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Blue Line Buzz: Defensive movers and shakers

by | Rotowire.com
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Observations and Ponderings

Mark Streit may be one of the league's best offensive defensemen no one talks about, as he suffers from the same disease as John Tavares: being a member of the New York Islanders. Streit's overtime goal against Los Angeles on Saturday was Scott Niedermayer-esque. Streit collected the puck at center ice, built up speed and smoothly navigated his way through all four Kings' players and placed a slick backhander past Jonathan Quick. True, Streit is not greatest shut-down defender in the league, so we'll disregard his minus-19 rating, but he has goals in the last two games and three points over the last four contests. If you can take the plus-minus hit, grab him before your league's trade deadline. He runs a power play with Tavares and the quietly productive Matt Moulson, logs a ton of minutes each night and has 31 points on the season.

One of the best saves of the season undoubtedly had to be Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen's pad save against Buffalo's Thomas Vanek Friday in the waning seconds of overtime. Lehtonen denied Vanek a tap-in after a nifty drop pass from his teammate, Christian Ehrhoff, as Lehtonen somehow lifted his leg off the ice while sprawled out on his stomach. Dallas eventually lost in a shootout, but Lehtonen's mind-blowing save secured a much-needed point for the Stars.

Those looking for slick stick handling, will want to check out Jamie McGinn's goal for the Sharks from Friday night, which iced their win over Chicago. McGinn stunned Corey Crawford from the side of the goal, changing the angle thanks to some deftly skilled dragging of the puck.

Philadelphia simply can not beat the Rangers, and made it five losses to their rivals Saturday. It does not matter if Sergei Bobrovsky or Ilya Bryzgalov is between the pipes. Bryzgalov missed the game with the flu, but he seems to be conspicuously absent from games against stronger teams. When Bryz does play, it's a rough outing as evidenced by last Sunday against the Rangers and two weeks ago against Boston. Regardless, the Flyers seem to be reverting to their goonish ways on occasion thanks to Tom Sestito and Zac Rinaldo, who combined for 43 penalty minutes on Saturday.

However, Scott Hartnell is enjoying a career season and roused the Philly faithful with a unique goal celebration Thursday against Toronto. After slamming home the game's opener, Hartnell immediately celebrated by fighting Dion Phaneuf, who had leveled him moments earlier. The fight seemed to draw a greater response than the goal.

If you weren't fortunate enough to grab Hartnell during the draft, hopefully you snagged his teammate Wayne Simmonds or New Jersey's David Clarkson in leagues that reward penalty minutes. Both are having career seasons; Clarkson has 21 goals and is close to cracking the 100 penalty minute barrier. Simmonds has been red hot since the All-Star break with five goals and two assists along with 12 penalty minutes.

If Evgeni Malkin does not win the Hart Trophy this season, then the same people who vote in college football polls now cast the ballots for the NHL's awards. Malkin has carried an injury-riddled Pittsburgh squad through the league's toughest division (or second-toughest, if you favor the Central) into playoff contention and starred in Saturday's boat race with Winnipeg, notching five points. Malkin's quiet leadership and ability to improve those around him is exemplary.

Staying in Pittsburgh, Kris Letang rejoined his team's success with a two-goal, three-point effort in Saturday's win over Winnipeg, ending a six-game point drought, his longest of the season.

You have to give Montreal's Tomas Plekanec credit for flying so boldly in the face of fashion. He singlehandedly has to be keeping the mock turtleneck makers the NHL uses in business, especially considering the hit designers took when Alexei Yashin retired.

NBC is continuing to promote their seven-team league on Sunday afternoons, with Washington and the Rangers facing off in the national spotlight this week. I'm not advocating the inclusion of Columbus and Minnesota on a weekly basis, but acknowledge a few more teams than the usual seven.

Colorado's Erik Johnson scored a goal Saturday. And no, that's not a typo. Johnson notched his first tally since December 17 and just his second of the season, meaning Johnson is only nine goals behind St. Louis' Chris Stewart on the year. Johnson has had a disappointing first full season in Denver, with 20 points through 51 games. Cracking 30 points, which Johnson should do, is still a good benchmark for a defender, but the Avs had been expecting more from the former first overall pick.

Despite scoring one goal since the New Year, San Jose's Brent Burns is on a tear the last week, with eight assists in the last four games. Burns started slowly, by his standards, but a good finish can put him close to the 40-plus points San Jose had been hoping for when they dealt for him this past summer.

Lucy Moved The Football Again

After Ryan Whitney jumped in on Edmonton's fun last week, and Fantasy owners pounced on him, but Whitney disappointed owners this past scoring period. The brittle blue liner failed to register a point in three games this week, not contributing to any of Edmonton's nine goals. He's notoriously streaky, but his bull market phases help owners immensely, you just have to deal with the bear market days.

Another Panther on the Prowl?

Florida defender Jason Garrison, still leading all NHL defensemen with 13 goals, left Saturday's win over New Jersey with a lower-body injury, playing only 9:08. Garrison has been quiet lately compared to his rate of production earlier in the season, with five points in the last 15 games. Garrison will not play in Sunday's game, according to Florida play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein. The nature of Garrison's injury is not known, but if he is out for a while, the Panthers will be down both him and Dmitry Kulikov.

True, Kulikov's production while he has been injured was the same as when he was playing prior to the injury, but the Panthers need someone other than Brian Campbell to shoulder the load. Youngster Erik Gudbranson played solidly in Saturday's win over New Jersey, grabbing an assist and seeing power-play time later in the game. Gudbranson has just five points on the season but boasts tremendous upside as one of the Panthers' top prospects. The former third overall pick who played his OHL hockey in Kingston probably won't challenge Erik Karlsson for the defensemen scoring lead, but he did pot 12 goals his last year in the OHL. Gudbranson has been on the radar of keeper league owners since 2010 and he could see a boost in value if Garrison is injured for a while. Gudbranson is a physical player with much upside.

Sword Play

Buffalo enigma Tyler Myers has been enjoying his team's recent run of success, as Ryan Miller is not the only player apparently turning their game around. Let's face it, Myers was primed for a bounceback season only to start abysmally, yet is starting to find his way back to relevance. Myers grabbed an assist in three straight games this past week while his teammate, Christian Ehrhoff, had a goal and an assist in two contests. There is nowhere but up to go for both Myers and Ehrhoff, but they appear to be on their way, following their teammates' lead.

Talk To Me, Goose

It might seem like we're jumping to conclusions, but Pittsburgh may have won the James Neal-for-Alex Goligoski trade from last winter. Goligoski can still go on to have a great career, but it won't be riding shotgun with Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Goligoski has certainly had his ups and downs this season, but the Minnesota native is turning the corner as Dallas battles for a playoff berth. Goligoski has six points over the last six games and eight in the last eight dating back to before the All-Star break. The talent has always been there, as evidenced by his breakout season last year, but it has been frustrating as he is one of those players that has too much potential to simply reserve on a weekly basis.

Conversely, Sheldon Souray has been mostly invisible since the calendar turned to 2012, as he has two points in 13 games. Souray is battling an ankle injury, but given that he has five points since November 11, most owners probably moved on after being rewarded with a strong start.

Something Blue

To say Columbus is having a slightly forgettable season is putting it lightly. Newly acquired Jeff Carter is a shell of himself and Rick Nash remains buried in obscurity. The Jackets did get a glimpse of their future this past week courtesy of rookie defenseman David Savard, who registered a two-point night in Tuesday's rare win, grabbing his first career goal. Keep your eye on him. Fedor Tyutin continues to lead the way for Columbus rearguards with 22 points. Sure, he has a minus-14 and his three points over two games may have ended a nine-game points drought, but he could be kicking around on your league's waiver wire if you're willing to endure his inconsistency.

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Player News
Sheldon Souray
Ducks' Souray Might Not Be Able To Keep Playing
Sheldon Souray, D, ANA
9/1/2014
News: GM Bob Murray said Sheldon Souray's career remains in jeopardy as a result of his season-ending wrist procedure in January, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: With the beginning of training camp closing in on the Ducks, it sounds like the team is preparing for the possibility of life without Sheldon Souray for a second consecutive season. Souray hasn't received clearance to begin practicing in full, and his advancing age (he's 38 years old) certainly doesn't work to his advantage. Even if Souray is able to return to some semblance of health at some point this season, expect him to play much less than the 20:56 minutes per game he averaged in 44 contests during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

John Gibson
Ducks' Gibson, Andersen To Battle For No. 1 Duties
John Gibson, G, ANA
9/1/2014
News: John Gibson will battle Frederik Andersen for duties as the Ducks' No. 1 netminder in training camp, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: While Andersen, a fellow second-year goalie, probably has the advantage heading into camp since he played well in a larger sample of games than John Gibson, the 21-year-old certainly proved his mettle for the Ducks in the postseason. Thrust into action for the final four games of the team's second-round series with the Kings, Gibson saved 102 of 111 shots (.919 save%) and turned in a shutout in Game 4, convincing the Ducks to let veteran Jonas Hiller walk in free agency. With an outstanding showing in camp, Gibson could very well beat out Andersen, but there's an equally real possibility he could start the season in the minors. Both young goalies are best off playing regularly somewhere while they're still developing, so it wouldn't be surprise if veteran Jason LaBarbera ended up opening the campaign as the backup to the victor of the starting competition.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen (Knee) Likely No. 1 to Open Camp
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
9/1/2014
News: Frederik Andersen (knee) will likely be the Ducks' No. 1 goalie when training camp opens, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: Both Frederik Andersen and fellow competitor for No. 1 duties John Gibson ended up surpassing incumbent Jonas Hiller on the depth chart for the Ducks during the postseason, but it was Andersen's MCL sprain in Round 2 against the Kings that allowed Gibson to leave the last impression. However, Andersen was nearly as good as Gibson over a much larger sample of starts last season, going 20-5-0 with a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage. The greater amount of experience confers an early advantage to Andersen in the job battle, but whomever opens the season as the No. 1 goalie will largely earn the gig based on training camp performance.

Shawn Horcoff
Stars' Horcoff Primed For Bottom-Six Duty
Shawn Horcoff, C, DAL
9/1/2014
News: Shawn Horcoff is expected to see most of his action as a bottom-six forward for the Stars this season, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Shawn Horcoff, 35, is entering the final campaign of a six-year deal and seems to have accepted his role as a depth player at this stage of his career. A former top scorer for the Oilers during his prime, Horcoff averaged just 12:51 of ice time over 77 games with the Stars in 2013-14, totaling seven goals and 13 assists. He'd do well to eclipse the 20-point mark again during the upcoming season.

Jordin Tootoo
Free Agent Tootoo Still Looking For Work
Jordin Tootoo, RW, DET
9/1/2014
News: Jordin Tootoo is unlikely to re-sign with the Predators, Joshua Cooper of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Jordin Tootoo, who became an unrestricted free agent in June when the Red Wings bought out his contract, is likely not a good fit to re-join the Preds, as the team has already made several free-agent pickups this summer to bolster depth. Tootoo recorded just a single assist in 11 games for Detroit last season, and spent most of his time in the AHL. His best days as an NHL forward - and viable fantasy option - are likely behind him at this point.

Nazem Kadri
Leafs' Kadri: Working To Improve Shot Release
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR
8/31/2014
News: Nazem Kadri has been working on his shot over the summer and is looking to put up a lot more points this season, reports Sportsnet.ca. "Every single year I like my production to go up and up, so I want to get better [in terms of] goals, points, assists, plus/minus, time on ice," he said. "These are all things I think about and can improve on."
Analysis: He's been in the gym working on wrist curls and strengthening his forearms and shoulders to improve his shot. "I've really been working on my shot and my release, knowing a lot of NHL goalies can't be beat without a quick release," said Nazem Kadri. "The power doesn't necessarily have to be there, but the release definitely does. I'm trying to score a few more goals and get more pucks on net." The center once potted 35 goals in 56 OHL games with the London Knights, but he will be hard pressed to replicate that scoring rate in the NHL. Still, he could certainly be in line for an improvement over his 20 goals from last season and 60 points could be in the offing.

Sheldon Brookbank
Flames Invite Brookbank To Training Camp
Sheldon Brookbank, D, CHI
8/31/2014
News: The Flames have extended a tryout to Sheldon Brookbank at their training camp in the fall, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Sheldon Brookbank spent the past two seasons with the Blackhawks, and collected two goals and five assists in 48 games last season. He will get a shot at the sixth or seventh defenseman spot, and his experience may give him an early edge.

Eric Staal
Canes' E. Staal (Abdomen) Back On Ice
Eric Staal, C, CAR
8/30/2014
News: Eric Staal (abdominal surgery) was back on the ice Friday at an informal skate with the Hurricanes, reports the Raleigh News Observer
Analysis: He had surgery in late July for a core-muscle issue that was described more as an abdominal wall injury rather than a sports hernia. He had changed his offseason training approach after delivering his lowest offensive numbers in a full season since his rookie year. The injury was characterized as a training injury, but it's behind him now and he's been on the ice for 10 days. "It was frustrating," he said. "At the time of the injury I thought I was in the best shape I've ever been in." If that's the case and if he can get out of the blocks strong, Eric Staal could be in line for a fantasy rebound. But he's going to turn 30 in October, so don't expect his output to recover to his previous best.

Kimmo Timonen
Flyers Planning On Season Without Timonen (Clots)
Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI
8/30/2014
News: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) is back in the U.S. after undergoing treatment in Finland, but the Flyers are planning as though he won't be contributing to the squad this season, reports the Courier-Post.
Analysis: "We haven't had a chance to look at him yet," general manager Ron Hextall said, "but there's something going on there" when asked if Kimmo Timonen was on a regimen of blood thinners like warfarin or herparin. Both drugs are used to prevent clots from developing in the future, but put the patient at risk of bruising and make it hard to get bleeding wounds to clot. Hockey would definitely be off-limits because of the body contact, but Timonen is making good progress.

Nicklas Grossmann
Flyers' Grossmann (Ankle) Will Be Ready For Camp
Nicklas Grossmann, D, PHI
8/30/2014
News: Nicklas Grossmann (ankle) was on the ice this week and will be ready for training camp, reports the Courier-Post. "It's a matter of just getting better and better, but I'm feeling pretty good," said the defender.
Analysis: The surgery to repair tendons in his right ankle required six-to-eight weeks of rehab. The big Swede delivered one goal, 13 assists and 55 PIMs in 78 games with the Flyers last season and should replicated those totals this season. Unfortunately, that won't make him much of a fantasy play.

 
 
 
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