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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
Kevin Connauton
Jackets' Connauton Likely Won't Play For A Week
Kevin Connauton, D, CLB
3/1/2015
News: Coach Todd Richards said after Saturday's morning skate that Kevin Connauton (foot) likely wouldn't play for another week, Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Assuming that timetable holds through the start of next week, Kevin Connauton will miss at least the next three games while he recovers from the foot injury. The Blue Jackets will lean on some combination of Cody Goloubef, Dalton Prout, and Jordan Leopold to cover for Connauton's absence.

Blake Wheeler
Jets' Wheeler Could Return Sunday
Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG
3/1/2015
News: Blake Wheeler (knee) was a full participant in Saturday's practice and looks like he could be ready to play Sunday against the Kings, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports. "If Blake comes to the rink [Sunday] feeling the way he did [Saturday], he'll be in the lineup," coach Paul Maurice said after the practice.
Analysis: Blake Wheeler didn't skate with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little during the practice like he has for much of the season, but did see regular work with the third line and on the Jets' top power-play unit. As Maurice alluded to, the Jets will check in on Wheeler's condition following Sunday's morning skate, after which he would likely be activated from IR if all goes well.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Still Not Ready To Play
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Craig Anderson (hand) will not be available for Saturday's game against the Sharks, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Craig Anderson seemed to be trending toward a return by facing a number of shots during practices the last few days, but there's still no clear timetable for when he might be able to play. While the lack of clarity regarding Anderson's return date is undoubtedly an annoyance for fantasy owners, the Senators have done just fine without him. In the absence of Anderson and No. 2 goalie Robin Lehner (concussion), the Senators have stumbled into a hot goalie in Andrew Hammond, who has won four straight starts while posting a 0.75 GAA.

Curtis Lazar
Sens' Lazar To Sit Out With Illness Saturday
Curtis Lazar, RW, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Curtis Lazar will miss Saturday's game against the Sharks due to an illness, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Curtis Lazar wasn't on the ice for the Senators' morning skate after apparently acquiring the illness overnight. Matt Puempel is set to assume Lazar's spot in the lineup Saturday.

Andrew Hammond
Sens Riding Hammond On Saturday
Andrew Hammond, G, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Andrew Hammond will make his fifth consecutive start Saturday against the Sharks, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Andrew Hammond has been the story of the NHL since taking over as the Senators' No. 1 goalie just over a week ago. After posting middling numbers at AHL Binghamton, Hammond has won his first four NHL starts, posting a 0.75 GAA and .976 save percentage. The matches haven't come against the dregs of the league either; he's posted shutouts his last two times out on the road against the Ducks and Kings. He'll try to continue his California dominance against the struggling Sharks, who will counter with Antti Niemi in goal.

Nathan MacKinnon
Demotion In Store For Avs' MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
3/1/2015
News: MacKinnnon, who was benched during the third period in Friday's game against the Stars, will be dropped to the third line for Saturday's game against the Wild, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Nathan MacKinnon entered Friday's game with four goals in his previous two games, but his play against the Stars clearly irked coach Patrick Roy. The young forward would finish without a single shot on goal in his 12:35 of ice time, and was bumped from the second line in favor of Cody McLeod by the tail end of the game. The Avalanche ultimately prevailed in a shootout without any participation from MacKinnon, prompting Roy to say after the game that McLeod would stick on the second line for Saturday's game. Don't expect MacKinnon's demotion to last long.

Stephane Veilleux
Veilleux Clears Waivers, But Remains With Wild
Stephane Veilleux, C, MIN
3/1/2015
News: Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers Saturday, but will remain with the Wild, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Rather than sending Stephane Veilleux to AHL Iowa after he went unclaimed, the Wild will likely keep the forward around as a healthy scratch for Saturday's game against the Avalanche. Despite being waived, Veilleux remains eligible to play in games with the Wild and can be assigned back to Iowa at any time.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Visnovsky Won't Play Saturday For Islanders
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
3/1/2015
News: Lubomir Visnovsky will be a healthy scratch Saturday for the Islanders, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: The Islanders and Lubomir Visnovsky played Friday, so this may be a case where coach Jack Capuano doesn't want the veteran defenseman to play back-to-back days. Brian Strait will enter the lineup in place of Visnovsky.

Brandon McMillan
Canucks Waive McMillan
Brandon McMillan, LW, VAN
3/1/2015
News: Brandon McMillan was placed on waivers Saturday, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca reports.
Analysis: Brandon McMillan continued to practice with the Canucks after the transaction was announced, so there's a chance he could remain with the club even after he clears waivers Sunday. The team was likely motivated to make the move in an attempt to free up salary cap space ahead of Monday's trade deadline.

Cam Ward
Carolina's Ward To Get Nod Saturday
Cam Ward, G, CAR
3/1/2015
News: Cam Ward will be in the net for Saturday's game against the Islanders, Brian Compton of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The Hurricanes elected to rest Cam Ward on Friday against the Capitals so he could be honored in a pregame ceremony for his 500th career appearance in the NHL, which he made in Tuesday's win over the Flyers. Though Anton Khudobin spun his first shutout of the season in Friday's win, Ward won't be bypassed for a start, as he's been quite excellent in his own right of late. Ward has won his last three starts while conceding a total of five goals, though none of the teams he faced during that stretch were as strong as the squad he'll match up with Saturday.

 
 
 
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