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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
John Tavares
Isles' Tavares Nets Game-Winner In Overtime
John Tavares, C, NYI
4/20/2015
News: John Tavares scored the game-winning goal 15 seconds into overtime in Sunday's Game 3 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: After being limited to just two shots on goal combined in the first two games of the series, John Tavares rounded back into form with four tries on net, and played the hero for the Isles in Game 3. He's collected a point in each of the three games and will need to continue that kind of production in order to grab a 3-1 series lead in Long Island on Tuesday.

Jaroslav Halak
Isles' Halak Allows One In Win
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
4/20/2015
News: Jaroslav Halak stopped 24 of 25 shots in Sunday's Game 3 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: He wasn't tested as heavily as in Friday's Game 2, but it was a much better outing for Jaroslav Halak as he's now held the Caps to a single goal in two of the three games of the series. Braden Holtby was superb on the other end, so Halak will have to keep up this level of play in order to maintain the series lead before heading back to Washington.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom Nets Goal In Loss
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
4/20/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom scored his second goal of the playoffs in Sunday's Game 3 overtime loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom temporarily appeared as though he might be the hero in this one as he tied it up with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, but the comeback fell short as the Isles struck early in overtime. Goal-scoring wasn't a regular asset of his game -- with his last regular season tally coming on Feb. 19 -- but the 27-year-old has exploded for four points, including two goals, in the past two games of the series.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Stops 40 In Loss
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
4/20/2015
News: Braden Holtby allowed two goals on 42 shots in Sunday's 2-1 overtime Game 3 loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: Following a shaky Game 1 and then a bout with an illness that forced him out of the second game, Braden Holtby was much better in this one but suffered the tough-luck loss as he allowed a goal just 15 seconds into overtime. The 40 saves were a season high for Holtby, but his mates mustered just 25 shots on the other end, so he'll have to be on top of his game again Tuesday in order to tie the series back up before heading back to the nation's capital.

Teuvo Teravainen
Hawks' Teravainen Healthy Scratch Sunday Game 3
Teuvo Teravainen, LW, CHI
4/20/2015
News: Teuvo Teravainen, who skated in both Games 1 and 2 against the Predators, was a healthy scratch for Game 3 on Sunday, ESPN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Teuvo Teravainen hasn't looked bad in the first two games, recording an assist in Wednesday's 4-3 double-overtime win over the Predators in Game 1. However, it appears coach Joel Quenneville opted to go with more experience for Game 3, as Antoine Vermette will return from the press box to replace Teravainen in the Blackhawks' bottom-six ranks.

Alexander Edler
Canucks' Edler Takes Ice For Warmups
Alexander Edler, D, VAN
6:38 PM
News: Alexander Edler (undisclosed) is on the ice for pregame warmups, and he is expected to play in Sunday's Game 3 against the Flames, TSN's Farhan Lalji reports.
Analysis: The same goes for Kevin Bieksa (undislocsed), after both defensemen missed morning skate. Barring a setback during warmups, Alexander Edler and Bieksa will play.

Paul Martin
Pens' Martin Picks Up Assist In Game 2
Paul Martin, D, PIT
2:45 PM
News: Paul Martin was credited with an assist in Saturday's Game 2 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: Paul Martin typically doesn't see much involvement, but he's been able to come away with three assists in his last five games dating back to the regular season. With several Pens defensemen banged up at the moment, Martin's minutes have been on the rise, so the counting stats could continue to trickle in.

Cam Fowler
Ducks' Fowler Gets PP Assist In Game 2
Cam Fowler, D, ANA
2:43 PM
News: Cam Fowler recorded a power-play assist in Saturday's Game 2 win over the Jets.
Analysis: The assist came when Cam Fowler's shot attempt deflected off Patrick Maroon's body about halfway through the third period. It was Fowler's first point since March 28.

Chris Wagner
Ducks' Wagner Sidelined
Chris Wagner, RW, ANA
2:34 PM
News: Chris Wagner (upper body) is not with the Ducks on their road trip to Winnipeg, Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times reports.
Analysis: It's safe to rule Chris Wagner out for Monday's game against the Jets and unless he subsequently joins the team on the road, we won't see the winger back before Friday's schedule home game.

Kyle Quincey
Wings' Quincey Picks Up Assist Saturday
Kyle Quincey, D, DET
2:29 PM
News: Kyle Quincey assisted on the Red Wings' lone goal in Saturday's 5-1 Game 2 loss to the Lightning.
Analysis: After finishing the regular season with just 18 points across 73 games, Kyle Quincey has tallied assists in both of the Red Wings' first two playoff games. Still, don't count on the production continuing, as he mostly profiles as a stay-at-home type on the blue line.

 
 
 
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