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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
Joe Vitale
Pens' Vitale Skates Wednesday
Joe Vitale, C, PIT
8:55 AM
News: Joe Vitale (upper body) took part in line rushes during Wednesday's morning skate, Pens Inside Scoop reports.
Analysis: Joe Vitale hasn't played since March 20, but his presence in line rushes is a pretty good indicator that he's ready to return. The center recorded just one goal and 13 assists in 53 regular season games this year, so his absence wouldn't have a huge effect if he can't go.

Jonas Gustavsson
Wings' Gustavsson Good To Go
Jonas Gustavsson, G, DET
8:45 AM
News: Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) will be available for Thursday's Game 1 against the Bruins, the Detroit News reports.
Analysis: Jimmy Howard is expected to get the start Thursday, but it's good news that Jonas Gustavsson will be there to back him up. Gustavsson finished the regular season with a 16-5-4 record, a .907 save percentage, and a 2.63 GAA in 27 appearances.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin At Morning Skate
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
8:34 AM
News: Evgeni Malkin (foot) took part in line rushes during Wednesday's morning skate, Pens Inside Scoop reports.
Analysis: Evgeni Malkin was back on the ice for Tuesday's practice as well, so all signs point toward him being in the lineup for Thursday's Game 1.

Matt Bartkowski
Bruins' Bartkowski Misses Practice
Matt Bartkowski, D, BOS
8:26 AM
News: Matt Bartkowski (unspecified reason) did not practice Wednesday.
Analysis: It's unclear what's ailing Matt Bartkowski, but we should have a better idea regarding his status for Friday's playoff opener by Thursday. Bartkowski recorded 18 assists and a plus-22 rating in 64 games for the Bruins this past season, so in playoff pools he's only an option for heavy backers of Boston.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason Misses Practice
Steve Mason, G, PHI
8:25 AM
News: Steve Mason (upper body) did not practice Wednesday, the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: Head coach Craig Berube said Tuesday that he expected to increase Steve Mason's workload at Wednesday's practice, but Mason wasn't on the ice at all. Assuming he suffered a setback in his recovery, backup Ray Emery is expected to get the call between the pipes for Thursday's Game 1.

Chris Kelly
Bruins' Kelly Remains Day-To-Day
Chris Kelly, C, BOS
8:22 AM
News: Chris Kelly (back) did not practice Wednesday.
Analysis: As Friday's playoff opener against the Red Wings approaches, Chris Kelly remains day-to-day, with Justin Florek filling in for him at practice on the Bruins' third line, which also features Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg.

Daniel Paille
Bruins' Paille Day-To-Day
Daniel Paille, LW, BOS
8:19 AM
News: Daniel Paille (unspecified injury) did not practice Wednesday.
Analysis: The Bruins are calling Daniel Paille (who was helped off the ice this past Saturday after absorbing a check) day-to-day, which clouds his status for Friday's playoff opener against the Red Wings. Meanwhile, Jordan Caron is skating on the B's fourth line in practice in place Paille.

Derick Brassard
Rangers' Brassard Practices
Derick Brassard, C, NYR
8:16 AM
News: Derick Brassard (back) practiced with the team Wednesday, Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: Derick Brassard left Tuesday's practice after hurting his back, but head coach Alain Vigneault said he expected the center to be available for Thursday's Game 1 against the Flyers. The fact that he was back on the ice Wednesday makes him look like a pretty safe bet to play at this point.

Patrice Bergeron
Bruins' Bergeron Practices
Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS
8:13 AM
News: Patrice Bergeron (lower body) skated on a line with Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith at Wednesday's practice.
Analysis: Patrice Bergeron sat out the Bruins' regular-season finale with a minor lower body injury, but his presence at practice Wednesday -- while skating with his usual linemates, is a strong indication that he'll be good to go for Friday's playoff opener against the Red Wings.

Steve Downie
Flyers' Downie Misses Practice
Steve Downie, RW, PHI
8:05 AM
News: Steve Downie (upper body) did not practice Wednesday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: There's still no update on Steve Downie's condition, but it's a little troubling that he returned from a head injury just last week. Keep an eye on the team's morning skate Thursday prior to Game 1, but it sounds like he'll probably be watching from the press box.

 
 
 
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