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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
Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny (Upper Body) Out Saturday
Paul Stastny, C, STL
12:50 AM
News: Paul Stastny (upper body) will miss Saturday's game, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: Paul Stastny suffered the injury Oct. 18 against the Coyotes and hasn't returned to action since. He appeared to be on track for Thursday's contest, but was ruled out in a game-time decision and now will miss Saturday as well.

James Neal
Preds' Neal Pots Two More Friday
James Neal, LW, NSH
10/31/2014
News: James Neal scored a pair of goals in Friday's 4-3 loss to the Flames.
Analysis: The former Penguin and Star also fired seven shots on goal, tying his season high. Although he's yet to record an assist through 10 games, James Neal has found the back of the net seven times so far, dispelling the notion that he'd suffer a significant decline in production without the help of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The 27-year-old still has a lethal release and one of the best shots in the league on what's looking like a much-improved Predators offense, so go ahead and roll him out there each time he takes the ice.

Ryan Callahan
Bolts' Callahan Set To Play Saturday
Ryan Callahan, RW, TB
10/31/2014
News: Ryan Callahan (lower body) declared himself ready to return to the lineup Saturday against the Capitals, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: The Bolts already reassigned Cedric Paquette back to AHL Syracuse on Friday, clearing the way for Ryan Callahan's activation from IR prior to Saturday's game. The 29-year-old practiced fully Friday, and so long as nothing bothers him at Saturday's morning skate, he'll reenter the lineup for the first time in five games. Look for him to claim a spot on the Bolts' second line, joining Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

Kyle Quincey
Wings' Quincey Diagnosed With Ankle Injury
Kyle Quincey, D, DET
10/31/2014
News: Kyle Quincey has been diagnosed with an ankle injury, Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News reports.
Analysis: GM Ken Holland said the Red Wings were uncertain whether Kyle Quincey's injury was a short-term or long-term concern. A more thorough evaluation by the team's medical staff over the next 24 hours should offer a clearer prognosis for Quincey, who has one point in 10 games this season.

Paul Martin
Martin Makes It Through Uneventful Thursday
Paul Martin, D, PIT
10/31/2014
News: Paul Martin was held pointless with a plus-1 rating in just over 17 minutes (17:17) of action Thursday against Los Angeles.
Analysis: He made it through the contest without missing a shift. The Pittsburgh defenseman, who missed Wednesday's practice due to a stiff back, saw 3:06 TOI penalty killing but just 20 seconds on the power play.

Michael Ferland
Flames' Ferland Leaves With Injury In Debut
Michael Ferland, LW, CGY
10/31/2014
News: Michael Ferland was removed from Friday's game against the Predators with an upper-body injury and will not return.
Analysis: The Flames recalled Michael Ferland on Thursday specifically to address the rash of injuries that hit the team in recent days, but he was only able to provide some relief for less than two periods Friday. The Flames should have more information on the extent of his injury after the game. Ferland was held without a point and attempted one shot in his 15 shifts.

Tyson Strachan
Strachan Likely To Dress For Sabres Again
Tyson Strachan, D, BUF
10/31/2014
News: Tyson Strachan "will likely play again" on Saturday, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: It will be Tyson Strachan's third game for the Sabres, who has one assist on the season. The 30-year-old journeyman is nothing more than a depth player for the Sabres after signing a one-year contract with them this summer. Head coach Ted Nolan continues to go for experience over youth and talent by playing Strachan over Nikita Zadorov.

Brian Flynn
Sabres To Dress Flynn On Saturday
Brian Flynn, RW, BUF
10/31/2014
News: Brian Flynn will play Saturday against Pittsburgh, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: A space opened up after Sam Reinhart was returned to the WHL, and Brian Flynn will step into his spot. Flynn is a versatile forward who can play center or the right wing, but is considered just a depth forward for the Sabres. It'll be just his third game of the season after playing 79 games last year. He has zero fantasy value though he should be a regular for the Sabres from here on out.

Nikita Zadorov
Sabres' Zadorov Still In Limbo
Nikita Zadorov, D, BUF
10/31/2014
News: Nikita Zadorov's future is still being determined with no timeline, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: General manager Tim Murray said he still hasn't come to a decision regarding the 19-year-old Russian defenseman. Nikita Zadorov made his only appearance of the season against the Kings and played a little over six minutes as the team's seventh defenseman. Murray said the decision could be Saturday or could be three weeks, even though the OHL's London Knights are calling "every day." Zadorov doesn't have a release from his KHL team and the Sabres don't want him to develop in a league so far away with so little control.

Jared Spurgeon
Wild's Spurgeon Moved To IR With Shoulder Issue
Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN
10/31/2014
News: Jared Spurgeon was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury Friday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Jared Spurgeon injured the shoulder when he was checked into the boards by the Sharks' Joe Pavelski on Thursday. Though Spurgeon has not been diagnosed with a separated shoulder, the Wild haven't put a firm timetable for his return beyond coach Mike Yeo saying that the defenseman would miss "more than couple games." The timing of the injury couldn't be more frustrating, as the 24-year-old Spurgeon looked to be on the cusp of a breakout season prior to being sidelined. In addition to providing his usually reliable play on the back end, Spurgeon had been an offensive force with six points and a plus-7 rating in nine games.

 
 
 
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