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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
Anthony Peluso
Jets Move Peluso To IR
Anthony Peluso, RW, WPG
12:49 AM
News: Anthony Peluso (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Analysis: Anthony Peluso was moved to IR to make roster room for Evander Kane (knee), who will return to the lineup Thursday. Since Peluso first sustained the injury a week ago during practice, he's already missed the seven-day minimum required for every IR stint and will be immediately eligible to return when healthy.

Anze Kopitar
Kings' Kopitar Expected Out Again Thursday
Anze Kopitar, C, LA
12:45 AM
News: Anze Kopitar (upper body) didn't take part in line rushes during morning skate and is expected to be scratched Thursday against the Penguins, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Along with fellow injured forwards Trevor Lewis and Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar remained on the ice for extra work following the morning session, suggesting he's not yet ready to return. While Kopitar will miss his second straight game, the cap-strapped Kings were fortunate enough to be granted an emergency recall Thursday to ice a healthy 20 skaters, an option that wasn't available to them Tuesday against the Flyers.

Brooks Laich
Caps' Laich Possible For Saturday
Brooks Laich, C, WAS
12:38 AM
News: Coach Barry Trotz said Brooks Laich (upper body) could possibly play Saturday against the Lightning, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals planned to place Brooks Laich on injured reserve last week, but ended up reversing course and keeping him on the roster as a scratch for each of the last four games. He's been doing some activity on his own in preparation for a return, but if he's unable to fully practice Friday, it would seem likely that the Capitals rule him out for a fifth straight contest.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Progressing Well
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
12:26 AM
News: Patrick Maroon (knee) is recovering faster than anticipated from his MCL sprain and could play at some point during the Ducks' current four-game road trip, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon suffered the injury Oct. 14 and was expected to miss four weeks, but a return over the next few days would mean that he was able to cut that projected recovery timetable in half. The winger won't be an option for Thursday's game in St. Louis, but coach Bruce Boudreau indicated there's a good chance the winger will be available for Friday in Dallas or Sunday in Colorado. Maroon was previously deployed on the Ducks' first line prior to suffering the injury, but there's no guarantee he'll reclaim that role was activated from IR. Since Maroon has been out, all of Devante Smith-Pelly, Dany Heatley and Matt Beleskey have seen time on the top trio with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and it's unclear if Boudreau will end up permanently settling on a player anytime soon.

Daniel Briere
Avs' Briere Healthy Scratched Thursday
Daniel Briere, C, COL
12:19 AM
News: Daniel Briere will be a healthy scratch Thursday against the Islanders, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: The 37-year-old Daniel Briere will be replaced in the lineup by Dennis Everberg, who was recalled from AHL Lake Erie on Wednesday. It's unclear whether the demotion to the press box will be a permanent one for Briere, as it will likely depend on how well the rookie Everberg meshes Thursday with John Mitchell and Alex Tanguay on the third line. Briere has two goals and three points over 10 games with the Avs on the season.

Nate Guenin
Avs' Guenin Rejoins Lineup
Nate Guenin, D, COL
12:16 AM
News: Nate Guenin will rejoin the Avs' lineup Thursday against the Islanders, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Zach Redmond has emerged as coach Patrick Roy's preferred replacement option for Ryan Wilson (shoulder) on the third pairing, but Nate Guenin will now receive the opportunity to make an impression of his own. Guenin hasn't played since Oct. 18 and hasn't provided a point in his four games this season.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov To Start Thursday
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:11 AM
News: Semyon Varlamov is set to make the start in goal Thursday against the Islanders, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Semyon Varlamov has helped the Avs come away with at least a point in his last five starts, but is still sitting on a losing record (1-2-3) for the season. He'll have a good shot at evening his record against the Islanders, who have struggled defensively for most of the season.

Jesse Winchester
Avs' Winchester Appears To Have Suffered Setback
Jesse Winchester, C, COL
12:06 AM
News: Jesse Winchester appears to have suffered a setback in his recovery from a concussion, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: After taking contact in practices earlier this week, Jesse Winchester was donning an orange non-contact sweater at Thursday's morning skate, a sign that he's noticed a downgrade in his recovery. The fact that the Avs haven't shut down his on-ice activities entirely offers some encouragement, but it no longer looks as though Winchester will be activated in the coming days.

Josh Jooris
Flames' Jooris To Be Healthy Scratch Friday
Josh Jooris, C, CGY
12:02 AM
News: Josh Jooris will be a healthy scratch for Friday's game against the Predators, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Josh Jooris has been quiet since recording a goal in his NHL debut, with his move to the bottom line likely contributing to his lack of impact. Brian McGrattan is expected to take his spot in the lineup Friday.

Tyler Ennis
Sabres' Ennis Chips In Two Points
Tyler Ennis, LW, BUF
10/30/2014
News: Tyler Ennis picked up a power-play assist on the Sabres' first goal and scored the second himself, but it wasn't enough in a shootout loss to the Bruins.
Analysis: The helper was actually his first of the season, and his first power-play point as well. Tyler Ennis's offensive game has only appeared in fits and starts so far, but he's seeing premium ice time, so he'll have every opportunity to put up more points.

 
 
 
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