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Blue Line Buzz: This year's top surprises

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Sunday, April 21)

With the season waning down and the final playoffs set to be locked up, there's three words all hockey fans want to hear: Go Blue Jackets!

Columbus is sitting pretty after Sunday's 4-3 win over San Jose earned them a three-point lead on Detroit for the West's eighth and final playoff spot, but the Wings have a game in hand and handled Phoenix with aplomb on Monday night. The Jackets finish the season with a game against fellow surprise playoff contender Dallas and then against Nashville. Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has played himself into a Hart Trophy discussion and he'll likely be a nominee for the Vezina.

Now, the odds of Columbus getting in at Detroit's expense are still long and they likely will face Chicago should they get into the top 8 out West, but Columbus is a team that was in dead last during February.

While teams like Columbus, Dallas and the Islanders have surprised, other squads have disappointed, namely clubs like New Jersey and Philadelphia, who are both ticketed to miss the playoffs. Edmonton had large expectations heading into the season with their set of free-wheeling youngsters, but the fact that defense needed to be played hurt the Oil.

Poolies also had high hopes for some of the players they added to their roster while several players surprised massively; young stars began to establish themselves as elite players.

It's doubtful that many owners had Toronto's Cody Franson sitting at No. 5 in defenseman scoring in the season's final week, amassing 27 points for the playoff-bound Leafs. (The Parade is slated to begin Sunday afternoon starting at the Hockey Hall of Fame and winding its way up Yonge Street).

It's hard to believe that the likes of Alex Goligoski, Fedor Tyutin and Dan Hamhuis were going to outscore Los Angeles stalwart Drew Doughty. Owners that drafted Shea Weber as the second or third blueliner off the board wouldn't have believed it would take Weber nine games to grab his season's first point and 14 to tally his first goal. Weber is Weber though and he has 23 points in 32 games if you throw out the first 13 of the season.

With the season closing down this week and the playoff circus set to begin, it's time to take a look back at the three months that were the 2013 NHL season, or more accurately the shortened season due to the most recent lockout.

Top Surprises

In no particular order ...

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh: After signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Penguins in 2010, Martin became the team's whipping boy after what was perceived to be a poor performance one season ago. Martin never produced big numbers during his days with the Devils, but he was solid, usually a good disher of the puck, topping out at 37 points in his sophomore campaign. He cracked 30 points two more times in New Jersey before heading to Pittsburgh. Martin has missed the last three weeks with a broken bone in his hand, but he had a more-than-impressive 21 points in 33 games, helping out the Pens while all-world defender Kris Letang dealt with injuries. Martin was on pace for a career-best season in terms of points-per-game, being a nice bonus for owners that gambled on him to rebound.

Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim: Why can't the Leafs get players like Beauchemin? Leaving Toronto and those Ontario winters for the beautiful coast of California can have a rejuvenating affect on the body and mind, but few expected Beauchemin to produce like it was his first stint in The OC (don't call it that). The veteran sits with a plus-20 rating, one of the best in the NHL for defensemen and an impressive 22 points, or close to his best numbers during a full, 82-game season. This is a player that was a minus-35 the last four seasons combined. True, plus-minus has to do with the players around you as well, but Beauchemin has made a nice waiver pick up for those that got in on him early enough, as his production has fallen of late with a minus-1 and just one assist in the month of April.

Cody Franson, Toronto: It's Franson, not Dion Phaneuf or Jake Gardiner who is leading the Leafs in points from the blue line. Franson sits with 27 points after the Leafs sewed up their first playoff spot since 2004, or more accurately, the span of two NHL lockouts. Franson can dish the puck, as evidenced by his 23 assists, but he's making David Nonis and Co. look at moving some other defenders. Whether Franson's season will be the outlier in his career remains to be seen, but he's worth remembering heading into the middle rounds of next year's drafts.

Fedor Tyutin, Columbus: It's not that Tyutin's 22 points in 46 games this season are a surprise, as he has cracked 30 points twice in his career since joining the Sport Coats from the Rangers, but this season's numbers had him on a career-best in terms of points-per-game. Tyutin's more of a surprise considering there were three other defenders projected to do more offensively on the Columbus blue line than Tyutin. Jack Johnson acclimated himself well following the Jeff Carter Escape To LA trade last season (reverse Snake Pliskin) and Nikita Nikitin had a solid season during his stints away from injured reserve with 32 points scattered over 54 games. Meanwhile, James Wisniewski was looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled campaign. However, it's been Tyutin leading the attack for Columbus, earning five more points than Johnson, who's become one of the NHL's leaders in total ice time.

Mike Green, Washington: Green's presence on this list is more of a reaction to his last two seasons, or more accurately, the handful of games Green played heading into this shortened season. This was a player that was a late first-round, early-second round pick who compiled two point-per-game seasons from the blue line from 2008-2010 only to become a player that simply couldn't stay healthy while amassing 31 points in 81 contests. The last two weeks, while Washington has surged to the top of the Southeast Division, Green has been leading the charge as the Caps turn back the clock with 13 of his season's 21 points in the last 12 games, including seven of his 10 goals. Green is the only blue liner with double-digit goals not named P.K. Subban. Green had begun to look like a shell of his former self and thus saw his name slip down draft boards

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota: True, Brodin has a modest 10 points through 42 games for the Wild, but this is a budding star on the blue line in the Twin Cities. Turning 19 in July, Brodin deserves the Calder Trophy awarded to the league's top rookie, likely going to Florida's uber power forward, Jonathan Huberdeau. His 10 points didn't have him on the radar of most leagues, but he's a keeper league special. Brodin is expected to start contributing more offensively as he matures, along with fellow budding star Mathew Dumba. It's nice getting to play alongside Ryan Suter as well, just ask Shea Weber.

Next week, it's time to examine the biggest busts of the season with a sneak peek at next fall's draft board.

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Player News
Dennis Wideman
Flames' Wideman Will Go Sunday
Dennis Wideman, D, CGY
9:27 AM
News: Dennis Wideman missed practice Saturday, but will be good to go Sunday against the Ducks, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 The FAN reports.
Analysis: We haven't heard any specifics on any injuries for Dennis Wideman, so expect him to play as normal when the Flames take on the Ducks on Sunday even though he missed practice.

Carey Price
Habs' Price To Start Sunday
Carey Price, G, MON
9:21 AM
News: Carey Price will get the nod between the pipes for Sunday's game against the Lightning, John Lu of the TSN Montreal Bureau reports.
Analysis: Carey Price has been playing at the top of his game recently, and Game 2 figures to be more of the same. He will look to get the win Sunday, something he couldn't do against Tampa Bay in Game 1.

Kris Versteeg
Blackhawks' Versteeg Misses Morning Skate
Kris Versteeg, RW, CHI
8:45 AM
News: Kris Versteeg (lower body) did not participate in Chicago's morning skate Sunday, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: Kris Versteeg was scratched from the Game 1 lineup, and it looks as though that will be the case for Game 2 Sunday. Even if he is healthy enough to go, Versteeg could still end up watching this one as teammate Teuvo Teravainen has taken over the third string duties.

Ben Bishop
Lightning Stay With Bishop For Game 2
Ben Bishop, G, TB
8:39 AM
News: Ben Bishop is on track to start Sunday's game against Montreal.
Analysis: Ben Bishop, who turned away 43 of 44 shots in a double-overtime win over the Habs in Game 1 of the team's second-round series, will look to continue a roll in which he has won his last three playoff starts, while stopping 96-of-99 shots in the process.

Devan Dubnyk
Wild Turn To Dubnyk On Sunday
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN
8:33 AM
News: Devan Dubnyk is slated to start Sunday's game against the Hawks.
Analysis: Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 31 of 35 shots in Friday's 4-3 loss to Chicago, will look to get back on the winning track in Game 2 of the team's second-round series on Sunday. During the regular season, the Vezina Trophy finalist logged a 27-9-2 record in 39 appearances in a Minnesota uniform, to go along with a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Nate Schmidt
Caps Bring Schmidt Aboard
Nate Schmidt, D, WAS
7:15 AM
News: Nate Schmidt was recalled from AHL Hershey on Sunday, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: It's not apparent whether or not any injury within the Capitals' defensemen ranks is the reason for Nate Schmidt's call-up, but he'll nonetheless provide coach Barry Trotz will another option on the back end should he decided to opt for a lineup change in Game 3. Schmidt tallied four points over his 39 regular-season games with the Capitals.

Rick Nash
Rangers' Nash Assists In Game 2 Win
Rick Nash, LW, NYR
6:49 AM
News: Rick Nash collected an assist and put four shots on net in Saturday's win over the Capitals.
Analysis: In addition to getting a secondary helper on Derick Brassard's game-winner, Rick Nash had an indirect hand in Dan Boyle's first-period tally. Nash's imposing presence in front of the net following a poor clearing attempt by the Capitals defense seemed to fluster goalie Braden Holtby, who lost track of Boyle on the shot. The winger, who has one goal and five points over seven playoff games, should continue to make an impact throughout the series.

Alex Galchenyuk
Habs Remain Patient With Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk, C, MON
4:13 AM
News: Alex Galchenyuk took three minor penalties and missed a couple of scoring chances during Friday's double-overtime loss to Tampa Bay, the Montreal Gazette reports. The struggling young forward was removed from the power-play unit Friday and for a brief spell was demoted to fourth-line duty.
Analysis: Alex Galchenyuk, who opened the first-round series against Ottawa with points in the first two games, has been silent since. Head coach Michel Therrien continues to preach patience in the development of Galchenyuk and rejected the notion of some tough love, such as making him a healthy scratch for a game or two. Still, this is his third NHL season and the Habs are waiting to see some consistency from the 21-year-old.

Dan Boyle
Rangers' Boyle Gets PPG In Win
Dan Boyle, D, NYR
5/2/2015
News: Dan Boyle picked up a power-play goal Saturday in a 3-2 win over the Capitals. It's his first goal of the postseason.
Analysis: He caught a break when the Caps hit the referee when they attempted to clear the puck. The biscuit stayed in the zone, trickled to Dan Boyle and he pounded it through a screen and into the top corner. He played 17:41 and looks no worse for wear after that hit at end of Game 1.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist: 30 Saves In Game 2 Win
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
5/2/2015
News: Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Capitals. The series is now tied 1-1.
Analysis: He wasn't really busy in the first when the Rangers out-shot the Caps 15-4 and made a couple of great saves in a busier second. He was beaten in the third by a sprawling Alexander Ovechkin, whose seeing-eye shot went shelf over King Henrik's right shoulder as the winger hit the ice. But he bricked up the net in late in the third when the Caps put on the pressure.

 
 
 
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