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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
Michael Keranen
Wild, Keranen Agree To One-Year Deal
Michael Keranen, LW, MIN
5/23/2015
News: Karanen agreed to a one-year, two-way deal with the Wild on Friday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Michael Keranen appeared in 70 games for AHL Iowa this season, registering 10 goals and 27 assists to go with a minus-12 rating. He'll look to crack the Wild's roster at some point in 2015-16.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Starts Game 4
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
4:50 PM
News: Henrik Lundqvist will start Game 4 against the Lightning on Friday, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Henrik Lundqvist's start in net is no surprise, but he'll look for a better outing Friday after allowing six goals in Game 3.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Starts Game 4
Ben Bishop, G, TB
4:44 PM
News: Ben Bishop will start Game 4 on Friday against the Rangers, Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: Unsurprisingly, Ben Bishop will be between the pipes as the Lightning look to extend their 2-1 series lead on Friday. He'll look for a better start than his previous outing in which he allowed five goals on 28 shots.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Tallies First Point In Series
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
12:55 PM
News: Patrick Maroon scored one of his team's two goals -- his first of the series -- in Anaheim's 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks in Thursday's Game 3.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon had been silent in both games at the Honda Center to start the series, but wasted no time in Game 3 as he opened the scoring on a power play in the first. The goal comes as his fifth of the postseason, tied with Matt Beleskey and trailing only Corey Perry's eight for the team lead.

Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom Back In For 'Hawks
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
12:35 PM
News: Joakim Nordstrom made just his third appearance of the playoffs Thursday in a Game 3 loss to Anaheim, skating 7:06 and going minus-1 with a shot on goal and three hits.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom hasn't seen much playing time in the postseason, obviously, but he and Kris Versteeg were surprising additions to Thursday's lineup, with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen sitting out to make room. Even if Nordstrom stays on the ice come Saturday's Game 4, he's a very low-upside fantasy option.

Kris Versteeg
Hawks' Versteeg Back In For Game 3
Kris Versteeg, RW, CHI
12:33 PM
News: Kris Versteeg was reinserted into the Chicago lineup for the first time in nearly a month Thursday. He skated 13:31 and didn't record a point in a Game 3 loss to Anaheim.
Analysis: It was his first appearance since Game 6 of the first round against Nashville, way back on April 25. Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom were surprise additions to the Hawks' lineup, with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen sitting out. We'll see whether Chicago redeploys Versteeg in Game 4, but he's not much of a fantasy option at this point.

Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf's Helpers Boost Ducks Yet Again
Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
12:29 PM
News: Ryan Getzlaf assisted on both Anaheim goals Thursday in Game 3 against Chicago, helping out on Patrick Maroon's power-play tally and Simon Despres' game-winner.
Analysis: Ryan Getzlaf may only have two goals this postseason -- and he didn't so much as put a shot on goal Thursday -- but he's racked up 14 assists in 12 games, which is good enough to put him in a three-way tie for the second-most playoff points. No one else in these playoffs has even cracked double digits in assists.

Simon Despres
Anaheim's Despres Scores Game 3 Winner
Simon Despres, D, ANA
12:25 PM
News: Simon Despres scored his first goal of the playoffs in Game 3 on Thursday, beating Chicago's Corey Crawford with 55 seconds remaining in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, which ended up being the winning tally.
Analysis: The former Penguin has had a good time in these playoffs, with a goal and six assists in the Ducks' dozen playoff game so far. That's an improved scoring rate over what Simon Despres was able to do in the regular season, as even after coming over to Anaheim, he recorded only a modest six points in 16 contests. The Quebec native's got significant long-term offensive upside, and the experience he's gaining here in his first deep NHL playoff run will serve him well in the future.

Corey Crawford
Crawford, 'Hawks Take Tough Game 3 Loss
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
12:19 PM
News: Corey Crawford allowed just two goals on 27 shots, but took the loss in Thursday's Game 3 against Anaheim.
Analysis: Frederik Andersen was one better on the other end, with Simon Despres' late-second-period goal against Corey Crawford holding up as the winner. After Crawford put up a bit of a clunker in Game 1, he's been terrifically sharp in the last two games, but the 'Hawks still face a 2-1 series deficit heading into Game 4 in Chicago.

Frederik Andersen
Andersen's 27 Stops Carry Ducks To Series Lead
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:16 PM
News: Frederik Andersen turned aside 27 of 28 shots Thursday, leading the way to a 2-1 win in Game 3 against the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Several of those saves came during the frantic final minutes, with Chicago trying desperately to tie the game and Frederik Andersen making heroic stops. Over three games in this series now, he's allowed just five goals on 117 shots -- a .957 save percentage.

 
 
 
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