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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
Jaroslav Halak
Isles' Halak In Net For Game 7
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
8:18 AM
News: Jaroslav Halak will start in net for Monday's Game 7 matchup against the Capitals.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak has started every game in the series, so it's no surprise he'll be in net once again Monday with the series on the line. It's win or go home for Halak and the Isles, and he'll look to follow up a strong performance in Game 6 with another one in Game 7.

Alex Pietrangelo
Blues' Pietrangelo Picks Up Assist In Game 6 Loss
Alex Pietrangelo, D, STL
6:27 AM
News: Alex Pietrangelo had an assist in Sunday's series-ending loss to the Wild. He took five shots and had two blocked shots.
Analysis: Alex Pietrangelo was solid throughout the series despite the Blues loss, registering an increasing amount of ice time as the games wore on, culminating in him seeing 31:12 seconds in the final game. The Blues may be in a shake up in the off-season after another early playoff exit, but it's tough to see Pietrangelo going anywhere. The 24-year-old is an all around rock for the Blues on the bullion.

Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues' Shattenkirk Picks Up Assist In Game 6 Loss
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL
6:23 AM
News: Kevin Shattenkirk picked up his eighth assist of the playoffs in Sunday's series-ending loss to the Wild. He was minus-2 with two shots and a hit in the contest.
Analysis: Kevin Shattenkirk will exit the playoffs tied for the playoff lead in scoring. While the Blues could be in for a shake up after yet another early playoff exit, Shattenkirk seems unlikely to be headed anywhere after posting a break out season with 44 points and a plus-19 rating in 53 games. Only a mid-season abdominal injury kept him from being among the top handful of scoring leaders among defensemen.

T.J. Oshie
Blues' Oshie Scores In Series-Ending Loss
T.J. Oshie, RW, STL
6:12 AM
News: T.J. Oshie scored the Blues' lone goal Sunday's series-ending Game 6 loss to the Wild. He was minus-1 with three shots, a hit and a blocked shot in the contest.
Analysis: A case of "too little, too late" as T.J. Oshie scored for the first time in the series in Game 6. He finished with just two points in six games despite firing 16 shots on net. Oshie's name came up in trade rumors during the season and with the Blues getting knocked out of the playoffs early once again, there may be some shaking up of the roster. While it seems unlikely he would be moved, the 28-year-old is certainly a marketable piece with his combination of offensive ability and defensive responsibility.

Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera Poised To Return
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
12:02 AM
News: Jori Lehtera (lower body) was on the ice for warmups in advance of Sunday's Game 6 against the Wild, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Based on warmups, look for Jori Lehtera to work Sunday on a trio with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Lehtera -- who was was held out of Friday's Game 5 -- checks back into the Blues' lineup with two helpers in four playoff games to date.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Pots Goal In Win
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Max Pacioretty potted his second goal of the playoffs in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: The goal was an empty-netter and came with less than a second remaining, but it counts the same nonetheless. Max Pacioretty also finished with a plus-2 rating on the night, making up for the minus-2 he sported through the first five games of the series. The winger finished the series with just the empty-net goal and a power-play tally in Game 1, but figures to be the team's top offensive producers going forward.

Brendan Gallagher
Habs' Gallagher Scores In Win
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Brendan Gallagher scored the game-winning goal in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Brendan Gallagher went on a four-game goal streak toward the end of March, but entered Sunday's contest with just one goal in his the 12 games since then. The winger logged a pair of points in the series win, but figures to be a fairly reliable source of offense going forward as the Habs await their second round opponent.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Perfect In Game 6 Win
Carey Price, G, MON
4/26/2015
News: Carey Price stopped all 43 shots he faced in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Carey Price was sensational Sunday as he withstood a late Senators attack to help clinch the series and send the Habs into the second round. Aside from Game 5's five-goal outing, Price has continued his regular season excellence into the postseason as he's posted a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage through six games. He's as reliable as they come and figures to remain as one of the top, if not the very best, options for the duration of the playoffs.

Nick Leddy
Isles' Leddy An Assist Machine
Nick Leddy, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Nick Leddy was credited with two assists and five shot attempts in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The blueliner has been an offensive force in the series for the Islanders, as Saturday marked his fourth straight game with an assist. Coach Jack Capuano rewarded Nick Leddy with 28:59 of ice time Saturday, his highest total of the season.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Allows Just One In Loss
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
4/26/2015
News: Craig Anderson stopped 18 of 19 shots Sunday but was on the wrong end of the series-ending Game 6 loss.
Analysis: Craig Anderson did all he could to keep the Sens' season alive after receiving the starting nod since Game 3 as he allowed just four total goals in those four games, but the offense in front of him couldn't provide any support Sunday. The 33-year-old finished the season at 14-13-8 with a 2.49 GAA and .923, but it remains to be seen how the club will approach their goaltending next season between Anderson and the soon-to-be restricted free agent Andrew Hammond.

 
 
 
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