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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
Adam Henrique
Henrique's Assertiveness Pays Off
Adam Henrique, C, NJ
1:09 AM
News: Adam Henrique was one of five in Saturday's loss to the Sharks.
Analysis: While Adam Henrique's goal output is nothing to rave about, his offensive aggression can be an asset to fantasy owners, especially given the amount of minutes he plays.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock To Start Sunday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
12:43 AM
News: Alex Stalock will start in the goal Sunday against the Rangers, David Pollak of the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Alex Stalock has put up a couple of solid starts so far this season, and will look for another one Sunday, where he will continue his quest to earn the team's starting spot.

Victor Hedman
Bolts' Hedman Out Four Games
Victor Hedman, D, TB
12:36 AM
News: Victor Hedman (upper body) is expected to miss the rest of the Lightning's road trip, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Victor Hedman suffered an undisclosed upper body injury in Saturday's game, where it appeared he took a puck off his hand. If he is indeed out for the remained of the road trip, he will not return until October 28 against Arizona.

Andy Greene
Devils' Greene Producing on Both Ends
Andy Greene, D, NJ
10/19/2014
News: Andy Greene filled up the stat sheet on Saturday, with four blocked shots, an assist, and one point.
Analysis: The Devils' top defenseman shows that he is capable of being a two way player on the ice. While defense is his calling card, his ability to produce offensively makes him an interesting choice for fantasy owners who are looking for a player who has balanced production on a nightly basis.

Nikita Zadorov
Sabres To Decide Zadorov's Fate In 48 Hours
Nikita Zadorov, D, BUF
10/19/2014
News: Nikita Zadorov, who has been a healthy scratch for all season, will find out where he'll play this year in the new few days, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: In a twist of events, Nikita Zadorov's agent revealed that the London Knights may not be an option for Zadorov this year. The big bruising defenseman's rights are owned by SKA St. Petersburg, a KHL team captained by Ilya Kovalchuk that has gone 17-1-1 this season. Last year, St. Petersburg agreed to release Zadorov to the OHL, but that isn't the case this year. The Sabres want to keep a close eye on their prospects and don't want Zadorov to develop in a league so far away, but there may be no choice. The Sabres are waiting to see how Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe rebound from their preseason injuries, but even if both falter it's hard to see the Sabres play Zadorov. Stay tuned.

Rasmus Ristolainen
Sabres "Almost Scratched" Ristolainen Last Week
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, BUF
10/19/2014
News: Head coach Ted Nolan believed Rasmus Ristolainen was suffering from fatigue and considered making him a scratch last week, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: Nolan hinted that it wasn't physical fatigue that was ailing Rasmus Ristolainen, but mental fatigue, citing the "lights and action" of the NHL being overwhelming for young players. Nolan didn't say which game he considered sitting Ristolainen, but did say he came out flying on Friday. That lends to the belief that Nolan may have wanted Ristolainen to sit Tuesday vs. Carolina in the second part of a back-to-back after a 5-1 loss to Anaheim on Monday where he played a season-low 14:38 and failed to register a shot. Ristolainen is not an elite defenseman yet, but he'll get there. With the Sabres struggling, expect Nolan to juggle players in and out of the lineup all year.

Kevin Hayes
Rangers' Hayes Records First Career Goal
Kevin Hayes, RW, NYR
10/19/2014
News: Kevin Hayes tallied his first career point, a goal, in a 4-0 win over the Sharks on Sunday.
Analysis: The rookie has quickly been climbing up the organizational ranks, and centered the second line on Sunday with Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. It's likely not a permanent position, and though he won just five of his 14 faceoffs, he did record the team's fourth goal.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers' St. Louis Nets Goal In Win
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
10/19/2014
News: Martin St. Louis scored, his first of the season, in a 4-0 win over the Sharks on Sunday.
Analysis: After struggling in the regular season after being traded to the Rangers last season, scoring just once in 19 games, this was just his second as a Blueshirt. He still managed to end up with 30 goals though, and should be one of the better point scorers again this season.

Luke Gazdic
Oilers' Gazdic Still Two Weeks Away
Luke Gazdic, LW, EDM
10/19/2014
News: Luke Gazdic (shoulder) believes he is still a couple of weeks away from playing, according to the Oilers Web Site.
Analysis: Luke Gazdic has been cleared for contact and has been taking part in practice but still needs to work off the rust and get into game shape.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Scores In Win
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
10/19/2014
News: Carl Hagelin scored the opening goal of a 4-0 win over the Sharks on Sunday.
Analysis: After setting a career high in goals last season with 17, Carl Hagelin had yet to record a point this season until Sunday. Hagelin could have some fantasy value if he can improve on his point totals from last season, but his slow start is worth keeping an eye before taking a chance on him.

 
 
 
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