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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
Vincent Lecavalier
Flyers Transfer Lecavalier To IR
Vincent Lecavalier, C, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Vincent Lecavalier (foot) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: Vincent Lecavalier returned to practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Oct. 11. Because he's already missed over a week of action, the Flyers will be able to stash Lecavalier on injured reserve retroactively. Lecavalier looks on track to play at some point next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday against the Kings.

Braydon Coburn
Flyers Place Coburn On IR
Braydon Coburn, D, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Braydon Coburn (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: With Braydon Coburn ruled out four weeks Friday due to the injury, he'll unsurprisingly move to IR to create some roster space. Coburn suffered the foot injury in the Flyers' first game of the season against the Bruins, but had taken pregame warmups as a recently as Tuesday before suffering a setback. Mark Alt will be recalled from AHL Adirondback in a corresponding move.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock To Start Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
10/25/2014
News: Alex Stalock will be between the pipes on Saturday against Buffalo, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: The Sharks started the year alternating games between Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi, but after two consecutive losses by Stalock, Niemi has started the past two. He struggled in those two games, taking 5-3 and 5-4 losses, so Stalock could continue to earn more starts with a solid performance against the struggling Sabres.

Zdeno Chara
Bruins Place Chara On IR
Zdeno Chara, D, BOS
10/25/2014
News: Zdeno Chara (knee) was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The move comes as little surprise after Zdeno Chara was ruled out four-to-six weeks after suffering a PCL tear in his left knee Thursday night. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow were recalled from AHL Providence in corresponding moves to give the Bruins some replacement options on the blue line.

Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny Skating, But Not Doing Much Else
Paul Stastny, C, STL
10/25/2014
News: Paul Stastny (upper body) has been able to skate the last two days, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: It seems as though Paul Stastny has returned to the ice strictly for conditioning purposes, as he hasn't attempted shots or taken any contact yet. The Blues remain steadfast in their belief that a lengthy absence isn't in store for Stastny, but it's looking increasingly unlikely that he'll be back before the end of the month.

John Gibson
Ducks Confirm Gibson For Friday
John Gibson, G, ANA
10/25/2014
News: John Gibson has been confirmed as the starter for Friday's game against the Blue Jackets, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: While John Gibson has been surpassed by Frederik Andersen on the team's depth chart, coach Bruce Boudreau stated that he still intends to give the 21-year-old semi-frequent action in order to build his confidence. Boudreau will instead save the red-hot Andersen for the more critical matchup of the weekend, when the division-rival Sharks come to Anaheim.

Mikhail Grabovski
Isles' Grabovski Could Return Saturday
Mikhail Grabovski, C, NYI
10/25/2014
News: Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) felt good while practicing Friday and could play Saturday against the Stars, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Mikhail Grabovski took part in Friday's session in a full capacity, joining Frans Nielsen and Cory Conacher on the Isles' second line. The team will reexamine him after Saturday's morning skate before reaching a determination on his status for the game later that evening, but if his concussion symptoms don't resurface, expect the team to activate him from IR.

Sonny Milano
Blue Jackets Activate Milano, Assign Him To OHL
Sonny Milano, LW, CLB
10/25/2014
News: Sonny Milano (face) was activated from the Blue Jackets' non-roster injury list and assigned to OHL Plymouth.
Analysis: Sonny Milano hasn't played since suffering two fractures in his face during the NHL Prospects Tournament in mid-September. The Blue Jackets' first-round selection in this past June's draft, Milano has elected to bypass a collegiate career with Boston College in favor of testing himself at the junior level. He's probably at least two years away from contributing for the Blue Jackets.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson: (Hip) Still Not Ready To Go
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
10/25/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson (hip) still doesn't sound like he's ready to make his season debut, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: The Blues' medical staff has granted Carl Gunnarsson clearance to play and is simply waiting for the defenseman to alert them when he's good to go, but he's evidently not comfortable with his hip just yet. Jordan Leopold will continue to occupy a regular spot on defense for the Blues until Gunnarsson feels the pain in his hip has fully dissipated.

Karri Ramo
Flames Go With Ramo On Saturday
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
10/25/2014
News: Karri Ramo will be in the crease Saturday against the Capitals, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 The Fan reports.
Analysis: With both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller playing well, coach Bob Hartley seems content to alternate starts between the two goalies until one of the two netminders sees their productivity tail off. Ramo will carry a strong 2.20 GAA and .917 save percentage into Saturday's start, but it still seems likely that Hiller will ultimately take the reins of the No. 1 job.

 
 
 
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