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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
Dan Hamhuis
Two Helpers For Vancouver's Hamhuis
Dan Hamhuis, D, VAN
12:03 PM
News: Dan Hamhuis collected two assists and went plus-3 in Tuesday's shootout win against Nashville.
Analysis: Dan Hamhuis has now played 55 games this season, and he still has no goals, with his 21 assists not going a heck of a long way toward making up for that. At least the fine evening pushed his season rating back to the positive end of things (plus-2).

Alex Burrows
Canucks' Burrows Stuffs Stat Sheet In Win
Alex Burrows, LW, VAN
12:01 PM
News: Alex Burrows racked up a shorthanded goal, a power-play assist and 15 PIM in Tuesday's shootout win over Nashville.
Analysis: The veteran's five-minute major for interference (and game misconduct) at the end of the third period set the Predators up with a great chance to win it, but fortunately for Alex Burrows, Nashville whiffed on the extended man-advantage opportunity. The gritty winger certainly isn't the offensive force he once was, but he's got a decent skill-and-grit combo, with 31 points and 64 PIM in 65 games. He's also scored goals in consecutive games.

Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert May Play Thursday
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
3:55 AM
News: Tom Gilbert (fractured jaw) practiced on the third defensive pairing Tuesday and could be back in the lineup for Thursday's game against Washington, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Changes on the blue line were expected after Monday night's loss to Tampa Bay, a game in which head coach Michel Therrien was not pleased with the defense. Tom Gilbert has been out the last four games due to the injury.

Curtis McKenzie
Stars Reassign McKenzie
Curtis McKenzie, LW, DAL
12:57 AM
News: Curtis McKenzie was reassigned to AHL Texas on Tuesday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: With the Stars preparing to welcome Valeri Nichushkin (hip) back into the lineup Thursday following the completion of his conditioning assignment, Curtis McKenzie was likely to be squeezed out of a regular role. He'll help AHL Texas prepare for a playoff run after posting five points in 36 games with the parent club this season.

Nate Guenin
Avs' Guenin Records Assist In Loss
Nate Guenin, D, COL
12:50 AM
News: Nate Guenin tallied an assist in 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday.
Analysis: Nate Guenin dished out a helper, recorded a shot and skated to minus-1 rating Monday in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton. The assist gives the defenseman his first point in the last seven games, and he's accumulated a total of 15 points in 70 games this season.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov To Sit Until Saturday
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:46 AM
News: Semyon Varlamov will make his next start in goal Saturday in Los Angeles, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Coach Patrick Roy will give the first two starts of the Avs' three-game road trip that begins Wednesday to backup goalie Reto Berra, who has seen scarce work this season behind Semyon Varlamov, and in a couple instances, Calvin Pickard. When he hasn't been slowed by groin injuries, Varlamov has just about been an iron man for the Avalanche, and he's beginning to show some chinks in the armor. He's given up exactly three goals in four of his last five starts, while taking a loss to the lowly Oilers in the only start in that stretch where he yielded two tallies. His save percentage stills sits at a robust .921 for the season, but with the Avalanche all but eliminated from the playoff race at this point, it makes sense for the team to rest Varlamov a little more often.

Reto Berra
Berra To Start Next Two Games For Avs
Reto Berra, G, COL
12:40 AM
News: Reto Berra will be in the crease for the Avs' next two games Wednesday in San Jose and Friday in Anaheim, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: The back-to-back starts on tap for Reto Berra are an admission by the Avalanche that the team doesn't view itself as playoff contenders, which seems to be a fairly reasonable assessment given their eight-point deficit from the final wild-card spot out West. Berra delivered an excellent outing in his spot start last week against the Canucks, and with Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard having previously shouldered the bulk of the duties in goal for the Avalanche this season, it makes sense for the team to take a longer look at Berra. While Berra won't make for a strong daily option in either of his starts, those in weekly leagues mining for wins and saves may want to take a look at the 28-year-old, who has a 3-3-1 record, 2.97 GAA, and .906 save percentage over his 16 appearances.

Alex Tanguay
Avs' Tanguay Notches Assist In Loss
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
12:39 AM
News: Alex Tanguay dished out a helper in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday.
Analysis: Alex Tanguay recorded an assist, which came off of his only shot on goal in the 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday. Tanguay has accumulated 30 assists this season, the 11th time in 15 seasons the forward has recorded at least 30 assists in a season.

Daniel Briere
Avs' Briere Out Next Three Games
Daniel Briere, C, COL
12:33 AM
News: Daniel Briere (foot) will not join the Avalanche for their three-game California trip that begins Wednesday in San Jose.
Analysis: Daniel Briere has already missed the Avs' last four contests after taking a shot off his foot in a March 23 tilt against the Flames. His activity has been limited since then, and the team apparently wasn't optimistic of his chances at being back to full health by the time the road trip concludes. The Avalanche will only have three games remaining on its regular-season schedule after the road trip, and with Briere not necessarily a lineup regular before the injury, it wouldn't be surprised if he was shut down for good.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Still Dealing With Lower-Body Injury
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:30 AM
News: Clayton Stoner continues to deal with a lower-body injury, Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner -- who has recorded eight points and 66 PIM in 67 games to date -- thus remains in the day-to-day category as Wednesday's game against the Oilers approaches.

 
 
 
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