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Blue Line Buzz: Bypassing the dysfunction

by | Rotowire.com
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The Montreal Canadiens have provided us with several of the league's top storylines recently, from "interim" coach Randy Cunneyworth's inability to speak French, P. K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec dropping the gloves in practice, and this past week's jettisoning of Michael Cammalleri to Calgary.

It was the manner in which Cammalleri was ejected from Montreal that's unique; he was held out of the third period after already playing nine minutes in Thursday's loss to Boston. According to reports, he was sent back to the team hotel to await further word on his destination -- the trade undoubtedly stemming from Cammalleri's remarks on Wednesday about the lack of a winning attitude in Montreal. Not to belabor the language issue, but Cammalleri claimed his remarks were misinterpreted. The Habs received Rene Bourque back from the Flames, as the two players swapped positions on teams currently out of the playoffs.

Stories out of Montreal are teeming with spin, as the Habs are claiming Cammalleri's comments about Montreal's team attitude did not factor into their decision to trade him. Apparently, the team had already been looking to deal the underperforming forward. The comparison between Cammalleri and Bourque will certainly be an interesting one to follow the remainder of the season, as Cammalleri had some of his most productive seasons with the Flames alongside Jarome Iginla.

(All statistics through Jan. 13)

Swiss Misters

While much has been made of Subban's disappointing season (17 points), the Habs have received solid production from veteran Tomas Kaberle following his trade from Carolina (nine points in 13 games). Subban's talent guarantees him a roster spot in most leagues, but his production has been highly frustrating. Following his benching before Christmas, Subban returned with a goal and an assist, only to post just one point and a minus-3 the following six games.

Kaberle and Subban are two names that primarily jump out from the Montreal roster, but a pair of Swiss rear guards is establishing themselves for Les Habitants. Starting with the less obvious, rookie Raphel Diaz is no stranger to professional hockey. The 26-year-old played eight seasons for EV Zug in the Swiss National League, posting his best numbers last year before signing with Montreal, registering 12 goals and 27 assists in 45 games. Diaz grabbed 31 points the season prior after not posting better than 14 points in his previous six campaigns. Montreal knows something about Swiss defenders, as Mark Streit proved himself a highly capable puck mover upon his arrival in North America.

Diaz has a pedestrian 13 points through 41 games in his first NHL season, similar numbers to Streit in his first campaign, where he notched a mere 11 points in 48 games before breaking out the next season. Diaz is a name worth remembering later in this year and for next year as a potential breakout candidate come fall.

Diaz's countryman, Yannick Weber, has also been having a decent season, with 13 points through 35 games. He is less of a stranger to the North American game as he played his junior hockey in the OHL with Kitchener, slamming home seasons of 41 and 55 points prior to being drafted in 2007. Weber went on to dominate in the AHL, registering totals of 44 and 32 points before snagging 12 points in 15 games last season, forcing an NHL call-up. Weber is still 23-years of age and has his best offensive days ahead of him.

Weber, however, has to improve some aspects of his game, as evidenced by a recent five-game stretch where he was a healthy scratch, but, in his return, he scored Montreal's only goal in Thursday's loss to Boston. Weber has just four less points on the season than Subban in five fewer games.

On The Prowl

You know Shea Weber. You know Ryan Suter.

The two soon-to-be free agents comprise arguably the league's best defensive pair in terms of the complete offensive and defensive package. Nashville does have other defenders, but none are the stalwarts Suter and Weber are. Weber leads the Predators in scoring (31 points) while Suter is fifth on the squad with 25 points.

The Predators and their fan base received a glimpse into the future the last week from defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ellis posted consecutive two-point games in wins over Carolina and Colorado, grabbing a goal and an assist in each. The rookie has seven games under his belt with three of his first four NHL points coming on the power play.

Those of you in keeper leagues should be well aware of Ellis's offensive potential. This is a young man that was on back-to-back Memorial Cup championship squads with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, teams that featured current young stars Taylor Hall of Edmonton and New Jersey's Adam Henrique. Ellis posted seasons of 89, 61 (in 48 games) and 101 points for the Spitfires.

Ellis is atop the list of potential young stars on the blue line, and recently turned legal United States drinking age. The primary drawback to Ellis's development offensively is the presence of Weber and Suter, but Ellis will have plenty of chances to develop his defensive game on the team-first, counterattacking Predators. If Ellis can continue to score, as well as mature defensively, he may make losing either Weber or Suter a bit easier for the Nashville front office. Temper your expectations with Ellis, despite his potential, as the situation still isn't the most ideal for the rising star. For what it's worth, Ellis saw 4:17 of power play time in Thursday's win over Colorado, over a quarter of his total 15:49.

Ellis is garnering his share of power play time while Weber and Suter are also eating their usual man-advantage minutes, but Ellis's performance is earning him his portion, averaging 3:14 per contest.

Weekly Whip-Around

St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo extended a point streak to five games this past week with an assist each in two contests.

Phoenix's David Rundblad had an assist in Thursday's loss to Detroit. His reward was a return to the AHL's Portland Pirates. Rundblad was the primary player heading to the desert in December's Kyle Turris trade with Ottawa. Rundblad is a promising offensive player but has played just two NHL games since the trade, putting up an assist in each contest. Remember Rundblad's name, as Phoenix's stable of offensively adept defenders is thin, with just Keith Yandle and the enigmatic Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The Kings' Jack Johnson has been reacquainting himself with the scoresheet, putting up six points in four games the last 10 days, Tebowing following one of his tallies. Antics aside, Johnson has the ability to be productive and the Kings have been playing very well under new coach Darryl Sutter's tutelage. Johnson's teammate, Drew Doughty, had assists in two straight games this week and his 12 penalty minutes in Thursday's brawl-marred loss to Dallas were a welcomed bonus.

Nothing much from Ottawa's Erik Karlsson this past week, just a series of three games with two points each. Karlsson is enjoying one of the best post-lockout seasons for defenders, paying owners that gambled on his plus-minus handsomely. He is a plus-8 heading into Saturday, after being a minus-30 last year. The points are outstanding, but even more impressive is the 153 shots on goal, furthering his value in leagues that reward shots, also ensuring the points will continue coming.

Dallas' Sheldon Souray has just three points since November 11 while teammate Alex Goligoski has two goals and three helpers in seven games the last two weeks.

On The Farm

Scanning the AHL statistics for scoring leaders among defenders, Tampa Bay may not have to make a trade to boost their scoring from the back end. 21-year-old Mark Barberio is lighting up "The A" with 35 points in 36 games for Norfolk. One has to wonder how much longer he'll be staying in the minors given both his production and the team's need for a more consistent power-play specialist, as Marc-Andre Bergeron is shockingly dealing with a nagging injury.

Chicago prospect Brian Connelly has 32 points for Rockford while Paul Postma is third on the list with 27 points in 30 games for St. John's. Postma was recalled by Winnipeg Saturday, but did not play in the loss to New Jersey.

Captials' draftee Patrick McNeill has 26 points for Hershey while Colorado farm hand Tyson Barrie is fifth in the AHL with 24 points in 37 games.

* Last week's column stated that Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were drafted by Leafs' general manager Brian Burke while steering the Ducks. Current Anaheim GM Bob Murray was the one that drafted Perry and Getzlaf, in his prior stint with the club. The oversight was noticed by reader John Bleackley, who pointed out that Burke has enjoyed riding Murray's coattails.

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Player News
Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera Poised To Return
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
12:02 AM
News: Jori Lehtera (lower body) was on the ice for warmups in advance of Sunday's Game 6 against the Wild, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Based on warmups, look for Jori Lehtera to work Sunday on a trio with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Lehtera -- who was was held out of Friday's Game 5 -- checks back into the Blues' lineup with two helpers in four playoff games to date.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Pots Goal In Win
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Max Pacioretty potted his second goal of the playoffs in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: The goal was an empty-netter and came with less than a second remaining, but it counts the same nonetheless. Max Pacioretty also finished with a plus-2 rating on the night, making up for the minus-2 he sported through the first five games of the series. The winger finished the series with just the empty-net goal and a power-play tally in Game 1, but figures to be the team's top offensive producers going forward.

Brendan Gallagher
Habs' Gallagher Scores In Win
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Brendan Gallagher scored the game-winning goal in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Brendan Gallagher went on a four-game goal streak toward the end of March, but entered Sunday's contest with just one goal in his the 12 games since then. The winger logged a pair of points in the series win, but figures to be a fairly reliable source of offense going forward as the Habs await their second round opponent.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Perfect In Game 6 Win
Carey Price, G, MON
4/26/2015
News: Carey Price stopped all 43 shots he faced in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Carey Price was sensational Sunday as he withstood a late Senators attack to help clinch the series and send the Habs into the second round. Aside from Game 5's five-goal outing, Price has continued his regular season excellence into the postseason as he's posted a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage through six games. He's as reliable as they come and figures to remain as one of the top, if not the very best, options for the duration of the playoffs.

Nick Leddy
Isles' Leddy An Assist Machine
Nick Leddy, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Nick Leddy was credited with two assists and five shot attempts in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The blueliner has been an offensive force in the series for the Islanders, as Saturday marked his fourth straight game with an assist. Coach Jack Capuano rewarded Nick Leddy with 28:59 of ice time Saturday, his highest total of the season.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Allows Just One In Loss
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
4/26/2015
News: Craig Anderson stopped 18 of 19 shots Sunday but was on the wrong end of the series-ending Game 6 loss.
Analysis: Craig Anderson did all he could to keep the Sens' season alive after receiving the starting nod since Game 3 as he allowed just four total goals in those four games, but the offense in front of him couldn't provide any support Sunday. The 33-year-old finished the season at 14-13-8 with a 2.49 GAA and .923, but it remains to be seen how the club will approach their goaltending next season between Anderson and the soon-to-be restricted free agent Andrew Hammond.

Ryan Strome
Isles' Strome Assists In Win
Ryan Strome, C, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Ryan Strome gathered an assist in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: After kicking off the postseason with goals in the first two games of the series, Ryan Strome had been held off the score sheet for three contests in a row before breaking through again Saturday. He was skating on the top line Saturday, a role that could prove fruitful again in Game 7 next to a sizzling John Tavares.

Cal Clutterbuck
Isles' Clutterbuck Active In Win
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Cal Clutterbuck supplied an empty-net goal, seven hits, and 10 PIM in Saturday's Game 6 victory over the Capitals.
Analysis: The Islanders have gotten an impressive amount of production out of the fourth liner thus far in the series. While his huge PIM (26) and hit totals (37) were to be expected, Cal Clutterbuck's offensive production (two goals, one assist, 12 SOG) has been a welcome development. It shouldn't be counted on to continue, but the forward's physical presence could make a noticeable impact in Monday's Game 7.

Johnny Boychuk
Isles' Boychuk Gets First Point Of Playoffs
Johnny Boychuk, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Johnny Boychuk captured an assist, attempted four shots, and was credited with six blocks and four takeaways in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The assist gave Johnny Boychuk his first point since Game 1, but it was his work in front of the Isles' net Saturday that kept the team's playoff hopes alive. The Capitals had a golden opportunity to tie the game with around five minutes remaining in the third period, but Jay Beagle's shot ricocheted off the crossbar behind the Isles' Jaroslav Halak before Boychuk came in to whisk the puck to safety under Halak's body. Plays like that are precisely why the Isles were willing to pony up $42 million to keep Boychuk off the free-agent market.

Jaroslav Halak
Isles, Halak Stave Off Elimination
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Jaroslav Halak denied 38 of 39 shots in Saturday's Game 6 victory over the Capitals.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak was strong in goal from most of the day, but also benefited from a some fortunate luck at the tail end of the game. After teammate Nikolay Kulemin tallied the eventual game-winner about midway through the third period, Halak nearly let in the tying goal four minutes later from the Caps' Jay Beagle, whose shot attempt off a rebound elevated over the goalie and hit the crossbar before Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk shuffled the puck to safety. Halak's .974 save percentage was his best mark of the series, and should give him some confidence heading into Monday's Game 7 in Washington.

 
 
 
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