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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
Dan Ellis
Panthers Start Ellis On Sunday
Dan Ellis, G, FLA
12:59 AM
News: Dan Ellis is slated to start Sunday's game against the Senators, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports.
Analysis: Per the report, coach Gerard Gallant indicated that Roberto Luongo is a little sore in the wake of Saturday's game against Montreal and will thus give way to Dan Ellis (who last started on March 17) on Sunday.

Joakim Andersson
Wings' Andersson Grabs Game Winner Saturday
Joakim Andersson, C, DET
12:57 AM
News: Joakim Andersson tallied the game-winning goal in Saturday's 4-0 triumph over the Lightning.
Analysis: It's just the second goal and seventh point of the season for Joakim Andersson, who doesn't see many scoring chances as a bottom-six forward. Andersson's fantasy value is further limited by the lack of PIM and hits he provides relative to many of his peers on the third and fourth line.

Ryan Murphy
Canes' Murphy Gets Assist, Goes Plus-2 Saturday
Ryan Murphy, D, CAR
12:54 AM
News: Ryan Murphy picked up an assist and went plus-2 in Saturday's win over the Devils.
Analysis: Ryan Murphy has begun to carve out some utility in very deep formats lately, providing two goals, an assist, and six shots on goal over his last four games. He'll need to keep that run of scoring going to enjoy broader fantasy appeal, but if nothing else, he's making a strong case for a top-four spot on defense with the Hurricanes in 2015-16-.

Jaroslav Halak
Islanders Turn To Halak On Sunday
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
12:30 AM
News: Jaroslav Halak will start Sunday's game against the Red Wings.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak, who gave way to Michal Neuvirth in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Ducks, will return to the Isles' net on Sunday, with the team looking to snap a three-game slide at home.

Cam Ward
Ward Guide 'Canes To Win Column
Cam Ward, G, CAR
12:25 AM
News: Cam Ward turned away 21 of 22 shots in Saturday's win over the Devils.
Analysis: In a game between two the league's weakest scoring attacks, there predictably wasn't much offense to be found as the teams combined for four goals and 54 shot attempts. Cam Ward was just a bit sharper than opposing netminder Keith Kinkaid, earning the Carolina goalie his second win in two starts since returning from a bout with the flu. Coach Bill Peters is set to go with Anton Khudobin as the starter Sunday versus the Bruins, but Ward's solid showings his last two times out might put him on the inside track to finish the year as the Hurricanes' No. 1 netminder.

Alexander Semin
Semin Back In Carolina Lineup Sunday
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
12:19 AM
News: Alexander Semin (hamstring) is slated to play Sunday against the Bruins, Michael Smith of the Hurricanes' official site reports.
Analysis: With Alexander Semin, who missed Saturday's game, back in the lineup, Brad Malone looks like the odd man out for Carolina up front on Sunday.

Roberto Luongo
Cats' Luongo Takes OT Loss Saturday
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
12:17 AM
News: Roberto Luongo stopped 22 shots but let in three goals in the Panthers' overtime loss to the Canadiens on Saturday.
Analysis: The defeat was a pretty big setback to the Panthers' playoff odds, but with the team still in the thick of the race, Roberto Luongo figures to draw the starting assignment again Sunday versus the Senators. Luongo is 3-1-1 in his five games since returning from a shoulder injury March 19.

Brian Elliott
Blues Turn To Elliott On Monday
Brian Elliott, G, STL
12:12 AM
News: Brian Elliott is slated to start Monday's game against the Canucks, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: Brian Elliott stopped only 13 of 16 shots Saturday against the Blue Jackets to take his third straight loss. He'll look to turn things around Monday against a Vancouver squad that has dropped two straight games by a combined tally of 8-4.

Mark Stone
Sens' Stone Says Hot Saturday
Mark Stone, RW, OTT
12:10 AM
News: Mark Stone netted his 19th goal of the season in Saturday's loss to the Maple Leafs.
Analysis: Mark Stone's goal gave the Sens an early 1-0 lead and the forward his 13th point in as many contests. The 22-year-old will finish the season with somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 points, and there's a good chance that may only represent the low end of his production in future years.

Anton Khudobin
Carolina Turns To Khudobin On Sunday
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
12:03 AM
News: Anton Khudobin is slated to start Sunday's game against the Bruins, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Anton Khudobin, who gave way to Cam Ward in the team's last two games, will take aim Sunday against his former squad, the Bruins, who are coming off a key 4-2 win over the Rangers on Saturday.

 
 
 
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