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Neutral Zone Wrap: A strange season, indeed

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

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
Kevin Connauton
Jackets' Connauton Likely Won't Play For A Week
Kevin Connauton, D, CLB
3/1/2015
News: Coach Todd Richards said after Saturday's morning skate that Kevin Connauton (foot) likely wouldn't play for another week, Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Assuming that timetable holds through the start of next week, Kevin Connauton will miss at least the next three games while he recovers from the foot injury. The Blue Jackets will lean on some combination of Cody Goloubef, Dalton Prout, and Jordan Leopold to cover for Connauton's absence.

Blake Wheeler
Jets' Wheeler Could Return Sunday
Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG
3/1/2015
News: Blake Wheeler (knee) was a full participant in Saturday's practice and looks like he could be ready to play Sunday against the Kings, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports. "If Blake comes to the rink [Sunday] feeling the way he did [Saturday], he'll be in the lineup," coach Paul Maurice said after the practice.
Analysis: Blake Wheeler didn't skate with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little during the practice like he has for much of the season, but did see regular work with the third line and on the Jets' top power-play unit. As Maurice alluded to, the Jets will check in on Wheeler's condition following Sunday's morning skate, after which he would likely be activated from IR if all goes well.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Still Not Ready To Play
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Craig Anderson (hand) will not be available for Saturday's game against the Sharks, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Craig Anderson seemed to be trending toward a return by facing a number of shots during practices the last few days, but there's still no clear timetable for when he might be able to play. While the lack of clarity regarding Anderson's return date is undoubtedly an annoyance for fantasy owners, the Senators have done just fine without him. In the absence of Anderson and No. 2 goalie Robin Lehner (concussion), the Senators have stumbled into a hot goalie in Andrew Hammond, who has won four straight starts while posting a 0.75 GAA.

Curtis Lazar
Sens' Lazar To Sit Out With Illness Saturday
Curtis Lazar, RW, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Curtis Lazar will miss Saturday's game against the Sharks due to an illness, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Curtis Lazar wasn't on the ice for the Senators' morning skate after apparently acquiring the illness over night. Matt Puempel is set to assume Lazar's spot in the lineup Saturday.

Andrew Hammond
Sens Riding Hammond On Saturday
Andrew Hammond, G, OTT
3/1/2015
News: Andrew Hammond will make his fifth consecutive start Saturday against the Sharks, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Andrew Hammond has been the story of the NHL since taking over as the Senators' No. 1 goalie just over a week ago. After posting middling numbers at AHL Binghamton, Hammond has won his first four NHL starts, posting a 0.75 GAA and .976 save percentage. The matches haven't come against the dregs of the league either; he's posted shutouts his last two times out on the road against the Ducks and Kings. He'll try to continue his California dominance against the struggling Sharks, who will counter with Antti Niemi in goal.

Nathan MacKinnon
Demotion In Store For Avs' MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
3/1/2015
News: MacKinnnon, who was benched during the third period in Friday's game against the Stars, will be dropped to the third line for Saturday's game against the Wild, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Nathan MacKinnon entered Friday's game with four goals in his previous two games, but his play against the Stars clearly irked coach Patrick Roy. The young forward would finish without a single shot on goal in his 12:35 of ice time, and was bumped from the second line in favor of Cody McLeod by the tail end of the game. The Avalanche ultimately prevailed in a shootout without any participation from MacKinnon, prompting coach Patrick Roy to say after the game that McLeod would stick on the second line for Saturday's game. Don't expect MacKinnon's demotion to last long.

Stephane Veilleux
Veilleux Clears Waivers, But Remains With Wild
Stephane Veilleux, C, MIN
3/1/2015
News: Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers Saturday, but will remain with the Wild, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Rather than sending Stephane Veilleux to AHL Iowa after he went unclaimed, the Wild will likely keep the forward around as a healthy scratch for Saturday's game against the Avalanche. Despite being waived, Veilleux remains eligible to play in games with the Wild, and can be assigned back to Iowa at any time.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Visnovsky Won't Play Saturday For Islanders
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
3/1/2015
News: Lubomir Visnovsky will be a healthy scratch Saturday for the Islanders, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: The Islanders and Lubomir Visnovsky played Friday so this may be a case where coach Jack Capuano doesn't want the veteran defenseman to play back to back nights. The truth however is that Capuano has benched Visnovsky on quite a few occasions as he seems to look for any excuse to get Brian Strait in the lineup.

Brandon McMillan
Canucks Waive McMillan
Brandon McMillan, LW, VAN
3/1/2015
News: Brandon McMillan was placed on waivers Saturday, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca reports.
Analysis: Brandon McMillan continued to practice with the Canucks after the transaction was announced, so there's a chance he could remain with the club even after he clears waivers Sunday. The team was likely motivated to make the move in an attempt to free up salary cap space ahead of Monday's trade deadline.

Cam Ward
Carolina's Ward To Get Nod Saturday
Cam Ward, G, CAR
3/1/2015
News: Cam Ward will be in the net for Saturday's game against the Islanders, Brian Compton of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The Hurricanes elected to rest Cam Ward on Friday against the Capitals so he could be honored in a pregame ceremony for his 500th career appearance in the NHL, which he made in Tuesday's win over the Flyers. Though Anton Khudobin spun his first shutout of the season in Friday's win, Ward won't be bypassed for a start, as he's been quite excellent in his own right of late. Ward has won his last three starts while conceding a total of five goals, though none of the team he faced during that stretch were as strong as the squad he'll match up with Saturday.

 
 
 
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