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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
Mark Pysyk
Sabres Coach: Pysyk Out
Mark Pysyk, D, BUF
7:09 PM
News: Sabres coach Ted Nolan said after Tuesday's exhibition that Mark Pysyk (upper body) would be out "for a little while," Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: It's difficult to ascertain an approximate return date from Nolan's quote, but his words seem to suggest Mark Pysyk is dealing with something more than the run-of-the-mill day-to-day concern. His hopes of cracking the Sabres' 23-man roster might have quite possibly come to an end following the injury setback.

Jordan Staal
Canes' Staal Seen With Crutches After Exhibition
Jordan Staal, C, CAR
7:07 PM
News: Jordan Staal (leg) was spotted using crutches while moving around in the locker room after Tuesday's preseason contest, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: Jordan Staal also underwent X-rays after the game, the results of which likely won't be available until Wednesday. While it's possible the Hurricanes just had Staal use the crutches so as not to aggravate his leg injury any further, the scene certainly warrants some concern. There should be more clarity regarding a possible return timetable by the end of the week, but things certainly don't look promising for Staal.

Michael McCarron
Habs' McCarron Suffers Left Arm Injury Tuesday
Michael McCarron, RW, MON
6:38 PM
News: Michael McCarron exited Tuesday's exhibition game with an apparent left arm injury, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Michael McCarron looked like he suffered the injury when he took a hit after the whistle and collided with the post. He was able to exit the ice with the help of some teammates, but the severity of his injury likely won't be known until the next several days. The Canadiens' 2013 first-round draft pick, McCarron isn't likely to contribute for the parent club this season, but was enjoying a productive game prior to his exit.

Zach Boychuk
Canes' Boychuk Enjoying Scoring Role In Preseason
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR
6:26 PM
News: Zach Boychuk will skate on the top line with Jordan Staal and Jiri Tlusty during Tuesday's preseason game against the Sabres, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: At first glance, Zach Boychuk seems an unlikely candidate for a full time role with the Canes at this stage in his career, given that he has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL over the past six seasons. That said, he did score 74 points in 69 games last season with the Charlotte Checkers, so it looks like the Canes are giving him a long look in a scoring role during training camp and preseason. However, even if he does crack the roster, it's more likely to be as a member of the third or fourth line.

Drew Doughty
Kings' Doughty Gets In Full Practice
Drew Doughty, D, LA
5:57 PM
News: Drew Doughty (upper body) took part in a full practice Tuesday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Drew Doughty missed the first three days of training camp after sustaining the injury during offseason workouts, but was never a serious threat to miss the Kings' Oct. 8 season opener. The Kings still plan to sit the veteran blueliner during the first handful of exhibition games as a precaution, but he should get some action under his belt before the start of the season.

Andrew Bodnarchuk
Kings' Bodnarchuk (Knee) Out For Training Camp
Andrew Bodnarchuk, D, LA
2:57 PM
News: Andrew Bodnarchuk (knee) will miss the rest of training camp, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: Andrew Bodnarchuk suffered a knee injury at the end of Sunday's practice and will miss the rest of training camp. His absence could creep into the regular season, though it's still too early to speculate on that front. A veteran of the AHL, the 26-year-old Bodnarchuk has only appeared in five career NHL games.

David Warsofsky
Bruins' Warsofsky Sees Added Opportunities
David Warsofsky, D, BOS
10:03 AM
News: With restricted free agent Torey Krug still unsigned, David Warsofsky has seen added opportunities at training camp, csnne.com reports.
Analysis: Similar to Krug, David Warsofsky is a smallish blueliner who relies heavily on his mobility, though once Krug is back in the fold, Warsofsky figures to slot in as a depth blueliner with the B's. That said, when Warsofsky does see ice time with the big club, he has some upside on offense in the event that he draws any power play duty.

Daniel Paille
Bruins' Paille Could Move Up
Daniel Paille, LW, BOS
9:50 AM
News: Heading into the coming season, Daniel Paille's role with the Bruins has yet to be defined, the Boston Globe reports.
Analysis: While it's possible that Daniel Paille could remain on the Bruins' fourth line -- centered by Gregory Campbell -- the configuration of the team's third line hasn't been determined yet, with the speedy Paille a candidate to move up to that trio. In such a scenario, Paille -- who had 18 points in 72 games last season -- would be in a position to see increased production, and thus potentially merit attention in deeper formats.

Gregory Campbell
Bruins' Campbell (Core) Yet To Skate
Gregory Campbell, C, BOS
9:41 AM
News: Gregory Campbell (core) has yet to skate during main camp.
Analysis: Gregory Campbell has been limited since the beginning of camp and is still hampered by the injury as the preseason begins. His condition is improving on a daily basis, but the Bruins have not provided much in the way of an estimated return date. The hope is that Campbell can get back on the ice within the next two weeks before the start of the regular season.

Brad Marchand
Bruins' Marchand Feeling Fit
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
9:31 AM
News: Brad Marchand, who focused on his conditioning during the offseason, has looked sharp early on in training camp, the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: Brad Marchand notes, "I just feel like I'm quicker and I can go to areas a little faster...I feel like I can control the puck a little easier than I could last year. I'm not getting knocked off (the puck). Those were a couple of big issues I had." For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli has been impressed by what he's seen from the feisty winger thus far, indicating that Marchand has "been real good. For a guy that scored 20-plus goals last year and we're telling him it's a bad year — I think [if] he keeps that up, he's going to have a good year." While playing all 82 games last season, Marchand recorded 25 goals and 53 points for the Bruins, numbers he could easily top this season, health permitting, while presumably skating on a line with center Patrice Bergeron and restricted free agent Reilly Smith (once he rejoins the team).

 
 
 
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