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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
Cody Goloubef
Jackets' Ink Goloubef To Two-Year Extension
Cody Goloubef, D, CLB
5/28/2015
News: Cody Goloubef signed a two-year, one-way contract extension with the Blue Jackets on Thursday, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Cody Goloubef's role with the Blue Jackets in 2014 expanded largely beyond his two previous seasons. The blueliner dressed for 36 of the team's games, posting 23 shots on goal, nine points (all assists) and a plus-12 rating. Following the strong season, he'll likely enter 2015-16 on firmer footing, and could solidify a roster spot with the club in training camp.

Cedric Paquette
Bolts' Paquette Practices Again Thursday
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
5/28/2015
News: Cedric Paquette (hand) participated in Thursday's practice, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: After injuring his hand in Game 5 of the series against the Rangers, Cedric Paquette was able to resume skating with the Bolts the morning of Tuesday's Game 6, but ultimately sat out the contest. With an extra day to recover from the ailment in advance of Friday's series finale, perhaps Paquette could be ready to draw back in.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello Practices Without Contact
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
5/28/2015
News: Mats Zuccarello (upper body) briefly joined the Rangers during the non-contact portion of Thursday's practice, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: As soon as coach Alain Vigneault blew the whistle for the start of full-contact work, Mats Zuccarello left the ice, suggesting that he's not a candidate to play during Friday's Game 7 against the Lightning. Zuccarello could receive clearance to take contact in the coming days, and should have a decent shot at reentering the lineup in the Stanley Cup Finals if the Rangers are able to advance.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom Undergoes Arthroscopic Hip Surgery
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
5/28/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom underwent arthroscopic hip surgery Wednesday afternoon, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals are optimistic that Nicklas Backstrom will make a full recovery and be back to 100 percent health by the start of the 2015-16 regular season. Backstrom didn't indicate during his exit interview following the second round of the playoffs that he had been nursing any sort of injury, but perhaps he elected to get out ahead of the hip issue before it became a recurring problem. Backstrom's recently completed season was a near mirror image of 2013-14, as he finished with the same goal total (18) and one fewer assist (60) while playing all 82 games for the second straight year.

Cam Fowler
Ducks' Fowler Continues Big Series
Cam Fowler, D, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Cam Fowler picked up an assist in his 23:37 of ice time in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Cam Fowler has delivered a four-point series for the Ducks thus far, generating a goal and three helpers. Expect him to rank among the team leaders in minutes for Saturday's series-deciding Game 7 in Anaheim.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Nabs Power-Play Goal
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Patrick Maroon potted a power-play goal in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon has been outstanding all postseason for the Ducks, but he's really ratcheted up his production in the Western Conference Finals. Through six games, he's recorded three goals on 20 shot attempts, while also posting sizable hit totals on the defensive end.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson Credited With Assist In Game 6
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Nate Thompson picked up an assist in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nate Thompson isn't typically one of Anaheim's more productive scorers, but he's been able to come away with a goal and four assists thus far in the series. Though it's been a nice run for the 30-year-old, his modest track record as a point producer suggests the Ducks shouldn't bank on him driving their offense in Saturday's Game 7.

Clayton Stoner
Stoner's Goal Not Enough In Ducks' Game 6 Loss
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Clayton Stoner registered a third-period goal in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner's first goal of the postseason didn't come without controversy. Teammate Jakob Silfverberg appeared to run into goalie Corey Crawford's glove as Stoner was about to fire off a slap shot, but officials didn't call interference on the play. Nonetheless, the goal didn't affect the final outcome in what was a well-deserved Chicago victory. The series heads back to Anaheim on Saturday for Game 7.

Marian Hossa
Three-Game Point Streak For Hawks' Hossa
Marian Hossa, RW, CHI
5/28/2015
News: Marian Hossa notched a goal on one of his two shot attempts in Wednesday's Game 6 win over the Ducks.
Analysis: Marian Hossa has found twine just three times in the playoffs, but he's seen heavy involvement as an assist man to prop up his overall point totals. Wednesday's goal was his fourth point of the series, three of which have come in the last three games.

Andrew Desjardins
Blackhawks' Desjardins Dishes Out Two In Win
Andrew Desjardins, C, CHI
5/28/2015
News: Andrew Desjardins supplied two assists in Wednesday's Game 6 win over the Ducks.
Analysis: Andrew Desjardins' first assist required a particularly resilient effort, as he chased down a loose puck and dumped it over to Andrew Shaw, who would give the Blackhawks a two-goal advantage. Valued mostly for his steady, physical play on the back end, Desjardins typically doesn't see much involvement on the attack, and he has only three points across 14 postseason contests.

 
 
 
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