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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
Brad Richards
Blackhawks' Richards Sets Up Kane In Game 4 Win
Brad Richards, C, CHI
12:58 AM
News: Brad Richards assisted on Patrick Kane's game-tying power-play goal in Saturday's double-overtime victory over the Ducks in Game 4.
Analysis: Brad Richards has recorded a point in each game of the series thus far, giving the Blackhawks the offensive presence at the second-line center spot that was sorely missing during the past postseason. The 35-year-old submitted a mediocre regular season, but if he can remain productive for just a few more games, he'll be well worth the investment the Blackhawks made.

Brent Seabrook
Blackhawks' Seabrook Nets Game 4 Goal
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI
12:56 AM
News: Brent Seabrook tallied a goal in Saturday's Game 4 triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: It was an effective all-around game for Brent Seabrook, who finished with four shot attempts, four hits, and six blocks across 32:03 of ice time. With coach Joel Quenneville showing little trust in fifth and sixth defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, Seabrook should be poised to log big minutes for the remainder of the postseason.

Steven Stamkos
Bolts' Stamkos Scores For Fourth Straight Game
Steven Stamkos, C, TB
5/24/2015
News: Steven Stamkos scored for the fourth straight game and added an assist in Sunday's Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: After recording just three points in seven games against Detroit in the first round, Steven Stamkos has exploded for 14 points in his last 11 games. The 25-year-old has seven points in his last four games and is the first player in Lightning history to score in four straight playoff games. With the Bolts now one win away from advancing onto the Stanley Cup Final, look for Stamkos, who sits second in NHL playoff scoring, to have another big outing in Game 6 Tuesday in Tampa Bay.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Stops 20 Shots In Game 5 Loss
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
5/24/2015
News: Henrik Lundqvist stopped 20 of 22 shots in Sunday's Game 5 loss to the Lightning.
Analysis: While the King turned in a decent performance, his opponent Ben Bishop was sensational, stopping all 26 shots he faced. Henrik Lundqvist has now lost three of his last four games, with the Rangers now on the brink of elimination. The 33-year-old has been phenomenal in elimination games in the past, so he'll need to show more of the same magic if the Rangers hope to force a Game 7 Tuesday against the Lightning in Game 6.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Pitches 26-Save Shutout In Game 5
Ben Bishop, G, TB
5/24/2015
News: Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced in Sunday's Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: A fantastic outing from Ben Bishop, who had to leave warmups early after taking a shot in a very uncomfortable place. It was a great bounce-back performance from the 28-year-old, who had been burned for 10 goals in his last two games. Bishop's now 11-7-0 in this postseason and is one win away from advancing onto the Stanley Cup Final. Now that he's back on his game, look for Big Ben to have another giant outing in Game 6 Tuesday as the Bolts look to close out the series.

Braydon Coburn
Lightning's Coburn Misses Most Of Game 5 While Ill
Braydon Coburn, D, TB
5/24/2015
News: Braydon Coburn missed most of Sunday's Game 5 against the Rangers due to an illness, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Lightning coach Jon Cooper hinted after the game that Braydon Coburn was vomiting on the bench, and the defenseman didn't play at all during the second period. Coburn finished with just 5:43 of ice time, after topping 15 minutes in each of the series' first four games. He can be considered day-to-day as the Lightning take a 3-2 series lead back to Tampa Bay for Tuesday's Game 6.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Isles' Visnovsky Could Be Headed To Austria
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
5/24/2015
News: Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) is close to signing a deal to play in Austria next season, according to SNY.tv.
Analysis: Lubomir Visnovsky is a free agent who has suffered several concussions over the past couple of seasons and was probably not going to be re-signed by the Islanders. While the Isles will miss Visnovsky's offensive skills and especially his ability to quarterback the power play, this may end up being addition by subtraction.

Matt Carle
Lightning's Carle Good To Go
Matt Carle, D, TB
5/24/2015
News: Matt Carle (undisclosed) will play in Sunday's Game 5 against the Rangers, ESPN's Mike Mazzeo reports.
Analysis: As expected, Matt Carle will rejoin the lineup after missing Friday's Game 4. He figures to work on the third defensive pairing alongside Andrej Sustr.

Patrick Sharp
Blackhawks' Sharp Captures Assist In Game 4
Patrick Sharp, LW, CHI
5/24/2015
News: Patrick Sharp picked up an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: Patrick Sharp was given credit for setting up Antoine Vermette's game-winning goal, though the latter did most of the work in making the play happen. It still counts as the first point of the series for Sharp, who has nonetheless been one of the Blackhawks' best contributors this postseason. He's compiled four goals, six assists, and 45 shot attempts over the team's 14 playoff games.

Jonathan Toews
Chicago's Toews Gets Goal, Assist In Game 4
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
5/24/2015
News: Jonathan Toews recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: The physical Ryan Kesler has been a nuisance for Jonathan Toews all series, but the Blackhawks center finally got the better of his adversary in Game 4. He notched his first goal of the series at the 2:38 mark of the third period, then captured a secondary assist on Brent Seabrook's marker exactly five minutes later. He's now averaging a point per game in the playoffs, tallying five goals and nine assists across 14 contests.

 
 
 
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