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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
Brad Richards
Blackhawks' Richards Sets Up Kane In Game 4 Win
Brad Richards, C, CHI
5/25/2015
News: Brad Richards assisted on Patrick Kane's game-tying power-play goal in Saturday's double-overtime victory over the Ducks in Game 4.
Analysis: Brad Richards has recorded a point in each game of the series thus far, giving the Blackhawks the offensive presence at the second-line center spot that was sorely missing during the past postseason. The 35-year-old submitted a mediocre regular season, but if he can remain productive for just a few more games, he'll be well worth the investment the Blackhawks made.

Brent Seabrook
Blackhawks' Seabrook Nets Game 4 Goal
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI
5/25/2015
News: Brent Seabrook tallied a goal in Saturday's Game 4 triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: It was an effective all-around game for Brent Seabrook, who finished with four shot attempts, four hits, and six blocks across 32:03 of ice time. With coach Joel Quenneville showing little trust in fifth and sixth defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, Seabrook should be poised to log big minutes for the remainder of the postseason.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Isles' Visnovsky Could Be Headed To Austria
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
6:58 PM
News: Lubomir Visnovsky is close to signing a deal to play in Austria, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Lubomir Visnovsky is a free agent who has suffered several concussions over the past couple of seasons and was probably not going to be re-signed by the Islanders. The Isles will miss his offensive skills, especially his ability to quarterback the power play, but in the end this may be addition by subtraction.

Matt Carle
Lightning's Carle Good To Go
Matt Carle, D, TB
4:55 PM
News: Matt Carle (undisclosed) will play in Sunday's Game 5 against the Rangers, ESPN's Mike Mazzeo reports.
Analysis: As expected, Matt Carle will rejoin the lineup after missing Friday's Game 4. He figures to work on the third defensive pairing alongside Andrej Sustr.

Ben Bishop
Lightning's Bishop Starting Game 5
Ben Bishop, G, TB
4:48 PM
News: Ben Bishop led the Lightning onto the ice for warmups before Sunday's Game 5 against the Rangers, ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald reports.
Analysis: Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it would be "asinine" to bench Ben Bishop, who has allowed 10 goals over the last two games. Another weak outing could perhaps change Cooper's mind, but it would still be surprising if the Lightning turned away from the goaltender who carried them all season.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Starting Game 5
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
4:46 PM
News: Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers onto the ice for warmups before Sunday's Game 5 against the Lightning, ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald reports.
Analysis: As expected, it will be Henrik Lundqvist vs. Ben Bishop for Game 5 at MSG as both teams look to grab a 3-2 advantage in the series. Lundqvist was named first star of Game 4, after stopping 38-of-39 shots in a 5-1 victory.

Patrick Sharp
Blackhawks' Sharp Captures Assist In Game 4
Patrick Sharp, LW, CHI
1:12 PM
News: Patrick Sharp picked up an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: Patrick Sharp was given credit for setting up Antoine Vermette's game-winning goal, though the latter did most of the work in making the play happen. It still counts as the first point of the series for Sharp, who has nonetheless been one of the Blackhawks' best contributors this postseason. He's compiled four goals, six assists, and 45 shot attempts over the team's 14 playoff games.

Jonathan Toews
Chicago's Toews Gets Goal, Assist In Game 4
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
1:09 PM
News: Jonathan Toews recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: The physical Ryan Kesler has been a nuisance for Jonathan Toews all series, but the Blackhawks center finally got the better of his adversary in Game 4. He notched his first goal of the series at the 2:38 mark of the third period, then captured a secondary assist on Brent Seabrook's marker exactly five minutes later. He's now averaging a point per game in the playoffs, tallying five goals and nine assists across 14 contests.

Antoine Vermette
Chicago's Vermette Ties Series At 2-2
Antoine Vermette, C, CHI
1:05 PM
News: Antoine Vermette supplied the game-winning goal in double overtime of Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: After serving as a healthy scratch in Game 3, Antoine Vermette rewarded coach Joel Quenneville's decision to slot him back into the lineup by rebounding his own shot attempt and putting the puck past the Ducks' Frederik Andersen in the game's 85th minute. The center also won 14 of 20 faceoffs in the contest, which should be enough to guarantee his place in the lineup for the remainder of the series.

Patrick Kane
Blackhawks' Kane Comes Up Big In Game 4
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
1:02 PM
News: Patrick Kane registered the game-tying goal in third period of Saturday's eventual 5-4 double-overtime triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: Minutes after the Ducks raced back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, Patrick Kane sent the United Center crowd into a frenzy when he finished off a power-play feed from linemate Brad Richards with 7:21 left to play. The 26-year-old has been spectacular in the Blackhawks' 15 playoff contests, recording nine goals and six assists.

 
 
 
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