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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
Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichushkin Close To A Return
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
11:28 AM
News: Coach Lindy Ruff said Valeri Nichushkin (groin) is close to returning from injured reserve, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports.
Analysis: The Stars indicated a few days ago that Valeri Nichushkin wouldn't be able to return at any point this week, so while the young winger appears to progressing well, don't expect him to suit up for either of the team's back-to-back tilts with the Ducks or Wild over the weekend. However, if he rejoins full practice and short order and no longer appears hampered by the groin injury that has bothered him since training camp, Nichushkin's activation could come in advance of Tuesday's game against the Kings.

Patrick Dwyer
Carolina's Dwyer On Track For Weekend Return
Patrick Dwyer, RW, CAR
11:25 AM
News: Coach Bill Peters said Patrick Dwyer (lower body) is expected to return over the weekend.
Analysis: Patrick Dwyer was cleared for contact earlier this week and should get in enough practice time before the weekend to be a lineup option for the Hurricanes. The winger appeared in just two games before suffering the injury Oct. 11.

Nathan Gerbe
Carolina's Gerbe Expected Back Over Weekend
Nathan Gerbe, LW, CAR
11:23 AM
News: Nathan Gerbe (lower body) is expected to return to the lineup for one or both of the Hurricanes' games over the weekend.
Analysis: Nathan Gerbe began taking contact a couple of days ago and looks on track to get in enough practice time to be an option as early as Saturday against the Coyotes. Gerbe hasn't played since Oct. 16 due to the lower-body injury, but since the Hurricanes never placed him on injured reserve, the team won't need to send a player to the minors to create room for his return.

Roberto Luongo
Panthers To Start Luongo On Thursday
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
11:17 AM
News: Roberto Luongo will be between the pipes Thursday versus the Coyotes, reports.
Analysis: With four full days since the Panthers' last game, a well-rested Roberto Luongo will be searching for redemption in a rematch with the Coyotes, who handed him an overtime loss last Saturday. Luongo is 2-2-2 over six outings this season, posting a 2.57 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Chad Johnson
Isles Go With Johnson On Thursday
Chad Johnson, G, NYI
11:06 AM
News: Chad Johnson will be in the crease Thursday against the Avalanche.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak's ongoing struggles (3.51 GAA, .889 save percentage over six starts) will pave the way for Chad Johnson to man the net for the third time in four games. Johnson's rate stats are only marginally better than Halak's, so he'll probably need a couple of dominant outings before having a crack at receiving a sustained run of starts.

Keith Ballard
Wild's Ballard Still Feeling Ill
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
10:56 AM
News: Keith Ballard (illness) hasn't shown much improvement with his condition, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard visited doctors for more blood work Wednesday with the hope of getting a better handle on how to treat the illness. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and has no clear timetable for a return.

Jonas Brodin
Wild's Brodin Hopes To Return Saturday
Jonas Brodin, D, MIN
10:53 AM
News: Coach Mike Yeo said he's hopeful that Jonas Brodin (hand) can return to the lineup Saturday against the Stars, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Though Jonas Brodin was ruled out for the second straight game Thursday, the defenseman was able to skate for about 40 minutes and get in some stick-handling work prior to the team's morning skate. Brodin appears to be bothered by a hand injury that he sustained in Monday's loss to the Rangers, but the Wild seem to be viewing the ailment as a day-to-day concern.

Joakim Lindstrom
Blues' Lindstrom Likely Out Thursday
Joakim Lindstrom, LW, STL
10:48 AM
News: Joakim Lindstrom is dealing with a bacterial illness and isn't expected to play Thursday against the Ducks, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: The latest victim of the bacterial illness that has impacted a number of Blues skaters this season, Joakim Lindstrom wasn't able to take part in the morning skate and looks set to miss his first game of the season. With David Backes and T.J. Oshie also ruled out indefinitely with concussions earlier in the day and thus unable to play, the Blues will likely recall a forward or two from AHL Chicago prior to Thursday's game.

Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny Remains Out Thursday
Paul Stastny, C, STL
10:41 AM
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock said that Paul Stastny (upper body) would not play Thursday against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Paul Stastny looked poised to make his return from injured reserve after taking part in the team's morning skate, but it appears he was just a placeholder for T.J. Oshie, who was diagnosed with a concussion and unable to take the ice. On a more encouraging note, Stastny does seem to be very close to a return based on his on-ice participation the last several days, but an activation won't come until prior to Saturday's game with Colorado, at the earliest.

Antti Niemi
Sharks Go With Niemi On Thursday
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
10:35 AM
News: Antti Niemi will be in the net Thursday against the Wild, Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com reports.
Analysis: After impressive back-to-back showings in wins over the Ducks and Avalanche, Antti Niemi has begun to create some separation from Alex Stalock in the goalie timeshare. He'll make his third consecutive start Thursday and could further entrench himself as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie if he's able to outplay the Wild's Darcy Kuemper, who has been one of the league's best netminders over the season's first month.

 
 
 
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