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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
Alex Biega
Biega Signs With Canucks
Alex Biega, D, VAN
7/1/2015
News: The Canucks re-signed Alex Biega to a one-year, two-way contract Tuesday, the Province reports. The deal is worth $600,000 at the NHL level.
Analysis: Alex Biega, who notched a goal in seven games with the big club in 2014-15, spent most of the season with AHL Utica, where he recorded 19 points in 62 games. The 27-year-old is thus slated to reprise his role as a depth blueliner for the Canucks' organization.

Drew Stafford
Jets Retain Stafford
Drew Stafford, RW, WPG
7/1/2015
News: Drew Stafford signed a two-year, $8.7 million deal to remain with the Jets on Tuesday, Sportsnet.ca's Elliotte Friedman reports.
Analysis: The 29-year-old Drew Stafford, who was acquired from Buffalo in February, finished up the 2014-15 season with 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games overall, but his production picked up with the Jets (19 points in 26 games), earning him a nice two-year payday with the team in advance of free agency. He'll likely be ticketed for a second- or third-line role this coming season.

Dougie Hamilton
Flames' Hamilton Signs Six-Year Deal
Dougie Hamilton, D, CGY
7/1/2015
News: Dougie Hamilton signed a six-year, $34.5 million deal with the Flames on Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: Dougie Hamilton came over from Boston in a trade last week, and it appears he's viewed as a key part of the Flames' future. The 22-year-old, who showed flashes of promise as a member of the Bruins, notched 42 points in an average of 21:20 of ice time per game last season.

Karl Stollery
Sharks Extend Stollery One Year
Karl Stollery, D, SJ
4:49 PM
News: Karl Stollery has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Sharks.
Analysis: Karl Stollery appeared in a total of 10 NHL games last season between the Avalanche and the Sharks, but functioned primarily as AHL depth for both squads. He's slated to fill a similar role in 2015-16.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps Hopeful Backstrom Ready For Start Of Season
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
4:41 PM
News: GM Brian MacLellan said last week that he is hopeful Nicklas Backstrom (hip) will be ready to play by the start of the coming season, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports. "He should be [ready] more than likely...he'll start the year, I'm counting on [it]," McLellan said. "I think his hip surgery went well. He'll be close to starting the year, it looks like...I know [from] talking to the trainer and the doctor that everything's gone well, they expect the rehab to go well. Optimistically, I'd say I'm hoping he's coming back for training camp."
Analysis: It's good to see that the Capitals are publicly expressing a positive outlook on Nicklas Backstrom, but the center's availability for the start of the season appears questionable nonetheless. Historically, arthroscopic hip surgeries have produced wide-ranging timetables for hockey players, with most recovery periods lasting 3-to-4 months. Moreover, it typically takes further time beyond that for players to regain their pre-surgery strength, making Backstrom something of a risky investment heading into 2015-16. The Capitals should have more concrete updates regarding Backstrom's health as training camp approaches, but the Swedish center might be best avoided for those in leagues with early draft dates.

Ryan White
Flyers Re-Sign White
Ryan White, C, PHI
4:05 PM
News: Ryan White re-signed with the Flyers on Tuesday on a one-year, $800,000 contract, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: After inking a two-way deal with the Flyers last summer, Ryan White was upgraded to a one-way contract following his respectable showing with the squad. In 34 games, White tallied six goals and six assists, while piling up the hits in a bottom-six role. He's unlikely to raise his offensive outputs in the seasons to come, but White's blend of physical play and complementary scoring should make him a lineup fixture most nights.

Mike Angelidis
Bolts Re-Sign Angelidis To Two-Way Deal
Mike Angelidis, LW, TB
3:54 PM
News: Mike Angelidis re-signed with the Lightning on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: At 30 years old, Mike Angelidis is past his expiration date as a prospect, but he's been a competent organizational depth piece for the Lightning the last several seasons. He appeared in 64 games at AHL Syracuse in 2014-15, logging 20 goals, 18 assists, and 138 PIM.

Artem Anisimov
Anisimov, Blackhawks Working On Extension
Artem Anisimov, C, CLB
3:51 PM
News: Artem Anisimov and the Blackhawks are close to agreeing to a contract extension, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: After the Blackhawks weren't able to come to terms on a new deal with restricted free agent Brandon Saad, the team shipped him to Columbus earlier Tuesday, with Artem Anisimov representing one of the five pieces the team received in return. While Anisimov won't be expected to fill the offensive void created by Saad's departure, he should provide a decent impersonation of Antoine Vermette, an unrestricted free agent who the Stanley Cup champs weren't expected to retain. Look for Anisimov to center the Blackhawks' third line this season and offer solid contributions in most phases of the game, though nothing that will likely result in him becoming a high-end fantasy commodity.

Sheldon Souray
Career Appears Over For Ducks' Souray
Sheldon Souray, D, ANA
3:45 PM
News: Sheldon Souray (wrist) wrote on his personal Twitter account that Tuesday would mark his "last day on an NHL roster."
Analysis: The 38-year-old Sheldon Souray has missed the last two seasons due to a wrist injury that appears to have compromised his ability to shoot the puck. With his three-year, $11 million contract with the Ducks expiring at midnight Wednesday, it looks like Souray will head for retirement. He'll leave the game with four 35-plus point campaigns on his resume in a 13-year NHL career that included stops in New Jersey, Montreal, Edmonton, Dallas, and Anaheim.

Kevin Bieksa
Ducks Acquire Bieksa For Draft Pick
Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN
3:37 PM
News: Kevin Bieksa was traded to the Ducks on Tuesday in exchange for a 2016 second-round draft choice.
Analysis: The Ducks weren't expected to reach terms on a new deal with Francois Beauchemin before free agency opened Wednesday, so they opted to plug the hole in their defensive ranks by acquiring Kevin Bieksa. Though Bieksa provided just four goals and 14 points in 60 games last season, he's a proven shot-blocking maven who isn't afraid to get his nose dirty on the back end. He'll provide a good counterbalance to the more offensively inclined Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm

 
 
 
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