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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
Mikael Backlund
Flames' Backlund More Injured Than Thought
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
12:55 AM
News: Mikael Backlund's abdominal strain is worse than originally thought, Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund was originally expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but head coach Bob Hartley stated Monday that he's worried about Backlund's status. The team hasn't given any sort of timetable for the center's return, so keep an eye out for an update in the next few days.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Starts Tuesday
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
9/22/2014
News: The Sabres will start Jhonas Enroth against Carolina on Tuesday.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth is battling Michal Neuvirth for the starting job and will get his first challenge Tuesday. Nathan Lieuwen played the full game in the Sabres' first preseason game Sunday, so head coach Ted Nolan might play Enroth for the entire game. A strong performance will help solidify Enroth's case to the Sabres' No. 1 goaltender.

Josh Bailey
Bailey Gets First Shot At Top Line For The Isles
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
9/22/2014
News: Josh Bailey scored his first goal of the preseason Monday versus the Senators.
Analysis: What makes this worthy of an update isn't the goal he scored but rather he was given the first opportunity to play on the top line with John Tavares. Training camp is likely to be an open tryout for several Islanders to prove they should play on the wing opposite Tavares and see their Fantasy value rise accordingly.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Suffers Shoulder Injury
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
9/22/2014
News: Pavel Datsyuk injured his shoulder in Monday's preseason opener against the Penguins, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Pavel Datsyuk returned to training camp at full health after undergoing a minor knee procedure in April, but it didn't take long for him to get nicked up again. While he played well in his return to the ice, notching a goal and assist Monday, the painful check he absorbed from defenseman Robert Scuderi ended up marring his night. The Red Wings should relay more information on his condition Tuesday, but needless to say, it's not encouraging to see the 36-year-old already falling victim to injury.

Beau Bennett
Pens' Bennett Scores Monday
Beau Bennett, RW, PIT
9/22/2014
News: Beau Bennett scored Pittsburgh's lone goal Monday against Detroit, netting a wrister from 30 feet.
Analysis: The winger ranks near the top of his team in terms of skill, but he's skated on a line with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter in the early going. Beau Bennett may have to wait for an injury to secure a top-six spot and a place on the first-unit power play, but it's a good bet he ends up on a top-two line -- provided he stays healthy.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr Gets Two Points In Loss To Flyers
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Eric Fehr finished with a goal and an assist, along with two shots in 17:12 of ice time during Monday's 5-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Eric Fehr played on a line with Marcus Johansson, one of the contenders for the team's second-line center job, and rookie Jakub Vrana. Given his versatility, Fehr will be a valuable player for the Capitals this season, but it is not yet clear whether he will get top-six forward minutes yet. Fehr spent most of last season centering Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and although it was a productive unit, the team looks like they are moving him back to wing for the 2014-2015 season. Unless he becomes a fixture alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, Fehr's fantasy value is likely limited to deeper leagues.

Troy Brouwer
Caps' Brouwer Has Goal, Assist In Loss To Flyers
Troy Brouwer, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Troy Brouwer finished with a goal and an assist to go along with three SOG in 18:00 of ice-time during the Capitals' 5-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Analysis: Both of Troy Brouwer's points came on the power-play. He played on an even-strength line with Evgeny Kuznetsov, believed to have the inside track on the team's second-line center job. It's looking like Brouwer will be a fixture on a scoring line in DC this coming season, giving the power-forward some sleeper potential in deeper leagues.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin To Miss Second Preseason Game
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Alexander Semin will be held out of the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin had offseason surgery on his wrist, and the move to limit his preseason game action by new coach Bill Peters is reportedly just a cautionary move. So far, there has been no word of Semin re-injuring his wrist in training camp, so we fully expect him to start the regular season on schedule at this point.

Adam McQuaid
B's McQuaid Back At Full Strength
Adam McQuaid, D, BOS
9/22/2014
News: Adam McQuaid participated in Sunday's team scrimmage, a sign that he's fully recovered from his May right ankle surgery, Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: An array of second-half injuries limited Adam McQuaid to just 32 games last season, but the physical rearguard should be ready to go for the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Though he's now healthy, the Bruins could transition McQuaid into more of a seventh defenseman role this season, with young guns Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller all on track to earn close to full-time roles along the Bruins' blue line.

Anton Khudobin
Canes' Khudobin To Start Preseason Game Tuesday
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Anton Khudobin will start the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The Canes lost 4-3 to the Blue Jackets on Sunday with Cam Ward starting in net, however Ward did receive a positive review from new head coach Bill Peters. Given Ward's hefty contract, along with the length of his tenure in Raleigh, Anton Khudobin will likely have to stand on his head in the preseason to have a real shot at opening the season as the team's No. 1 netminder.

 
 
 
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