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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
Vincent Lecavalier
Flyers Transfer Lecavalier To IR
Vincent Lecavalier, C, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Vincent Lecavalier (foot) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: Vincent Lecavalier returned to practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Oct. 11. Because he's already missed over a week of action, the Flyers will be able to stash Lecavalier on injured reserve retroactively. Lecavalier looks on track to play at some point next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday against the Kings.

Braydon Coburn
Flyers Place Coburn On IR
Braydon Coburn, D, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Braydon Coburn (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: With Braydon Coburn ruled out four weeks Friday due to the injury, he'll unsurprisingly move to IR to create some roster space. Coburn suffered the foot injury in the Flyers' first game of the season against the Bruins, but had taken pregame warmups as a recently as Tuesday before suffering a setback. Mark Alt will be recalled from AHL Adirondback in a corresponding move.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock To Start Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
10/25/2014
News: Alex Stalock will be between the pipes on Saturday against Buffalo, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: The Sharks started the year alternating games between Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi, but after two consecutive losses by Stalock, Niemi has started the past two. He struggled in those two games, taking 5-3 and 5-4 losses, so Stalock could continue to earn more starts with a solid performance against the struggling Sabres.

Zdeno Chara
Bruins Place Chara On IR
Zdeno Chara, D, BOS
10/25/2014
News: Zdeno Chara (knee) was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The move comes as little surprise after Zdeno Chara was ruled out four-to-six weeks after suffering a PCL tear in his left knee Thursday night. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow were recalled from AHL Providence in corresponding moves to give the Bruins some replacement options on the blue line.

Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny Skating, But Not Doing Much Else
Paul Stastny, C, STL
10/25/2014
News: Paul Stastny (upper body) has been able to skate the last two days, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: It seems as though Paul Stastny has returned to the ice strictly for conditioning purposes, as he hasn't attempted shots or taken any contact yet. The Blues remain steadfast in their belief that a lengthy absence isn't in store for Stastny, but it's looking increasingly unlikely that he'll be back before the end of the month.

John Gibson
Ducks Confirm Gibson For Friday
John Gibson, G, ANA
10/25/2014
News: John Gibson has been confirmed as the starter for Friday's game against the Blue Jackets, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: While John Gibson has been surpassed by Frederik Andersen on the team's depth chart, coach Bruce Boudreau stated that he still intends to give the 21-year-old semi-frequent action in order to build his confidence. Boudreau will instead save the red-hot Andersen for the more critical matchup of the weekend, when the division-rival Sharks come to Anaheim.

Mikhail Grabovski
Isles' Grabovski Could Return Saturday
Mikhail Grabovski, C, NYI
10/25/2014
News: Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) felt good while practicing Friday and could play Saturday against the Stars, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Mikhail Grabovski took part in Friday's session in a full capacity, joining Frans Nielsen and Cory Conacher on the Isles' second line. The team will reexamine him after Saturday's morning skate before reaching a determination on his status for the game later that evening, but if his concussion symptoms don't resurface, expect the team to activate him from IR.

Sonny Milano
Blue Jackets Activate Milano, Assign Him To OHL
Sonny Milano, LW, CLB
10/25/2014
News: Sonny Milano (face) has been activated from the Blue Jackets' non-roster injury list and assigned to OHL Plymouth.
Analysis: Sonny Milano hasn't played since suffering two fractures in his face during the NHL Prospects Tournament in mid-September. The Blue Jackets' first-round selection in this past June's draft, Milano has elected to bypass a collegiate career with Boston College in favor of testing himself at the junior level. He's probably at least two years away from contributing for the Blue Jackets.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson: (Hip) Still Not Ready To Go
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
10/25/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson (hip) still doesn't sound like he's ready to make his season debut, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: The Blues' medical staff has granted Carl Gunnarsson clearance to play and is simply waiting for the defenseman to alert them when he's good to go, but he's evidently not comfortable with his hip just yet. Jordan Leopold will continue to occupy a regular spot on defense for the Blues until Gunnarsson feels the pain in his hip has fully dissipated.

Karri Ramo
Flames Go With Ramo On Saturday
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
10/25/2014
News: Karri Ramo will be in the crease Saturday against the Capitals, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 The Fan reports.
Analysis: With both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller playing well, coach Bob Hartley seems content to alternate starts between the two goalies until one of the two netminders sees their productivity tail off. Ramo will carry a strong 2.20 GAA and .917 save percentage into Saturday's start, but it still seems likely that Hiller will ultimately take the reins of the No. 1 job.

 
 
 
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