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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
Cedric Paquette
Bolts' Paquette To Play Friday
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
5:12 PM
News: Cedric Paquette will return to Tampa Bay's lineup for Friday's Game 7 against the Rangers, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cedric Paquette missed Game 6 of the series with a hand injury, but is now healthy enough to return to the Bolts' lineup for Game 7 against the Rangers. He'll replace Vladislav Namestnikov, and will center J.T. Brown and Ryan Callahan on Tampa Bay's third line.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Will Start Friday
Ben Bishop, G, TB
4:58 PM
News: Ben Bishop will be in the crease for Friday's Game 7 against the Rangers.
Analysis: Ben Bishop will look to bounce back from a poor performance in Tuesday's Game 6 in which he allowed five goals on 26 shots before being pulled in the third period. Bishop has been inconsistent throughout the Eastern Conference Final, but was able to post a shutout performance en route to a victory in Game 5. He'll hope to return to that sort of form in Game 7 of the series.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Will Start Friday
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
4:53 PM
News: Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for Friday's Game 7 against the Lightning.
Analysis: With the exception of Games 2 and 3, in which he surrendered a total of 12 goals, Henrik Lundqvist has been solid against Tampa Bay throughout the Eastern Conference Final. If his teammates are able to carry the offensive momentum they gained after tallying five goals in Game 6 into Game 7, another solid outing from Lundqvist could be enough to propel the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.

Justin Falk
Jackets' Falk Signs One-Year, Two-Way Deal
Justin Falk, D, CLB
1:10 PM
News: Justin Falk signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Blue Jackets on Friday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 26-year-old appeared in 18 games for the Blue Jackets and Wild in 2014-15, tallying one goal, one assist and 14 penalty minutes. Justin Falk, who was acquired from Minnesota in early March, will likely split time between the NHL and AHL again next season. "Justin is a good, young defenseman who was a solid addition to our hockey club late last season and we are pleased that he will continue to be a part of our group on the blue line next season," Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said.

Cody Goloubef
Jackets' Ink Goloubef To Two-Year Extension
Cody Goloubef, D, CLB
5/28/2015
News: Cody Goloubef signed a two-year, one-way contract extension with the Blue Jackets on Thursday, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Cody Goloubef's role with the Blue Jackets in 2014 expanded largely beyond his two previous seasons. The blueliner dressed for 36 of the team's games, posting 23 shots on goal, nine points (all assists) and a plus-12 rating. Following the strong season, he'll likely enter 2015-16 on firmer footing, and could solidify a roster spot with the club in training camp.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello Practices Without Contact
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
5/28/2015
News: Mats Zuccarello (upper body) briefly joined the Rangers during the non-contact portion of Thursday's practice, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: As soon as coach Alain Vigneault blew the whistle for the start of full-contact work, Mats Zuccarello left the ice, suggesting that he's not a candidate to play during Friday's Game 7 against the Lightning. Zuccarello could receive clearance to take contact in the coming days, and should have a decent shot at reentering the lineup in the Stanley Cup Finals if the Rangers are able to advance.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom Undergoes Arthroscopic Hip Surgery
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
5/28/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom underwent arthroscopic hip surgery Wednesday afternoon, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals are optimistic that Nicklas Backstrom will make a full recovery and be back to 100 percent health by the start of the 2015-16 regular season. Backstrom didn't indicate during his exit interview following the second round of the playoffs that he had been nursing any sort of injury, but perhaps he elected to get out ahead of the hip issue before it became a recurring problem. Backstrom's recently completed season was a near mirror image of 2013-14, as he finished with the same goal total (18) and one fewer assist (60) while playing all 82 games for the second straight year.

Cam Fowler
Ducks' Fowler Continues Big Series
Cam Fowler, D, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Cam Fowler picked up an assist in his 23:37 of ice time in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Cam Fowler has delivered a four-point series for the Ducks thus far, generating a goal and three helpers. Expect him to rank among the team leaders in minutes for Saturday's series-deciding Game 7 in Anaheim.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Nabs Power-Play Goal
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Patrick Maroon potted a power-play goal in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon has been outstanding all postseason for the Ducks, but he's really ratcheted up his production in the Western Conference Finals. Through six games, he's recorded three goals on 20 shot attempts, while also posting sizable hit totals on the defensive end.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson Credited With Assist In Game 6
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Nate Thompson picked up an assist in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nate Thompson isn't typically one of Anaheim's more productive scorers, but he's been able to come away with a goal and four assists thus far in the series. Though it's been a nice run for the 30-year-old, his modest track record as a point producer suggests the Ducks shouldn't bank on him driving their offense in Saturday's Game 7.

 
 
 
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