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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
Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen In Goal For Game 6
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:49 AM
News: Frederik Andersen will be between the pipes for Wednesday's Game 6 against the Blackhawks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Frederik Andersen was dreadful in Monday's Game 5, allowing four goals on only 28 shots, but with the Ducks managing to secure the win, coach Bruce Boudreau won't consider a change in goal. Though his performance has cratered a bit in the Western Conference Finals, Andersen owns a respectable 2.06 GAA and .925 save percentage overall on the postseason.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Isles' Visnovsky Not Signing In Europe
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
5/27/2015
News: Lubomir Visnovsky's agent has refuted a report that his client will sign to play in Europe next season, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: Perhaps Lubomir Visnovsky has had a change of heart about leaving the best league in the world or perhaps this is just a negotiating ploy. Either way it would still seem unlikely that the Isles would be interested in his services as they have quite a few young players in their pipeline that deserve the playing time and don't have anywhere near the injury history of Visnovsky.

Anders Lee
Lee And Isles Have Yet To Begin Negotiations
Anders Lee, C, NYI
5/27/2015
News: The Islanders and Anders Lee have yet to begin negotiations on a new contract, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: While signing Anders Lee is important for the Islanders, he is a restricted free agent and thus unlikely to get an offer that would force the Islanders hand. They will sign Lee eventually, but he is not a priority at this point in time.

Michael Grabner
Isles' Grabner Has Hernia Surgery
Michael Grabner, RW, NYI
5/27/2015
News: Michael Grabner has had hernia surgery this off-season, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: This is the second hernia surgery Michael Grabner will have undergone since the start of the 2014-15 season. Grabner was a constant scratch this season whether healthy or not as he just seemed to be constantly in coach Jack Capuano's doghouse. The coming season will likely be his last in an Islanders uniform.

David Rundblad
Hawks' Rundblad Expected To Draw In For Game 6
David Rundblad, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: David Rundblad is expected to play Wednesday in place of Kimmo Timonen for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: David Rundblad is taking warmups and is likely to be paired with Johnny Oduya for Game 6. He hasn't played in this series since Game 1, where he was on the ice for one goal-against as the Blackhawks dropped the series opener.

Corey Crawford
Blackhawks' Crawford To Start Game 6
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Corey Crawford will get the start Wednesday for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Corey Crawford will remain in net for Game 6 after Monday's rough outing where he allowed five goals on 28 shots. With Chicago facing elimination, Crawford will need to slow down Anaheim's prolific attack to force a Game 7.

Kimmo Timonen
Blackhawks Expected To Pull Timonen From Lineup
Kimmo Timonen, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Kimmo Timonen appears to be headed to the press box for Wednesday's Game 6 against the Ducks, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: The Blackhawks acquired Kimmo Timonen at the trade deadline with the hope that he'd provide the team with some added scoring punch from the blue line, but he's been a total bust. While it didn't help matters that he missed the first five months of the season while recovering from blood clots, Timonen just hasn't rounded into shape the way the Blackhawks imagined. In his 31 games with Chicago spanning the regular season and playoffs, Timonen has yet to record a single point and has become a defensive liability on the back end. With the Blackhawks facing elimination, it looks like Quenneville will make the tough choice to bench the accomplished veteran and turn to David Rundblad on the defensive pairing next to Brent Seabrook.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Blackhawks' Van Riemsdyk Not In For Game 6
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Van Riemsdyk (wrist) will not enter the lineup for Wednesday's Game 6 against the Ducks, NHL.com's Brian Hedger reports.
Analysis: While it appears coach Joel Quenneville will adjust his defensive ranks with the Blackhawks facing elimination, it's David Rundblad -- not Trevor van Riemsdyk -- that is in line to replace the struggling Kimmo Timonen. Though van Riemsdyk is probably the more talented of the two players, it's still risky to the throw him back in the lineup after he's barely seen any competitive action over the last six months. He'll continue to work out with the team over the next few days, but don't count on van Riemsdyk warranting consideration for playing until perhaps the Stanley Cup Finals.

Anton Stralman
Bolts' Stralman Nabs Power-Play Assist In Game 6
Anton Stralman, D, TB
5/27/2015
News: Anton Stralman assisted on Ryan Callahan's first-period power-play goal in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Anton Stralman delivered a beautiful outlet pass to Callahan to trim the Bolts' deficit to 2-1, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with the Rangers, who rode the sensational play of Derick Brassard to a 7-3 victory. Both of Stralman's points in the series against his former team have come in the last two games.

Tanner Glass
Rangers' Glass Registers Assist In Game 6
Tanner Glass, LW, NYR
5/27/2015
News: Tanner Glass recorded an assist in Tuesday's Game 6 win over the Lightning.
Analysis: It's the first point in 18 playoff games for Tanner Glass, who has deferred most offensive responsibilities to the Rangers' top-six forwards. Instead, Glass is relied upon to dish out punishment and kill penalties, a role which seems fairly solidified this deep into the postseason.

 
 
 
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