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Blue Line Buzz: Making up precious ground

by | Rotowire.com
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The NHL is at its halfway point for all intents and purposes. The standings are becoming clearer and teams on the bottom will likely be looking to offload some talent. Teams thoroughly entrenched in the top four of their respective conferences will look to their bottom-dwelling opponents to boost their team. Take the same approach with your Fantasy team. Now is an excellent time to scan the standings and see where you can make up some ground, and pry players from frustrated owners that might be undervalued due to their performances this season, such as Ryan Miller, P.K. Subban and any of Anaheim's big three forwards. Conversely, look to offload some overachieving players using the classic sell high approach.

It's been a busy week in hockey with the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, HBO's "24/7" concluding and Sweden capturing the World Junior Championship thanks to Ottawa draft pick Mika Zibanejad's overtime goal. For those of you who watched Thursday's championship game, you might have thought the game was being played in Stockholm, but Canada was still a bit sore from their semifinal loss to the Russians and threw their support behind the Swedes.

In what could be a sign to come of labor negotiations, the NHLPA blocked the league's proposed realignment, meaning it's another season of time-zone spanning travel for Dallas, Columbus and Detroit.

Weekly Whip Around

• Washington's Dennis Wideman had goals in three straight games this past week, adding three assists for good measure.

Shea Weber returned from his mild concussion on Thursday, notching a goal in Saturday's win over Carolina.

• Columbus recalled defender David Savard in the wake of James Wisniewski's injury, and the rookie had an assist in two games this week, for those of you in deeper leagues.

• Montreal's Tomas Kaberle is showing signs of the talent he left in Toronto, putting up three points in the last four games.

New Year's Resolutions Part 2

Ottawa: Considering the Senators have Erik Karlsson, the NHL's runaway points leader for defenders and a rejuvenated Sergei Gonchar, the Sens are sitting pretty. Jared Cowen is worth a look in deep leagues. They're in the playoff hunt, but recently acquired Kyle Turris couldn't hold his own in a fight with Philadelphia's Danny Briere Saturday.

Philadelphia: Resolve for a miracle cure to concussions to get Chris Pronger back on the ice, who was enjoying nearly a point-per-game season prior to injury. Further resolve to have a team spokesman on hand to clarify any comment Ilya Bryzgalov makes to the media. The team's breakout star of HBO's "24/7" gave reporters jewel after jewel of column inches during the show, and was cagey with reporters after last Friday's practice, according to CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio. Lastly, owners would like to see more production from Andrej Meszaros, who sits with just 14 points on the season and could be a great value in leagues that count secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots if he saw his name on the scoresheet more often. Update: In two games this weekend, Meszaros did notch a goal and an assist.

Phoenix: Get Oliver Ekman-Larsson to display the goal-scoring aptitude he showed in the season's first week. Of his season's seven goals, just two have come since Thanksgiving, highlighted by a massive 10-game pointless drought. Phoenix may want to invest in a time machine for their defenders as well. With Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin, the Coyotes have a Fantasy roster that was quite productive 10 years ago. Lastly, remember when Rostislav Klesla was going to be a breakout offensive star for Columbus? Keith Yandle currently sits third on the team in scoring with five goals and 25 points heading into Saturday's games.

Pittsburgh: A healthy defender that can produce offensively. Kris Letang was enjoying a career season before suffering a nasty hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty while Paul Martin recently returned from a leg injury, costing him several weeks of action. The Pens are still one of the East's stronger teams, but they are missing Letang. Rookie Simon Despres has four points in 14 games while Matt Niskanen has stepped up his efforts on the back end. Sidney Crosby back on the ice would be a bonus as well, especially with the Pens suffering injuries to Jordan Staal and James Neal this past weekend.

San Jose: Resolve for Dan Boyle to play like the Dan Boyle owners expected when making him one of the higher defenseman picked in drafts last fall. Boyle has a pedestrian 20 points on the season buoyed by a three assist night on Saturday. Now could be the time to pounce on him and pry him from a frustrated owner Brent Burns, though is currently being outpaced by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in terms of points, as Vlasic sits with 15 points. Boyle and Burns are not skimping on the shots though, as the two have combined for 234 shots on the season, but just nine goals. The window that is the Sharks' Stanley Cup chances has been slowly closing the last two years, and it's no secret that time is running quite thin for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to hoist the Cup.

St. Louis: Resolve to have Alex Pietrangelo perform as consistently as he had the last three games, with six points this past week, for the remainder of the season. One of the league's rising stars on defense, Pietrangelo had a wholly unforgettable December, posting just two points in 14 games. His season's 17 points were boosted much by the goal and five assists from this week, but his teammate, Kevin Shattenkirk, seems to have acquired the bug that affected Pietrangelo. Shattenkirk was mired in a four-game points drought through Friday, with just four points in the last 11 games for the resurgent Blues prior to a two-point effort on Saturday. In forward notes, Blues center David Perron has close to a point-per-game this since returning from a concussion, with 13 in 16 games. He could be a great source of assists if he's still kicking around in your league.

Tampa Bay: Resolve to acquire another offensively adept defender, as Marc-Andre Bergeron has shockingly fallen off the point-per-game pace he established early in the season. The sneaky power-play specialist still has 23 points on the season, but a mere three since the beginning of December and just one point in the last 10 contests. Meanwhile, Eric Brewer, Pavel Kubina and Matt Gilroy have combined for 31 points on the year. If Brett Connolly is available in deeper leagues, expect him to return to the Lightning with confidence following a strong World Junior Championships.

Toronto: After stuffing the All-Star Game ballot box like Mayor Daley of Chicago in 1960, Leafs fans ensured their captain, Dion Phaneuf, was the league's leading vote getter during balloting. Phaneuf isn't entirely undeserving of the votes, with 28 points he is the Leafs' third leading scorer. While Phaneuf is playing like the player both we, and Elisha Cuthbert, knew in Calgary, John-Michael Liles was enjoying a solid season with 21 points before losing time to a concussion. Youngster Luke Schenn is putting up serviceable numbers with 12 points in 39 games. Expect the Toronto media rumor mill to be put in overdrive in the coming weeks with Anaheim possibly looking to offload stars Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Leafs GM Brian Burke drafted all three players while in Orange County and, after all, Peterborough native Corey Perry must want to play for the Leafs, as any star Canadian player in a non-hockey market must want to return to Canada (see Shea Weber and Vincent Lecavalier).

Vancouver: The Canucks' defense from a Fantasy perspective is rather solid, with Alexander Edler leading the way with 29 points following Saturday's win over Boston. Kevin Bieksa has enjoyed a resurgence of late with 10 points in the last 11 games, going pointless in just two games over that stretch. Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo are also adding good secondary scoring. Vancouver is playing like the team that came within a game of the Cup last Spring and should make another run at it this year, hopefully with the Sedins showing up in the postseason this time around.

Washington: Welcome back Mike Green. The Caps are 9-0-0 when Green plays, but he did not register a point in two games this week. Expect Green to find his stride as Alex Ovechkin seems to be heating up as well. John Carlson and Dennis Wideman have provided owners with tremendous value for taking a flier on them in the later rounds. Washington has some ground to make up in the Eastern Conference standings, but reinforcements will be on the way, albeit not immediately. Last year's No. 1 draft pick for the Caps, Evgeny Kuznetsov, garnered top forward honors at the World Junior Championships while having the temerity to celebrate scoring a goal against the Canadians in Russia's semifinal win. Regardless, Kuznetsov potted 13 points in seven games and would give Washington another Russian forward on whom they will receive nothing but consistent production and no off-ice headaches.

Winnipeg: Resolve to have a full complement of defenders for at least a few games this season. Just when Tobias Enstrom returned from a shoulder injury, Dustin Byfuglien suffered a knee injury that will keep him out at least until next week. Buff has 24 points on the season while Enstrom has played consistently since returning to the ice, registering six assists in 10 games since December 17. The Jets are still in the playoff hunt and remain a surprisingly solid source of defensemen production, as Zach Bogosian is in the midst of a solid season.

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Player News
Thomas Greiss
Pens' Greiss Passes Mumps Test
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
8:36 AM
News: Thomas Greiss tested negative for the mumps and has been cleared to rejoin the team.
Analysis: After Thomas Greiss was feeling under the weather Thursday morning, the Penguins wasted no time in isolating him from the rest of the team due to concerns that he might be their third player to have acquired the mumps. Fortunately, it appears his symptoms of illness were unrelated to the virus, and it now looks like he'll resume his usual backup duties behind Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday against the Panthers. Jeff Zatkoff, who served as the team's No. 2 netminder on Thursday while Greiss was unavailable, was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday after Greiss' encouraging test results were revealed.

Jeff Zatkoff
Penguins Reassign Zatkoff
Jeff Zatkoff, G, PIT
8:32 AM
News: Jeff Zatkoff was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday.
Analysis: Jeff Zatkoff served as the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday while Thomas Greiss (illness) remained under evaluation for a possible case of the mumps. Greiss' tests ended up coming back negative Friday morning, so he'll be cleared to rejoin the team for Saturday's game, thus making it unnecessary for the Penguins to keep Zatkoff around any longer.

Olli Maatta
Pens' Maatta Diagnosed With Mumps
Olli Maatta, D, PIT
8:30 AM
News: Mattaa tested positive mumps virus and will remain in isolation for at least five days.
Analysis: Mattaa was already slated to miss the next few weeks while recovering from an undisclosed upper-body injury, but having to table his rehab activities for the next few days due to the illness will delay his return even further. He's the third Penguins player to deal with the mumps and 16th confirmed case in the NHL this season. Fortunately, the other two Penguins players who had been tested for the virus, goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, didn't display any symptoms of the mumps and have been cleared to resume playing.

Andre Burakovsky
Caps Reassign Burakovsky To AHL
Andre Burakovsky, LW, WAS
8:26 AM
News: Andre Burakovsky was reassigned to AHL Hershey on Friday, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The fact that Andre Burakovsky was dropped from the 23-man roster after he was a healthy scratch in five of the team's previous six games wasn't surprising; what was more odd was that the Capitals chose not to loan him to Team Sweden for the World Junior Championship. It does appear that coach Barry Trotz has his reasons, however, as he wants to keep Burakovsky in Hershey in the event that the Capitals require a call-up for injury purposes during the upcoming road-heavy stretch of games. While in Hershey, Burakovsky will also benefit from reclaiming top-six ice time, a luxury he hasn't been afforded since the middle of November.

Jacob Josefson
Devils' Josefson Out Friday
Jacob Josefson, C, NJ
8:20 AM
News: Jacob Josefson (groin) will not play Friday against the Lightning, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Jacob Josefson missed the Devils' morning skate Friday, indicating the groin tweak he suffered Wednesday night wasn't as minor as the team had initially led on. Tim Sestito was recalled from AHL Albany on Thursday and will fill his Josefson's spot as the Devils' fourth-line center.

Mike Cammalleri
Devils' Cammalleri To Remain Out Friday
Mike Cammalleri, LW, NJ
8:13 AM
News: Mike Cammalleri (lower body) will remain out of the lineup Friday against the Lightning, Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger reports.
Analysis: Mike Cammalleri created some optimism that he might be ready to play in games after he skated Thursday, but his absence from Friday's morning skate indicates that he will miss his third straight game. It could be the case where the Devils simply didn't want to use him for both ends of their back-to-back set, so he may not be ruled out for Saturday's tilt with the Capitals.

Keith Kinkaid
Devils' Kinkaid To Get Friday Start
Keith Kinkaid, G, NJ
8:08 AM
News: Keith Kinkaid will be in the crease Friday against the Lightning, Rich Chere of Newark Star-Ledger reports.
Analysis: Coach Pete DeBoer has shown an increased willingness of late to give top goalie Cory Schneider more rest, as Keith Kinkaid will make his second start in three games Friday. It probably helped Kinkaid's cause that he submitted a strong outing in that previous start, holding the Islanders to two goals on 33 shots before falling in the shootout. Even so, he's a far from dependable streaming option against a Lightning squad that ranks second in the NHL in goals per game and ninth in power-play percentage.

Eric Tangradi
Habs' Tangradi In Lineup Thursday
Eric Tangradi, LW, MON
3:45 AM
News: Eric Tangradi was on the active roster for Thursday night's loss to the Ducks. He skated on the fourth line, getting seven shifts and 5:34 of ice time.
Analysis: Eric Tangradi was called up from the AHL Hamilton this week to replace Sven Andrighetto, who was sent back to Hamilton.

Oscar Klefbom
Oilers' Klefbom Will Return Thursday
Oscar Klefbom, D, EDM
12:59 AM
News: Oscar Klefbom (foot) will return to the lineup Thursday against the Sharks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Despite practicing Wednesday, Oscar Klefbom was expected to sit out Thursday's contest in an effort to provide him with more time to heal. However, after the injury didn't seem to compromise him during the morning skate, Klefbom was given the go-ahead to suit up following a two-game absence. He'll join Mark Fayne on Edmonton's second pairing.

Lee Stempniak
Rangers' Stempniak Undergoing Mumps Tests
Lee Stempniak, RW, NYR
12:55 AM
News: Lee Stempniak will undergo testing for the mumps virus and will be isolated from the Rangers for the next five days, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Though Lee Stempniak hasn't been diagnosed with the virus, the Rangers aren't taking any chances after Tanner Glass and Derick Brassard both previously dealt with the mumps. Even if the tests don't reveal Stempniak's illness to be anything serious, the five-day timeline will force him to miss at least the Rangers' two games over the weekend. The Rangers could recall a forward from AHL Hartford to cover for Stempniak's absence.

 
 
 
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