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Blue Line Buzz: Defensemen finding the net

by | Rotowire.com
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The hockey cognoscenti have turned their attention to the ridiculous debate captivating the province of Quebec.

The horror of horrors occurred two weeks ago after Jacques Martin was dismissed from his position as Montreal's head coach: The Canadiens named Randy Cunneyworth, an Anglophone, the team's interim head coach.

The operative word there is interim, as in, until a person who speaks French can be hired to appease the enraged masses of Quebec natives. The audacity of the Montreal Canadiens is shocking. It's not like their captain (Rochester, N.Y., native Brian Gionta) or two leading goal scorers (Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty) are Americans, or the coach they just fired spoke French. It is simply ludicrous that no one other than a French-Canadian could contribute to the team's success.

While Montreal is floundering, to the west, on the provincial border, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson continues his assault on the NHL.

The 21-year-old Swede is on pace to pass Mike Green's 76 points from the 2009-10 season, and, remarkably, heads into the holidays with a plus-1 rating. Karlsson has seven points in the last four games while sporting a plus-8. The days of Karlsson being a secret are long gone, but the Senators have been receiving blue line points from a more unlikely source the last two weeks.

Jared Cowen has nine of his season's 11 points in December, buoyed largely by a four-point game (1 goal, 3 assists) in last Friday's 6-4 win over Pittsburgh. Cowen has not gone more than one game without a point in the last three weeks. With Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar piling on the points from the back end, Cowen might not overtake any of the league leaders, but, odds are, he is available in deeper Fantasy leagues. The Senators cleared some space on the blue line last week in the Kyle Turris trade, sending David Rundblad to Phoenix as part of the package.

Ducks Fly Together

Several weeks ago, the hockey gods were less than kind to Lubomir Visnovsky, granting him a broken wrist on top of the atrocious start to his season (to be fair, he was not the only Duck to start poorly, Randy Carlyle included). Visnovsky had a mere four points in 16 games, all of which came over a three-game span prior to injury. Following a season where he was the NHL's highest-scoring defender, Visnovsky broke his hand, mercifully, saving owners the vexing knowledge of having to leave him in the lineup. Don't look now, but Visnovky is back and enjoying life under the expletive-laden tutelage of his new coach, Bruce Boudreau. Visnovsky has five points in five games since returning to action and heads into the holiday break with consecutive two-point games. If you want to give your Fantasy team a gift that will help, pry him from an owner, citing the belief there is no way he will produce consistently, and if for reasons passing understanding, Visnovsky is available on your waiver wire, snag him.

Dallas Star?

The Stars' blue line has several strong options on it in ageless Sheldon Souray and rising talent Alex Goligoski. However, Trevor Daley is seeing his name on the scoresheet more often with six points in the last eight games, including two assists in Dallas' win over Nashville on Friday. Daley has done this routine before, where he will roll off a series of points over a few weeks before falling. Daley has averaged 24.5 points the last four seasons and is on pace clock in close to 30 points this year. He is seeing 2:43 of power-play time per-game and could be worth a look in deeper leagues. Souray's pace has fallen off and Goligoski's numbers are down. Daley is by no means the silver bullet for your team's success, but he could help.

Island Happenings

It has been no secret this season that the Islanders' Travis Hamonic, along with several others of his teammates, started quite slowly. Hamonic was never going to challenge Erik Karlsson for offensive supremacy amongst blue liners, but a mere two points through October and November was simply woeful. Heading into the holidays, Hamonic had six points in 11 December contests and boasts a healthy 47 penalty minutes, a total boosted by the 15 he accrued in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh on December 10. Hamonic has value in leagues that reward penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots, as has already delivered 73 hits and blocked 85 shots in 33 contests. It is worth noting that Hamonic is a mere 21 years old.

Land of Lakes

The Minnesota Wild have seen its torrid winning pace fall off but defender Jared Spurgeon is enjoying a solid season. A gifted skater listed at a generous 5-foot-9, Spurgeon has 15 points heading into the holidays with eight on the power play. December was kinder to Spurgeon than it was to his team, as he notched seven assists in 11 games with points in two straight contests. Despite Minnesota's scoring issues, Spurgeon remains their top option on the back end, seeing close to 3:00 of power play time per game. Once again, those in deeper leagues and keeper leagues will want to check on the 22-year-old's availability.

Stats and notes

• The Rangers' Michael Del Zotto is tied with Detroit's Ian White for the plus-minus lead among defenders with a plus-22 mark. Boston's Johnny Boychuk and the Shark's Marc-Edouard Vlasic are also in the top five.

Brian Campbell continues his strong season and leads all defenders in power play points with 16 (1-15-16) heading into the holiday break while Mark Streit has 13 of his total 18 points on the man-advantage.

• Campbell's teammate, Jason Garrison, is the only blue liner with double-digit goals -- 10. He has six on the power play followed by Shea Weber of Nashville and Boston's Zdeno Chara, each with 5 power-play markers.

• Predators teammates Weber and Ryan Suter have combined for 53 points in 70 games.

• Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien leads all defenders in shots with 123 and has come on strongly of late. Karlsson is second with 116 while Souray, Weber and Alexander Edler all have over 100 shots on goal, respectively.

Theo Peckham of Edmonton assumes his mantle as the top pylon amongst defenders with 66 penalty minutes while Anaheim's Shane O'Brien sports a surprising 12 points with 58 penalty minutes.

• Toronto's Luke Schenn boasts an impressive 104 hits, tops amongst defenders, and also has a solid 11 points.

• Chicago rearguard Nicklas Hjalmarsson leads the way in blocked shots with 94 followed by Winnipeg's Mark Stuart and Dan Girardi of the Rangers. Montreal's Josh Gorges rounds out the top four as he’s also blocked more than 90 shots this season.

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Player News
Taylor Hall
Oilers' Hall In Midst Of Cold Spell
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM
12/18/2014
News: Taylor Hall has tallied just one point in the Oilers' last seven games.
Analysis: Taylor Hall hasn't seen his shot attempts take a dramatic dip during the scoring drought, but if he's not finding the back of the net with regularity, the Oilers are in a serious trouble. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that with Hall slumping, the Oilers haven't mustered more than two goals in any match during that seven-game stretch. The burden of carrying the Oilers for the past five seasons clearly seems to be weighing down Hall, whose name has been starting to show up in trade rumors more frequently of late.

Reilly Smith
Bruins' Smith Producing Steadily
Reilly Smith, RW, BOS
12/18/2014
News: Reilly Smith netted a goal in Tuesday's shootout loss to the Predators.
Analysis: After a meager start to the season, Reilly Smith has really clicked since joining Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top trio, tallying four goals and two assists over the last five games. Smith's recent surge in production could make it tough on coach Claude Julien to break up the trio once David Krejci (groin) returns, which could happen as soon as Wednesday's game against the Wild.

Chris Thorburn
Jets' Thorburn Scores Goal In Win
Chris Thorburn, RW, WPG
12/18/2014
News: Chris Thorburn scored his second goal of the season in Tuesday's victory over the Sabres.
Analysis: As his two points in 31 games would suggest, Chris Thorburn isn't someone the Jets are looking to for offense most nights. Instead, he'll carry most of his value as a grinder on the checking line and a leader in the locker room.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Bags Goal Tuesday
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
12/18/2014
News: Carl Hagelin tallied his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Oilers.
Analysis: Carl Hagelin has notched goals in back-to-back contests, giving him 13 points in 29 contests this season. However, he's currently skating on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Lee Stempniak, a role that won't afford him much more than 15 minutes per night. He's a solid depth scorer for the Rangers, but fantasy owners can likely do better.

Josh Harding
No Timetable For Harding's Return From MS Setback
Josh Harding, G, MIN
12/18/2014
News: Josh Harding has yet to return to practice with Iowa teammates since being hospitalized for dehydration after playing two periods for AHL Iowa on Dec. 6, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. The dehydration episode was related to his multiple sclerosis.
Analysis: There's no timetable for his return and it sounds like this could be a significant setback to his multiple sclerosis issues.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen In Line To Start Wednesday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12/18/2014
News: Kari Lehtonen was the first goalie off the ice at the Stars' gameday skate and is slated to start Wednesday against the Canucks, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Kari Lehtonen has alternated wins in losses in his previous four December starts, continuing a trend of rather inconsistent play this season. He'll catch a bit of a break in matching up against Canucks backup goalie Eddie Lack on Tuesday, but it's still difficult to trust him at this point. The last time Lehtonen played Vancouver, he came away with a 6-3 victory during which he faced 46 shots. It wouldn't be shocking if another barnburner broke out again Wednesday.

Bryce Salvador
Devils' Salvador Still Not Skating
Bryce Salvador, D, NJ
12/18/2014
News: Bryce Salvador (lower body) has yet to resume skating since landing on injured reserve Nov. 17, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Bryce Salvador suggested that he's making progress, but he has yet to show anything tangible that would indicate as much. The 38-year-old is in the final year of his contract with the Devils and could be headed for retirement once the season concludes.

Cody Hodgson
Sabres' Hodgson Not On Nolan's Good Side
Cody Hodgson, C, BUF
6:11 PM
News: Cody Hodgson seems to have landed in coach Ted Nolan's doghouse again, playing only 4:55 in Tuesday's loss to the Jets and not seeing the ice again after he lost a faceoff on a power play and got out-hustled for a shorthanded goal by Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele, The Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: Cody Hodgson is having a horrible season, and is one of the few Sabres who hasn't seen success in recent weeks as the team has turned its season around. He continues to play on a bottom line and might be in line for some more press box time, while his five points on the season is a gross underachievement compared to his six-year, $25.5 million salary.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabers Send Grigorenko Back To Rochester
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
6:04 PM
News: Mikhail Grigorenko was sent back to Rochester of the AHL on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
Analysis: Mikhail Grigorenko played his first game for the Sabres this season in Tuesday's loss to the Jets. With the team off until Saturday, either Torrey Mitchell will be back from injury by then, or this gives Grigorenko a chance to sneak in another AHL game ahead of possibly being needed again for the weekend. Although the first-rounder has struggled in his early NHL career, he made some nice strides over the summer and almost made the team out of camp. It's good that he seems to have set himself up to be the first or second choice when the Sabres need a forward.

David Krejci
Bruins' Krejci (Groin) Active Wednesday
David Krejci, C, BOS
5:05 PM
News: David Krejci will play Wednesday night against the Wild.
Analysis: All the signs during pregame pointed to David Krejci being ready to take the ice, and here's the official confirmation. Matt Fraser, Matt Bartkowski and Joe Morrow will be the Bruins' official scratches.

 
 
 
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