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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
Braden Holtby
Caps' Roll With Holtby In Game 7
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
9:02 AM
News: Braden Holtby is slated to square off against Jaroslav Halak in Monday's Game 7 against the Islanders, NESN.com reports.
Analysis: Through the first six games of the series, five of which he has started, Braden Holtby has turned in a nifty .945 save percentage, to go along with a 1.75 GAA. Per Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, Philipp Grubauer is slated to continue to serve as Holtby's backup on Monday, with Justin Peters on track to be among the Caps' Game 7 scratches.

Jaroslav Halak
Isles' Halak In Net For Game 7
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
8:18 AM
News: Jaroslav Halak will start in net for Monday's Game 7 matchup against the Capitals.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak has started every game in the series, so it's no surprise he'll be in net once again Monday with the series on the line. It's win or go home for Halak and the Isles, and he'll look to follow up a strong performance in Game 6 with another one in Game 7.

Alex Pietrangelo
Blues' Pietrangelo Picks Up Assist In Game 6 Loss
Alex Pietrangelo, D, STL
6:27 AM
News: Alex Pietrangelo had an assist in Sunday's series-ending loss to the Wild. He took five shots and had two blocked shots.
Analysis: Alex Pietrangelo was solid throughout the series despite the Blues loss, registering an increasing amount of ice time as the games wore on, culminating in him seeing 31:12 seconds in the final game. The Blues may be in a shake up in the off-season after another early playoff exit, but it's tough to see Pietrangelo going anywhere. The 24-year-old is an all around rock for the Blues on the bullion.

Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues' Shattenkirk Picks Up Assist In Game 6 Loss
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL
6:23 AM
News: Kevin Shattenkirk picked up his eighth assist of the playoffs in Sunday's series-ending loss to the Wild. He was minus-2 with two shots and a hit in the contest.
Analysis: Kevin Shattenkirk will exit the playoffs tied for the playoff lead in scoring. While the Blues could be in for a shake up after yet another early playoff exit, Shattenkirk seems unlikely to be headed anywhere after posting a break out season with 44 points and a plus-19 rating in 53 games. Only a mid-season abdominal injury kept him from being among the top handful of scoring leaders among defensemen.

T.J. Oshie
Blues' Oshie Scores In Series-Ending Loss
T.J. Oshie, RW, STL
6:12 AM
News: T.J. Oshie scored the Blues' lone goal Sunday's series-ending Game 6 loss to the Wild. He was minus-1 with three shots, a hit and a blocked shot in the contest.
Analysis: A case of "too little, too late" as T.J. Oshie scored for the first time in the series in Game 6. He finished with just two points in six games despite firing 16 shots on net. Oshie's name came up in trade rumors during the season and with the Blues getting knocked out of the playoffs early once again, there may be some shaking up of the roster. While it seems unlikely he would be moved, the 28-year-old is certainly a marketable piece with his combination of offensive ability and defensive responsibility.

Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera Poised To Return
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
12:02 AM
News: Jori Lehtera (lower body) was on the ice for warmups in advance of Sunday's Game 6 against the Wild, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Based on warmups, look for Jori Lehtera to work Sunday on a trio with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Lehtera -- who was was held out of Friday's Game 5 -- checks back into the Blues' lineup with two helpers in four playoff games to date.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Pots Goal In Win
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Max Pacioretty potted his second goal of the playoffs in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: The goal was an empty-netter and came with less than a second remaining, but it counts the same nonetheless. Max Pacioretty also finished with a plus-2 rating on the night, making up for the minus-2 he sported through the first five games of the series. The winger finished the series with just the empty-net goal and a power-play tally in Game 1, but figures to be the team's top offensive producers going forward.

Brendan Gallagher
Habs' Gallagher Scores In Win
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Brendan Gallagher scored the game-winning goal in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Brendan Gallagher went on a four-game goal streak toward the end of March, but entered Sunday's contest with just one goal in his the 12 games since then. The winger logged a pair of points in the series win, but figures to be a fairly reliable source of offense going forward as the Habs await their second round opponent.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Perfect In Game 6 Win
Carey Price, G, MON
4/26/2015
News: Carey Price stopped all 43 shots he faced in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Carey Price was sensational Sunday as he withstood a late Senators attack to help clinch the series and send the Habs into the second round. Aside from Game 5's five-goal outing, Price has continued his regular season excellence into the postseason as he's posted a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage through six games. He's as reliable as they come and figures to remain as one of the top, if not the very best, options for the duration of the playoffs.

Nick Leddy
Isles' Leddy An Assist Machine
Nick Leddy, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Nick Leddy was credited with two assists and five shot attempts in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The blueliner has been an offensive force in the series for the Islanders, as Saturday marked his fourth straight game with an assist. Coach Jack Capuano rewarded Nick Leddy with 28:59 of ice time Saturday, his highest total of the season.

 
 
 
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