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Neutral Zone Wrap: Leaders of the pack

by | Rotowire.com
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One month to go. You can almost taste the end of the NHL regular season. Well, that along with whatever you didn't digest for dinner. But enough about what you shouldn't have eaten last night.

Your league is either winding down the schedule or has started its playoff format. So what can you do to hold on to a lead or pull back into contention? If your postseason has begun and you're not one of the select few who advanced, then you need not worry. And whether you're gunning for the next level or fighting off the pack, there are a few tips that can help achieve either goal.

Team improvement becomes the obvious task, but fulfilling this proves to be more difficult with fewer resources. We're going to assume all leagues' trade deadlines have come and gone, so that avenue is closed. The free-agent market has been mentioned numerous times in this column as a great way to boost your squad, so we'll leave that aside. Let's turn our attention to roster maintenance.

Several factors go into whom you should start on a weekly basis. And while an increased number of games may tilt the favor for one player over another, this basic formula does not always work. Favorable matchups, better skills, and improved health also come into play. Maybe insert the guy who happens to go up against three soft defensive lineups and has been riding a five-game point streak over the slightly-injured fading star that may or may not be ready for any or all of the four contests.

(I should've taken the latter piece of advice last week, as Kris Versteeg stuck me with nothing while Patric Hornqvist excelled on my bench. Fortunately, that didn't cost me a playoff berth. Stubbornly, I retained Versteeg in the starting lineup for this period's wild-card battle while Hornqvist continues to laugh at me from the scoresheet. Let's see how hard this will hurt me come Sunday night.)

And now that we've displayed the silverware, we can now direct you to our select choice of items. Please choose carefully. And don't forget to tip your server:

If you would've announced in early November that St. Louis (then sitting at six wins and seven losses) would be leading the Western Conference by the beginning of March, then many would have gladly turned you in at the nearest government-approved relaxation facility. Andy McDonald missed so much time (four months, to be exact), but is clearly making up for it (seven points in six games, including five goals). Jason Arnott (three power-play points in five) is taking advantage of his elite power-play role. Baby steps for Chris Stewart (four in 14) in his quest to reclaim his role among the league's top power forwards. As Alex Pietrangelo (six in five, including a whopping five power-play assists) emerges back into prominence, Carlo Colaiacovo (two in 10, minus-2) gets shoved out of the picture.

Maybe Montreal's woes on the ice have made locals forget about that whole head coach-isn't-a-francophone deal. No, wait, maybe that was the problem all along. Suuuuuure. Or can we blame the skaters? Let's face it: Erik Cole (three in nine) isn't the same as he used to be. Rene Bourque (six in 23 since arriving from Calgary) wasn't the player the Habs thought he was. And Lars Eller (three in 11) is not the four-goal scorer he revealed himself one night in January. Life isn't all tough in La Belle Province, since P.K. Subban (seven in 12, with five PPPs) has briefly awoken from a two-month nap. And Tomas Kaberle (six in nine, including four PPAs) is not too bad either. Although Yannick Weber (two in 10, minus-8) has slowed down considerably after a few spurts of promise.

Philadelphia has managed to hang on, even when their skaters are dropping like flies at both ends. Don't expect James van Riemsdyk (broken foot) to be available before the playoffs. After getting decked Tuesday, Jakub Voracek (probably concussion) may be slow to recover. Father Time has done laps around Jaromir Jagr (groin problems, now it's his hip), but don't tell that to his hands (44 in 56 is very impressive for someone who belongs in a retirement home). Wayne Simmonds (13 in 16, plenty of special-team minutes) remains far from being a secret. Neither is rookie Matt Read (six in 10), who is playing well above his experience. While still without Andrej Meszaros (dreaded lower-body malady) and now missing Pavel Kubina (sporting an upper-body wound), Matt Carle (four in 14) once again gets the hesitant fantasy thumbs-up due to seniority.

As is often the case with non-contenders late in the season, Columbus has upped their game after their fan base essentially lost interest. Derick Brassard (nine in nine, cemented role centering Rick Nash) has been scorching the ice of late. Veterans Vinny Prospal (seven in seven) and R.J. Umberger (five in eight) are playing as if they were much younger. Due to the multiple defections up front, Mark Letestu (only three points since February 1st) has been given the key to the second line but hasn't yet taken advantage. Jack Johnson (three in two after scoreless in the first three) fits in very well with his new surroundings, while second-year surprise Nikita Nikitin (four in seven) should receive a boost with Fedor Tyutin (crushed hand) presumably done for the season.

Colorado has fought so hard possessing so little, but in the end all their effort may go for nothing. The latest blow has fallen upon Matt Duchene (twisted ankle), who only recently returned from a different (knee) injury. That should open the door for San Jose transfer Jamie McGinn (five in five with nine PIM) to grab some better looks. While not the most consistent, David Jones (seven in eight) has a knack for potting some points. Peter Mueller (three in six) hasn't quite found his pre-concussion form (that 20 in 15 to end 2009-10). And Milan Hejduk (one in nine) isn't approaching anywhere near his usual numbers. For someone as talented as Erik Johnson, he sure isn't using his skills to his benefit (nothing in six). NOTE: The Stefan Elliott experiment (two in 11) may be close to shutting down for the year.

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Player News
Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund Scores In Loss
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
12:47 AM
News: Patrik Berglund scored his fourth goal of the year Saturday in a loss San Jose. He was plus-1 with two shots and two hits on the night.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund's offensive output has been disappointing this year with just 11 points in 32 games, although he has never been a big scorer. Regardless trade rumours surround the veteran Swede and how he responds could provide a boost to his owners.

Steve Ott
Blues' Ott Nets First Of Season
Steve Ott, C, STL
12:42 AM
News: Steve Ott scored his first goal of the season Saturday in a loss to San Jose on his only shot of the game. He added seven hits in 13:46 of ice time in the game.
Analysis: Steve Ott is a veteran role player and penalty killer at this stage in his career, so offensive contributions aren't what the Blues are expecting from him. Fantasy owners should look at him the same way.

Keith Yandle
Coyotes' Yandle Picks Up Helper In Loss
Keith Yandle, D, ARI
12:38 AM
News: Keith Yandle picked up an assist Saturday in a loss to the Kings. He took one shot, registered two PIM, and blocked two shots on the night.
Analysis: Keith Yandle's 21 points rank him 11th among defensemen as he once again shows he is among the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. He has picked up five points in his last eight games.

Jannik Hansen
Hansen (Undisclosed) Expected To Play Monday
Jannik Hansen, RW, VAN
12:36 AM
News: Coach Willie Desjardins indicated Jannik Hansen (undisclosed) should be able to play Monday against the Coyotes.
Analysis: Jannik Hansen collapsed on the bench in the second period of Sunday's game. He and spent the night in the hospital and didn't skate Sunday morning, both for precautionary reasons. However, it appears as though the reasoning behind the collapse was minor, and he should be fine moving forward.

Mike Brown
Sharks' Brown Out 6-8 Weeks With Broken Fibula
Mike Brown, RW, SJ
12:25 AM
News: Mike Brown has a broken right fibula and will miss six-to-eight weeks from the time of the fracture on Dec. 9, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Mike Brown was placed on injured reserve the day after the injury, indicating it was severe. Now that the injury has been revealed as a broken fibula, the timetable has been set at six-to-eight weeks, scheduling his return for late January or early February

Teddy Purcell
Oilers' Purcell Picks Up Three Points In Loss
Teddy Purcell, RW, EDM
12/21/2014
News: Teddy Purcell scored a goal and dished out a pair of assists in Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Teddy Purcell snapped a three game drought without a point with his highest output of the season as the 29-year-old is up to 17 points (five goals) through 34 games. He'll likely end up somewhere around the 30-point barrier but should only be considered in deeper formats.

Taylor Hall
Oilers' Hall Picks Up Three Points
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM
12/21/2014
News: Taylor Hall potted two goals and added an assist in Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Taylor Hall had been slumping with just one point in his last eight contests, but broke out with his best effort of the season. The 23-year-old is up to 10 goals and 11 assists through 28 games as his numbers have dipped from his 80 point output from a year ago.

Mark Arcobello
Oilers' Arcobello Pots Two
Mark Arcobello, C, EDM
12/21/2014
News: Mark Arcobello notched a pair of goals in Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Mark Arcobello snapped a streak of nine straight games without a point with his second multi-point game of the season. He's got seven goals and 11 points, and while the 26-year-old will likely surpass his career-high of 18 points, he doesn't have much value for fantasy purposes.

Ben Scrivens
Oilers' Scrivens Picks Up Another Loss
Ben Scrivens, G, EDM
12/21/2014
News: Ben Scrivens made 40 saves but allowed five goals in Sunday's 6-5 shootout loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Ben Scrivens now has suffered through five consecutive defeats, allowing nine goals in the last two. His defense hasn't helped the 28-year-old as he's faced 119 shots in the last three games and should probably be avoided as both he and the team struggle through the season.

Tyler Seguin
Stars' Seguin Scores Twice In Win
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
12/21/2014
News: Tyler Seguin scored two third period goals and added an assist in Sunday's 6-5 win over the Oilers.
Analysis: Tyler Seguin added to his league leading total with his 24th and 25th goals of the season. The 22-year-old also pulled into a tie for first in the NHL in points with 42 and should be counted on every night.

 
 
 
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