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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
Tyler Johnson
Bolts' Johnson Takes Postseason Scoring Lead
Tyler Johnson, C, TB
5/26/2015
News: Tyler Johnson dished out two assists in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers, giving him 20 points in the playoffs.
Analysis: That's good for tops in the league, one point ahead of his linemate Nikita Kucherov and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf (who's played five fewer games). Tyler Johnson's dozen goals easily lead the playoffs, so it's nice to see him balance out his stat line with a couple helpers, although they both came in garbage time.

Nikita Kucherov
Bolts' Kucherov Scores Twice In Game 6 Loss
Nikita Kucherov, RW, TB
5/26/2015
News: Nikita Kucherov potted a pair of garbage-time goals in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: His eighth and ninth goals of the playoffs came with the Lightning trailing 5-1 and then 6-2, so they were mainly good for padding his playoff stat line. It's a fine line indeed, as he's sitting on an outstanding 19 points in 19 contests -- good for a tie with Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf for second in postseason scoring behind Nikita Kucherov's linemate Tyler Johnson.

Ryan Callahan
Bolts' Callahan Finally Tallies Against Rangers
Ryan Callahan, RW, TB
5/26/2015
News: Ryan Callahan potted his first playoff goal -- and first point since April 29 -- on a power play in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers. He finished minus-2 with five shots.
Analysis: Ryan Callahan got left all alone by the Rangers' defensemen as he floated by the blue line, got fed a long lead pass, and broke in on Henrik Lundqvist with a quick deke to beat him for a stick-side goal. His last point came in Game 7 against Detroit, and Cally had only tallied three helpers over his first 17 playoff games. The appendix surgery that kept him out of the series-clinching Game 6 against Montreal only excuses part of that. Nonetheless, he looks like he's back to full health already, and you can be sure that he'll put forth a strong effort in Game 7 back at his old haunt, Madison Square Garden.

James Sheppard
Rangers' Sheppard Scores First Playoff Goal
James Sheppard, LW, NYR
5/26/2015
News: James Sheppard scored his first goal of the playoffs in Tuesday's Game 6 against the Lightning, tallying the eventual game-winning tally in the third period.
Analysis: James Sheppard played a game-low (among Rangers) 8:35 in fourth-line duty, but scored a hard-working goal to put the Rangers up 4-1. It was the second tally of what ended up being a five-goal period for the Rangers, with Tampa chipping in a pair of goals to turn Sheppard's into the game-winner. It was his first point since May 10 against Washington.

Keith Yandle
Yandle Helps Rangers Force Game 7 Against Tampa
Keith Yandle, D, NYR
5/26/2015
News: Keith Yandle scored his second goal of the playoffs and added a power-play assist Tuesday in a Game 6 victory against Tampa Bay.
Analysis: He's played his best hockey since joining the Rangers -- by far -- in the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning. Over the first six games, Keith Yandle's racked up seven points and a plus-6 rating, as this series' fast-paced play has been right up his alley. The Rangers will be counting on Yandle to help drive their offense from the blue line in Game 7 on Friday.

Rick Nash
Rangers' Nash Racks Up Four Points In Game 6
Rick Nash, LW, NYR
5/26/2015
News: Rick Nash scored a power-play goal and handed out there assists in Tuesday's Game 6 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: After getting shut out in Game 5 at home, the Rangers needed Rick Nash to step up and drive their offense in Game 6, and he did just that. It was his gorgeous pass to Derick Brassard that led to J.T. Miller's first goal of the playoffs, pushing the Rangers' lead to 3-1 early in the third period. Nash has had a quiet playoffs overall, but now has seven points in the last three games. If he can stay hot in Game 7 on Friday, it'll be trouble for Tampa.

J.T. Miller
Rangers' Miller Explodes For Four Points
J.T. Miller, C, NYR
5/26/2015
News: J.T. Miller scored his first goal of the playoffs, dished out three assists and went plus-4 in Tuesday's Game 6 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: J.T. Miller's seen extensive playing time alongside Derick Brassard and Rick Nash in these playoffs, but although he's been able to generate offensive chances, he's been snakebitten as far as finding the net. That was certainly not the case Tuesday for any member of his trio, as they combined for 13 points to send the series on to Game 7 in New York.

Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist Stops 36, Rangers Stay Alive For Game 7
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
5/26/2015
News: Henrik Lundqvist turned away 36 of 39 shots in Tuesday's Game 6 win over the Lightning.
Analysis: Henrik Lundqvist's huge saves in the first two periods helped the Rangers hold a small lead 'til the third, when their offense exploded for five goals. He only gave up Tampa's second and third tallies when the Rangers had 5-1 and 6-2 leads. Now Henrik and the Blueshirts will head back to Madison Square Garden, where they'll host the Lightning in Friday's Game 7.

Derick Brassard
Brassard's Hat Trick Leads Rangers To Game 6 Win
Derick Brassard, C, NYR
5/26/2015
News: Derick Brassard scored three goals on 10 shots, added two assists and went plus-5 in Tuesday's Game 6 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: The hat-trick-completing goal came into an empty net, but it was a well-deserved one, as Derick Brassard played an excellent game. With nine goals and seven assists in these playoffs, he's been the Rangers' most reliable offensive performer.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Chased In Game 6
Ben Bishop, G, TB
5/26/2015
News: Ben Bishop gave up five goals on 26 shots before being pulled from Tuesday's Game 6 loss at the hands of the Rangers.
Analysis: He and the Lightning came in with a chance to close the Rangers out and trailed 2-1 after two periods, but were unable to keep it close in the third, giving up three goals in a span of 4:12. Andrei Vasilevskiy delivered competent work in relief, but the Lightning will almost certainly turn back to Ben Bishop for Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

 
 
 
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