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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
Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom, Blackhawks Agree On One-Year Deal
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
Penguins Sign Sestito To PTO
Tom Sestito, LW, VAN
9/2/2015
News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Healthy Heading Into Camp
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Evgeni Malkin is healthy heading into training camp, NHL.com reports. "[Malkin] was injured before the playoffs last year; he's in skating already," Johnston said.
Analysis: The Penguins are expected to tinker with their top-six ranks in training camp after adding Phil Kessel to the mix in the offseason, but it's expected that Kessel will play on the top line with Sidney Crosby, while Evgeni Malkin centers a line of Patric Hornqvist and a yet-to-be-determined left winger. Regardless of which player among David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and rookie Sergei Plotnikov ultimately settles next to Malkin, staying healthy is more essential to the star center's fantasy production than anything else. Malkin has missed 103 regular-season contests over the last six years.

Peter Budaj
Kings Ink Budaj To Tryout Offer
Peter Budaj, G, MON
9/2/2015
News: Peter Budaj has signed with the Kings on a professional tryout contract, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Peter Budaj struggled while seeing limited ice time with AHL St. John's in the Winnipeg organization last season, going 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage. The 33-year-old clearly seems to be on the downswing of his career, but as a veteran with 296 NHL appearances on his ledger, he could provide insurance in goal for the Kings at the minor-league level.

Markus Soberg
Jackets' Soberg Out 4-6 Weeks
Markus Soberg, RW, CLB
9/2/2015
News: Markus Soberg (groin) will miss the next four-to-six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Markus Soberg was hampered by an abdominal injury throughout much of last season, ending up with 13 goals and 17 assists in 61 games for OHL Windsor. It's unclear whether he would've been able to make the jump to Columbus this season even if healthy, but the surgery will certainly delay his progress to North American hockey.

Marcel Goc
Ex-Blues Center Goc Returns To Germany
Marcel Goc, C, STL
9/2/2015
News: Marcel Goc signed a one-year contract Tuesday with Adler Mannheim of the German Ice Hockey League.
Analysis: Marcel Goc will return to his native country after failing to attract NHL interest following a nine-point campaign while skating as a fourth-line player in 74 games for the Penguins and Blues. At 32 years old, Goc's career in North America could very well be over.

Maxim Lapierre
Ex-NHLer Lapierre Signs With Swedish Club
Maxim Lapierre, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Maxim Lapierre signed a one-year contract Tuesday with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: After skating in 80 games with the Blues and Penguins last season while scoring two goals and nine assists, Maxim Lapierre was unable to generate much interest from other teams as a fourth-line option in free agency. Rather than having to enter an NHL training camp on a professional tryout offer, Lapierre determined it was in his best interest to take the guaranteed money overseas in attempt to rebuild value. The 30-year-old's deal with MODO contains an option for a second season, allowing him to return to North America next summer if he so chooses.

Bryce Salvador
Ex-Devil Salvador Announces Retirement
Bryce Salvador, D, NJ
9/2/2015
News: Bryce Salvador (back) announced his retirement Wednesday in an article on The Players' Tribune.
Analysis: Bryce Salvador skated 14 seasons in the NHL, recording 24 goals and 86 assists over 786 games. The 39-year-old spent his final eight years in the league with New Jersey, captaining the team for the last three seasons. Injuries dogged him later in his career, but his leadership and sound positional play from the blue line were attributes that outweighed his lack of offensive contributions. He'll remain in the New Jersey organization as an ambassador for the sport.

Patrick Kane
Image Conscious Hawks Fielding Trade Calls On Kane
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
9/1/2015
News: The Hawks have apparently fielded speculative trade calls about Patrick Kane from more than five different teams, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. There is no indication the Hawks would trade him, but the team is extremely image conscious and there are suggestions they feel "disrespected" by Kane's alleged actions this summer.
Analysis: No charges have been laid in the investigation into an alleged rape of a woman at Patrick Kane's home. The team has largely remained quiet on the issue, but it was already displeased that he used the Hawks' Stanley Cup rally to proclaim he intended to act like a fool again while celebrating the Cup win. Optics matter to the Hawks and the team may be forced to do something to maintain its image. Others have been quick to distance themselves from Kane. He has been quietly removed from the cover of EA Sports NHL '16 video game and his former OHL squad (London Knights) dropped the moniker "Team Kane" from its annual training camp agenda. Camp is only a few weeks away and things could change dramatically for Kane and the Hawks before then.

Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichushkin Says Injury Is Behind Him
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
9/1/2015
News: Valeri Nichushkin missed most of last year after an early-season hip injury, but is expected to be healthy for the start of the season. In an update at the Stars' site he said, "Everything feels so good now. I don't feel pain anymore."
Analysis: The promising young winger played only four games before getting injured, then played just four of the team's final five games after coming back. If healthy, he is expected to get top six minutes this season playing wing for either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza, which should make the big winger a potential fantasy sleeper.

 
 
 
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