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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
Thomas Greiss
Penguins' Greiss Dealing With Mumps
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
8:46 AM
News: Thomas Greiss has been diagnosed with the mumps, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: A mumps test performed on Thomas Greiss last week came back negative, but it turns out he is actually dealing with the same setback that has affected numerous NHL players over the last several weeks. Jeff Zatkoff figures to serve as the backup goaltender behind Marc-Andre Fleury until Greiss is able to resume playing sometime in the next week or two.

Steve Downie
Penguins' Downie Diagnosed With Mumps
Steve Downie, RW, PIT
8:42 AM
News: Steve Downie has been diagnosed with the mumps, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Steve Downie first started showing mumps symptoms earlier this week, and it turns out he is the latest to come down with the disease that is sweeping through the NHL. He will remain isolated from his teammates until he has recovered, but figures to resume playing sometime in the next week or two.

Matt Moulson
Sabres' Moulson Expected Back Saturday
Matt Moulson, LW, BUF
8:36 AM
News: Matt Moulson (illness) is expected to return to the lineup Saturday against the Islanders, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The illness has knocked Matt Moulson out of the Sabres' past three games, but the three-day holiday break appears to have been exactly what the wingers needed to regain health. The Sabres have already reassigned three of their forwards back to AHL Rochester, a sign that Moulson is fully expected to be available for the match against his former team.

David Desharnais
Habs' Desharnais Loving Third Line
David Desharnais, C, MON
4:34 AM
News: David Desharnais scored a goal in Tuesday's win over the Islanders and now has three goals and two assists in his last five games.
Analysis: The surge in production coincides with his move to the third line with Lars Eller and P.A. Parenteau. David Desharnais continues to get work on the man advantage as well.

Jiri Sekac
Habs' Sekac Dropped Mid-Game
Jiri Sekac, LW, MON
4:27 AM
News: Jiri Sekac was replaced on the second line by Dale Weise after one period in Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Islanders, the Montreal Gazette reports. He had a turnover and a penalty in the opening period, prompting head coach Michel Therrien to make the move. "Sekac wasn't playing well and I went with [Brandon] Prust and Weise," Therrien said.
Analysis: Jiri Sekac, who averages nearly 14 minutes a night, ended up with just 8:21 of ice time in the win. It's likely a one-game thing -- how long can the Habs thrive with Weise and Prust in top-six roles? It's just a reminder that Sekac is young and new to the NHL, and this sort of thing can happen.

Taylor Chorney
Pens Reassign Chorney
Taylor Chorney, D, PIT
12/25/2014
News: Taylor Chorney was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Wednesday.
Analysis: Taylor Chorney was one of three players that was reassigned to the minors Wednesday, joining Jeff Zatkoff and Dominik Uher. It likely signals that the three players that were isolated from the team the last two games out of concern that they might be dealing with the mumps -- Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter, and Thomas Greiss -- have tested negative for the virus. Official word on their status should come when the team resumes practicing Friday. Chorney had averaged just 5:32 of ice time over his two contests.

Jeff Zatkoff
Pens Reassign Zatkoff
Jeff Zatkoff, G, PIT
12/25/2014
News: Jeff Zatkoff was reassigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday.
Analysis: Jeff Zatkoff's reassignment perhaps hints that Thomas Greiss tested negative for the mumps, which had forced him to isolate himself from the team for the past two games. Zatkoff had taken over backup duties during that time, very nearly leading the Penguins' to a comeback victory over the Lightning on Tuesday. He'll rank as the organization's first call-up option if Marc-Andre Fleury or Thomas Greiss are forced to miss future action.

John Curry
Wild's Curry Gets Reassigned
John Curry, G, MIN
12/25/2014
News: John Curry was reassigned to AHL Iowa on Wednesday.
Analysis: John Curry was an emergency call-up prior to Tuesday's game after Niklas Backstrom came down with an illness and was unavailable. It sounds like the Wild expect Backstrom to be back at full health coming out of the Christmas break, so Curry will head back to the minors, where he's been sharing goaltending duties with Johan Gustafsson this season.

Victor Hedman
Bolts' Hedman Snaps Scoring Slump
Victor Hedman, D, TB
12/24/2014
News: Victor Hedman registered an assist in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Penguins.
Analysis: Victor Hedman also chipped in with a season-high six blocked shots, though he did bear some responsibility for a miscue that resulted in one Pittsburgh goal. In any case, the Bolts value Hedman primarily for his abilities on the offensive end, which haven't been readily evident of late. The assist snapped a streak of six games without a point for Hedman.

Steven Stamkos
Production Slowing In December For Bolts' Stamkos
Steven Stamkos, C, TB
12/24/2014
News: Steven Stamkos has recorded only three goals and an assist over his last nine contests.
Analysis: That level of production over that span of time certainly doesn't provide any reason for fantasy owners to sound the alarm, but it still represents the most significant dry spell of the season for Steven Stamkos. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bolts have gone just 3-5-1 in those contests, though a slump of some extent was probably due to occur after the team's attack torched opponents over the season's first two months. The Tampa offense still looks like one of the league's strongest units in spite of its recent downturn in productivity, and Stamkos remains the lynchpin. Stay patient with the 24-year-old, as his resume of three 90-point campaigns suggest order will restore itself eventually.

 
 
 
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