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Neutral Zone Wrap: Setting realistic goals

by | Rotowire.com
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Anyone familiar with New Year's resolutions knows this process is confusing and often disappointing. Let's face it: you can't fulfill all your goals if you list the first things that come to mind or take suggestions from the hottest Twitter trends. So instead of wishing for several things to change, your best bet is to focus on improving one specific area and setting realistic goals to do so.

As average citizens strive for something better in 2014, so do professional athletes. No matter how successful a player may be, there is always room for improvement -- no matter how minor it is. NHLers are no different, since they've worked hard for years to refine their game and then maintain their position in the top flight. So as a Fantasy owner, you need to decide which slackers you can trust and which ones don't deserve your time and effort.

Using indicators such as underperformance and relative health, who can step up immediately? We've assembled the top candidates below, based mainly on previous results and current opportunities. As was the case last week, no players from the November edition of this topic will be repeated here.

(Stats as of Monday December 30)

Patrik Berglund, F, Blues: When he was selected in the first round back in 2006, Berglund had been touted as a future No. 1 center. The size, the hands, the vision. For one reason (former defensive liability) or another (perceived lack of effort), the anointing never materialized. A few flashes of brilliance here and there (like the 47 points in his rookie year) but nothing consistent over a significant period. Now that a couple of Blues forwards are dinged up (most notably, Alexander Steen), the supine Swede has the chance to provide more in all situations (and five in his last five is a good start).

Tyler Ennis, F, Sabres: Pick a Sabre forward, any Sabre forward. Heck, we could've included Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford or even (shudder) Ville Leino here. But Ennis has been selected since he skates on the top unit (whatever that would qualify as on Buffalo), has underachieved to date (15 in 39), and owns the moves to break out at any moment. The speedy sniper has proved this in his first three full seasons in the Queen City (114 in 177, 45 of them goals). You may want to lower your expectations based on the complementary offense, but you could pick worse.

Tobias Enstrom, D, Jets: One may be frustrated by Enstrom's performance this season (12 in 40) but it isn't as if he is being prevented from doing well. Check his overall minutes (just under 24 a night) and pay special attention to his solid stint on the power-play (averages 3:30). So the Nordingra native isn't clicking at his normal 0.6 (or higher) points per game rate but at least he notched his first PPP since October 11th (a gap of 32 (!) games). Be patient with this blueliner and you should be rewarded.

Adam Henrique, F, Devils: Ever since his junior days in Windsor with Taylor Hall, Henrique has played second fiddle to some other talented scorer. The 82nd pick in the 2008 draft began his pro career in good company, usually centering a line that included Ilya Kovalchuk. Following an outstanding opening campaign (Calder finalist with 51 in 72), Henrique dropped off considerably in his second spell (16 in 42). And when the Russian superstar opted to retire from North American duty this past summer, it was assumed his numbers would stay low. And while the total isn't awesome (eight goals and eight assists), there is recent hope (tallies in consecutive outings).

Mike Smith, G, Coyotes: Many will remember Smith as that goalie who almost led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012. Since then, nothing of note. His record is encouraging (15 wins versus eight losses) but the other indicators would never be categorized as elite (2.83 GAA places him near the bottom, .914 SV% gets him in the middle of the pack). The good news is the lack of competition for the starting job in Phoenix (he ain't afraid of no Greiss), meaning Smith doesn't really have to worry about being replaced unless he really, really sucks.

Honorable mention: Erik Cole, F, Stars; Cory Conacher, F, Senators; David Desharnais, F, Canadiens; Dmitry Kulikov, D, Panthers; Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes

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Player News
Ondrej Pavelec
Jets' Pavelec Implodes Monday
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
4/22/2015
News: Ondrej Pavelec surrendered five goals on 31 shots -- including the overtime game-winner -- in Monday's Game 3 defeat to the Ducks.
Analysis: After closing the regular season with three consecutive shutouts, Ondrej Pavelec entered the postseason hotter than just about any goalie out there. Unfortunately, he's failed to replicate that performance thus far in the playoffs, stopping only 92 of the 103 shots (.893 save percentage) he's faced through three games while taking the loss on each occasion. Even with the Jets on the cusp of elimination, it doesn't seem likely that coach Paul Maurice will turn away from Pavelec for Game 4, especially after backup goalie Michael Hutchinson regressed badly in the second half.

Alex Burrows
Canucks' Burrows Sustains Upper-Body Injury
Alex Burrows, LW, VAN
4/22/2015
News: The Canucks announced that Alex Burrows, who sustained an upper-body injury at practice Tuesday, was subsequently taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
Analysis: While the nature of Alex Burrows' injury has yet to be clarified, the team's statement indicating that he was taken to the hospital as a precaution offers hope that the forward avoided a serious injury. The report confirms that Burrows will not play Tuesday night against the Flames.

John Gibson
Ducks' Gibson Practicing Tuesday
John Gibson, G, ANA
11:54 AM
News: John Gibson (upper body) is participating in Tuesday's practice, and he may be available in about one week, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: With the Ducks sitting on a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the Jets, John Gibson probably won't be available until the second round of the playoffs. Once healthy, he'll likely serve as the backup to Frederik Andersen, assuming the Danish netminder holds it together.

Sven Baertschi
Canucks' Baertschi Not Expected To Play
Sven Baertschi, LW, VAN
11:27 AM
News: Sven Baertschi, who was recalled from AHL Utica on Tuesday, will likely be a healthy scratch for Tuesday's Game 4 against the Flames, TSN 1040 AM's Matthew Sekeres reports.
Analysis: It seems Sven Baertschi was recalled as insurance for Alex Burrows, who is expected to play through an undisclosed injury suffered during Tuesday's morning skate. If Burrows takes a turn for the worse and can't suit up, Baertschi could join the lineup.

Braden Holtby
Caps Stick With Holtby
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
10:33 AM
News: Braden Holtby is expected to start Tuesday's game against the Islanders, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Braden Holtby, who missed this past Friday's 4-3 win due to an illness, returned to stop 40 of 42 shots in Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders. He'll now look to help the Caps even their series against the Isles at two games apiece on the road Tuesday night.

Jonas Hiller
Flames Roll With Hiller On Tuesday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
10:18 AM
News: Jonas Hiller is in line to start Tuesday's game against the Canucks, Derek Willis of Sportsnet 960 the FAN reports.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller, who made 23 saves on 25 shots in Sunday's 4-2 win over Vancouver, will thus look to help the Flames extend their 2-1 series lead on home ice in Tuesday's Game 4.

Mike Fisher
Preds' Fisher Present For Morning Skate
Mike Fisher, C, NSH
10:12 AM
News: Mike Fisher (lower body) was present for Tuesday's morning skate, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Given that Mike Fisher was rotating on a line with Colin Wilson, James Neal and Matt Cullen, his status for Tuesday's Game 4 against Chicago looks uncertain at this stage.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' Johansson (Lower Body) "Good To Go" Tuesday
Marcus Johansson, LW, WAS
9:46 AM
News: Head coach Barry Trotz said Marcus Johansson (lower body) is "good to go" and should be in the lineup for Game 4 on Tuesday, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Marcus Johansson exited Monday's practice after he exacerbated a skate-related injury suffered during Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss in Game 3, but is expected to be in the lineup on Tuesday.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Could Start Game 4
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
9:20 AM
News: The Sens have yet to confirm a starter in goal (between Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond) for Wednesday's Game 4 against the Canadiens, Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen reports.
Analysis: We suspect that Craig Anderson's strong effort in Game 3 will earn him another start, but Scanlan relays that coach Dave Cameron wants to make sure that Anderson is 100 percent physically (following his first appearance since March 29) before announcing the team's Game 4 starter in goal.

Zack Smith
Sens' Smith Back In Lineup
Zack Smith, C, OTT
9:04 AM
News: Zack Smith will re-enter the Sens' lineup Wednesday against Montreal.
Analysis: With Zack Smith, who recorded three points in 37 games this past season, set to suit up for Wednesday's Game 4, veteran David Legwand is headed for the press box.

 
 
 
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