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Blue Line Buzz: Gagner too good to be true

by | Rotowire.com
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The season's unofficial second half has hit full stride as the race to the playoffs continues. For the sake of hockey fans and the interesting media coverage that will ensue, Toronto needs to be in the playoffs.

One of the dominant stories in hockey this week was the performance of another Canadian team, slightly to the northwest of Toronto, where Edmonton exploded in an 8-4 win over Chicago on Thursday. Sam Gagner stole the headlines everywhere with four goals and four assists, making him the answer to a trivia question that includes Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. Sam is proving himself highly valuable for the Oilers, but 11 points over two games is a pace that won't last.

Gagner followed up that effort with three points in Saturday's shootout win over Detroit. He has factored into 11 of the last 12 goals the Oilers have scored, which must be some kind of record. If Gagner's name sounds familiar, he's been one of those players long on potential and taken late in drafts by owners, only to see him play a little inconsistently. He is also the son of former NHLer Dave Gagner, known for being one of Mike Modano linemates in the early days of the Dallas Stars. The two made quite a formidable duo on NHL '95.

Good Grief

While Edmonton is getting much healthier, welcoming Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back into the fold, the team is receiving production from a familiar face. Ryan Whitney is back on the league's radar, surely waiting to frustrate owners who, this time, believe that Whitney will be consistent, believe that Whitney will remain healthy, believe that Whitney will be a steal on the free agent wire. Just remember the phrase “good grief,” after your team tries to kick the football Lucy suddenly pulls away.

We've given Whitney a lot of flack in this column, some of it stemming from getting burned by him over the years, creating a sort of refusal to go anywhere near him, even after his 27 points in 35 games last year. Maybe I remember the years after his breakout season with the Penguins where he disappeared, or his poor play in the 2010 Olympics as he looked clueless on Jonathan Toews' opening goal for Canada in the gold medal game. Whitney has never been able to live up to expectations, whether it's poor performance or lack of production due to multiple injuries. Even Rick DiPietro feels bad for the injuries suffered by Ryan Whitney.

Despite my personal prejudices against Whitney, the veteran is having an impact in northern Alberta, thus making him a viable option. Whitney has enjoyed life after the All-Star break with five points over three games and his first goal in over a year (just like Scott Gomez, only Whitney can use injuries as an excuse). Whitney has missed time this season due to knee and ankle injuries, so it is hard to lump all of his eight points into a continuous 21-game span. The Whitney we're seeing post All-Star break is the one that is talented enough for owners to roll the dice with, even on as damaged of a commodity as there is in Fantasy hockey, especially when Edmonton's power play is clocking in at 22-percent.

(Truth be told, his career numbers are not too bad, he's simply a very frustrating player to own; one of those that is, seemingly, always injured when you own him).

New Jersey Defenders Scoring?

Seriously, it's not a fake headline. Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer have not returned to the team, nor has Bruce Driver or the 2000-2002 version of Vladimir Malakhov. The Devils actually received goals from defensemen this weekend, which is welcomed news to those heady owners that had both Kurtis Foster and Anton Volchenkov in their lineups (didn't we all?). Logically, this means that Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene will soon usurp Erik Karlsson, Nicklas Kronwall and Shea Weber among the league leaders. Kidding aside, the Devils received goals from unexpected sources in games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Anton Volchenkov had not scored for close to two calendar years before tacking on a second goal for the Devils Sunday on Marc-Andre Fleury; the tally was his first since joining New Jerey in the summer of 2010. We're going to guess that more goals from the stalwart defender are unlikely. The big boost for New Jersey was the three-point game from Kurtis Foster in Saturday's 6-4 win over the Flyers. Foster slammed home two goals and assisted on another.

Despite Foster's status as the lone defender on the team's top power-play unit and the fact that he was brought to New Jersey primarily to improve the power play, he's been disappointingly inconsistent. The game prior to his three-point effort, Foster played just 5:21, being benched for his poor defensive play that led to two goals in the eventual win over Montreal.

Foster is probably available in your league, and for good reason. Foster has been a liability in the defensive zone and had one assist in five games before his breakout game on Saturday. He's chipped in since arriving in New Jersey occasionally, but nothing that will transform the team's power play into something to be feared, despite the red-hot Ilya Kovalchuk (nine points in the last three games) and Zach Parise (goals in four straight).

Weekly Whip-Around

Yes, Ryan Whitney is back, but the first week after the All-Star break saw several other defenders put up solid numbers, including some usual suspects in addition to names you don't expect to hear too often, other than Kurtis Foster.

Brent Burns is heating up in the Silicon Valley, posting four assists in three games this week while the Canucks' Alexander Edler continues his strong season, grabbing three points as well during the last week.

Mark Streit is in a tremendous situation on Long Island, steering the strong Islanders' power play with teammates John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Those looking for power play help in very deep leagues may want to eye up forward Frans Nielsen, who also sees time with the top unit.

Matt Carle and Joe Corvo each posted three assists this season along with Dallas' Alex Goligoski.

Anaheim's Luca Sbisa is a player that is certain to receive some attention on the waiver wire this week, as he snagged a goal and two assists in three games. Recently turning 22, Sbisa has been in the league several years already, arriving in Anaheim via the Chris Pronger with Philadelphia two years ago. Sbisa's 17 points this season are already a career high despite a paltry 41 shots on goal. The Italian-born defender is worth a look in deeper leagues, and his 17 points are good enough for fourth-best on the Ducks' blue line, just two points behind Lubomir Visnovsky and one behind fellow youngster Cam Fowler.

The Toronto trio of Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn (the Schenn that was not knocked out by Ilya Kovalchuk this weekend) each posted two points in the Leafs' three games. John-Michael Liles has returned to action for the Leafs, but the above three players can make some noise for the Buds.

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Player News
James Sheppard
Sharks Activate Sheppard
James Sheppard, LW, SJ
12:58 AM
News: James Sheppard (knee) has been activated from his rehab assignment at AHL Worcester, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: After appearing in two rehab games for Worcester over the weekend, James Sheppard was given clearance to return to the NHL club, with whom he'll make his season debut Tuesday versus the Bruins. He's set to man the Sharks' third line, with Andrew Desjardins and Tomas Hertl flanking him on the wings.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres Will Avoid Second ACL Surgery
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
12:55 AM
News: Raffi Torres (knee) will not require a second operation on his torn ACL, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It's a fortunate bit of news for Raffi Torres, and while he's now in line to return earlier than originally anticipated, he's still looking at a lengthy recover timetable. Rather than opting for surgery, Torres will instead work on strengthening the muscles around the injured right knee, a process that will likely last two months or longer. Torres will train in his native Toronto before visiting the Sharks staff for a checkup at some point in November or December.

Pekka Rinne
Preds Likely To Go With Rinne On Tuesday
Pekka Rinne, G, NSH
12:48 AM
News: Pekka Rinne is expected to return to the net Tuesday versus the Coyotes, NHL.com's Robby Stanley reports.
Analysis: The Predators received a highly-impressive outing from backup Carter Hutton during the team's most-recent tilt with the Blackhawks, but he's no threat to cut into Pekka Rinne's workload. The two-time Vezina Trophy nominee has certainly put himself under early consideration for that honor again through his first four starts in 2014-15, going 3-0-1 with a 1.22 GAA and .948 save percentage.

Patrik Nemeth
Stars Place Nemeth On IR
Patrik Nemeth, D, DAL
12:44 AM
News: Patrik Nemeth (arm) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Analysis: The move to injured reserve was a foregone conclusion for Patrik Nemeth, after he was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season following surgery for a serious arm laceration. The Stars hope that Nemeth will be able to contribute at some point during the team's potential playoff run, but such a decision would hinge entirely on how much progress the blueliner makes in the coming months.

Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichuskin (Groin) Moved To IR
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
12:40 AM
News: Valeri Nichushkin (groin) has been placed on injured reserve.
Analysis: Valeri Nichushkin has already been out for over a week with the lower-body ailment, so the move to IR doesn't come as much of a surprise. It's uncertain how much longer the Stars will be without the services of Nichushkin, but the youngster was able to get in a skate Monday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports, suggesting a return to practice may be in the offing. Fortunately for Nichushkin, none of the Stars' other wing options have made a strong case over the last few games to take over his top-line role on a permanent basis.

Ryan Stanton
Canucks' Stanton Moved To IR
Ryan Stanton, D, VAN
12:37 AM
News: Ryan Stanton (lower body) has been placed on injured reserve.
Analysis: The injury will be retroactive to Oct. 17, keeping Ryan Stanton out for at least the next three games. Frank Corrado was recalled from AHL Utica over the weekend to replenish Vancouver's depth on defense.

Ryan Miller
Canucks Return Net To Miller On Tuesday
Ryan Miller, G, VAN
12:31 AM
News: Ryan Miller will be in the net Tuesday versus the Stars, Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Miller received his first rest of the season in the Canucks' previous game against the Lightning on Saturday, will backup Eddie Lack taking the loss in his stead. The 34-year-old Miller figures to be rested later in the week when the Canucks play another back-to-back set, but the three-year, $18 million contract he signed in the offseason ensures he'll see a large workload this season. He's been generally excellent in his first three turns with the Canucks, winning all of his starts and posting a 1.95 GAA and .927 save percentage.

Ondrej Pavelec
Jets Rolling With Pavelec On Tuesday
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
12:23 AM
News: Ondrej Pavelec will get the starting nod Tuesday versus the Hurricanes, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec's been the recipient of some poor offensive support by his mates to saddle him with a 1-3-0 record, but his 2.61 GAA and .906 save percentage through five games aren't world-beating, by any means. Just as was predicted heading into the season, Pavelec looks like one of the league's weakest starting netminders, though he should be a fine fantasy play Tuesday against Carolina, the NHL's only winless team.

Radko Gudas
Bolts' Gudas Doubtful For Tuesday
Radko Gudas, D, TB
12:12 AM
News: Radko Gudas (lower body) is doubtful to play Tuesday versus the Flames, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Radko Gudas was generally expected to return to action in time for Monday's tilt with the Oilers, but he hasn't quite progressed as quickly as the Bolts had anticipated. While a long-term absence looks to be off the table for the blueliner, he'll still head off to the press box for his fourth consecutive contest.

Jonathan Drouin
Bolts' Drouin Quiet In Debut
Jonathan Drouin, LW, TB
12:07 AM
News: Jonathan Drouin (thumb) turned in a quiet outing in his NHL debut Monday against the Oilers, attempting one shot on goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating over 16:10 of ice time.
Analysis: Jonathan Drouin was activated from his rehab assignment at AHL Syracuse on Sunday, but was expected to sit out Monday's game, until an injury to Alex Killorn (undisclosed) ushered the youngster into the lineup. With both Killorn and Ryan Callahan (upper body) doubtful to play Tuesday versus the Flames, Drouin will slot into the Bolts' top-six forwards for a second straight game. It shouldn't take long for the much-hyped Drouin to cement himself as a mainstay on the top two lines and the team's power play.

 
 
 
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