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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
Tyler Johnson
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Tyler Johnson, C, TB
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News: Tyler Johnson dished out two assists in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers, giving him 20 points in the playoffs.
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Nikita Kucherov
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Nikita Kucherov, RW, TB
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Ryan Callahan
Bolts' Callahan Finally Tallies Against Rangers
Ryan Callahan, RW, TB
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News: Ryan Callahan potted his first playoff goal -- and first point since April 29 -- on a power play in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers. He finished minus-2 with five shots.
Analysis: Ryan Callahan got left all alone by the Rangers' defensemen as he floated by the blue line, got fed a long lead pass, and broke in on Henrik Lundqvist with a quick deke to beat him for a stick-side goal. His last point came in Game 7 against Detroit, and Cally had only tallied three helpers over his first 17 playoff games. The appendix surgery that kept him out of the series-clinching Game 6 against Montreal only excuses part of that. Nonetheless, he looks like he's back to full health already, and you can be sure that he'll put forth a strong effort in Game 7 back at his old haunt, Madison Square Garden.

James Sheppard
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News: James Sheppard scored his first goal of the playoffs in Tuesday's Game 6 against the Lightning, tallying the eventual game-winning tally in the third period.
Analysis: James Sheppard played a game-low (among Rangers) 8:35 in fourth-line duty, but scored a hard-working goal to put the Rangers up 4-1. It was the second tally of what ended up being a five-goal period for the Rangers, with Tampa chipping in a pair of goals to turn Sheppard's into the game-winner. It was his first point since May 10 against Washington.

Keith Yandle
Yandle Helps Rangers Force Game 7 Against Tampa
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News: Keith Yandle scored his second goal of the playoffs and added a power-play assist Tuesday in a Game 6 victory against Tampa Bay.
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Rick Nash
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News: Rick Nash scored a power-play goal and handed out there assists in Tuesday's Game 6 victory over the Lightning.
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J.T. Miller
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News: J.T. Miller scored his first goal of the playoffs, dished out three assists and went plus-4 in Tuesday's Game 6 victory over the Lightning.
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Henrik Lundqvist
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Analysis: The hat-trick-completing goal came into an empty net, but it was a well-deserved one, as Derick Brassard played an excellent game. With nine goals and seven assists in these playoffs, he's been the Rangers' most reliable offensive performer.

Ben Bishop
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