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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
Drew Doughty
Kings' Doughty (Upper Body) Listed As Day-To-Day
Drew Doughty, D, LA
11:32 AM
News: Drew Doughty (upper body) is listed as day-to-day according to general manager Rob Blake, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Drew Doughty isn't currently participating in training camp due to an upper-body injury that he suffered while training in the offseason. Considering that the Kings' don't kick off their season until Oct. 8, Doughty's chance of playing in the opener increased with this news.

Claude Giroux
Flyers' Giroux (Lower Body) Out 2 Weeks
Claude Giroux, C, PHI
11:17 AM
News: Claude Giroux is expected to miss the next two weeks with a lower-body injury, The Record reports.
Analysis: Considering that the Flyers' opening game isn't until Oct. 9, Claude Giroux doesn't seem to be in danger of starting the season on the bench. However, he'll miss a substantial part of training camp and may suffer in terms of conditioning. With updates to come, the 26-year-old still seems to be a valuable addition at this point.

Kyle Palmieri
Ducks' Palmieri Hopes To Play In Final Exhibition
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA
10:56 AM
News: Kyle Palmieri sprained his ankle during training camp and hopes to return for the team's final preseason game, the Ducks' official site reports.
Analysis: The injury is not good news for Kyle Palmieri's fantasy value, but he should be able to do most of his recovery before the regular season starts. How and if he plays in the final preseason game will be important in determining his value for the start of the season.

Shea Theodore
Ducks' Theordore Out 4-To-6 Weeks
Shea Theodore, D, ANA
10:49 AM
News: Shea Theodore will miss 4-to-6 weeks with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain in his elbow, which he suffered in the rookie game Sunday, Duck's official site reports.
Analysis: This timetable places Shea Theodore out until at least a week into the regular season. He was Anaheim's first round pick in the 2013 draft, and expected to contribute to the Ducks after spending most of last season with the Seattle Thunderbirds

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Practices Friday
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
10:21 AM
News: Sidney Crosby (undisclosed) practiced Friday, despite an early report that stated the MVP would be held out of the beginning of training camp, ABC News reports.
Analysis: Not only did Sidney Crosby practice, but he did not wear a red non-contact jersey, and participated in most of the practice. If Crosby is still battling an injury, it appears that it is not serious enough to keep him off the ice. If he is already healthy enough to participate in training camp, expect Crosby to be near 100 percent when the regular season rolls around, though we'll place the caveat that obviously something's been bugging him to some degree - such as a shoulder injury or minor soreness from his wrist issues last season. Or it could be some combo of both, that again, is not enough to keep him off the ice.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres Pair Grigorenko With Armia
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
10:11 AM
News: Mikhail Grigorenko will open camp on a line with Joel Armia, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Though Mikhail Grigorenko and Armia represent two of Buffalo's most offensively gifted players, neither can be expected to play with the Sabres this year. Grigorenko is coming off a rough two-year stretch after playing on three separate teams and Armia is coming off a tough rookie season hampered by a wrist injury. The Sabres have more experienced players to rely on for scoring and Brendan Lemieux, the line's third player, is not expected to make the team either. However, Grigorenko and Armia should form a dynamic duo in the AHL, and if both players perform beyond expectations they will both earn call-ups at some point during the season.

Luke Adam
Sabres' Adam On The Outside Looking In
Luke Adam, C, BUF
10:05 AM
News: Luke Adam is on the bubble and fighting for a roster spot based on the depth charts published by The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Luke Adam will play on center Johan Larsson's left wing and opposite of right winger Zac Dalpe. Dalpe was signed over the summer as additional depth while Larsson is also fighting for a roster spot. Adam returned to the Sabres after signing a one-year extension, but time is running out for the former second-round pick. In 12 games with the Sabres he recorded just one goal and 16 shots. When Adam is on his game, he can be a serviceable power forward, but his consistency has been poor. Adam will need to go through waivers if he is demoted, which provides an extra wrinkle to his situation. Last year, the Sabres waived Corey Tropp, and the same fate could await Adam if he has a poor showing at camp.

Tyler Myers
Sabres' Myers Begins Camp With Gorges
Tyler Myers, D, BUF
9:57 AM
News: Tyler Myers will be paired with veteran shutdown defenseman Josh Gorges to begin the training camp, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: As expected, the mercurial Tyler Myers will be paired with the dependable Gorges to begin the season as the Sabres' top pairing. Myers has struggled over the past few seasons since winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, and often looks overwhelmed by the amount of pressure placed on him. The 6-foot-8 defenseman has plenty of talent but just hasn't been able to realize it. Hopefully, Gorges will take some pressure off his shoulders and also allow Myers to take more of an offensive role. If all goes well, Myers could be in line for the best season in his rookie year. He is, without a doubt, the Sabres' best defenseman in fantasy, though the team is expected to finish near the bottom of the standings again.

Zemgus Girgensons
Sabres' Girgensons Centers Second Line
Zemgus Girgensons, C, BUF
9:52 AM
News: One of Buffalo's best players last year, Zemgus Girgensons is penciled in as the team's second-line center, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Head coach Ted Nolan and the rest of the Sabres staff love Zemgus Girgensons. An excellent two-way player with great wheels, Girgensons was one of Buffalo's more consistent players and was the standout forward for Latvia at the Sochi Olympics. Delivering on their promise to give Girgensons a bigger role, the Sabres are experimenting with him in an offensive role, playing alongside playmaker Cody Hodgson on the left wing and former Habs captain Brian Gionta on the right wing. Girgensons is scratching the surface of his offensive ability, who scored just eight goals in 70 games last year. He's often overlooked because Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are more well-known names in fantasy, but it's possible Girgensons provides better value than both of them this season with faceoff wins and hits, if your league counts them.

Keith Ballard
Wild's Ballard Full Participant In Camp
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9:42 AM
News: Keith Ballard (hernia) was a full participant in the first practice and scrimmage of Minnesota's training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard had sports hernia surgery after the season, but looks at full strength as training camp begins. He played just 45 games last season as he struggled to stay healthy due to a groin injury and concussion.

 
 
 
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