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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
Alex Tanguay
Avs' Tanguay Will Return On Tuesday
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
11/25/2014
News: Alex Tanguay (face) has been cleared by doctors and will play against the Coyotes on Tuesday, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Alex Tanguay was hit in the face with a puck in Thursday's game against the Capitals and was forced to miss Colorado's game on Saturday. It was originally feared that he would be out indefinitely, but after further evaluation it was determined that the injury was not long-term. In 20 appearances this season, the 35-year-old winger has seven goals and four assists.

Cory Schneider
Devils' Schneider Will Start Tuesday
Cory Schneider, G, NJ
2:48 PM
News: Cory Schneider will start between the pipes Tuesday against the Canucks, Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger reports.
Analysis: Cory Schneider will take the crease once again for his league-leading 21st start of the season in Vancouver against his former team. The netminder is fresh off a 29 save shutout over the Oilers last time out.

Henrik Tallinder
Rangers Offer Tallinder Professional Tryout
Henrik Tallinder, D, TOR
1:51 PM
News: Henrik Tallinder has been given a professional tryout with the Rangers' AHL affiliate, Steve Zipay of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Henrik Tallinder had a tryout with the Maple Leafs earlier in the season but was released with no contract offer. The Rangers are without captain, Ryan McDonagh, so if Tallinder is signed by the Rangers he could offer some experience on the Rangers blue line. Last season with Buffalo, Tallinder played 64 games while scoring two goals and six assists.

Curtis McKenzie
Stars Reassign McKenzie
Curtis McKenzie, LW, DAL
1:50 PM
News: The Stars reassigned Curtis McKenzie to AHL Texas on Monday.
Analysis: Curtis McKenzie registered a goal and seven PIM in nine games with the Stars, but with Ryan Garbutt (upper body) poised to return to the lineup, McKenzie will head to AHL Texas to gain more experience.

Andrew Shaw
Hawks' Shaw Likely Back Wednesday
Andrew Shaw, C, CHI
1:36 PM
News: Andrew Shaw (upper body) appears poised to return to the lineup Wednesday against the Avalanche, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: The gritty forward should draw back into the lineup after the team demoted his replacement, Phillip Danault, to AHL Rockford on Monday. Andrew Shaw collected three goals and three assists in 18 games before getting injured Nov. 16 against the Stars.

Phillip Danault
Hawks Reassign Danault
Phillip Danault, LW, CHI
1:33 PM
News: The Blackhawks reassigned Phillip Danault to AHL Rockford on Monday, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: Phillip Danault appeared in two games with the Hawks, but failed to crack the score sheet. His departure likely means Andrew Shaw (upper body) is ready to return to the lineup, and even though it may not be this year, it's highly unlikely that we've seen the last of Danault at the NHL level.

Brad Marchand
Bruins Activate Marchand
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
1:21 PM
News: The Bruins activated Brad Marchand (undisclosed) off of IR on Monday, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports.
Analysis: The Bruins reassigned Seth Griffith to clear a roster spot for Brad Marchand, who hasn't been in the lineup since Nov. 15. Marchand recorded five goals and six assists in 19 games before getting hurt, and will provide a much needed boost to a depleted Bruins top six when he reenters the lineup Monday against the Penguins.

Seth Griffith
Bruins' Reassign Griffith
Seth Griffith, C, BOS
1:17 PM
News: The Bruins reassigned Seth Griffith to AHL Providence on Monday, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports.
Analysis: The Bruins activated Brad Marchand (undisclosed) off IR on Monday, with csnne.com's Joe Haggerty suggesting that the move to send Seth Griffith down is "more of a cap thing than anything else."

Corey Crawford
Hawks' Crawford Gives Up Three Goals In Loss
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
12:45 PM
News: Corey Crawford surrendered three goals on 29 shots in Sunday's loss to Vancouver.
Analysis: Despite the loss, it was a strong outing for Corey Crawford, who was making his 11th straight start. He has been one of the best fantasy goalies this season, winning four of his past five games and posting a 9-5-1 record on the year. Backup Anti Raanta (illness) is feeling better and may get a start in the near-future, but any night Crawford is in the Hawks' crease, he needs to be in your lineup.

Kris Versteeg
Hawks' Versteeg Scores Seventh Goal
Kris Versteeg, RW, CHI
12:38 PM
News: Kris Versteeg scored for the third time in four games in Sunday's loss to Vancouver.
Analysis: Life alongside Patty Kane is pretty sweet. Kris Versteeg is thriving on the second line, collecting three goals and seven points in his last four games. He is also playing on the Hawks' top power-play unit, where he tipped in a Duncan Keith shot Sunday. With seven goals on the season, Versteeg is worth adding, at least until Patrick Sharp (leg) returns from injury.

 
 
 
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