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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
Mark Visentin
Coyotes' Visentin (Lower Body) Helped Off Ice
Mark Visentin, G, ARI
12:51 AM
News: Mark Visentin suffered a lower body injury during Sunday's training camp scrimmage.
Analysis: Mark Visentin was helped off of the ice, so it's possible the injury is something fairly serious, but it's too early to tell, as the report did not provide definitive details. Another update should be forthcoming once Visentin is evaluated by the team's medical staff.

Nathan Lieuwen
Sabres Start Lieuwen In Preseason Opener
Nathan Lieuwen, G, BUF
12:25 AM
News: Nathan Lieuwen will start and possibly play the whole game in their preseason opener Sunday against Washington.
Analysis: The Sabres are dressing their two AHL goalies with Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov. Lieuwen, a sixth-round pick, usurped the starting job from Matt Hackett in Rochester last year until a concussion shut Lieuwen down for the season, paving the way for Makarov to finish as Rochester's starter in the playoffs. Lieuwen finished his AHL season with a .922 save percentage and 17 wins in 32 appearances. Interesting to hear that head coach Ted Nolan will likely play Lieuwen the whole game, sending the message loud and clear that each goalie will get a fair shot and a fair look. It's open season in the organization right now as Lieuwen and Makarov vie for the starting job in Rochester while Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth battle for the big league gig.

Jon Merrill
Merrill To Sit Monday For Devils
Jon Merrill, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Jon Merrill (head) will not play Monday against the Rangers in the Devils' preseason opener after suffering a slight head injury Saturday.
Analysis: Jon Merrill collided with Ruslan Fedotenko on Saturday and appeared woozy. He will not play Monday simply as a precaution and will likely be limited in the coming week.

Cory Schneider
Devils To Rest Schneider Monday
Cory Schneider, G, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Cory Schneider will not play in Monday's preseason opener against the Rangers.
Analysis: Schenider's job as New Jersey's No. 1 netminder is massively secure, but the team needs to figure out who will be their backup netminder this season. That contest is between Scott Wedgewood, Keith Kinkaid and Maxime Clermont, two of whom will begin the season in the AHL. Schenider had some of the best peripheral statistics among NHL starting goaltenders last season despite just 16 wins in 45 games. He's a safe option after the netminders who will pile up wins are snagged.

Mike Cammalleri
Cammalleri Seeing Time On Devils' Top Line
Mike Cammalleri, LW, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Mike Cammalleri has been playing left wing on the team's top line alongside Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, the Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti reports.
Analysis: Mike Cammalleri will be expected to challenge the 30-goal plateau and could have a decent shot if he is able to develop chemistry with Zajac and Jagr. The veteran sniper can also play center, but the Devils are starting him off on the wing where he will be expected to shoot often. Cammalleri had 26 goals in 63 games last year for Calgary, a season that saw him battle various nagging injuries.

Adam Larsson
Larsson Under Pressure At Devils' Camp
Adam Larsson, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Adam Larsson will need to earn the trust of the New Jersey coaching staff in order to secure a spot in the team's lineup.
Analysis: Adam Larsson has to have a strong camp in order to secure one of the open spots on the team's roster. With him on a one-way, one-year contract now, he'll have to pass through waivers if he is sent down, so he has a roster spot in theory. The fourth-overall pick of the 2011 draft has seen sparse ice time the last few seasons and will need to have a strong training camp along with fellow youngster Eric Gelinas in order to earn the trust of the team's coaching staff.

Eric Gelinas
Gelinas Needs To Impress Devils' Coaches
Eric Gelinas, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Eric Gelinas will need to earn the trust of the New Jersey coaching staff in order to secure a spot in the team's lineup.
Analysis: Eric Gelinas had a rather up-and-down rookie season, with the bulk of his 29 points coming early in his 60 games. He spent several stints in the minors and will need to play well in preseason games to earn a regular spot on the roster. He offers a ton of offensive upside, especially on the power play where he snagged 17 points, but him receiving regular ice time will come down to how he plays in his own zone. The Devils' coaching staff love their veterans and Gelinas had a rather short leash last season. He's worth a risk, just don't make it a sizable one in most leagues.

Erik Haula
Wild's Haula (Jaw) Back To Full Speed
Erik Haula, LW, MIN
9/21/2014
News: Erik Haula, who suffered a broken jaw at the World Championships in Belarus in May, is back to full strength at the start of training camp, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Erik Haula looks set to center the Wild's third line. Huala had a strong showing in the playoffs with four goals and seven points in 11 games and looks set to build on that performance with a set job in the NHL this season.

Andre Burakovsky
Caps' Burakovsky Scores First (Unofficial) Goal
Andre Burakovsky, LW, WAS
9/21/2014
News: Andre Burakovsky scored the only goal in the Capitals' 1-0 over Buffalo on Sunday night.
Analysis: Andre Burakovsky scored a nice wrist shot from the face-off circle, and continued to build on his impressive offseason. While Burakovsky is likely destined for AHL Hershey for the balance of the season, the 19-year-old Swede has impressed his coaches throughout the summer. With the leg injury to Tom Wilson and Burakovsky's emerging skills as a potential scoring line center, Burakovsky might be able to secure a roster spot if he keeps this level of play throughout preseason. Keep an eye on him, as Burakovsky has some burgeoning sleeper potential in single-season leagues, and is a must own in keeper leagues.

Joel Ward
Caps' Ward Tallies Assist In Sunday's Win
Joel Ward, RW, WAS
9/21/2014
News: Joel Ward had an assist and two PIM's in 17:25 of ice time during the Capitals' 1-0 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
Analysis: Joel Ward played with Jason Chimera and rookie Andre Burakovsky at even-strength. Like Chimera, Ward had a banner year last season. Although the two have great chemistry, it wouldn't be surprising to see his production regress some this season. Keep an eye on him, but he's probably only worth drafting in deeper leagues.

 
 
 
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