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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
Mika Zibanejad
Zibanejad Helps Sens Past Ducks
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:59 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad scored his ninth goal of the season, had an assist, was credited with four shots on goal, and was a plus-3 in Friday's win over the Ducks.
Analysis: An all-around great fantasy night for Mika Zibanejad, who now has 17 points in 30 games on the season. After a slow start, Zibanejad has heated up, recording six goals and 11 points in his last nine games. Skating on the second line with Bobby Ryan, the 21-year-old could hit the 25-goal mark in 2014-15, making him worthy of a look right now.

Erik Karlsson
Sens' Karlsson Collects Two Assists In Win
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT
12:27 PM
News: Erik Karlsson collected a pair of helpers in Friday's win over Anaheim.
Analysis: Erik Karlsson now has points in two straight games after being held off the scoresheet in his previous three game. The 24-year-old has seven goals and 23 points in 32 games on the season, to go with a minus-12 rating. He sits second in the NHL with 124 shots on goal and is one of the best offensive defenseman in the game. Keep him rolling.

Kyle Turris
Sens' Turris Remains Hot Friday
Kyle Turris, C, OTT
12:09 PM
News: Kyle Turris remained red-hot on Friday, scoring a highlight-reel shorthanded goal and adding an assist in a win over the Ducks.
Analysis: Kyle Turris has been lighting it up lately, riding a five-game point streak in which he has recorded three goals and seven points. With 23 points (seven goals) in 32 games, the 25-year-old is proving to be a reliable fantasy option this season. He has scored the game-winning goal in back-to-back games and has never gone more than three games without appearing on the scoresheet. His consistency and top-line role makes him worth a look right now.

Sean Collins
Jackets Recall Collins From AHL
Sean Collins, C, CLB
7:16 AM
News: Sean Collins has been called up from AHL Springfield, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: He takes Boone Jenner's spot on the roster. Sean Collins was having a solid season in Springfield, scoring 10 goals and 19 points in 27 games, but he'll have a checking role in Columbus.

Boone Jenner
Jackets' Jenner Out 1-2 Months With Back Injury
Boone Jenner, C, CLB
7:14 AM
News: Boone Jenner will miss 1-2 months after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The injury curse that's plagued the Jackets all season has returned with a vengeance. In redraft leagues, it's safe to cut Boone Jenner loose given how much time he's expected to miss.

Petr Mrazek
Wings' Mrazek Sees Relief Duty Friday
Petr Mrazek, G, DET
6:55 AM
News: Petr Mrazek stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced in relief of an injured Jimmy Howard in Friday's loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: A good outing from Petr Mrazek, who started the second period after Howard suffered a lower-body injury. Howard is currently listed as day-to-day, with his injury not expected to be serious. Mrazek is 3-2-0 on the season with a .922 save percentage and 2.54 GAA, making for a decent fantasy option if Howard is forced to miss a significant amount of time. The 22-year-old could start Saturday against the Avalanche if Howard isn't good to go.

Anders Lee
Isles' Lee Scores Game-Winner Vs. Red Wings
Anders Lee, C, NYI
6:44 AM
News: Anders Lee netted the game-winning goal and added an assist in Friday's win over Detroit.
Analysis: The third-liner now has six goals and nine points in 26 games, to go with a plus-4 rating. Skating on a line with Brock Nelson, it's possible Anders Lee could hit 20 goals in 2014-15. He is a great secondary scorer for an Islanders team that ranks second in the Eastern Conference with 44 points.

Brock Nelson
Isles' Nelson Scores 14th Of Season
Brock Nelson, C, NYI
6:35 AM
News: Brock Nelson scored his 14th goal of the season, had an assist, and was credited with six shots on goal in Friday's win over Detroit.
Analysis: Brock Nelson has now tallied 26 points in 32 games this season, to go with a plus-6 rating. With eight power-play goals and a plus-6 rating, the 23-year-old has been a fantasy gem in 2014-15. Centering the third line and playing on the top power-play unit with John Tavares, Nelson could reach 30 goals and 60 points this season. He should be owned in almost all leagues.

Jaroslav Halak
Isles' Halak Shuts Down Red Wings Friday
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
6:30 AM
News: Jaroslav Halak made 17 saves on 18 shots in Friday's win over the Red Wings.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak has now won three straight games, allowing only five goals in that span. He is 17-6-0 this season with a .918 save percentage and 2.30 GAA. The 29-year-old is an elite fantasy option on an Islanders team that sits second in the Eastern Conference with 44 points. Keep him rolling.

Dustin Tokarski
Canadiens' Tokarski Makes AHL Start
Dustin Tokarski, G, MON
4:23 AM
News: Dustin Tokarski made 28 saves in a start for AHL Hamilton on Friday, but was on the losing end of a 4-2 game against St. John's.
Analysis: Dustin Tokarski, who will start Sunday afternoon against Texas, has gotten little action of late with Montreal, so he was sent down to Hamilton to get a couple of weekend starts. He's fully expected to be recalled following the holidays when the Habs have a few back-to-backs on the schedule.

 
 
 
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