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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
Tuukka Rask
Bruins' Rask Expected To Start Sunday
Tuukka Rask, G, BOS
10:16 AM
News: Tuukka Rask was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate, making him the likely netminder Sunday against the Sabres, Mike Loftus of the Patriot Ledger reports.
Analysis: Tuukka Rask will receive his second consecutive start in net, with a day off before the Bruins' next game Tuesday. He stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced against the Jets on Friday, and will have a good matchup in the Sabres on Sunday.

Roberto Luongo
Panthers Luongo Takes Defeat Saturday
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
10:05 AM
News: Roberto Luongo stopped 31 of 34 shot attempts Saturday against the Penguins, but ended up taking his seventh loss of the season in the 3-1 defeat.
Analysis: Roberto Luongo had trouble on a few occasions in getting his glove up in time to make stops, but by and large, he turned in a credible outing in defeat. The Panthers offense could only find the net one time, despite firing off 45 shots and hitting the post on multiple occasions. It ended up spelling an end to Luongo's three-game winning streak.

Rob Zepp
Flyers' Zepp To Debut In Net Sunday
Rob Zepp, G, PHI
9:53 AM
News: Rob Zepp will make his NHL debut in net Sunday against the Jets.
Analysis: Rob Zepp was recalled Friday as part of an emergency situation due to an upper body injury suffered by Steve Mason. He is no spring chicken, making his debut at the age of 32. Zepp has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.70 GAA in 17 games with AHL Lehigh Valley this season.

Anton Khudobin
Canes Start Khudobin
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
9:47 AM
News: Anton Khudobin will start against the Rangers on Sunday, Chantel McCabe of the Hurricanes' official site reports.
Analysis: Anton Khudobin had a poor go around in his last start, allowing five goals on 23 shots against the Flyers. He won't see any relief Sunday, as he will face a Rangers' offense that is one of the most potent in the league.

Nikolay Kulemin
Isles' Kulemin Breaks Skid
Nikolay Kulemin, LW, NYI
9:43 AM
News: Nikolay Kulemin recorded an empty-net goal in Saturday's triumph over the Lightning.
Analysis: After recently seeing some run on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, Nikolay Kulemin has since returned to the second trio after failing to provide much production during that time. Saturday's goal marked the first point Kulemin has recorded in December, breaking an eight-game scoreless skid. The empty-netter should do little to inspire hope that a breakout might be imminent for the winger.

Ondrej Pavelec
Jets To Start Pavelec
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
9:36 AM
News: Ondrej Pavelec will start in net against the Flyers on Sunday, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec is in a rotation with Michael Hutchison in net, and Sunday is his turn to start in net. He is coming off a good performance against the Sabres in which he stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, and carries a 2.27 GAA and .916 save percentage into the matchup.

Joffrey Lupul
Leafs' Lupul Claims Two Points In Defeat
Joffrey Lupul, RW, TOR
9:26 AM
News: Joffrey Lupul registered a goal and assist in Saturday's 7-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Joffrey Lupul was the beneficiary of coach Randy Carlyle's decision to reshuffle his top-six forwards, as the winger replaced James van Riemsdyk on the Tyler Bozak/Phil Kessel line. The move proved fruitful right away, as Lupul notched his eighth goal of the season in the first five minutes of the first period on a secondary assist by Kessel. Lupul's stock had already been on the rise during a month of December in which he's recorded nine points in 10 games, and the prospect of him sticking with Bozak and Kessel only makes him more intriguing.

Brent Burns
Sharks' Burns Nets Overtime Winner Saturday
Brent Burns, D, SJ
9:22 AM
News: Brent Burns scored the overtime-winning goal Saturday against the Blues.
Analysis: Brent Burns continues to roll, recording three goals and seven points in his last eight games. With 26 points (10 goals) in 34 games, the 29-year-old has been one of the best fantasy defenseman this season. You know what to do.

Peter Holland
Three-Game Point Streak For Leafs' Holland
Peter Holland, C, TOR
9:21 AM
News: Peter Holland tallied a goal in Saturday's 7-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: The center has recorded a point in each of his last three games and was able to finish with a plus-2 in Saturday's contest, a surprising development given the final score. He probably remains an option only in deeper leagues at this time, however, as his presence on the third line offers him fewer scoring chances than desired.

Phil Kessel
Leafs' Kessel Assists Twice In Loss
Phil Kessel, RW, TOR
9:18 AM
News: Phil Kessel gathered two assists in Saturday's 7-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Because of the Leafs' horrid effort on the defensive end, Phil Kessel was saddled with a minus-2 rating for the night, marking the third negative rating he's taken in his last four games. Even so, fantasy owners likely drafted Kessel for his scoring ability, and he continues to do that about as well as could have been expected. He's notched 17 goals and 19 assists across his 33 games on the campaign.

 
 
 
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