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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
Roberto Luongo
Panthers' Luongo To Start Sunday
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
12:54 AM
News: Roberto Luongo will start Sunday against the Maple Leafs, Steve Goldstein of Fox Sports Florida reports.
Analysis: Roberto Luongo stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced Monday against the Penguins, and will start again Sunday after a five-day team break. He carries a 2.30 GAA and .924 save percentage into Sunday's matchup.

Jonathan Bernier
Leafs' Bernier Dealing With Illness
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
12:50 AM
News: Jonathan Bernier is dealing with an illness and will miss Sunday's game against the Panthers, Steve Goldstein of Fox Sports Florida reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Bernier's exact illness is unclear at this point, but the mumps would be the team's biggest concern at this point. He will miss Sunday's game at a minimum, and the team should provide an update on his status at some point in the coming days.

Paul Martin
Pens' Martin To Sit Again Monday
Paul Martin, D, PIT
12:48 AM
News: Paul Martin (undisclosed) took part in an on-ice workout Sunday, but won't travel with the team to New Jersey for Monday's match. "There's no immediate plans for [Martin] to join the team," coach Mike Johnston said after the session.
Analysis: A day after suggesting Paul Martin was a "few steps away" from playing, Johnston seemed to backtrack a little bit in his assessment of the blueliner's health. While it doesn't sound like Martin has hit any snags in his recovery, he'll still need some more practice time in order to feel completely comfortable with his health.

James Reimer
Leafs' Reimer To Start Sunday
James Reimer, G, TOR
12:44 AM
News: James Reimer will start in net against the Panthers on Sunday, Steve Godstein of Fox Sports Florida reports.
Analysis: James Reimer will receive the start with Jonathan Bernier dealing with an illness. He will have Christopher Gibson as his backup Sunday, but he shouldn't be needed barring an injury. If Bernier's illness causes him to miss an extended time, Reimer should receive the lion's share of the starts in net in his absence.

Thomas Greiss
Pens' Greiss Works Out Sunday
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
12:44 AM
News: Thomas Greiss (illness) rejoined the Penguins on Sunday, taking part in an on-ice session with the team's strength and conditioning coach.
Analysis: The news would suggest Thomas Greiss is past the contagious stage of his bout with the mumps. However, the virus undoubtedly put his body through the wringer, so he'll still need some more practice time before returning to active duty. Jeff Zatkoff will remain on hand as the backup goalie for Monday's game against the Devils while Greiss stays back in Pittsburgh.

Christian Ehrhoff
Pens' Ehrhoff Takes To Ice Monday
Christian Ehrhoff, D, PIT
12:39 AM
News: Christian Ehrhoff (lower body) took part in an on-ice session prior to Sunday's practice.
Analysis: The Penguins were initially hoping Christian Ehrhoff would return from IR when eligible Saturday against the Capitals, but he didn't show enough progress with his recovery during the Christmas break for that to come to fruition. Though the Penguins are likely pleased to have him back skating, Ehrhoff won't travel with the team to New Jersey for Monday's game. Coach Mike Johnston said after Ehrhoff's workout that there were "no immediate plans" for him to rejoin the team.

Joe Vitale
Coyotes' Vitale Questionable Monday
Joe Vitale, C, ARI
12:36 AM
News: Joe Vitale is questionable for Monday's game with a lower-body injury, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Repbulic reports.
Analysis: The origin of Joe Vitale's injury is a bit unclear, but it likely happened in Saturday's game against the Ducks. He was able to play his average minutes Saturday, so it's possible he will be in the lineup Monday, but Vitale's status should be updated prior to the opening faceoff.

Chris Summers
Coyotes' Summers (Upper Body) Out Monday
Chris Summers, D, ARI
12:27 AM
News: Chris Summers (upper body) won't play Monday against the Flyers, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Chris Summers will miss his third straight game due to the upper-body injury, and the early nature of him being ruled out could indicate his injury isn't minor.That remains unclear at this point, but for now, his next chance to return will be Wednesday against the Stars.

Patric Hornqvist
Pens' Hornqvist (Lower Body) Out A Few Weeks
Patric Hornqvist, RW, PIT
12:26 AM
News: Patric Hornqvist, who left Saturday's loss to the Capitals with a lower-body injury, is expected to miss "a few weeks."
Analysis: Patric Hornqvist took a puck to the leg on a shot attempt by teammate Scott Harrington in the first period Saturday, skating to the bench but not returning from the locker room after the first intermissionl. The Penguins should have a more definitive estimate for Hornqvist's return once he resumes skating, but it sounds like that won't occur for multiple days. The Penguins already have seven forwards out with injured or illnesses, so Hornqvist's setbacks will force the organzation to further plunder its well-scavenged AHL ranks.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' Johansson Extends Point Streak
Marcus Johansson, LW, WAS
12:18 AM
News: Marcus Johansson bagged his 10th goal of the season in Saturday's win over the Penguins.
Analysis: The winger is now riding a three-game point streak to salvage what has largely been a quiet month of December. Prior to starting the streak, he had just two points in his previous 10 games, and hadn't found the net since Nov. 29. It looks like he's finally starting to rediscover his offense again.

 
 
 
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