game-time decision for Wednesday's tilt with the Oilers.
Analysis: Ryan Kesler was on the ice for Wednesday's morning skate, but coach Bruce Boudreau was tight-lipped about the center's status for the evening. Given that the Oilers are one of the NHL's weakest teams, it might make sense for the Ducks to give Kesler the night off to preserve his body for the playoffs. An official decision on his status should come down based on how the Ducks line up during pregame warmups.

Tanner Pearson
Kings' Pearson Not Healing As Quickly As Hoped
Tanner Pearson, LW, LA
12:24 AM
News: Tanner Pearson (leg) underwent an X-ray Tuesday, which didn't show as much healing as he had hoped, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Tanner Pearson appeared to be making a bid for returning to the lineup before the end of the regular season, but those plans may have hit some friction with the news he received following his X-ray. While it doesn't sound like the winger is dealing with a major setback, the Kings haven't wavered from the three-month timetable Pearson was issued after suffering the injury Jan. 10. If his subsequent skates with the team continue to go well, Pearson could put himself on track to return for the first round of the playoffs.

 
 
 
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