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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
Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line with Bobby Ryan to have another strong showing in Game 6 Sunday in Ottawa. With linemate Bobby Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase as a result.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman got right back to the offense Friday. The 25-year-old has turned it up in these last two games, firing seven shots on goal and recording three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. With Ottawa now trailing Montreal 3-2 in the first round, look for Hoffman to have another strong outing in Game 6 Sunday at the Canadian Tire Center.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Will Start Friday
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
12:29 AM
News: Craig Anderson will be between the pipes for Friday's Game 5 against the Canadiens, TSN 1200's Gord Wilson reports.
Analysis: It's hardly a surprise, as Craig Anderson was phenomenal in Game 4, turning away all of the 28 shots he faced en route to a shutout. He'll likely need to turn in a similar performance on Friday in order to give the Senators a chance to gain some ground in their series with the Habs, in which they currently trail three games to one.

Jake Allen
Blues' Allen Will Start Friday
Jake Allen, G, STL
12:14 AM
News: Jake Allen will be between the pipes for Friday's Game 5 against the Wild, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Jake Allen didn't have to do too much in Game 4, as Minnesota only managed to fire a total of 18 shots on goal. However, he was still solid, turning away 17 of the 18 shots he faced. He'll look to build on that strong performance on Friday.

Bobby Ryan
Sens' Ryan Breaks Goal-Scoring Slump In Game 5 Win
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
4/24/2015
News: Bobby Ryan ended a 16-game goalless drought Friday, netting a pair of goals in a Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: A much-needed two-goal outburst from Bobby Ryan, who hadn't found twine since March. 16. The Senators are now trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, so if this slump-busting performance from Ryan is a sign of things to come, Ottawa could find themselves completing a reverse sweep. With 18 goals and 54 points in the regular season, Ryan is an elite sniper who can be the difference when he's on his game. Now that the monkey's off his back, watch out.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Allows Five Goals In Game 5 Loss
Carey Price, G, MON
4/24/2015
News: Carey Price gave up five goals on 25 shots in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Senators.
Analysis: Not a good showing from Carey Price, who failed to help Montreal close out their series against Ottawa. With the Sens having won two straight games and the series now 3-2 in favor of the Canadiens, Price and the Habs could be in some trouble. Aside from Game 5, the 27-year-old goaltender has been excellent this postseason, posting a .923 save percentage, so if he can turn in a great outing Sunday, the Habs could eliminate Ottawa in six games and move on to the second round.

Derek Stepan
Rangers' Stepan Scores PP Goal In Game 5 Win
Derek Stepan, C, NYR
4/24/2015
News: Derek Stepan opened the scoring with a power-play marker in Friday's series-clinching Game 5 win over the Penguins.
Analysis: It was the second goal of the playoffs for Derek Stepan, who finishes the first round with three points in five games. The second-line center has looked dangerous this postseason, firing 24 shots on goal and helping the Rangers eliminate the Penguins in five games. New York will be awaiting the winner of the Capitals and Islanders series, so look for the 24-year-old to carry his strong play from the opening round into the second round.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Crushes Penguins' Cup Dreams
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
4/24/2015
News: Carl Hagelin scored the series-clinching overtime-winning goal Friday against Pittsburgh in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
Analysis: A clutch performance from Carl Hagelin, who scored his first career NHL playoff game-winning goal. The 26-year-old is now riding a three-game point streak, helping the Rangers eliminate the Penguins in five games and move onto the second round. Skating on a line with Martin St. Louis, Hagelin, who had 17 goals in the regular season, will likely continue being a key contributor throughout the Rangers' postseason run.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Pens' Fleury Sensational In Game 5 Loss
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, PIT
4/24/2015
News: Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 of 36 shots in Friday's Game 5 overtime loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: While Fleury played sensational, the Penguins couldn't get more than one puck past Henrik Lundqvist, leading to their elimination from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Penguins only lasted five games against the Presidents Trophy winners, it wasn't due to a lack of effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, who was exceptional throughout the series, posting a .927 save percentage and 2.12 GAA. Fleury, who has struggled in the playoffs in the past, can exit the postseason knowing he played his best and gave the injury-riddled Penguins a fighting chance against arguably the best team in the NHL.

 
 
 
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