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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
Mikael Samuelsson
Ex-Red Wing Samuelsson Signs With Swedish Team
Mikael Samuelsson, RW, DET
8:11 AM
News: Mikael Samuelsson signed with Stockholm's Djurgarden of the Swedish Hockey League on Thursday, Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: Now 37 years old, Mikael Samuelsson seems content to conclude his career in his native country. The winger was limited to 26 games with the Red Wings last season due to injury, finishing with just three points.

Nick Spaling
Penguins Avoid Arbitration With Spaling
Nick Spaling, C, PIT
7:41 AM
News: Nick Spaling and the Penguins came to terms on a two-year, $4.4 million contract Thursday, avoiding arbitration, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: The restricted free agent was a secondary piece acquired by the Penguins in the June 27 trade that sent James Neal to the Predators. Nick Spaling, who produced 13 goals and 19 assists in 71 games last season, could see his scoring numbers take a step back in 2014-15, as the Penguins' current crop of wingers will likely pushing him into a bottom-six role.

Robin Lehner
Sens Re-Sign Lehner To Three-Year Deal
Robin Lehner, G, OTT
7:37 AM
News: Robin Lehner agreed to terms on a three-year, $6.675 million contract with the Senators on Thursday, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Injuries and ineffective play by No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson opened the door for Robin Lehner to make 36 appearances last season, but the young goalie didn't seem prepared for the opportunity, yielding a 3.06 GAA and .913 save percentage. Anderson's similarly meager numbers open the door for Lehner to stake a claim to the starting goalie job, with the Senators likely content to ride the hot goalie most nights. Even so, it likely won't be until the 2015-16 season that Lehner will enjoy long-term job security, as Anderson's contract isn't set to expire until next summer.

Carey Price
Montreal's Price To Begin Skating In August
Carey Price, G, MON
7/30/2014
News: Carey Price (knee) won't begin skating until mid-August, the Tri-City Herald reports.
Analysis: Carey Price injured his knee in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals and was knocked out of the playoffs, but he did not need surgery. The knee has healed enough for him to play in a charity golf event, but we won't know if the knee is in hockey shape until August.

Andy Greene
Devils, Greene Agree On Long-Term Deal
Andy Greene, D, NJ
7/30/2014
News: Andy Greene and the Devils reached an agreement on a long-term contract Wednesday, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: The team hasn't specified the exact length of the contract, but it sounds like the 32-year-old Andy Greene could be locked in with the Devils for the rest of his career. He's entrenched himself as the team's top defenseman over the past two seasons, leading the unit in ice time while registering eight goals and 24 assists in 2013-14.

Dwight King
King Re-Signs with Kings
Dwight King, LW, LA
7/30/2014
News: Dwight King signed a three-year, $5.85 million deal to remain with the Kings on Wednesday, LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: The two sides completed the deal just in time to avoid a salary arbitration hearing that was set for Friday. Coming off of his best NHL season in which he played 77 games, Dwight King was productive cog in the machine for the Stanley Cup champs. He netted 15 goals along with 30 points, and had an overall rating of plus-16 when he was on the ice.

Matt Halischuk
Halischuk Signs With Jets
Matt Halischuk, RW, WPG
7/30/2014
News: Matt Halischuk has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets worth $725,000, the Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Matt Halischuk thus returns to the Jets, on the heels of his first season with the team, in which the winger recorded a modest total of 10 points (including five goals) in 46 contests.

Nail Yakupov
Oilers' Yakupov Back To Full Strength
Nail Yakupov, RW, EDM
7/29/2014
News: Nail Yakupov (foot) is skating and fully healthy, the Oilers' official site reports.
Analysis: Nail Yakupov was injured back in February when he took a slap shot from teammate Justin Schultz off his foot. If the season started now, he'd be ready to go -- now it's just a matter of him bouncing back from last year's brutal campaign.

Jake Gardiner
Leafs, Gardiner Ink Five-Year Pact
Jake Gardiner, D, TOR
7/29/2014
News: Jake Gardiner signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Jake Gardiner, 24, asserted himself as a long-term building block for the Leafs on defense last season with his second 30-point campaign, contributing 10 goals, 21 assists, 108 hits and 87 blocks over 80 games. With Carl Gunnarsson shipped to St. Louis in the offseason, Gardiner appears poised to claim a spot next to Dion Phaneuf on the team's top defensive pairing, though fellow ascendant youngster Morgan Rielly will provide some heat.

Chad LaRose
LaRose Signs AHL Contract With Hurricanes
Chad LaRose, RW, CAR
7/29/2014
News: Chad LaRose agreed to a contract with AHL Charlotte on Tuesday, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The 32-year-old will try to parlay the AHL contract into a comeback with the Hurricanes at the NHL level, after he sat out the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign. Chad LaRose appeared in 35 games for the Hurricanes two seasons ago, logging four points and a minus-8 rating.

 
 
 
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