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Blue Line Buzz: Make the playoff push

by | Rotowire.com
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With the season winding down, the playoff races are becoming much clearer. Six of the eight Eastern Conference spots are all but secured with four teams battling for the final two spots. One of those final two spots goes to the Southeast Division champ, which will be Washington, Winnipeg or Florida. In the West, the playoff race is hazier. Five teams are within four points of the final two playoff spots. Phoenix and Colorado currently reside in those last two coveted spots with San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles clawing their way up the standings.

Both the Atlantic and the Central Divisions stand to put four teams each in the postseason.

Playoff predictions, in order of seeding:

East: Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Winnipeg, N.Y. Rangers, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Buffalo.

West: St. Louis, Vancouver, Phoenix, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, San Jose, Dallas.

Don't Tease Us

The roller coaster of Montreal's season is careening toward an end, which some of the team's faithful will be more than thankful for. To say that P.K. Subban's season has been as up and down is quite an understatement. The mercurial defender is back on the radar screen just in time for the playoffs (In your Fantasy league. As if Montreal is going to make the NHL playoffs.) and hopefully you had him in your lineup. If Subban was on your bench, you can hardly be faulted, as he had one assist over six games before March 1. Since March 1, Subban has three goals and four assists, highlighted by a three-point game Thursday night in Edmonton and another goal two nights later in Vancouver.

Given his track record this season, Subban could just as easily disappear for the remainder of the season, but perhaps he will produce more consistently the final month rather than binging on points every few games. His talent is undeniable, but that hasn't translated entirely into a productive season.

Marek Zidlicky at last has found his name on the scoresheet in a column other than penalty minutes since arriving in New Jersey. The veteran defender had not produced a point in his first five games with New Jersey, but notched two primary assists in the team's 5-1 rout of the Islanders Thursday. It's not that they were simply primary assists, but the passes showed the Czech veteran is getting much more comfortable in New Jersey. He followed up that effort with a game-winning, power-play goal in the final minutes of Saturday's rally against the Islanders and posting two assists in Sunday's win over Philadelphia, giving him points in three straight games.

On Thursday, his first assist was a perfectly laid-off puck to Ilya Kovalchuk for a one-timed blast from the left faceoff circle while the second helper showed excellent vision. Zidlicky fired a first-time slap pass to David Clarkson in front of the net for an easy redirection giving New Jersey its fifth goal. It was a mere two assists, but the Devils' top line (and power-play line) is being driven by the play of Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, so Zidlicky can only stand to benefit. The Devils have 13 games after Sunday's tilt with Philadelphia, there is still time for Zidlicky to salvage his stint in New Jersey after a forgettable start.

Seriously, He's Back

From one Montreal blue-liner to another, Andrei Markov played his first NHL game in 17 months in Saturday's victory over Vancouver, posting an assist with two shots on goal in 17:09 of ice time. Of that 17:09, 2:17 came on the power play. It's good to see a player of Markov's caliber back on the ice. For what it's worth, the assist was on the power-play.

Markov has been one of the league's most consistent performers the last five seasons when he has not been sidelined by injury, posting seasons of 46, 49, 58 and 64 points. His 2009-10 season was cut short by injury, but not before he notched 34 points in 45 games. Montreal has 13 games remaining on the season and currently residing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, so the pragmatic approach suggests shutting Markov down for the season, but that's unlikely to happen. Markov has the potential to impact fantasy playoffs for owners that were fortunate enough to stash him on their roster. The Russian veteran can be an excellent addition to squads. Keep an eye on his ice time, as it's likely to increase in the season's final weeks.

Capital Concerns

Remember the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, when a case could have been made for Mike Green being a late first-round pick? He was coming off of two point-per-game seasons on one of the league's best offensive teams, so how could he not have put up similar numbers. Owners that spent high on Green were quite frustrated that season, as were owners that expected a rebound campaign from Green this year. Green has no points in 10 games since returning from the leg injury that has sidelined him most of the season.

The drought extends back to November, adding three more scoreless games to the slump. Green has six points in 20 games on the year and four of those points came in one game (October 22 against Detroit). The Capitals are one of four teams battling for the East's final playoff spot along with a three-way battle for the Southeast Division title but have been as enigmatic as their stars Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green. To say Green has been struggling this season, is putting it lightly. Is it the coaching? (Washington fans recently held up signs that read "Scratch Hunter" in reference to coach Dale Hunter). Is it the lack of production from their stars? The goaltending? More than likely, Green's -- and the Capitals' -- struggles are a combination of several factors.

Conversely, the Caps have been seeing steady play lately from Dennis Wideman, who had assists in four straight games last week.  Wideman's 43 points on the season are still amongst the league leaders for defensemen, but, prior to his four-game streak, Wideman has just one assist over 11 games and one goal since the beginning of February.

Since Wideman has been producing all season, and likely unavailable in your league, the Caps have been getting a boost from 20-year-old Dmitry Orlov the last two weeks. The young Russian sits with 16 points on the season but had four assists over four games last week and six in the last nine contests. However, none of those assists came on the power play, but the youngster appears to be factoring more into Washington's attack of late.

Settling in

Jack Johnson appears to be finding his niche in his new digs, with the Jackets sporting a 4-2 record since the jettisoning of Jeff Carter. Johnson has four points over those six games, showing he should have some use to owners down the stretch before he joins Team USA for the IIHF World Championships. Johnson's goals this week gave him the first 10-goal season of his career.

New Dog In the Desert?

Keith Yandle has been admirably carrying the Coyotes to what appears to be another playoff berth while Oliver Ekman-Larsson is having a solid season. The Coyotes received a nice boost from 21-year old Michael Stone over the weekend, as the youngster potted his first NHL goal in Saturday's win over San Jose, also adding an assist.  He has three points over the last two games and has played eight NHL games this season with a plus-4 rating. Monitor his ice time carefully, as he did not play at all on the power play in Saturday's win, despite the two-point night.

Odds are Stone won't post huge numbers the remainder of the season, but he did have two seasons over 60 points with the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL in juniors while registering 22 points in 51 AHL games this year with San Antonio.

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Player News
Yannick Weber
Canucks' Weber Scores For Third Straight Game
Yannick Weber, D, VAN
1:07 AM
News: Yannick Weber scored for the third straight game Thursday, potting the lone Canucks' goal in a loss to the Avalanche.
Analysis: It was the second straight game Yannick Weber had scored a power-play goal, giving him three power-play tallies on the season. He's taking on an increased role with the Canucks, as indicated by his 22:09 of ice time Thursday. Playing on the top power-play unit, the 26-year-old has now recorded a power-play point in four straight games and is up to 19 points in 57 games on the season. Lining up with Dan Hamhuis on Vancouver's second defense pairing, Weber is being counted on heavily by the Canucks right now and is worth snatching up in some deeper leagues.

Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues' Shattenkirk Confirmed To Be In Saturday
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL
12:57 AM
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed after Friday's practice that Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Blue Jackets. The Blues have officially activated him from injured reserve.
Analysis: The Blues cushioned the loss of Kevin Shattenkirk a bit by acquiring Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo at the trade deadline, but they'll welcome the All-Star's return with open arms for the stretch run. Prior to going down with the injury, Shattenkirk ranked among the league scoring leaders from the blue line, producing eight goals and 40 points in 49 games. Expect Shattenkirk to see his usual 20-plus minutes of ice time in his first game since Feb. 1.

Lauri Korpikoski
Coyotes' Korpikoski (Mouth) Out Saturday
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, ARI
12:49 AM
News: Lauri Korpikoski (mouth) won't play Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Lauri Korpikoski skipped Friday's practice due to the persistence of a swollen mouth as the result of a high stick to the face Tuesday. While he remains day-to-day with the issue, Saturday won't be his return date. Tye McGinn will likely continue to dress in his place.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Gets Start Saturday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12:49 AM
News: Kari Lehtonen will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Oilers, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The Stars will begin a back-to-back set Friday, and with the team still trying to force its way back into the playoff picture, it's conceivable that Kari Lehtonen could get the nod again Saturday in Vancouver. However, no decision on that front will likely be made until Lehtonen takes on the Oilers in what should be a favorable matchup for the goaltender. Edmonton ranks in the bottom fifth of the league in both goals and shot attempts per game, and with Lehtonen reeling off wins in seven of his last eight games, he'll make for an easy activation Friday.

Mike Smith
Coyotes Turn To Smith In Net Saturday
Mike Smith, G, ARI
12:42 AM
News: Mike Smith will make his fifth consecutive start in net Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Mike Smith has been faced with a barrage of shots recently, averaging 35 saves over the span. He's won each of the last two contests, and he'll look to make it a third Saturday. However, Smith will need to be up to the task, as he will take on a Penguins offense averaging 2.72 goals per game.

Matt Fraser
Oilers' Fraser To Play Friday
Matt Fraser, LW, EDM
12:41 AM
News: Matt Fraser (concussion) will return to the lineup Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Fraser has missed the Oilers' previous four games with the concussion, which he suffered on a hit to the head from the Leafs' Nazem Kadri in a March 17 contest. Fittingly, Kadri was handed a four-game suspension for that hit, and now Fraser will rejoin the lineup after an absence of the same length. The winger is projected to skate on the Oilers' fourth line Friday alongside Luke Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer.

Mark Fayne
Oilers' Fayne Deemed Unavailable Friday
Mark Fayne, D, EDM
12:38 AM
News: Mark Fayne (shoulder) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Neither Mark Fayne nor Matt Hendricks (back) will be available Friday after leaving Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Avalanche with the injuries. The Oilers called up Brandon Davidson from AHL Oklahoma City on Thursday to cover for the absence of Fayne, who has compiled eight points and a minus-21 rating over 74 games this season.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Friday
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
12:34 AM
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks succumbed to the injury in Wednesday's win over the Avalanche, skating just 8:27 before leaving the contest. The winger provides toughness in the Oilers' bottom-six ranks with 205 hits and 76 PIM on the season, but his limited offense and his poor plus/minus rating doesn't make him an appealing fantasy target.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Out Another Game
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
12:32 AM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Though the Oilers will miss Boyd Gordon's skills in the faceoff circle, the center's absence will cause considerably fewer ripples in the fantasy realm. Gordon has tallied only 13 points in 68 games this season while primarily skating on the Oilers' fourth line.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock Starts Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
12:30 AM
News: Alex Stalock will start in net Saturday against the Flyers, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Alex Stalock hasn't made an appearance in net since March 18, but will finally return to the net Saturday. In 17 games this season, the netminder has posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.65 GAA and .903 save percentage. He'll receive the benefit of facing a weak offensive opponent Saturday in the Flyers, who average a middling 2.57 goals per game.

 
 
 
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