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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
Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Scores Game Winner Sunday
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:29 PM
News: Clayton Stoner scored the game winner in the third period of Sunday night's clash in Dallas.
Analysis: Not normally known for his goal-scoring prowess, the defenseman was able to score his first goal in nearly a full calendar year. Seeing as how his career total is now at five goals and 33 assists, don't expect the 30-year old to suddenly become fantasy viable.

Corey Perry
Ducks' Perry Hits Scoresheet Twice In Win Sunday
Corey Perry, RW, ANA
12:22 PM
News: Corey Perry tallied a goal and an assist in Sunday's win over the Stars.
Analysis: The points give Corey Perry 45 points on the season. Despite missing 15 of his team's 64 games this season, Perry is only second to linemate Ryan Getzlaf in team scoring.

Ryan Getzlaf
Ducks' Getzlaf Records Milestone Marker
Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
12:16 PM
News: Ryan Getzlaf tied Paul Kariya for second on the Ducks' all-time scoring list with a goal and an assist Sunday in Dallas.
Analysis: This gives Ryan Getzlaf 669 points in 693 career games for the Ducks. He now has 61 points in 61 games this season, good enough for eighth place in NHL scoring.

John Gibson
Gibson Shines For Ducks In Win Over Stars
John Gibson, G, ANA
12:05 PM
News: John Gibson stopped 39-of-40 shots faced Sunday night in Dallas.
Analysis: This was John Gibson's fifth win in his last six starts, as it appears that both him and his team have worked their way out of a slump. However, it appears that Gibson will be relegated to backup duties very soon with regular starter Frederik Andersen fully recovered from a head/neck injury. Keep a close eye on Gibson's status for upcoming games.

Radim Vrbata
Canucks' Vrbata Contributes Two Assists
Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN
3:09 AM
News: Radim Vrbata collected a pair of assists and scored in the shootout in Sunday's win over the Blues.
Analysis: Radim Vrbata now has 22 goals and 44 points in 59 games on the season. While he's skating on the second line and has just one goal in his last eight games, he's still playing on the top power-play unit and is skating with Nick Bonino at even strength. The 33-year-old talented sniper will find ways to produce points no matter what, and as long as he keeps shooting, the goals will soon follow.

Yannick Weber
Canucks' Weber Contributes Offensively In Win
Yannick Weber, D, VAN
3:03 AM
News: Yannick Weber scored his sixth goal of the season, had an assist and recorded a plus-3 rating in a season-high 22:58 of ice time in Sunday's win over the Blues.
Analysis: Yannick Weber is logging some big minutes right now and has compiled two goals and 11 shots on goal in his last four games. With injuries to Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler, Weber is taking on an expanded role with the team. Given his offensive potential and the fact he is playing on the top power-play unit, Weber could be worth adding in some deeper leagues right now.

Ronalds Kenins
Canucks' Kenins Bags Two Assists
Ronalds Kenins, LW, VAN
2:57 AM
News: Ronalds Kenins picked up a pair of assists and was a plus-2 in Sunday's win over the Blues.
Analysis: Ronalds Kenins continues to impress in his first NHL stint, recording three goals and 10 points in 14 games. While the 24-year-old is skating on the fourth line, he's playing with the talented Bo Horvat and can produce enough to warrant a look in some very deep leagues.

Ryan Reaves
Blues' Reaves Scores, Collects 12 PIM In Loss
Ryan Reaves, RW, STL
2:51 AM
News: Ryan Reaves scored his sixth goal of the season and picked up 12 PIM in Sunday's loss to Vancouver.
Analysis: Ryan Reaves now has 10 points and a whopping 100 PIM in 62 games this season. While the 28-year-old old doesn't produce much offense in a fourth-line role, his strong PIM totals make him worth owning in very deep specialty leagues.

T.J. Oshie
Blues' Oshie Collects Three Assists
T.J. Oshie, RW, STL
2:48 AM
News: T.J. Oshie picked up three assists in Sunday's loss to Vancouver.
Analysis: That's five points in four games for T.J. Oshie, who is up to 17 goals and 44 points in 55 games on the season. The 28-year-old continues to produce points steadily and can be trusted in most formats.

David Backes
Blues' Backes Tallies Two Points In Loss
David Backes, C, STL
2:28 AM
News: David Backes scored his 21st goal of the season, dished out an assist and recorded seven hits in Sunday's loss to the Canucks.
Analysis: A good all-around fantasy outing from David Backes, who now has 43 points and 88 PIM in 63 games. Centering the top line, the 30-year-old is a reliable goal-scorer who contributes in multiple fantasy categories.

 
 
 
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