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Blue Line Buzz: Make the playoff push

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

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
Alec Martinez
Kings' Martinez Back On Ice Friday
Alec Martinez, D, LA
3/7/2015
News: Alec Martinez (concussion) was back on the ice for a workout Friday, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Alec Martinez was limited to passing around the puck with fellow injured teammate Tanner Pearson, but it at least serves as a sign that he's made some progress in his recovery. The defenseman is probably at least several more days away from being activated from IR.

Tanner Pearson
Kings' Pearson Back On Ice
Tanner Pearson, LW, LA
3/7/2015
News: General manager Dean Lombardi indicated that Tanner Pearson (leg) returned to the ice last week, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Lombardi is in the infancy stages of his rehab process after fracturing his left fibula in mid-January. He's still experiencing some swelling with his ankle, but it shouldn't inhibit him too much in his attempt to regain conditioning. Even so, a return before the end of the regular season has been ruled out, and it doesn't like the Kings are anticipating that he'll be available at any point in the playoffs, either.

John Gibson
Ducks' Gibson To Split Goalie Duties With Andersen
John Gibson, G, ANA
3/7/2015
News: Coach Bruce Boudreau suggested after Friday's morning skate that John Gibson would split the goaltending duties with Frederik Andersen through the remainder of the season, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: The news qualifies as a positive development for John Gibson, who seemed at risk of losing out on regular action when Andersen returned from injured reserve earlier this week. However, Gibson's capable play during Andersen's absence -- highlighted by wins in six of his last seven starts -- was enough to convince the Ducks' brass to not only keep the 21-year-old with the parent club, but to also carve out a decent-sized role for him. Expect the Ducks to adopt an alternate starting pattern with their two goalies, with Gibson likely possessing strong odds to come away with the victory on any given night due to the strong complement of players around him.

Chad Johnson
Sabres' Johnson Suffers Lower-Body Injury
Chad Johnson, G, BUF
3/7/2015
News: Chad Johnson, who was previously scheduled to start Friday's game against Ottawa, is now doubtful because of a lower-body injury suffered during morning skate, John Vogl of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The Sabres are playing the first game of a back-to-back, and the team called up Andrey Makarov from AHL Rochester. Either Makarov or Anders Lindback figures to start Friday's game, with the other likely getting the start Saturday against Washington.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen To Share Load With Gibson
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
3/7/2015
News: Frederik Andersen, who has been confirmed to start Friday's game against the Penguins, is set to split the goaltending duties with John Gibson through the remainder of the season, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Coach Bruce Boudreau suggested after Friday's morning skate that the Ducks would adopt the timeshare in goal, with both netminders likely alternating starts. Should Boudreau stick with that plan, Frederik Andersen's rest-of-season value would take an obvious hit, as he's been a bountiful source of wins prior to missing time with an upper-body injury, going 30-8-5. With fewer opportunities for Andersen to build his counting statistics, fantasy owners may want to consider dangling him for a goalie option that stands to see more use over the final few weeks of the season.

Andrey Makarov
Sabres' Makarov Recalled From AHL
Andrey Makarov, G, BUF
3/7/2015
News: Andrey Makarov was recalled from AHL Rochester on Friday.
Analysis: According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, Chad Johnson suffered a lower-body injury during the morning skate prior to Friday's game against Ottawa. Johnson was previously scheduled to start the first game of a back-to-back, so it's possible Andrey Makarov could make his NHL debut this weekend, unless the Sabres decide to stick with Anders Lindback for both contests. The Russian netminder has struggled for AHL Rochester this season, posting a 14-14-3 record, 3.04 GAA and .899 save percentage.

Tyler Kennedy
Isles' Kennedy Has Rejoined The Team
Tyler Kennedy, C, NYI
3/7/2015
News: Tyler Kennedy (upper body) has joined the team on their current road trip, according to Newsday.
Analysis: Tyler Kennedy had been sent back to new your to get examined but apparently all signs point to the injury not being serious. There still is no word on whether or not he will play Saturday but a return to the team should signify that he will make his Islanders debut sooner rather than later.

Thomas Greiss
Pens' Greiss Slated To Start Friday
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
3/7/2015
News: Thomas Greiss has been confirmed as the starter in goal for Friday's game against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: The Penguins will kick off a back-to-back set with the little-used Thomas Greiss, leaving regular netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to man the net for Saturday's tilt with the Kings. Despite pedestrian ratios (2.82 GAA, .906 save percentage), Greiss has been the beneficiary of some strong offensive support in his starts, staking him to a 7-3-3 record on the campaign. For that reason, he normally makes for a decent streaming option on most occasions he's slated to enter the crease, but it's probably best to avoid using him against Anaheim, which leads the NHL with 91 points.

Kyle Okposo
Isles' Okposo Joins Team
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
3/7/2015
News: Kyle Okposo (eye) has joined the team on their current road trip, according to Newsday.
Analysis: Kyle Okposo started skating on his own Monday but is now ready to participate in team practices. He is still likely to miss the game Saturday versus the Panthers but perhaps he could return mid to late next week.

Christian Ehrhoff
Pens' Ehrhoff Set To Sit Out Friday
Christian Ehrhoff, D, PIT
3/7/2015
News: Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) didn't take part in the Pens' morning skate Friday, Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: It appears safe to rule Christian Ehrhoff out for Friday's game against the Ducks, and he's not out of the woods yet for a longer absence after suffering a setback with his recovery from a concussion. Consider him unlikely to play in Saturday's game against the Kings, too.

 
 
 
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