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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
Niklas Svedberg
Bruins' Svedberg Shuts Down Jackets In Shootout
Niklas Svedberg, G, BOS
2:00 AM
News: Niklas Svedberg made 21 saves in regulation before shutting down all seven Blue Jackets' shooters in the shootout Friday for his third win of the season.
Analysis: Not a bad outing for the Bruins' backup, who is now 3-3-0 on the season. When he gets called upon, which won't be often, Niklas Svedberg makes for a decent fantasy option in the crease. Tuukka Rask, who is the clear-cut starter in Boston, will return Saturday to play in the second half of the Bruins' back-to-back.

Milan Lucic
Lucic Takes Beating In Bruins' Win
Milan Lucic, LW, BOS
1:54 AM
News: Milan Lucic picked up 12 PIM and was credited with a game-high six hits in Friday's shootout win over the Blue Jackets.
Analysis: Quite the eventful night for Milan Lucic, who got one-punched by Jackets' Dalton Prout in the overtime period. Looch took exception to the knockout, earning himself a game misconduct for the following punch he threw after the linesman had broken up the fight. While he may be contributing with PIM and hits, Lucic has now gone pointless in four straight games, managing only three goals on the season. He is on pace to record his lowest full-season point total since 2009-10. While Lucic's better than what he is showing right now, he isn't playing anything like the 30-goal, 60-point player we have gotten to know in the past.

Matt Bartkowski
Bruins' Bartkowski Dishes Out Two Assists
Matt Bartkowski, D, BOS
1:39 AM
News: Matt Bartkowski contributed a pair of assists and picked up four PIM in Friday's shootout win over Columbus.
Analysis: That's three points in two games for Matt Bartkowski, who has only appeared in eight games this season. Considering he doesn't play on the power play and has never recorded more than 18 points in a season, don't expect much more offense from the 26-year-old. Bartkowski's on the third defensive pairing and won't provide much value outside of the deepest of leagues.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets' Bobrovsky Stops 38 Shots In Loss
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
1:33 AM
News: Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 38 of 41 shots in Friday's shootout loss to the Bruins.
Analysis: Sergei Bobrovsky was phenomenal Friday, standing on his head in regulation, before denying six of seven Bruins' shooters in the shootout. Although he has lost four of his last five games, Bobrovsky's play Friday is hopefully indicative of what's to come. With the way backup Curtis McElhinney has struggled this season, it wouldn't be a surprise if the team comes right back with Bobrovsky Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Nick Foligno
Jackets' Foligno Continues Remarkable Season
Nick Foligno, LW, CLB
1:14 AM
News: Nick Foligno bagged his tenth goal of the season and added an assist in Friday's shootout loss to Boston.
Analysis: After being held off the scoresheet in the last two games, it didn't take long for Nick Foligno to get back on track. The 27-year-old now has 20 points in 18 games, to go with a tidy plus-4 rating. A known 40-point guy producing at a point-per-game pace in 2014-15? This can't be real life, can it? Foligno is thriving on the top line and doesn't appear to be slowing down. He won't keep producing at this torrid pace, but he should post career totals. Ride him while he's hot.

Ryan Johansen
Jackets' Johansen Bags Three Points In Win
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB
1:07 AM
News: Ryan Johansen scored his seventh goal of the season and added two assists in Friday's shootout loss to the Bruins.
Analysis: Ryan Johansen continues to impress this season, collecting 23 points in 19 games. He currently sits tied for fourth in league scoring and has shown no signs of slowing down. The top-line center is an elite scorer who could finish the season as a top-10 fantasy option. You know what to do.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres Takes The Ice
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
12:59 AM
News: Raffi Torres (knee) skated Friday morning, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It was the first time Raffi Torres has been on the ice since August, when it was determined he would need to undergo another surgery to repair his ACL. This is just a preliminary step in the recovery process, so he shouldn't be considered close to returning.

Jason Demers
Sharks Deal Demers To Stars
Jason Demers, D, DAL
12:37 AM
News: The Sharks dealt Jason Demers and a future third-round draft pick to the Stars on Friday in exchange for Brenden Dillon, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Jason Demers will help the Stars fill a need in adding a right-handed defenseman with some puck-moving ability to their ranks, which should only help the team's speedy forwards start to pick up their production. The 26-year-old, who was off to a slow start with the Sharks with only three points in 20 games, could also see some time on the power-play.

Brenden Dillon
Stars Trade Dillon To Sharks
Brenden Dillon, D, SJ
12:32 AM
News: The Stars traded Brenden Dillon to the Sharks on Friday in exchange for defenseman Jason Demers and a future third-round draft pick, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Though he doesn't offer as much puck-moving ability as Demers, the 26-year-old Brenden Dillon's ample size (6-foot-4, 225 lbs.) will add some bulk to a Sharks blue line that figures to carve out a regular role for him. After missing much of training camp in a contract dispute, Dillon was rough to rotten start to the season with the Stars, generating no goals and one assist over 20 games.

Mike Brown
Sharks' Brown Back Practicing
Mike Brown, RW, SJ
12:26 AM
News: Mike Brown (hand) resumed practicing with the Sharks on Friday, Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com reports.
Analysis: Mike Brown has been sidelined since mid-October with the hand injury, but his presence at practice would make it seem that he's nearing the end of his recovery timetable. He'd likely fill a role in the Sharks' bottom six once he's activated from injured reserve.

 
 
 
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