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Blue Line Buzz: Starting to soar

by | Rotowire.com
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Watching Pavel Datsyuk doesn't get old. The man is a wizard. Many goaltenders and defensemen have fallen victim to the blinding stickhandling skills of the Russian master. Add Shawn Horcoff to that list after Thursday. Dallas went on to beat Detroit in overtime, but Datsyuk's goal was mesmerizing, giving the Wings a short-lived third period lead. Lost in the dazzling lights of Datsyuk's hands was the cross-ice pass from Henrik Zetterberg.

Toronto continues to be one of the league's stronger teams with an 11-6 start despite Saturday's loss to division rival Boston. Phil Kessel remains one of the league's top offensive threats and tallied his team's only goal in Friday's shootout win over New Jersey, gliding through the Devils' defense with superb ease before finishing past Cory Schneider. While Kessel's goal could be a candidate for goal of the year, the equalizer Jonathan Bernier surrendered minutes later to Michael Ryder was the ridiculous answer to Kessel's sublime. It's a good thing the Devils are awful in shootouts, as Bernier's mistake was erased.

The best player in the world is finally on the scoresheet. Claude Giroux scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal Saturday against Edmonton, a mere 16 games into the season as the Flyers managed a win against an equally hapless Oilers squad. Edmonton, perennially wearing "wait 'til next year" albatross, could not come back against Philadelphia, but more on the Oil in a minute.

To say that Giroux had been pressing is putting it lightly. Regarded as one of the league's most dynamic offensive talents, Giroux is under much scrutiny from the always-objective, never fickle Philadelphia media for his slow start; this scrutiny was exacerbated and blown out of proportion, following Thursday's 3-0 loss to New Jersey after Giroux, frustrated, walked out of the game without addressing the media after the Flyers had a players-only meeting. His decision prompted some rather scathing reviews of his actions.

The Oilers have addressed their goaltending situation by completing a transaction many have long predicted they would: signing Ilya Bryzgalov. How Bryzgalov will play in front of one of the league's most porous defenses remains to be seen, but for all his aloofness, a solid Bryz can be a difference maker. However, the Oilers' issues are seemingly deeper than goaltending.

One has to believe Edmonton has more parks than Winnipeg. For a Russian native, Bryz's comments from 2011 about the cold temperatures in Winnipeg are more than slightly ironic, especially considering how much farther north Edmonton is than Winnipeg. Edmonton might have more bears as well. Adopting a wait-and-see approach with Bryz on the Oil might be the best bet before adding him to your roster.

Streaking Devils?

Eric Gelinas continues to eat power play minutes for the offensively challenged Devils, averaging over 3:05 per game in the seven he has played since his call-up from Albany (AHL). Gelinas has a booming slap shot and four points in seven games, including three on the man advantage. Rookie defensemen are always streaky, but Gelinas has no other players standing in his way in terms of power play time except Marek Zidlicky, who has seemingly vanished since Gelinas's arrival in Newark.

Zidlicky is notoriously one of the league's streakier options on defense has no points in the last five games after grabbing nine in the season's first 11 contests. The Devils are proving to be an average team on the power play, their season's 17.9-percent clip no doubt buoyed by the four goals on the man advantage they scored in October 26's comeback win over Boston. If you have no other options on defense, Zidlicky will at least be in a position to produce, probably more than most players available on your league's waiver wire, but the dry spells associated with Zidlicky will try one's patience.

If Gelinas is available, he's the upside play on the Devils' defense.

Traveling the Five

Much like last season, Jake Muzzin is making it hard to ignore him in Los Angeles. His path to opportunities for consistent production is impeded by the likes of Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty, but Muzzin can't be ignored in deeper leagues. Quietly, Muzzin has eight points on the season (1-7-8) with a minus-3 rating and three helpers on the power play, where he's seeing 2:37 per game. Muzzin jumped in the last week with three assists over three contests, including eight shots on goal, six of which came in the Kings' win over Nashville last Saturday.

Muzzin's eight points in 12 games are second on the Kings' roster to Doughty, who has nine in 17 contests, but Muzzin has three more points than Voynov at this juncture of the season. It's likely that Voynov will pick up his scoring pace, but Muzzin can be a savvy pickup in deeper leagues because of the chances he is seeing on the power play.

Further south of Los Angeles, Hampus Lindholm had himself a breakout game Wednesday against Phoenix, notching a goal and an assist. The goal was the first of his career and saw him bury a slick wrist shot past Mike Smith after trailing the play on an odd-man rush. Lindholm has three points in the last week of games and has close to two shots on goal per-game, but it's the plus-13 rating than can be attractive to owners in deeper leagues which reward secondary statistics. Lindholm is long on talent and offers more value in keeper leagues. The Ducks have one of the league's top scoring lines sparked by Ryan Getzlaf and Lindholm should continue seeing scoring chances. His five points trail only Cam Fowler's nine; Folwer is shockingly a not a minus at this point of the season, skyrocketing himself to a plus-1 through 18 games.

Anaheim offers much in the plus-minus department save for Fowler, as steady veteran Francois Beauchemin is a plus-14 while Sami Vatanen sits at a plus-11.

No Rest for the Wild

Given Ryan Suter's ice time this past week, one has to wonder if the $98 million Minnesota gave him in July 2012 is awarded by the minute. Suter played 36:51 in Thursday's shootout loss to Washington and followed that up with 35:28 Saturday against Carolina, notching an assist in the process. Most leagues do not utilize a time-on-ice category, but Suter's seemingly ubiquitous presence on Minnesota's blue line put him almost two minutes ahead of Calgary's Dennis Wideman, the league's No. 2 player in ice time per-game at 27:33. Considering it's only November, one has to believe Suter will never leave the ice come playoff time. Injuries on Minnesota's blue line recently are one of the causes attributed to Suter's minutes spike. The 11 points he has through 18 games are a nice bonus as well.

Sifting Through the Mud

Not every team is blessed with a duo of offensively gifted blue liners like Montreal, currently enjoying tremendous production from P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov or the Blues' tandem of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.

The Avalanche are one of these teams. Colorado is enjoying a renaissance under new coach Patrick Roy and the goal-scoring prowess of Matt Duchene (11 through 15 games). However, the success in the standings and on the scoresheet have not trickled down to the team's blue line, as Andre Benoit sits with seven assists and no goals through 15 games. Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson each sit with five points as well. The Avs were hoping youngster Tyson Barrie would emerge as a point-producer, but Barrie has struggled with one point in just five games, resulting in a demotion to Lake Erie (AHL). Barrie will be called up at some point in the season, making him a player to remember in deeper leagues. It's worth remembering Colorado traded Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart to St. Louis for Erik Johnson several years ago.

The Panthers continue to be a team attempting to figure out their identity, and recently fired coach Kevin Dineen, the man who led them to the Southeast Division title in 2012. On the back end, Florida is getting the usual handful of assists from Brian Campbell (seven through 17 games with no goals), but the Kitties are not seeing many points from their defenders. Dmitry Kulikov is again reminding all of the frustrations of owning him, with a modest three points in 17 contests followed by Tom Gilbert and Matt Gilroy, each of whom have two points. The Panthers do have a potential wild card in the well-traveled Ryan Whitney, but the veteran has no points and just eight shots on goal through six games. Whitney is seeing over two minutes of power play time, but Florida's offensive woes don't make any of their defenders a sage option.

While the Sabres are seemingly contacting every team in the league about the services of goalie Ryan Miller, Buffalo has three defenders sitting with four points: Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Jamie McBain. Of the three, McBain is the only player without a 40-point campaign to his name, but he could be the bright spot on a team struggling for a semblance of consistency. McBain has four points in 11 games with a modest 10 shots on goal. One has to wonder when, or if, the ghosts of Myers and Ehrhoff will return, but McBain did have 30 points as a rookie for Carolina several years ago. None of these three players can be relied upon for steady production, but they can be options for those in dire need of a boost.

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Player News
Brett Bellemore
Hurricanes Sign Bellemore To One-Year Deal
Brett Bellemore, D, CAR
7/25/2014
News: Brett Bellemore agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes on Friday, the Hurricanes' Official Site reports.
Analysis: Brett Bellemore played in 64 games for the Hurricanes last season as it was the first time that he spent the entire year in the NHL. He has been able to contribute two goals and eight assists over the stretch of his two-year tenure with Carolina. The defenseman stands to improve on those numbers since he's slowly but surely gaining professional experience.

James Reimer
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James Reimer, G, TOR
7/25/2014
News: James Reimer agreed to a two-year, $4.6 million deal with Toronto on Friday, Toronto Sun writer Rob Longley reports.
Analysis: After posting a 19-8-5 record in 2012 to go along with a GAA of 2.46, James Reimer struggled last year, finishing with a GAA of 3.29 and a record of 12-16-1. The Leafs are banking on him returning to the form he showed in the three years before last, in which case he would be a useful backup to Jonathan Bernier.

Landon Ferraro
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Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7/25/2014
News: Landon Ferraro signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings on Friday.
Analysis: Landon Ferraro inked a two-way contract, meaning he can be assigned to AHL Grand Rapids at will by the Red Wings. He played just four games for Detroit in 2013-14, with the majority of his time coming with Grand Rapids. In the minors, Ferraro was responsible for 31 points (15 goals) over 70 games.

Lars Eller
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News: Lars Eller signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, the Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: The deal will pay Lars Eller $3.5 million each of the next four seasons. Coming off of a relatively average 2013-14 season in which he scored 26 points (12 goals) and recorded a career-worst minus-15 rating, Eller will look to prove he's worthy of the new deal.

Cory Sarich
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News: Cory Sarich, who was injured in a cycling accident on Monday, is recovering in a Calgary hospital, TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: The report adds that Cory Sarich, who was hit by a car while training in B.C., was airlifted to a hospital in Calgary and is in stable condition, with non-life-threatening injuries. "It's been a rough couple of days and I'm grateful for the support I've been receiving from the medical team here and from family and friends" said Sarich, via a news release. At this stage, the timetable for the free agent blueliner's recovery is unclear. Sarich spent the 2013-14 season with the Avs, notching 10 points in 54 games.

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David Warsofsky, D, BOS
7/24/2014
News: David Warsofsky agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Bruins on Thursday.
Analysis: The diminutive blueliner is coming off a productive season at AHL Providence, where he supplied six goals and 26 assists over 56 games, ranking fourth on the team in points. He parlayed that minor league success into his first NHL call-up in December, ultimately finishing with two points in six games. With no present openings on the Bruins' top three pairings, David Warsofsky is likely bound for Providence to start the upcoming season, but should be one of the team's top replacement options should the parent club suffer an injury on defense.

Taylor Pyatt
Ex-Penguin Pyatt Signs With Swiss Club
Taylor Pyatt, LW, PIT
7/24/2014
News: Taylor Pyatt signed a one-year contract with Geneve-Servette of Switzerland on Wednesday, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Taylor Pyatt was only a bit contributor for the Rangers and Penugins last season, totaling five points over 56 NHL games. The former No. 8 overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft will attempt to restore some value overseas before returning stateside, perhaps next season.

Kevin Poulin
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7/24/2014
News: Kevin Poulin and the Islanders came to terms Thursday on a one-year, two-way contract, avoiding arbitration, Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: The offseason additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson probably relegates Kevin Poulin to AHL Bridgeport to open the 2014-15 campaign, but the Islanders still seem bullish on Poulin's long-term potential. Only 23 years old, Poulin could end up pushing Halak for the starting job as soon as next season if he shows some growth in the minors.

Rasmus Rissanen
Rissanen Signs With Hurricanes
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7/23/2014
News: Rasmus Rissanen has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old Rasmus Rissanen, who notched 10 points and 91 penalty minutes in 62 games with AHL Charlotte in 2013-14, is in line to reprise his role as an organizational depth blueliner for the Hurricanes.

Andre Benoit
Sabres, Benoit Agree To One-Year Deal
Andre Benoit, D, BUF
7/23/2014
News: Andre Benoit signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Sabres on Wednesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: Andre Benoit, 30, logged 79 games with the Avalanche last season, accumulating 28 points and 26 PIM. The blue line was a major area of weakness in the Sabres' dismal 2013-14 campaign, and the additions of Benoit, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros over the summer should only improve the team on that side of the ice during the upcoming season. Also expect the 30-year-old to mentor some of Buffalo's top young defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk.

 
 
 
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