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Blue Line Buzz: A defensive game plan

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Saturday, March 9)

No Dough(ty) Needed

Taking a quick glance at the last week's leading scorers among defensemen, one will see several expected names on the list: Montreal's P.K. Subban (more on him later), St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Letang of Pittsburgh have all been, unsurprisingly, raking in points lately. It's the name Jake Muzzin of Los Angeles, his three goals and four points that might make people stop and look. For instance, who is Jake Muzzin and why is he a plus-7 over the last four games?

Muzzin has been seeing close to 17 minutes per contest and has eight total points on the season in 20 games with two on the power play. If you're looking for a recent run of play to confirm whether Muzzin has been a viable option, seven of those points have come over the last seven games and he's seen an uptick in power play time. Muzzin's track record, however shows this recent burst might be the aberration (however it is worth noting that Muzzin's eight points are two less than Drew Doughty while his five goals are five more than Doughty has delivered). Muzzin's last year in junior with the Soo Greyhounds saw him snag 67 points in 64 games while his best season professionally was the 2010-11 campaign with Manchester (AHL), where Muzzin notched 31 points in 71 games. During the lockout earlier this season he grabbed 11 points in 29 games, a points-per-game pace that seems more in line with what he usually does.

Muzzin's rate of production likely will flatten out but he's getting opportunities to produce and he won't hurt your plus-minus as the Kings have figured out they are the defending champions and subsequently have been attempting to play like it. Less surprising than Muzzin's recent performance has been the re-emergence of Slava Voynov as a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line.

Poolies will remember Voynov as the frustratingly talented prospect the Kings shuttled between the AHL and NHL last season, allowing him to post 20 points in 54 games scattered over the course of the season. Given his talent level, Voynov was a savvy late round target for owners in drafts this January and he's been quietly delivering before a seven-point outburst this past week which saw him record three assists in two separate games. Voynov's a plus-11 on the season with four of his season's 16 points on the power play. Voynov has been as streaky as any other player during his brief NHL career, but he possesses a howitzer of a shot and can dish the puck. He's an excellent keeper league prospect and could make a run at 25-30- plus points in this shortened season based on what we've been seeing. The only question is whether you can cope with the ebbs and flows while Voynov is not producing.

One has to begin to wonder when the Kings' immensely talented and underachieving blueliner Drew Doughty will step up and start owning the Kings' blue line as he did as a 21-year old.

Subban Emerging As Elite

Montreal's lightning rod for media criticism and whipping boy for when things go wrong, P.K. Subban, is emphatically establishing himself as a top-five fantasy defender for next season. Many in Montreal are quick to point out when he errs (he is from Toronto after all) and the fact that he's been called “brash” by many hockey pundits borders on prejudice, but Subban can play. He can hit, shoot, lug the mail and agitate opponents. He plays with an edge that endears him to few and he's perfectly fine with that. After signing a backloaded, two-year contract in late January that will earn him close to $4 million next season following a contract holdout, he's delivered.

Some expected Subban to struggle to produce this season, while others believed he would take the next step in his development. It's the latter after over a month of Subban action as the mercurial blue liner has an impressive six goals and 15 points through 19 games with eight on the power play. The last 10 days saw Subban notch seven points over a five-game stretch and he's been remarkably consistent.

Subban gradually saw his ice time increase at the discretion of Habs' coach Michel Therrien and P.K. is occasionally prone to a mistake that will put him in the coach's doghouse, but he's immensely talented.

As for other Montreal defenders that have graced the spaces of this column, Raphael Diaz is on the shelf with a concussion and out indefinitely, not that Diaz was getting in the way of Subban's production.

Random notes and observations

Nashville stalwart and consensus top three pick among fantasy defensemen Shea Weber has found his scoring touch. Owners that used a high pick on Weber were panicking early in the season as game after game went by for Nashville and Weber's name did not appear in the box score. In fact, it was 10 games into the season before Weber notched his first point.

Weber then went another three games before notching a point again, but that lone assist put him on four-game points streak. Weber now sits with 13 points through 25 games, 12 of which have come over the last 12 games. He hasn't scored a goal in eight games, but he has five assists over the last three contests. Weber is good at hockey and this trend should continue. He's been one of the most productive players in terms of points-per-game over the last month and Weber has a slight track record of being productive.

John Carlson is another defender who alienated fantasy owners early in the season, but the American hero from the 2010 World Junior championship has seven points over his last 10 contests. The Caps seem to be finding their stride offensively and Carlson has easily eclipsed Mike Green in terms of production and on-ice talent. Green is back on the IR with a groin injury, the same injury that plagued him last season.

Veteran Dan Hamhuis has 14 points on the season, which is just two less than the 16 combined points from Alexander Edler and huge free agent signing Jason Garrison. Hamhuis is enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest and currently the only player in the top three of scoring for the Canucks without the last name Sedin. Edler obviously has more upside and Garrison has more potential to score goals, but Hamhuis has been a steady source of secondary scoring for owners that burned a late round pick on him.

Philadelphia has not had many bright spots this season with spotty defensive play, inconsistent scoring and goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov that has left much to be desired, whether the goals are his fault or not. However, veteran puck-mover Kimmo Timonen is enjoying another successful season offensively. He has seven points over the last six games and one of those contests was a shutout. Timonen has never been a goal scorer in his career but he's supplying excellent numbers to his owners.

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Player News
Drew Doughty
Kings' Doughty (Upper Body) Listed As Day-To-Day
Drew Doughty, D, LA
11:32 AM
News: Drew Doughty (upper body) is listed as day-to-day according to general manager Rob Blake, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Drew Doughty isn't currently participating in training camp due to an upper-body injury that he suffered while training in the offseason. Considering that the Kings' don't kick off their season until Oct. 8, Doughty's chance of playing in the opener increased with this news.

Claude Giroux
Flyers' Giroux (Lower Body) Out 2 Weeks
Claude Giroux, C, PHI
11:17 AM
News: Claude Giroux is expected to miss the next two weeks with a lower-body injury, The Record reports.
Analysis: Considering that the Flyers' opening game isn't until Oct. 9, Claude Giroux doesn't seem to be in danger of starting the season on the bench. However, he'll miss a substantial part of training camp and may suffer in terms of conditioning. With updates to come, the 26-year-old still seems to be a valuable addition at this point.

Kyle Palmieri
Ducks' Palmieri Hopes To Play In Final Exhibition
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA
10:56 AM
News: Kyle Palmieri sprained his ankle during training camp and hopes to return for the team's final preseason game, the Ducks' official site reports.
Analysis: The injury is not good news for Kyle Palmieri's fantasy value, but he should be able to do most of his recovery before the regular season starts. How and if he plays in the final preseason game will be important in determining his value for the start of the season.

Shea Theodore
Ducks' Theordore Out 4-To-6 Weeks
Shea Theodore, D, ANA
10:49 AM
News: Shea Theodore will miss 4-to-6 weeks with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain in his elbow, which he suffered in the rookie game Sunday, Duck's official site reports.
Analysis: This timetable places Shea Theodore out until at least a week into the regular season. He was Anaheim's first round pick in the 2013 draft, and expected to contribute to the Ducks after spending most of last season with the Seattle Thunderbirds

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Practices Friday
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
10:21 AM
News: Sidney Crosby (undisclosed) practiced Friday, despite an early report that stated the MVP would be held out of the beginning of training camp, ABC News reports.
Analysis: Not only did Sidney Crosby practice, but he did not wear a red non-contact jersey, and participated in most of the practice. If Crosby is still battling an injury, it appears that it is not serious enough to keep him off the ice. If he is already healthy enough to participate in training camp, expect Crosby to be near 100 percent when the regular season rolls around, though we'll place the caveat that obviously something's been bugging him to some degree - such as a shoulder injury or minor soreness from his wrist issues last season. Or it could be some combo of both, that again, is not enough to keep him off the ice.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres Pair Grigorenko With Armia
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
10:11 AM
News: Mikhail Grigorenko will open camp on a line with Joel Armia, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Though Mikhail Grigorenko and Armia represent two of Buffalo's most offensively gifted players, neither can be expected to play with the Sabres this year. Grigorenko is coming off a rough two-year stretch after playing on three separate teams and Armia is coming off a tough rookie season hampered by a wrist injury. The Sabres have more experienced players to rely on for scoring and Brendan Lemieux, the line's third player, is not expected to make the team either. However, Grigorenko and Armia should form a dynamic duo in the AHL, and if both players perform beyond expectations they will both earn call-ups at some point during the season.

Luke Adam
Sabres' Adam On The Outside Looking In
Luke Adam, C, BUF
10:05 AM
News: Luke Adam is on the bubble and fighting for a roster spot based on the depth charts published by The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Luke Adam will play on center Johan Larsson's left wing and opposite of right winger Zac Dalpe. Dalpe was signed over the summer as additional depth while Larsson is also fighting for a roster spot. Adam returned to the Sabres after signing a one-year extension, but time is running out for the former second-round pick. In 12 games with the Sabres he recorded just one goal and 16 shots. When Adam is on his game, he can be a serviceable power forward, but his consistency has been poor. Adam will need to go through waivers if he is demoted, which provides an extra wrinkle to his situation. Last year, the Sabres waived Corey Tropp, and the same fate could await Adam if he has a poor showing at camp.

Tyler Myers
Sabres' Myers Begins Camp With Gorges
Tyler Myers, D, BUF
9:57 AM
News: Tyler Myers will be paired with veteran shutdown defenseman Josh Gorges to begin the training camp, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: As expected, the mercurial Tyler Myers will be paired with the dependable Gorges to begin the season as the Sabres' top pairing. Myers has struggled over the past few seasons since winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, and often looks overwhelmed by the amount of pressure placed on him. The 6-foot-8 defenseman has plenty of talent but just hasn't been able to realize it. Hopefully, Gorges will take some pressure off his shoulders and also allow Myers to take more of an offensive role. If all goes well, Myers could be in line for the best season in his rookie year. He is, without a doubt, the Sabres' best defenseman in fantasy, though the team is expected to finish near the bottom of the standings again.

Zemgus Girgensons
Sabres' Girgensons Centers Second Line
Zemgus Girgensons, C, BUF
9:52 AM
News: One of Buffalo's best players last year, Zemgus Girgensons is penciled in as the team's second-line center, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Head coach Ted Nolan and the rest of the Sabres staff love Zemgus Girgensons. An excellent two-way player with great wheels, Girgensons was one of Buffalo's more consistent players and was the standout forward for Latvia at the Sochi Olympics. Delivering on their promise to give Girgensons a bigger role, the Sabres are experimenting with him in an offensive role, playing alongside playmaker Cody Hodgson on the left wing and former Habs captain Brian Gionta on the right wing. Girgensons is scratching the surface of his offensive ability, who scored just eight goals in 70 games last year. He's often overlooked because Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are more well-known names in fantasy, but it's possible Girgensons provides better value than both of them this season with faceoff wins and hits, if your league counts them.

Keith Ballard
Wild's Ballard Full Participant In Camp
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9:42 AM
News: Keith Ballard (hernia) was a full participant in the first practice and scrimmage of Minnesota's training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard had sports hernia surgery after the season, but looks at full strength as training camp begins. He played just 45 games last season as he struggled to stay healthy due to a groin injury and concussion.

 
 
 
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