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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 Hjalmarsson
Hawks' Hjalmarsson Taking The Hits, Still Ticking
Niklas Hjalmarsson, D, CHI
2:32 PM
News: Niklas Hjalmarsson has taken 44 hits in the Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals heading into Game 7 against the Ducks, but said that he's just fine for Saturday night, ESPN Chicago reports.
Analysis: With Michal Rozsival out for the season with a fractured ankle, the Blackhawks have relied on their top four defensemen, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya who have taken 86 percent of the minutes in the first six games. "They hit hard, but they hit pretty clean," Hjalmarsson said. "It's just a matter of getting back up and focusing on the next shift." The Ducks are expected to try to exploit the heavy workload in Game 7.

Ondrej Palat
Bolts' Palat Scores Seventh Goal In Game 7 Win
Ondrej Palat, LW, TB
3:50 AM
News: Ondrej Palat scored his seventh goal of the postseason in Friday's Game 7 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: The Bolts are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals and Ondrej Palat is a big reason why. The 24-year-old scored four times in the Eastern Conference Finals and has racked up 15 points this postseason -- 12th most in the NHL. While he doesn't shoot often, he makes his shots count, scoring an NHL-best four power-play goals and sporting a scary 25.9 shooting percentage. Look for the sniper, along with linemates Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, to continue their offensive success against whichever team emerges out of the West.

Alex Killorn
Bolts' Killorn Scores Game-Winning Goal In Game 7
Alex Killorn, C, TB
3:21 AM
News: Alex Killorn scored the game-winning goal Friday in Game 7 against the Rangers.
Analysis: A massive goal for Alex Killorn, who helped the Lightning punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. The 25-year-old has now scored seven goals this postseason -- sixth most in the NHL. The first-liner continues to be a lethal offensive threat every night in these playoffs, firing 52 shots on goal and racking up 16 points. Look for his unit with Steve Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula to continue to produce points against either the Ducks or Blackhawks.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Pitches 22-Save Shutout In Game 7
Ben Bishop, G, TB
3:03 AM
News: Ben Bishop stopped all 22 shots he faced in Friday's Game 7 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: What an outstanding bounce-back performance from Ben Bishop, who was burned for five goals in Game 6. The 28-year-old has now recorded two Game 7 shutouts this postseason and is a big reason why the Bolts are advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. While his .920 save percentage isn't mind-blowing, he leads the league with three postseason shutouts and has played more minutes than any other goalie. Whether the Lightning face the Ducks or the Blackhawks, look for Bishop to be a difference maker in the finals.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Makes 23 Saves In Game 7 Loss
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
2:49 AM
News: Henrik Lundqvist stopped 23 of 25 shots in Friday's Game 7 loss to the Lightning.
Analysis: A tough end to the season for Henrik Lundqvist, who got zero goal support in the loss. The 33-year-old finishes the postseason 11-8-1 with a .928 save percentage and 2.11 GAA. While he's still searching for his first Stanley Cup, the King is a world-class goaltender who put on another spectacular showing in the 2015 postseason. Look for him to be a top fantasy pick once again in 2015-16.

Antoine Roussel
Roussel Leads World Championships In Penalties
Antoine Roussel, LW, DAL
5/29/2015
News: Antoine Roussel led the World Championships in penalty minutes with 34 -- as well as one game misconduct -- through seven games.
Analysis: Antoine Roussel, unsurprisingly, led the tournament in penalty minutes despite Team France only playing seven of a possible 10 games. Roussel's tournament wasn't great, though a big part of that was Team France being outmatched. He finished with two assists and three shots on goal through seven games.

John Klingberg
Klingberg Impresses At World Championships
John Klingberg, D, DAL
5/29/2015
News: John Klingberg had a plus-9 rating at the World Championships for Team Sweden, the best plus/minus of any player who doesn't play for Team Canada.
Analysis: John Klingberg finished the tournament with two goals and four assists, along with 15 shots. Klingberg had a solid tournament, but didn't manage to bring home a medal with Team Canada outmatching everyone.

Brent Burns
Sharks' Burns Named Best Defenseman At Worlds
Brent Burns, D, SJ
5/29/2015
News: Brent Burns was named the 2015 World Championships' best defenseman, taking home that honor in addition to a gold medal.
Analysis: Brent Burns finished tied for seventh in overall points and second among defensemen in the tournament, with two goals and nine assists. Only Oliver Ekman-Larsson had more assists in the tournament. He also finished with a plus-10 rating.

Tyler Seguin
Seguin Leads Team Canada In Goals At Worlds
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
5/29/2015
News: Tyler Seguin posted nine goals at the 2015 World Championships, leading the entire tournament.
Analysis: Tyler Seguin brought home gold on a team loaded with superstars, outmatched other teams by a huge margin. Nonetheless, Seguin was the superstar we know him to be, leading the tournament in goals and power-play goals (5), while being second overall in shots at 36. The only blemish in his stats was that he failed to add even a single assist to his nine goals.

Jason Spezza
Spezza Solid In Worlds
Jason Spezza, C, DAL
5/29/2015
News: Jason Spezza led all players in points at the World Championship in the Czech Republic, posting six goals and eight assists in 10 games.
Analysis: Jason Spezza took home a gold medal and no small amount of pride after being a clear leader for Team Canada. His production was incredible and it offers hope for his production next season, with the caveat that Canada was head and shoulders above most of the competition in the tournament.

 
 
 
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