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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
Devan Dubnyk
Wild's Dubnyk Going For Game 3
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN
5/6/2015
News: Devan Dubnyk will be between the pipes for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Devan Dubnyk has hardly looked sharp in the first two games of the series, stopping just 58 of 65 shots (.892 save percentage). With the Wild now down 2-0 as the series shifts to Minnesota, the team will need the Masterson Trophy nominee to come up huge to keep their playoff hopes alive. During 20 regular-season starts at the Xcel Energy Center, Dubnyk went 12-7-1 with a 2.01 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Kris Versteeg
Blackhawks' Versteeg To Sit Out Game 3
Kris Versteeg, RW, CHI
5:00 PM
News: Kris Versteeg (lower body) will not play in Tuesday's Game 3 against the Wild, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Kris Versteeg demonstrated some progress by traveling with the Blackhawks to Minnesota, but he'll sit out a third straight contest with the injury. Teuvo Teravainen, who has tallied a point in each of the first two games of the series, will continue to skate on Chicago's third line.

Justin Fontaine
Wild's Fontaine Out For Game 3
Justin Fontaine, RW, MIN
4:57 PM
News: Justin Fontaine (lower body) will not play in Tuesday's Game 3 against the Blackhawks, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Justin Fontaine will sit for a second straight game while he contends with the injury. Kyle Brodziak slots in as the Wild's fourth-line right wing.

Bryan Bickell
Hawks' Bickell Leads NHL In Hits
Bryan Bickell, LW, CHI
4:57 PM
News: Bryan Bickell leads the NHL in hits going into Game 3 off the Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.
Analysis: Bryan Bickell has 58 hits through eight games which is overshadowing his lack of scoring in the playoffs which is only two assists. He had 11 hits and 12 hits in Game 1 and 2 respectively against the Wild. Coming into the series with the Wild, Bickell had Minnesota's number In 23 games against the Wild the past three seasons, Bickell has scored 15 goals, 20 points and is a plus-11, but it appears that Hawks' coach Joel Quenneville wants him to take a more physical approach.

Nathan Beaulieu
Habs' Beaulieu Practices Tuesday
Nathan Beaulieu, D, MON
4:19 PM
News: Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) took part in practice Tuesday for the Canadiens, Sportsnet.ca reports.
Analysis: The Canadiens have already ruled Nathan Beaulieu out for the next two games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Lightning, but his return to practice could allow him to return as soon as Game 5. His progress will be monitored over the next several days.

David Desharnais
Habs' Desharnais Expected To Suit Up In Game 3
David Desharnais, C, MON
2:34 PM
News: David Desharnais (illness) has joined the team in Tampa and is expected to play in Wednesday's Game 3, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: David Desharnais was hospitalized Sunday due to the illness, but after receiving some fluids, it looks like he's now approaching full health. Though the center isn't a primary scorer for the Habs, his proficiency in the faceoff circle and as an assist man are skills the team will need to overcome a 2-0 series deficit.

Andrew Ladd
Jets' Ladd To Have Hernia Surgery Friday
Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG
2:28 PM
News: Andrew Ladd will undergo surgery Friday to address a sports hernia, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: With several months to go before training camp, Andrew Ladd's availability shouldn't be at risk to begin the season. Despite playing through the sports hernia prior to the Jets' elimination in the first round of the playoffs, Ladd still finished with a career season, netting 24 goals, 62 points, and a plus-9 rating over 81 regular-season contests.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Gets Nod For Game 3
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
2:17 PM
News: Frederik Andersen will be in the crease for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Flames, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: John Gibson appears to be recovered from his bout with the flu at this point, but coach Bruce Boudreau won't think twice about going away from Frederik Andersen in goal. The netminder is a perfect 6-0 thus far in the postseason, posting a 1.64 GAA and .942 save percentage. He'll square off against Karri Ramo in the opposite net as the series moves to the Saddledome.

Raphael Diaz
Flames' Diaz Set To Return
Raphael Diaz, D, CGY
10:25 AM
News: Raphael Diaz (lower body) is slated to play Tuesday against the Ducks, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet.ca reports.
Analysis: Based on the team's pre-game skate, Raphael Diaz -- who last suited up on April 2 -- figures to work on the Flames' third defensive pairing Tuesday, along with David Schlemko.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr Still Out
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
10:13 AM
News: Eric Fehr (shoulder) won't play in Wednesday's Game 4 against the Rangers, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that it might be tough to find a spot for Eric Fehr in the team's lineup right now, but that of course could change if a Caps' forward gets injured on Wednesday.

 
 
 
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