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Neutral Zone Wrap: Down the stretch we come

by | Rotowire.com
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Even though the holiday season has long gone, presents can still be received in various ways. And like the definition suggests, many of them are unexpected providers of joy. Whether it is as minor as a day off work or as important as a wedding proposal (hi, honey!), everyone likes a good old-fashioned gift.

The same goes for Fantasy Hockey, especially in the Rotisserie format. With a maximum position allocation, contenders may shed decent starters to ensure quotas aren't exceeded. Or perhaps someone wants to gain or maintain their standing in a certain category but must give up ground in other stats. In a competitive league, either of these scenarios occurs often and leads to a higher quality of free agents.

If you still hold aspirations of winning or finishing well this season, then you must be sure to keep a close eye on league transactions. For the player you don't acquire could be the one who lifts your rival to glory. Although a better talent pool generally means any individual will not influence the whole thing. Unless that individual is someone who has magically returned to the NHL after ditching his contract many moons ago for the opportunity to play closer to home. But enough about Marty Turco.

As always, be sensible in your activity. Remember to figure out the best path for your squad, even if that means day-by-day roster planning. The games are dwindling, but your chances of doing well shouldn't. And on that note, here are a few not-so-hidden gems from five teams who may be of service:

Dallas may lead the Pacific today, but could very well be on the outside in two weeks. Heading into the weekend, the Stars sat third in the conference but were only one point out of 9th place (and only three out of 11th). It's nice to have captain Brenden Morrow on the ice again, even if the points (two in seven games, with a minus-5 but 15 PIM) are delayed. No matter how much others hate him, Steve Ott (eight in 12, 25 PIM, 38 hits) will keep proving naysayers wrong. It's been a long, cold winter for Eric Nystrom (two in 24) and little warmth has been bestowed upon Adam Burish (three in 15, only 16 PIM). Hard to gauge Sheldon Souray's performance (three in 14) when he's essentially hurting and being phased off the man-advantage; enter Trevor Daley and his moderately positive numbers (six in 14).

Bet you didn't expect Florida to keep up this pace, especially with Washington and Winnipeg close behind. Credit Tomas Fleischmann (six in seven, tied for team lead with 53) for being both consistent and healthy up front. No time missed for Tomas Kopecky, but the stats (four in six) are slowly catching up. Gotta love having a veteran like Mikael Samuelsson (five in five, including three power-play points) to spur the offense. Even defensive-minded Marcel Goc (four in six) has joined the party. He's usually good for a few shots, but it's been a while since Sean Bergenheim (three -- all goals -- in 11) did anything on a regular basis. After killing it for the first two-plus months, Dmitry Kulikov (knee surgery) will need to restore his place on the point after two months away. It's been four weeks (and 12 outings) since Jason Garrison netted one on the power play but he'll continue to lay the minutes (over 23 a night) in all situations.

It's a shame Chicago plays in the Central Division because they'd be dominating any other group (ditto for Detroit or Nashville). Andrew Shaw (seven in four, plus-6) has been the freshman find of 2011-12. Viktor Stalberg (six in six) has switched back to relevance at the perfect moment. Best known for flattening opponents, Bryan Bickell (five in four) has also contributed where it counts. All Marcus Kruger needed was a boost (four in seven) and a pat on the back. The whereabouts of Michael Frolik (healthy scratch for most of February and March) are murky at best. When the Hawks picked up Johnny Oduya (five in seven), few anticipated he'd be getting it done at the other end too. A little slowdown for Nick Leddy (two in 10), but expect another boon with the impending suspension of Duncan Keith.

With their playoff dreams crushed and tossed into the ocean, Anaheim can now focus on showcasing their youngsters. Cue Devante Smith-Pelly (two in three, 10 SOG) and his ascension to the top unit. Nick Bonino (three assists on Monday) has also been asked to step up his effort, along with former US junior standout Kyle Palmieri (five in five). Meanwhile, the old guard including Saku Koivu (two in 15, minus-4), Niklas Hagman (two in 15, minus-2), and Jason Blake (two in 16, minus-3) have disappointed of late. No doubt Cam Fowler (five in six, including two PPGs) would regain his magic touch. If only Luca Sbisa (one in 12) could manage anything close to even mediocre stats.

If Edmonton continues to draft well, then they'll be postseason regulars in no time. But alas, at least some truth exists in defense winning championships (and the club find themselves in 26th overall in goals against). Devan Dubnyk has looked promising recently (seven wins in 11, no more than three allowed per start) but is he the Oilers' long-term solution in net? No injury lag for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (10 in 13 since returning) and no new contract hangover for Ales Hemsky (scored four in two games since re-signing). We all realized Sam Gagner wouldn't hit Gretzky-like numbers every night, but the drop off (four in 14) has been dramatic. Nothing terribly exciting from Shawn Horcoff (four in 14, although three of them are PPPs), but there's a glimmer of promise from Teemu Hartikainen (three in three after 30 in 48 with the AHL affiliate). Corey Potter's decline (one in 10) becomes Jeff Petry's gain (four in three).

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Player News
Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line with Bobby Ryan to have another strong showing in Game 6 Sunday in Ottawa. With linemate Bobby Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase as a result.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman got right back to the offense Friday. The 25-year-old has turned it up in these last two games, firing seven shots on goal and recording three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. With Ottawa now trailing Montreal 3-2 in the first round, look for Hoffman to have another strong outing in Game 6 Sunday at the Canadian Tire Center.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Will Start Friday
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
12:29 AM
News: Craig Anderson will be between the pipes for Friday's Game 5 against the Canadiens, TSN 1200's Gord Wilson reports.
Analysis: It's hardly a surprise, as Craig Anderson was phenomenal in Game 4, turning away all of the 28 shots he faced en route to a shutout. He'll likely need to turn in a similar performance on Friday in order to give the Senators a chance to gain some ground in their series with the Habs, in which they currently trail three games to one.

Jake Allen
Blues' Allen Will Start Friday
Jake Allen, G, STL
12:14 AM
News: Jake Allen will be between the pipes for Friday's Game 5 against the Wild, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Jake Allen didn't have to do too much in Game 4, as Minnesota only managed to fire a total of 18 shots on goal. However, he was still solid, turning away 17 of the 18 shots he faced. He'll look to build on that strong performance on Friday.

Bobby Ryan
Sens' Ryan Breaks Goal-Scoring Slump In Game 5 Win
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
4/24/2015
News: Bobby Ryan ended a 16-game goalless drought Friday, netting a pair of goals in a Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: A much-needed two-goal outburst from Bobby Ryan, who hadn't found twine since March. 16. The Senators are now trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, so if this slump-busting performance from Ryan is a sign of things to come, Ottawa could find themselves completing a reverse sweep. With 18 goals and 54 points in the regular season, Ryan is an elite sniper who can be the difference when he's on his game. Now that the monkey's off his back, watch out.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Allows Five Goals In Game 5 Loss
Carey Price, G, MON
4/24/2015
News: Carey Price gave up five goals on 25 shots in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Senators.
Analysis: Not a good showing from Carey Price, who failed to help Montreal close out their series against Ottawa. With the Sens having won two straight games and the series now 3-2 in favor of the Canadiens, Price and the Habs could be in some trouble. Aside from Game 5, the 27-year-old goaltender has been excellent this postseason, posting a .923 save percentage, so if he can turn in a great outing Sunday, the Habs could eliminate Ottawa in six games and move on to the second round.

Derek Stepan
Rangers' Stepan Scores PP Goal In Game 5 Win
Derek Stepan, C, NYR
4/24/2015
News: Derek Stepan opened the scoring with a power-play marker in Friday's series-clinching Game 5 win over the Penguins.
Analysis: It was the second goal of the playoffs for Derek Stepan, who finishes the first round with three points in five games. The second-line center has looked dangerous this postseason, firing 24 shots on goal and helping the Rangers eliminate the Penguins in five games. New York will be awaiting the winner of the Capitals and Islanders series, so look for the 24-year-old to carry his strong play from the opening round into the second round.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Crushes Penguins' Cup Dreams
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
4/24/2015
News: Carl Hagelin scored the series-clinching overtime-winning goal Friday against Pittsburgh in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
Analysis: A clutch performance from Carl Hagelin, who scored his first career NHL playoff game-winning goal. The 26-year-old is now riding a three-game point streak, helping the Rangers eliminate the Penguins in five games and move onto the second round. Skating on a line with Martin St. Louis, Hagelin, who had 17 goals in the regular season, will likely continue being a key contributor throughout the Rangers' postseason run.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Pens' Fleury Sensational In Game 5 Loss
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, PIT
4/24/2015
News: Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 of 36 shots in Friday's Game 5 overtime loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: While Fleury played sensational, the Penguins couldn't get more than one puck past Henrik Lundqvist, leading to their elimination from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Penguins only lasted five games against the Presidents Trophy winners, it wasn't due to a lack of effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, who was exceptional throughout the series, posting a .927 save percentage and 2.12 GAA. Fleury, who has struggled in the playoffs in the past, can exit the postseason knowing he played his best and gave the injury-riddled Penguins a fighting chance against arguably the best team in the NHL.

 
 
 
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