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Neutral Zone Wrap: A strange season, indeed

by | Rotowire.com
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Don't stare directly into the sun. Keep away from power lines. Watch both ways before you cross the street.

Those are just some of the things that make sense and keep you aware and alive.

You know what doesn't make sense? Everything that has happened up to now in the NHL. Undefeated streaks, unlikely heroes, unbelievable results. Anyone who claims they predicted Montreal leading the East at any significant point should be evaluated for further testing. And don't get me started on Anaheim. Or how Ottawa can still excel even without their top two producers.

Unpredictability works its way into the Fantasy game as well, especially early on. One day, you're on top of your league and feeling good. The next day, a couple players are out long-term and you're leaking category points from every position. The reverse can also happen, but this situation can lead to temporary confidence. That is, if you're not ready for a possible downturn. In both cases, the key is preparation. Is your lineup deep enough to contend for an entire season? Are you alert -- and willing -- to make moves if someone should go down? Do you know the way to San Jose?

If you're looking to improve, then this is the place to be. We won't promise consistency and we can't guarantee success or titles. We provide the material -- you make the moves that set your team in motion. Now that we've lost your attention, here are this week's pertinent questions:

(Stats as of Thursday, Feb. 21)

Is there any other franchise that is benefiting more from the shortened season than the Maple Leafs? Many thought Nazem Kadri (14, including four power-play goals) was never going to be an everyday player. Maybe Tyler Bozak (11, 20:35 average), truly is the number No. 1 center Toronto has been missing. A minor injury won't keep Matt Frattin (10 in 10, including seven goals) out for long. Behold Cody Franson (11 and a plus-11) and his ever-growing stat line. Beware of Mike Kostka (finally found a point after 10 scoreless games) and his diminishing returns. Mark Fraser definitely isn't a top defender but he can help you in certain categories (plus-13, 42 hits, 23 blocked shots). Now imagine Toronto with both Joffrey Lupul (broken forearm, another few weeks) and Jake Gardiner (22 in 32 in the AHL) in the lineup.

If the Flames fall down and no one watches, is there anyone around to care? Calgary may have predictably started off poorly, but a couple skaters are grabbing attention. Alex Tanguay leads the club in scoring (four goals, eight assists). Jiri Hudler (10 in 12) has shaken off the extended European layover. Curtis Glencross tops the charts in goals (six). And Roman Cervenka (six in 12) provides a nice veteran complement. But the bubble will eventually burst for Lee Stempniak (10, but just one in four). Jay Bouwmeester may continue to rack up the ice time (25 minutes a night), but T.J. Brodie (a goal Wednesday, almost two minutes of PP action) serves as the rearguard with the higher upside.

How soon is the end in Buffalo? The longest-serving head coach is gone but you can hardly blame him for the club's woes. Ryan Miller has to stand on his head (2.87 GAA, .915 save percentage while leading the league in saves and shots against) just so they can lose by a respectable score. Cody Hodgson (15, but nothing on the man-advantage) will fall and no one will be able to stop it. Wake up, Drew Stafford (eight, minus-5, should be averaging more than 2.5 shots per outing), the boys are counting on you. Steve Ott (seven, 38 PIM) should be provided an expanded role under the new regime. And will someone explain why Mikhail Grigorenko (three in 14, 11 minutes) is playing in the NHL when his talent is being wasted on the bottom two lines? If there is a more underachieving D-man pairing than Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold so far (combined seven points and a minus-13), then they must be hiding really well.

Geez, what's wrong with Washington? So some guy named Alex Ovechkin ('only' 10, but also a minus-8) is shooting but not scoring (only five goals on 68 shots). And another Alexander - Semin, that is - would have really helped the Caps attack (197 career goals with the Caps). But offense is not where they lack. Just look at how well Joel Ward (11, plus-7) and Troy Brouwer (11, with seven PPPs) are producing. Even returnee Eric Fehr (six in 13) has made a difference in his short stint. The problem lies in net, where neither Braden Holtby (3.62 GAA, .891 save percentage in 10) nor Michal Neuvirth (3.05 GAA, .889 save percentage in seven) has been able to show any reliability.

Can people honestly be shocked the reigning champs are struggling to score goals (averaging 2.3)? This story line is not new in LA, as they stumbled offensively through most of last season (at a sizzling 2.25 clip) before sneaking in as an eight-seed. One could point at almost every Kings forward and claim he is underachieving. The exception may be Kyle Clifford (eight, leads with 47 hits), who currently is enjoying life alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The struggles of Justin Williams  (six) were detailed last week, so let's focus on new press box tenant Simon Gagne (scratched last two) and former resident Dustin Penner (one point). If you haven't heard, Slava Voynov (six points, averaging 23 minutes this month) is accumulating lots of experience with three defensemen on the shelf.

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Player News
Marek Mazanec
Predators Recall Mazanec
Marek Mazanec, G, NSH
1/27/2015
News: The Predators have recalled Marek Mazanec from AHL Milwaukee, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Marek Mazanec, who got some AHL work in during the NHL All-Star break, returns to the big club to combo with Carter Hutton, with fellow goalie Pekka Rinne still sidelined.

Andrew Ebbett
Pens Recall Ebbett
Andrew Ebbett, C, PIT
1/27/2015
News: Andrew Ebbett was recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday.
Analysis: Andrew Ebbett was reassigned just before the All-Star break to get some extra work in, and has now been recalled along with two other forwards to provide depth with both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby expected to miss the first game of the second half. In his last game with the club Jan. 21, Ebbett managed to add another point to his total, giving him six on the season in 18 games.

Dion Phaneuf
Leafs' Phaneuf Week-To-Week
Dion Phaneuf, D, TOR
1/27/2015
News: Dion Phaneuf is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
Analysis: Per the report, Dion Phaneuf sustained his injury prior to the NHL All-Star break, with the week-to-week tag suggesting that the blueliner will miss multiple games, starting with Wednesday's tilt against New Jersey. Another report indicates the injury may be an aggravation of a prior hand issue that was again bothered in last Wednesday's game against the Senators.

Matt Ellis
Ellis Recalled By Sabres
Matt Ellis, LW, BUF
1/27/2015
News: The Sabres have recalled Matt Ellis from AHL Rochester, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Matt Ellis, who has recorded 13 points in 38 games AHL games to date, adds experience and depth up front, but he's off the fantasy radar in his depth role with the Sabres.

Matt Hackett
Sabres Recall Hackett
Matt Hackett, G, BUF
1/27/2015
News: The Sabres have recalled Matt Hackett from AHL Rochester, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Matt Hackett will combo with Jhonas Enroth for the Sabres in the coming days, with fellow goaltender Michal Neuvirth currently sidelined by a lower-body injury.

Michal Neuvirth
Sabres' Neuvirth Sidelined
Michal Neuvirth, G, BUF
1/27/2015
News: Michal Neuvirth is dealing with a lower-body injury, the Sabres' official site reports.
Analysis: Michal Neuvirth suffered his injury "while working out during the All-Star break and will miss some time," GM Tim Murray relayed Monday. "He will not join the team for our trip out west this week," Murray added. With Neuvirth ailing, the Sabres have recalled fellow goalie Matt Hackett.

Kyle Okposo
Isles' Okposo Out 6-8 Weeks
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
1/27/2015
News: Kyle Okposo will miss 6-8 weeks with an upper-body injury.
Analysis: Coach Jack Capuano delivered the news Monday, and Kyle Okposo's loss represents a major hit to the Isles' offense. The winger has recorded 14 goals and 44 points through 46 games to date, while working on the team's top line.

Nikita Jevpalovs
Sharks Sign Free Agent Jevpalovs
Nikita Jevpalovs, RW, PHI
1/27/2015
News: The Sharks signed Nikita Jevpalovs to an entry-level deal on Monday.
Analysis: Nikita Jevpalovs is having a great year in junior, playing for Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. He has 38 goals and 71 points in 45 games for the Armada.

Nikita Zadorov
Zadorov Suspended By Sabres
Nikita Zadorov, D, BUF
1/27/2015
News: The Sabres have suspended Nikita Zadorov for failing to report to the team on time following the NHL All-Star break, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Nikita Zadorov, who has eight points in 34 games to date, shouldn't be out of commission too long, though. GM Tim Murray indicated that he expects the blueliner (who missed Monday's practice) to rejoin the team "at some point during this week's western road trip."

Mark Arcobello
Arcobello Goes From Waivers To Pens' Top Line
Mark Arcobello, C, PIT
7:51 PM
News: Mark Arcobello skated as the Pens' No. 1 center Monday in practice.
Analysis: With Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both sidelined, the recently-acquired waiver wire pickup will play alongside Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist (provided he comes off IR). If fantasy owners ever thought about deploying Mark Arcobello, then Tuesday at home against the Jets would be the night so to do.

 
 
 
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