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Neutral Zone Wrap: Exceeding our expectations

by | Rotowire.com
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Looking at the current state of NHL clubs, it clearly appears as though the Eastern Conference is the weaker of the two. One could argue the four worst overall teams reside on the right side of the continent, unless you want to include perennial underperformer Edmonton somewhere in the mix.

But you probably don't care about that. You want the fantasy info and you want it without filler.

While we've previously discussed trying not to dwell on early stats and standings, trying to separate the reality from the illusion can be a difficult task. A bunch of players have already matched or exceeded expectations. So how can you tell which ones will stay on course and which ones will crash and burn?

Others have already warned about Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other hotshots not on San Jose reaching ripe trade values, so here are a few different examples who have started on fire but history -- and fate -- say they will continue on a more molasses-like pace. Take note of the following:

Ben Bishop, G, Lightning: Pretty sweet early line from the ex-Senator/Blue (nine wins in 11, 2.15 GAA, .925 SV%), especially considering the Lightning defensive effort has sucked since, well, the 2004-05 lockout. And that last part is why you shouldn't expect to see this progression from the 6-foot-7 netminder for an entire season. Tampa has improved on the back end of late but not enough to claim Bishop as a yearlong top-5 (or even top-10) Fantasy goalie.

Mikhail Grabovski, F, Capitals: The career of Grabovski has been highlighted by the frequent alternation of hot and cold streaks. Just when you think he's holding it all together, the Belarusian flakes out and suddenly stops contributing. While these types of episodes happened at times during his Montreal and Toronto days, that by no means guarantees a repeat with the Caps. But at the same time, we've already just witnessed a minor lull (stretch of one point in six games, declining minutes) bookended by outstanding performances (hat-trick/four points opening night and three assists Friday evening). Tread lightly.

David Legwand, F, Predators: Perhaps you remember Legwand as the #2 pick of the 1998 draft. Or the guy who is now in his 14th full season with Nashville and leads the team in scoring (12 in 14). While he's not young (33), neither is his competition at center (Mike Fisher is also 33, while Matt Cullen is four years older). Not too many injuries over his career, although he never matched his junior offensive numbers (peaked at 63 in 2006-07). Even with the Preds' improved offense, hoping Legwand to top 60 points again is asking for too much.

Frans Nielsen, F, Islanders: While Kyle Okposo has also shot out of the gates (17 in 14), let's focus on the Islander forward who is more likely to take a dip. In his six full campaigns, the Danish center has excelled as a shorthanded skater (seven SHGs in 2010-11) and has firmly stuck his foot in on the power-play (no worse than eight PPPs per season). His hard work is finally paying off (eight goals, eight assists) and the Islanders may finally be experiencing a resurge. But I'm sorry, there is no way a healthy Nielsen will reach 80 points over an 82-game schedule. Don't even think about it.

Matt Niskanen, D, Penguins: The return of Kris Letang has rearranged the Pens' blueline ladder. Even though the two share time as a regular-strength pair, Niskanen will no longer see the big man-advantage minutes. Since Letang's first game back, the Minnesotan's production has slipped (one in five) as a result of losing his prime scoring role (lost almost two minutes of PP action a night). Any total over 30 points should be a bonus.

(Honorable mention: Mark Arcobello, F, Edmonton; Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas; Mathieu Perreault, F, Anaheim; Chris Tanev, D, Vancouver; Antoine Vermette, F, Phoenix)

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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.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Sets Up Goal In Game 5 Loss
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
7:46 AM
News: Sidney Crosby registered an assist in Friday's series-ending Game 5 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Sidney Crosby finished the postseason with two goals and two assists in five games; a fine total, but not nearly enough for a Penguins' attack that struggled all series to generate high-quality scoring opportunities against world-class netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The center will turn 28 in August, and while it might be premature to say that he's on the decline, there's a fair argument to make that he may no longer be the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick heading into the 2015-16 campaign. Though he's seemed to assuage some concern about his ability to stay healthy by missing only seven games over the last two years, he saw his goal total decline to 28 in 2014-15, the lowest output for his career during a season in which he suited up for 60-plus games.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Held Off Score Sheet In Round 1
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
7:40 AM
News: Evgeni Malkin put a team-high six shots on goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Rangers, but failed to come away with a single point.
Analysis: Evgeni Malkin was held off the score sheet in all five games of the series, which effectively thwarted any shot the Penguins had of upsetting the Presidents' Trophy winners. The star center had actually gone without a point in the final five games of the regular season as well, so he'll finish off the 2014-15 campaign in a 10-game scoring drought, an extremely rare occurrence for one of the NHL's premier offensive talents. Prior to Game 5, reports came out that Malkin had been playing through an unspecified injury of late, so that would certainly seem to explain the steep drop in his production. Don't be surprised if news surfaces in the coming days that Malkin will require some sort of offseason procedure to address the injury.

Nick Spaling
Spaling Lone Scorer For Pens In Series-Ending Loss
Nick Spaling, C, PIT
7:34 AM
News: Nick Spaling tallied the Penguins' lone goal of the evening in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Nick Spaling's offensive output Friday (one goal, three shots on net) essentially exceeded the whole of his production from the prior four games of the series (no goals, one assist, two shots). Of course, the Penguins probably weren't expecting Spaling to post any crooked scoring numbers in his third-line role, and few poolies likely rolled the dice with the winger either, after he generated only eight goals and 27 points over 82 regular-season contests.

Mikko Koivu
Wild's Koivu Picks Up Power-Play Tally
Mikko Koivu, C, MIN
7:25 AM
News: Mikko Koivu netted a power-play goal in Friday's Game 5 triumph over the Blues.
Analysis: Mikko Koivu earned credit for his first career postseason goal with the man advantage when his shot attempt in the second period ricocheted off the foot of the Blues' Jay Bouwmeester's skate and into the net, vaulting the Wild to a 3-1 lead in the game and ultimately, a 3-2 edge in the series. The tally also ended an eight-game goal drought for the Finnish center.

Jared Spurgeon
Wild's Spurgeon Picks Up Third Point Of Series
Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN
7:17 AM
News: Jared Spurgeon collected an assist in Friday's Game 5 victory over the Blues.
Analysis: With three points (one goal, two assists) in the five games, Jared Spurgeon ranks as the Wild's most productive defenseman in the early stages of the postseason. In addition, Spurgeon has put 10 shots on net while supplying nine hits and eight blocks during the series, providing the sort of all-around production that should give him a decent floor in daily formats even if he fails to record a point on a given night.

Ryan Suter
Wild's Suter Gets PP Assist
Ryan Suter, D, MIN
7:12 AM
News: Ryan Suter captured a power-play assist in Friday's Game 5 victory over the Blues.
Analysis: Ryan Suter's first point of the postseason came when he set up Mikko Koivu, whose shot attempt deflected off the skate of the Blues' Jay Bouwmeester and into the net. The blueliner logged 27:19 of action Friday and is still viewed as the team's top defenseman, but his offensive production has slid this season. In the 82 games he's played (including the postseason), Suter has generated just two goals on 154 shots, resulting in a 1.2 percent shooting rate.

Thomas Vanek
Wild's Vanek Assists In Win
Thomas Vanek, LW, MIN
6:59 AM
News: Thomas Vanek gathered an assist and put three shots on goal in Friday's Game 5 win over the Blues.
Analysis: It's the second assist of the first round for Thomas Vanek, who seems to have lost some momentum since cobbling together an eight-game point streak from March 8 through March 23 during the regular season. He's managed only two goals and three assists over his last 13 games, putting up just 24 shots during that span. Since he doesn't provide much usefulness in the hits or PIM categories, Vanek's value is largely nullified if he's not producing with much consistency.

 
 
 
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