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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
Brett Bellemore
Canes' Bellemore Pots First Goal Of Season
Brett Bellemore, D, CAR
12:00 PM
News: Brett Bellemore scored his first goal of the season and collected five PIM in Friday's win over Washington.
Analysis: Brett Bellemore now has six points and a plus-3 rating in 33 games on the season. Considering the defenseman averages just 15:32 of ice time and has only recorded 16 shots on goal, Bellmore is only valuable in the deepest of fantasy leagues.

Jacob Josefson
Devils' Josefson Picks Up Assist Friday
Jacob Josefson, C, NJ
9:18 AM
News: Jacob Josefson picked up an assist in Friday's loss to the Bruins.
Analysis: Since returning from injured reserve Jan. 19 with a two-point performance against the Sharks, Jacob Josefson has needed 15 games just to match that output. His presence as the Devils' center on the checking line will continue to inhibit his offense.

Jack Hillen
Caps Ship Hillen To 'Canes
Jack Hillen, D, WAS
9:12 AM
News: Jack Hillen was traded to the Hurricanes on Saturday along with a 2015 fourth-round draft pick in exchange for defenseman Tim Gleason.
Analysis: Gleason was bound for free agency after the season, so the deal is mostly about accumulating the extra draft pick for the rebuilding Hurricanes. That being said, Jack Hillen should still receive a look on the team's second or third pairing over the final month and a half, though expectations should remain low. On a much more offensively skilled team in the Capitals, Hillen had managed to accumulate five points in 35 games.

Tim Gleason
'Canes Ship Gleason To Capitals
Tim Gleason, D, CAR
9:09 AM
News: Tim Gleason was traded to the Capitals on Saturday in exchange for Jack Hillen and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick.
Analysis: It's the second time in two years that Tim Gleason has been dealt prior to the deadline, after the Hurricanes previously dealt the blueliner to the Maple Leafs in January before signing him to a one-year contract in the summer. Gleason is expected to slot in on the Capitals' third pairing next to Mike Green, where he'll be tasked with providing physicality to complement Green's more offensive-based, finesse game.

Mike Smith
Coyotes Stick With Slumping Smith On Saturday
Mike Smith, G, ARI
8:55 AM
News: Mike Smith will be between the pipes for Saturday's game against the Bruins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: With seven straight losses on his ledger to drop his season record to a woeful 10-29-5, Mike Smith isn't worth keeping active in most formats at this point. The Bruins might not be nearly as formidable as they were at this point last season, but they're still a much more competitive team than the Coyotes, who have made no secret of their desire to bottom out this season. As such, Smith will be a heavy underdog nearly every time he takes the net the rest of the way.

Jonathan Bernier
Leafs' Bernier To Receive Another Turn In Goal
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8:51 AM
News: Jonathan Bernier will be in the cage for Saturday's game against the Canadiens, Mark Masters of TSN reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Bernier has rebounded from a 10-game winning streak with back-to-back victories in impressive fashion over the Jets and Flyers, but it's probably advisable to stay away from him Saturday night. No goalie in the league has been hotter since the All-Star break than Carey Price, who has won 11 of his last 13 starts while submitting a microscopic 1.28 GAA. Bernier may need to pitch a shutout in order to pick up the win.

Rob Scuderi
Pens' Scuderi Skates Saturday
Rob Scuderi, D, PIT
8:47 AM
News: Rob Scuderi (foot) participated in Saturday's practice, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Rob Scuderi had been off the ice since logging 16:47 of action in Wednesday's win over the Penguins, but his return to practice suggests he might be available for the Pens' next game Sunday against the Blue Jackets. The team should have a clearer idea on Scuderi's status before pregame warmups.

Sergei Gonchar
Saturday Return Confirmed For Habs' Gonchar
Sergei Gonchar, D, MON
8:44 AM
News: Sergei Gonchar (upper body) will be activated from injured reserve and return to the lineup Saturday against the Maple Leafs, John Lu of TSN Montreal reports.
Analysis: Sergei Gonchar may have some added incentive to bring some physicality to Saturday's proceedings; after all, it was in the game against the Leafs two weeks ago that he suffered the injury when he was blindsided into the boards by David Clarkson, who has since been traded to the Blue Jackets. The 40-year-old defenseman, who has a goal and 12 assists in 41 games this season, will join Greg Pateryn to form on the Habs' third defensive pair.

Devan Dubnyk
Wild's Dubnyk Expected To Start 20th In A Row
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN
8:36 AM
News: Devan Dubnyk is expected to receive the start in goal Saturday against the Avalanche, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: If that ends up being the case, it would go down as the 20th consecutive start for the netminder, tying Niklas Backstrom's franchise record established in 2009. Devan Dubnyk has been more than deserving of the burdensome workload, as he's gone an incredible 14-3-1 with a 1.68 GAA, .934 save percentage, and five shutouts since his Jan. 14 acquisition from the Coyotes.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason Draws Saturday Start
Steve Mason, G, PHI
8:33 AM
News: Steve Mason was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate and will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Rangers, Sarah Baicker of CSN Philadelphia reports.
Analysis: Steve Mason, who has missed most of the month with a knee injury, was activated from IR prior to Thursday's game against the Maple Leafs, but served in a backup capacity to Rob Zepp. That was only done in an effort to ease him back into action, but Mason still saw duty in the second period in relief of a struggling Zepp, stopping eight of nine shots to take the loss. Staying healthy has been an issue for Mason this season, but he's looked like one of the league's better netminders when he's been able to play, posting a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage. With the Flyers only six points behind the Bruins for the final wild-card spot entering play Saturday, expect Mason to shoulder a heavy workload over the season's final month and a half.

 
 
 
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