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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
Scott Laughton
Concussion Confirmed For Flyers' Laughton
Scott Laughton, C, PHI
12:59 AM
News: Scott Laughton confirmed Thursday that he's been dealing with a concussion, Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia reports.
Analysis: Scott Laughton has been cleared to resume skating, but likely needs to pass more tests before he's able to absorb contact. He'll sit for a fifth straight game Thursday against the Jets.

Ryan Suter
Wild's Suter Confirmed To Play Thursday
Ryan Suter, D, MIN
12:50 AM
News: Coach Mike Yeo confirmed Ryan Suter (lower body) would play Thursday against the Flames, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: The injury prevented Ryan Suter from taking part in Wednesday's practice, but he was back on the ice for Thursday's morning skate to verify his availability for the game. Suter has seen his offensive contributions tail off a bit this season, particularly as a goal scorer, but he still paces the NHL with an average of 29:37 TOI per game.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Wants All Four Road Starts
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
12:45 AM
News: Jhonas Enroth wants to start all four of the team's upcoming road games, reports Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News.
Analysis: With Michal Neuvirth (lower body) sidelined, Jhonas Enroth is the undisputed No. 1 goalie with Matt Hackett serving as the backup. Enroth wants to start all the games, including back-to-back Thursday and Friday against Edmonton and Vancouver. Head coach Ted Nolan isn't ready to just hand Enroth the starts, however, saying: "... we want a lot of things. We want some wins, too." Reading between the lines, it basically means that he's happy to give Enroth the starts, but only if he starts winning games. Enroth has not won a game since Dec. 27 and the Sabres are winless in January. It's a good bet Hackett will see some action at some point on the road trip.

Erik Cole
Stars' Cole (Upper Body) Expected To Sit Thursday
Erik Cole, RW, DAL
12:41 AM
News: Erik Cole (upper body) is expected to sit out Thursday's game against the Senators, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Erik Cole indicated that he felt good after participating in Wednesday's practice, but the Stars will exercise a little precaution and keep him out for a second straight game. In addition to the upper-body injury, he has battled a cold recently, which probably has him running at less-than-optimal health at the moment.

Andre Benoit
Sabres Scratch Benoit Against Oilers
Andre Benoit, D, BUF
12:40 AM
News: Andre Benoit will be a healthy scratch Thursday against the Oilers, reports Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Despite the team's struggles, the Sabres will keep the same lineup they had against Calgary. Andre Benoit, who has six points in 33 games, will be a healthy scratch alongside Nikita Zadorov. The 31-year-old has served as a depth defenseman for much of the season. He provides some offensive value when he plays, but the team's forwards are struggling, so chances are few and far between. Zadorov will likely dress Friday against Vancouver while Benoit's status is TBD.

Stu Bickel
Wild Reassign Bickel
Stu Bickel, D, MIN
12:34 AM
News: Stu Bickel was reassigned to AHL Iowa on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: He'll be replaced by Matt Dumba, who was recalled from Iowa in a corresponding move. Stu Bickel's stint with the parent club lasted just three days, with the blueliner serving as a healthy scratch in the Wild's lone game during that time.

Matt Dumba
Wild Recall Dumba From Minors
Matt Dumba, D, MIN
12:32 AM
News: Mathew Dumba was recalled from AHL Iowa on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Mathew Dumba joined the Wild for Thursday's morning practice in Calgary, where the blueliner grew up. Coach Mike Yeo wouldn't say whether or not Dumba would enter the lineup in front of his hometown crowd, but it seems likely that he'd replace Christian Folin if that materializes.

Dwight King
Kings' King Productive Wednesday
Dwight King, LW, LA
12:29 AM
News: Dwight King finished Wednesday's 4-3 win against the Blackhawks with a plus-2 rating and an assist.
Analysis: This was an impressive showing from Dwight King, a player who rarely makes waves in the fantasy realm. Apparent is King's energy on the ice but he shouldn't draw a serious look among fantasy hockey pickups unless he can start to establish any kind of offensive rhythm.

Joffrey Lupul
Leafs' Lupul (Lower Body) Activated From IR
Joffrey Lupul, RW, TOR
12:20 AM
News: Joffrey Lupul (lower body) was activated from injured reserve Thursday.
Analysis: The Leafs were labeling Joffrey Lupul as a game-time decision for Thursday's game against the Coyotes, but his activation from IR and the subsequent demotion of Josh Leivo to AHL Toronto suggests the team fully intends to have Lupul available. Injuries have been his undoing throughout his career, but Lupul has been productive in the 26 games he's skated this season, netting nine goals and eight assists.

Marian Gaborik
Kings' Gaborik Collects Assist Wednesday
Marian Gaborik, RW, LA
12:15 AM
News: Marian Gaborik picked up an assist in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Marian Gaborik has helpers in consecutive games. He is best known for putting shots on goal, though he's been relatively idle in that department with only four shots in his last three contests. Gaborik is generally a safe option at the forward spot.

 
 
 
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