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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
Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Stops 35 To Beat Oilers
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12:34 PM
News: Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves on 37 shots in Tuesday's victory over Edmonton.
Analysis: That's three straight wins for Kari Lehtonen now, and if he gave up four goals in one of them, well, at least he faced 41 shots in that game. All in all, he's showing good signs of getting his game on track after a disappointing start to the season.

Viktor Fasth
Oilers Fall Despite Fasth's 31 Stops
Viktor Fasth, G, EDM
12:27 PM
News: Viktor Fasth allowed three goals on 34 shots in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Dallas.
Analysis: A pair of Tyler Seguin goals in the second period ended up giving the Stars enough cushion to beat Edmonton, and Viktor Fasth can hardly be faulted for being Seguin's latest victim. Nonetheless, he's now taken losses in three straight starts and six out of eight on the season.

John Klingberg
Stars' Klingberg Starring
John Klingberg, D, DAL
12:22 PM
News: John Klingberg extended his goal streak to three games and his point streak to five in Tuesday's win over Edmonton, going plus-3 with his third marker of the year and an assist.
Analysis: John Klingberg's achieved near-instant stardom in his first taste of the NHL, having started with three scoreless contests before exploding for eight points over the last five games.

Tyler Seguin
Stars' Seguin Heating Up Again
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
12:12 PM
News: Tyler Seguin scored a pair of goals on five shots and went plus-2 in Tuesday's win over Edmonton.
Analysis: Uh oh, he's starting another one of those super-hot streaks now. That's five goals, an assist and a plus-7 rating for Tyler Seguin over the last four games.

Jacob Trouba
Jets' Trouba Notches Two Helpers
Jacob Trouba, D, WPG
12:01 PM
News: Jacob Trouba picked up a pair of assists on Evander Kane power-play goals -- the second an empty-netter -- in Tuesday's win over Columbus.
Analysis: It's not exactly front-page news, but Jacob Trouba does have three points over the last three games after totaling just three over his first 20 contests of the year. He's had a little bit of bad puck luck, but remains superbly talented and is skating major minutes -- 24:11 on Tuesday -- for the Jets.

Mike Smith
Coyotes' Smith Allows Four In Loss
Mike Smith, G, ARI
3:07 AM
News: Mike Smith allowed four goals on 35 shots in Tuesday's loss to Arizona.
Analysis: With yet another loss, Mike Smith falls to 0-6-1 in his last seven starts. Yikes. He's had a couple good starts mixed in there, but four-plus-goal outings like this have been far from unusual for Smith this year.

Reto Berra
Avs Pull Berra Early
Reto Berra, G, COL
3:04 AM
News: Reto Berra was pulled after playing just 10:53 on Tuesday and giving up three goals on eight shots. Calvin Pickard was perfect in his place, stopping 25 of 25.
Analysis: Looking down the season stat line, it becomes quite clear that Reto Berra is about as low-end as NHL goalies come. The Avs must be hungering for Semyon Varlmaov to come back from his groin issue.

Frederik Andersen
Andersen's 32 Stops Help Ducks To Win
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
2:59 AM
News: Frederik Andersen saved 32 of 34 shots Tuesday in a 3-2 victory over Calgary.
Analysis: That's three straight wins for Frederik Andersen, who's back to building momentum following a period of inconsistent play. With John Gibson (groin) still out, he should be starting nearly every game.

Colin Wilson
Two Helpers For Preds' Wilson
Colin Wilson, C, NSH
2:55 AM
News: Colin Wilson notched a pair of assists in Tuesday's shootout win over the Kings.
Analysis: He's been producing over the last four games, racking up two goals, three assists and a plus-4. However, Colin Wilson's overall production has, as usual, been fairly sporadic, as he has just nine points in 19 games for the season.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Notches Two Points In Win
Craig Smith, C, NSH
2:52 AM
News: Craig Smith gathered a goal and an assist in Tuesday's shootout win over the Kings, finishing plus-1 with four shots on goal and two takeaways.
Analysis: Craig Smith's been rolling along nicely of late, with two goals, three helpers, a plus-5 rating, six PIM and 21 shots on goal over the last five games. He's still a decent bit short of last season's scoring pace, but things are definitely coming along.

 
 
 
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