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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
John Erskine
Caps Move Erskine To IR
John Erskine, D, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Erskien (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals ruled John Erskine out of the entirety of their three-game road trip to western Canada earlier this week, so the IR move will allow the team to add another defenseman from the minors for depth purposes, if they choose to do so. Erskine had been a healthy scratch for the Capitals in every game even before succumbing to the injury.

Jesse Winchester
Avs' Winchester Gets In Non-Contact Work
Jesse Winchester, C, COL
10/23/2014
News: Jesse Winchester (concussion) has resumed taking part in non-contact drills, the Associated Press reports.
Analysis: Jesse Winchester is still awaiting clearance to participate in full-contact practices, so it's difficult to see him being activated from IR at any point this week. He's been out for three weeks with the head injury.

Ray Emery
Emery Expected To Go Wednesday For Flyers
Ray Emery, G, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Ray Emery is expected to receive the start in goal Wednesday against the Penguins, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Top goalie Steve Mason has been brutal in five turns this season (0-3-1, 3.83 GAA, .878 save percentage), so opportunity could knock here for Ray Emery if he's able to return in a respectable outing against a tough Penguins squad. Mason's larger contract will probably prevent Emery from displacing him as the team's unquestioned starter, but the backup could possibly take on a larger workload if he can give the Flyers some more stability in goal in his subsequent outings.

Stefan Noesen
Ducks' Noesen (Achilles) Set To Miss Four Months
Stefan Noesen, RW, ANA
10/23/2014
News: The Ducks announced Stefan Noesen is dealing with an Achilles injury and is expected to be sidelined for four months, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: It's yet another devastating injury for the hard-luck Stefan Noesen, who missed nearly all of last season with torn knee ligaments. He had worked his way back from the knee issue to produce three points in his first four games with AHL Norfolk, before suffering his latest long-term setback. The prospect luster is beginning to fade for the 21-year-old former first-round draft choice.

Curtis McElhinney
Jackets' McElhinney Expected To Return Soon
Curtis McElhinney, G, CLB
10/23/2014
News: Curtis McElhinney (head, neck) is feeling better and is expected to rejoin the team later this week, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Curtis McElhinney suffered a head injury and was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. As a result, he won't be able to return until the end of the weekend at the earliest, but it's an encouraging sign that he's feeling better, and should travel with the club on their upcoming three-game trip to California beginning Thursday.

Matt Read
Flyers' Read Held Without A Goal Through Six
Matt Read, RW, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Matt Read has no goals and three assists through six games this season.
Analysis: After a 22-goal campaign last season, Matt Read has yet to find the back of the net this year. He should get some more opportunities, as he's been playing on the team's second power-play unit, but for now his slow start should be slightly worrisome.

Marian Gaborik
Kings' Gaborik Remains Out Of Practice
Marian Gaborik, RW, LA
10/23/2014
News: Marian Gaborik (undisclosed) wasn't on the ice for Wednesday's practice, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: With the Kings hitting the ice Thursday for a game against the Sabres, it's probably safe to rule out Marian Gaborik for a fourth straight game. The team has provided little information regarding the nature or severity of Gaborik's injury, so there's no indication when he might be ready to return to action.

Brad Marchand
Bruins' Marchand Gets First Goal
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
10/23/2014
News: Brad Marchand scored his first goal of the season in a 5-3 victory over the Sharks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Coach Claude Julien indicated in the preseason that Brad Marchand could see increased action on the power play, a move that paid off Tuesday as his goal came on the man advantage. He logged 16:50 worth of ice time, and now has points in three of the Bruins' last four games after being held off the score sheet in their first four contests.

Michal Neuvirth
Sabres' Neuvirth Expected To Start On Wednesday
Michal Neuvirth, G, BUF
10/23/2014
News: Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the start on Wednesday against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Michal Neuvirth has appeared in one game this season, incidentally enough, against the Ducks. He didn't fare especially well, giving up five goals on 44 shots in a 5-1 loss Oct. 13. Buffalo has been struggling in all facets of the game this season, but Jhonas Enroth still seems to have a steady hand on the No. 1 gig, even after giving up four goals in his last turn over the weekend. It appears coach Ted Nolan is just looking to rest Enroth for the first game of a back-to-back set.

Tom Wilson
Caps' Wilson Eyeing Oct. 29 Return
Tom Wilson, RW, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged Tuesday that Tom Wilson (ankle) could return to the Washington lineup Oct. 29 against the Red Wings, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Tom Wilson, who was sent out on a rehab assignment at AHL Hershey on Monday, will play in two minor league games over the weekend, logging top-six minutes in each tilt. If his ankle holds up fine, Wilson will rejoin the Capitals for practice on Monday, when the team returns from its three-game road trip through western Canada. Trotz will then have to decide if he wants to slot Wilson back into his bottom-six, most likely at the expense of Liam O'Brien or Chris Brown.

 
 
 
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