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Neutral Zone Wrap: Rookie on the rise

by | Rotowire.com
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It's early, so the numbers may look somewhat skewed. Not only for individual results to date, but also for group accomplishments. Can you name the four teams who haven't lost in regulation? The fact all of them come out of the Western Conference may not shock you. San Jose and St. Louis undefeated? Hardly surprising. Colorado? OK, mildly interesting. But Calgary posting a 3-0-2 record?!? Fine, now you've got our complete attention.

Back East, the theme has been one of slow starts - concentrated mainly in the posh Metropolitan Division. Congrats to those who picked Philly to kick off the coach cleansing, albeit a move that was expected in the preseason. Washington's attacking futility does not compare to their defensive ineptitude. But the biggest nuclear meltdown has to be the Rangers, who recently endured a horrific West Coast trip that saw their opponents embarrass them all the way up and down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Let's return to the standard fare of this column and focus on five of the aforementioned clubs who should catch your fantasy eye:

The Flames are scorching ... for now. So try not to go overboard and snap up every possible Calgary waiver option. Especially rookie Sean Monahan, who has excelled in the offensive end (six points) but may be shipped back to juniors before he hits the 10-game mark (i.e. the point where he would burn a year of his entry-level contract). And neither goalie - Joey MacDonald nor Karri Ramo (combined 3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage) - elicits any form of excitement. Don't sell the farm for Jiri Hudler (team-leading seven points), but consider he may be the top option with Michael Cammalleri (broken hand) missing indefinitely. No worries about Dennis Wideman, as his numbers (three points despite sitting second in the league at 27:46 a game, including 4:24 on the power-play) will eventually catch up and surpass those belonging to Mark Giordano (six).

Colorado's blue-chip talent looks to be maturing at the perfect time. Is it any surprise that first pick Nathan MacKinnon (six) leads the Avs in scoring? Or that Steve Downie (goal, three assists) can do more than drop the gloves or earn suspensions (17 PIM)? Good to see Ryan O'Reilly take charge (four, with two on the PP), but the best story must be Alex Tanguay's triumphant return to the Rockies (five, two PPAs). Not many noticed when Andre Benoit signed in July but he's currently on the radar (three assists, 21:41). Beware of Jamie McGinn (five, but 13 hits and five blocked shots), who has never performed at this level with any significant consistency. And good news for anyone who read last week's NZW, as Erik Johnson (zero) is living up to advanced billing.

With all the hype surrounding other Western outfits, the Blues can boast one of the most skilled lineups from top to bottom. There is almost a perfect mix of veteran leadership to complement the burgeoning youth. For every Vladimir Tarasenko (four) and Jaden Schwartz (three) exist an Alexander Steen (eight, plus-5) and Derek Roy (five, including four PPPs). A little bit of patience for Chris Stewart (two and 17 PIM, but a spot on the first man-advantage unit), who perhaps hasn't hit his stride. Look away from Brenden Morrow (PP goal, assist); he's too far down on the depth chart to serve any important role. Ditto for Jay Bouwmeester (two assists), no matter how many minutes he sees.

Keeping the fans happy in Philadelphia isn't as much a concern as putting some pucks in the net. The Flyers' goaltending, which had been a long-standing concern, is clearly not the problem. With several glowing production resumes, there's no reason they should rank 29th on goals per game (at 1.33). Unless your name is Brayden Schenn (four, two PPPs), improvement should be the main priority. Vincent Lecavalier (lower body injury, out a week) had also been decent (three), but now spends time in the press box. While Claude Giroux (one) is virtually a shoo-in to regain his form, others like Wayne Simmonds (one), Matt Read (none), and Kimmo Timonen (none) will require more of a push to recover. With Scott Hartnell (upper body injury) gone up to a month, Read receives more minutes. And with Lecavalier's absence, Timonen returns to a lead role on the power-play point.

Unless you're late for a dinner reservation, there's no need to hit the panic button on Broadway. With one head coach gone, one could assume Alain Vigneault would become the next sacrifice. Fortunately, several signs of promise exist. Brad Richards (five, including four goals) is once again a valuable fantasy commodity. Ryan Callahan (two PPGs and 20+ minutes Saturday) is back to full capacity. It's unknown how long Rick Nash (concussion) will be sidelined, but that should allow guys like Benoit Pouliot (zip) and J.T. Miller (3:21 PP time in his first appearance) to climb the ranks and contribute immediately.

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Player News
Brandon Sutter
Pens' Sutter Returns To Ice Sunday
Brandon Sutter, C, PIT
9:57 AM
News: Brandon Sutter (undisclosed) returned to action Sunday against the Sharks, logging two shot attempts and a hit in his 15:35 of ice time.
Analysis: Brandon Sutter suffered an injury late in Saturday's win over the Coyotes that seemed to put him at risk of missing Sunday's tilt, but evidently, the ailment wasn't anything too serious. The center had been enjoying a top-six role of late for the Penguins, but with Evgeni Malkin returning to the lineup Saturday, Sutter will now return to familiar spot on the club's third line.

Ondrej Pavelec
Jets' Pavelec Sees Winning Streak Come To End
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
9:44 AM
News: Ondrej Pavelec surrendered four goals on 24 shots in Sunday's loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec entered the crease Sunday with a season-best six-game winning streak, but couldn't solve the Blackhawks, who have been a persistent nemesis throughout his career. The defeat shouldn't alter Pavelec's standing as the Jets' No. 1 netminder, as his play over the preceding outings had been the primary reason the team remains in the driver's seat for the final wild-card spot out West. That being said, Pavelec's career 2.89 GAA and .907 save percentage suggest his recent run of elite play isn't sustainable, so it's tough to bet on him displacing Michael Hutchinson from the top spot on the depth chart for good.

Cedric Paquette
Lightning's Paquette A Game-Time Decision
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
9:34 AM
News: Cedric Paquette (leg) is a game-time decision for Monday's game against Montreal, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: There was plenty of Lightning injury news on Monday, with defensemen Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr slated to miss time and center Tyler Johnson ruled out for Monday night's contest. Look for a further update on Cedric Paquette's status for the game to arrive during pre-game warmups.

Jason Garrison
Lightning's Garrison Out 3-To-4 Weeks
Jason Garrison, D, TB
9:29 AM
News: Jason Garrison will miss 3-to-4 weeks due to an upper-body injury, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Such a timetable effectively rules Jason Garrison (who has 30 points in 70 games to date) out for the remainder of the regular season, further taxing a Tampa Bay blue line that will also be without Andrej Sustr for 1-to-2 weeks.

Tyler Johnson
Lightning's Johnson Out Monday
Tyler Johnson, C, TB
9:24 AM
News: Tyler Johnson (upper body) will miss Monday's game against the Canadiens, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Coach Jon Cooper relayed Monday that Tyler Johnson -- who has recorded 67 points in 74 games to date -- is day-to-day in advance of Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs.

Andrej Sustr
Lightning's Sustr Sidelined
Andrej Sustr, D, TB
9:14 AM
News: Andrej Sustr (upper body) will be out one-to-two weeks, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: With Andrej Sustr -- who has 13 helpers in 73 games -- sidelined, the Lightning have bolstered their blue line depth by recalling Luke Witkowski from AHL Syracuse.

Alexander Steen
Blues' Steen Sidelined Monday
Alexander Steen, LW, STL
9:05 AM
News: Alexander Steen (lower body) won't play Monday against the Canucks, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: With Alexander Steen considered day-to-day and out Monday, Olli Jokinen is on track to re-join the Blues' forward mix Monday night.

T.J. Oshie
Blues' Oshie Poised To Play Monday
T.J. Oshie, RW, STL
9:02 AM
News: T.J. Oshie (illness) is on track to play Monday against the Canucks, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: T.J. Oshie, who missed Saturday's game against the Blue Jackets, checks back into the Blues' lineup with 19 goals and 51 points in in 66 games to date.

Erik Johnson
Avs' Johnson Nears Return
Erik Johnson, D, COL
8:50 AM
News: Though Erik Johnson (knee) hasn't been ruled out for Monday's game against the Oilers, Terry Frei of the Denver Post suggests that the blueliner is more likely to return to the lineup at some point during the Avs' upcoming three-game road trip, which starts Wednesday at San Jose.
Analysis: Erik Johnson, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan. 26, last suited up on Jan. 21. Prior to sustaining his knee injury, Johnson had recorded 23 points and 33 PIM in 47 games for the Avs.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs Go With Varlamov On Monday
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
8:42 AM
News: Semyon Varlamov is slated to start Monday's game against the Oilers, Terry Frei of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 35 of 38 shots in Saturday's win over the Sabres, will look to rebound Monday from last Wednesday's rough outing against the Oilers, in which he was pulled after giving up three goals on seven shots. Beyond Monday, coach Patrick Roy indicated that the Avs plan to turn to Reto Berra on Wednesday at San Jose.

 
 
 
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