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Neutral Zone Wrap: Dealing with stretch-run stress

by | Rotowire.com
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The trials and tribulations of a Fantasy owner during the stretch drive are many. Make sure the lineup has been set. Keep tabs on the wire. Watch out for any late changes. And for heaven's sake, try not to look at the game updates every minute.

Bet you thought March Madness was confined to college basketball.

As we enter the final few weeks, the tension mounts. You may have been leading for a while, but the pack seems to be closing quicker than a garbage compactor on the Death Star. Or you could have built a promising run of late, but it means nothing if first place doesn't come as the end result.

The key to success is preparation. And not having players go out with injuries. As you can't control the latter, it's the simple things that matter. If you think you may be unable to complete fantasy tasks by a certain time, then finish them in advance. But don't sweat the minor details, as there's a bigger goal in mind. With your roster as is, can you envision yourself winning now?

That same question could be asked of the following NHL organizations, yet a couple of them have been unable to offer any legitimate answers:

The problem in Vancouver has less to do with goaltending and more to do with being focused at one end of the ice. How can you blame either Roberto Luongo (one win in six starts, 18 goals allowed) or Cory Schneider (only six appearances in last two months) when their defense prefers to stay on offense? Nice numbers from Chris Higgins (eight points in eight games) and a surging David Booth (four in five) have helped. Alex Burrows (five in six) may not be the current Sedin caddy, but that may not matter. Mason Raymond (nothing in seven) temporarily has been given this honor, but nothing has clicked. Kevin Bieksa (six in six) is riding another scoring wave, while Marc-Andre Gragnani (zero in six since his Canuck debut) looks as useless as he did in Buffalo.

Just when you thought the outlook couldn't become worse in Toronto, another set of lackluster losses pushes the Buds further down the hole. New head coach Randy Carlyle has pretty much ridden Jonas Gustavsson (five straight starts only letting in 11 goals) since his arrival, leaving James Reimer (one victory since February 6th) wanting. Tough break to lose Joffrey Lupul (separated shoulder, probably gone for the regular season), which should open the door for the underperforming Tim Connolly (one in eight, minus-8). Nikolai Kulemin (fractured finger) has also waived goodbye, so why not let Clarke MacArthur (six in seven) recover his form? Try as he might, Tyler Bozak (three in 10, but 15 goals on the season is adequate) just wants to hit that next level. The pedigree and situation pointed to John-Michael Liles (two in 11) doing more, but it hasn't quite worked as planned.

Remember when many believed Boston were invincible? That was late January when they were tied for the conference lead. But this is the present and the Bs have endured some truly ugly outings. You don't know how much you miss Tuukka Rask until you fill his role with a rusty Marty Turco (six goals in just 81 minutes). Brad Marchand (two in nine, only four PIM) has fallen off the fantasy wagon. And don't expect Brian Rolston (one in nine) to supply some scoring. But the stats aren't all negative, as Jordan Caron (eight in six, plus-eight) is starting to fulfill his first-round selection. You can knock down Johnny Boychuk (three in four), but don't expect him to miss any time. Where in the world has Dennis Seidenberg (hasn't pointed in 10) gone?

If there's one club who could ride an individual to glory, then it would be Tampa Bay. But that isn't to say Steven Stamkos (and his sparkling 50 goals) counts as their lone producer - or like the Bolts have a solid shot of reaching the postseason. Look out for Ryan Malone (in case you haven't noticed his seven-game point streak, which includes three PPPs and 21 PIM). Brett Connolly (four in six) is slowly coming around, but wait another year for the real windfall. Don't be fooled by Nate Thompson and back-to-back goal outputs (focus on the minus-22 and general lack of playing time). More man-advantage minutes for Brett Clark, but not enough (one in eight) for a glowing recommendation. With Mathieu Garon (torn groin) sidelined and Dwayne Roloson (at a pathetic 3.82 goals-against average and .878 save percentage) finally acting his age, Dustin Tokarski (27-11 in the AHL) has been anointed as the current chosen one in net.

Calgary has surged at the right time (points in six of seven this month), but face a logjam for one of the final Western playoff spots. Thanks to a couple timely casualties (Michael Cammalleri leading the list), Matt Stajan (five in four) has made fans forget about his yearlong drought. Another beneficiary has been WHL scoring machine Sven Baertschi (179 points in 113 contests with Portland), who hasn't disappointed to date (two goals in three). The lights are off and Roman Horak (finally notched a point after 13 without one) isn't home. Many missed Mark Giordano for a sizable chunk (he blocked a shot and the puck won - for nearly two months), but he's clearly noticeable in March (six in seven). Things were progressing positively for T.J. Brodie in his first full campaign (only 14 in 54, but added special-team duties), but his latest problem (the infamous upper-body deal) will hurt his prospects of climbing the Flames' blueline ranks.

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Player News
Braden Holtby
Caps Roll With Holtby
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
5/7/2015
News: Braden Holtby is in line to start Wednesday's Game 4 against the Rangers.
Analysis: It's a virtual lock that barring an injury, Braden Holtby -- who stopped all 30 of the shots that he saw in Monday's Game 3 win over the Rangers -- will start all of the Caps' postseason contests, with the same assumption also applicable to New York's Henrik Lundqvist.

Carey Price
Canadiens' Price To Start Game 3
Carey Price, G, MON
4:07 PM
News: Carey Price will draw the start Wednesday for Game 3 against Tampa Bay.
Analysis: Carey Price struggled mightily in Game 2 against Tampa Bay, allowing six goals on 24 shots faced. He'll remain in net for Game 3 and will need a much better performance to help the Canadiens avoid an 0-3 deficit in the series.

John Persson
Isles' Persson Signs To Play In Sweden
John Persson, LW, NYI
3:55 PM
News: John Persson has signed a two-year deal to play in Sweden, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: Person did play 10 games with the Islanders but has mainly been an organizational depth player and will not be missed.

Cedric Paquette
Lightning's Pacquette (Undisclosed) Not Warming Up
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
3:41 PM
News: Pacquette (undisclosed) is not on the ice for pre-game warmups and is unlikely to play Wednesday in Game 3 against Montreal, Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: Pacquette was listed as a game-time decision as of Wednesday morning, but as warm-ups have commenced, it doesn't look like he'll be available for Game 3. Whyno reports that Jonathan Drouin could be active if Pacquette is scratched.

Marek Mazanec
Preds Re-Sign Mazanec
Marek Mazanec, G, NSH
1:40 PM
News: Marek Mazanec signed a one-year two-way contract with the Predators Wednesday.
Analysis: Marek Mazanec spent the 2014-15 season within the Predators organization, posting a 2.76 GAA and .900 save percentage in 48 games with AHL Milwaukee. With Pekka Rinne signed long-term, it's unlikely Mazanec would amount to anything more than a backup option with the parent club next season.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers Go With Lundqvist Wednesday
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
1:06 PM
News: Henrik Lundqvist is slated to get the Game 4 start against the Capitals on Wednesday, NorthJersey.com reports.
Analysis: Wednesday will be Henrik Lundqvist's 100th consecutive postseason start for the Rangers, as he'll look to even up the series. He surrendered just one goal in Monday's Game 3, but was on the losing end as Braden Holtby was perfect on the other end. He's had a strong playoffs so far and will look to continue it Wednesday.

Kris Versteeg
Hawks' Versteeg (Lower Body) Ready To Play
Kris Versteeg, RW, CHI
1:02 PM
News: Kris Versteeg is no longer suffering from a lower-body injury, but in advance of Thursday's Game 4, it's unclear whether he will rejoin the lineup or be a healthy scratch, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: Kris Versteeg continues to be a borderline healthy scratch regardless of his health, so it wouldn't be surprising if he sits out Thursday's Game 4, in any case. However, he will be available for the Blackhawks if needed.

Simon Despres
Ducks' Despres Collects Two Helpers
Simon Despres, D, ANA
12:32 PM
News: Simon Despres notched two assists in Tuesday's Game 3 loss to the Flames.
Analysis: Simon Despres continues to shine in his first playoff run with Anaheim. He now has five points -- all assists -- in his seven postseason games thus far. Despres had failed to tally any points in his meager six games of playoff experience with the Penguins. While his role on the Ducks may be limited playing behind the likes of Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm, Despres should continue to see regular ice and could become a valuable fantasy producer in the coming seasons.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Suffers First Postseason Loss
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:23 PM
News: Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 21 shots in Tuesday's Game 3 overtime loss to the Flames.
Analysis: He and the Ducks were headed for a 3-2 victory -- assisted by a controversial no-goal call -- and a 3-0 series lead until Johnny Gaudreau scored on a power play to tie the game with 20 seconds remaining. Frederik Andersen proceeded to give up the winning goal to Mikael Backlund early in overtime. However, due to his previously unbeaten record in the playoffs, the Dane probably deserves a pass for this one. Look for Andersen to return to the cage in Calgary on Friday night for Game 4.

Kris Russell
Calgary's Russell Scores First Point Of Series
Kris Russell, D, CGY
10:01 AM
News: Kris Russell recorded an assist Tuesday, helping the Flames vanquish the Ducks 4-3 in overtime of Game 3.
Analysis: Kris Russell had not found the scoresheet in this series after tallying four points in six games against Vancouver. Calgary appears to have new life, and Russell should continue to score about a point every other game.

 
 
 
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