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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
Paul Gaustad
Preds' Gaustad Takes Hit To Upper-Body Area
Paul Gaustad, C, NSH
12:59 AM
News: Paul Gaustad left Tuesday's game against the Canucks after he took a high hit from Alexandre Burrows. The Predators didn't have an update on Gaustad's condition Wednesday, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Burrows was ejected for the hit, but isn't expected to face any supplementary punishment from the league office. It's possible that Paul Gaustad, who picked up an assist earlier in the contest, suffered a concussion from the impact, but nothing on that front will be known officially until the team provides more information.

Matt Beleskey
Ducks' Beleskey To Remain Out Wednesday
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA
12:51 AM
News: Matt Beleskey (lower body) will not play Wednesday against the Oilers, Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Matt Beleskey wasn't able to return to the ice during the Ducks' morning skate, which will prevent him for suiting up for a second straight game. Jiri Sekac is slated to skate on the top line in Beleskey's absence.

Jonas Hiller
Flames Stick With Hiller On Thursday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
12:43 AM
News: Jonas Hiller is slated to start Thursday's game against the Blues.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller will thus make his third straight start for the Flames, who compiled a 9-3-3 record in March, a month that was capped by back-to-back triumphs by a combined tally of 10-5, both backstopped by Hiller.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Remains Out Wednesday
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
12:42 AM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not return to the Oilers' lineup Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Boyd Gordon is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before reentering the lineup. Though he could be ready to play Thursday against the Kings, Gordon will be forced to sit out a fourth consecutive game.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Third Straight
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
12:40 AM
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before re-entering the lineup. He'll head to the press box for a third consecutive game and could be a candidate to play Thursday against the Kings.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Likely To Sit Out Another
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:35 AM
News: Clayton Stoner (lower body) isn't expected to play Wednesday against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner resumed skating with the Ducks on Wednesday, but his absence from a regular defensive pairing suggests he'll sit out a second straight game. With only eight points in 67 games this season, Stoner will struggle to provide fantasy players with value once he does return to the lineup.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Confirmed For Thursday
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:33 AM
News: Frederik Andersen is confirmed as the starter in goal for Thursday's game against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: After receiving the Ducks' previous game off in favor of John Gibson, Frederik Andersen will get back in the net Wednesday looking to extend his winning streak to three games. Andersen has won his previous three career starts against the Oilers, producing a 1.67 GAA and .935 save percentage.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers' St. Louis Set To Return
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
12:32 AM
News: Martin St. Louis (knee) is slated to play Thursday against the Wild.
Analysis: Martin St. Louis, who is bouncing back from a sprained right MCL, last suited up for the Rangers on March 15. Based on Wednesday's practice, look for St. Louis to work on a line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin upon his return to the Rangers' lineup on Thursday. Prior to his injury, St. Louis had recorded 20 goals and 47 points in 68 games.

Ryan Kesler
Ducks' Kesler A Game-Time Decision
Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
12:27 AM
News: Ryan Kesler (elbow) will be a game-time decision for Wednesday's tilt with the Oilers.
Analysis: Ryan Kesler was on the ice for Wednesday's morning skate, but coach Bruce Boudreau was tight-lipped about the center's status for the evening. Given that the Oilers are one of the NHL's weakest teams, it might make sense for the Ducks to give Kesler the night off to preserve his body for the playoffs. An official decision on his status should come down based on how the Ducks line up during pregame warmups.

Tanner Pearson
Kings' Pearson Not Healing As Quickly As Hoped
Tanner Pearson, LW, LA
12:24 AM
News: Tanner Pearson (leg) underwent an X-ray Tuesday, which didn't show as much healing as he had hoped, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Tanner Pearson appeared to be making a bid for returning to the lineup before the end of the regular season, but those plans may have hit some friction with the news he received following his X-ray. While it doesn't sound like the winger is dealing with a major setback, the Kings haven't wavered from the three-month timetable Pearson was issued after suffering the injury Jan. 10. If his subsequent skates with the team continue to go well, Pearson could put himself on track to return for the first round of the playoffs.

 
 
 
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