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Neutral Zone Wrap: Calm wins the Race

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

So, you've finally reached the win column. Congrats. But don't sit around and expect things to remain peachy. No, my friends, the road to glory is paved by the hard work of those who sweat and toil for their lives on the ice. You know, the ones who actually exercise on a regular basis and get paid to do so.

This is the stage of the fantasy season where expectations are built based on a decent - albeit small - sample size. As a regular reader of this column, you undoubtedly have heeded the advice to check the stats and not blow them out of proportion. There is no way anyone will net 70 goals this season, so don't expect multiple skaters on your roster to hit that mark. And do you really think that backup goaltender will keep his hot run going even though the proven starter earns double his salary and hasn't totally bombed?

In other words, be sure to gauge your prospects appropriate to recent trends - both in the real-life and the fantasy game. While the last section detailed the former, the latter becomes much more important to your own success. The latest league standings, available free agents and online tools will help you to filter out the relevant material from the nonsense. It is also important to find a strategic approach that suits your fantasy personality and one that creates comfort. If you make decisions based on irrational behavior, then you might as well be donating your team to charity. Calm and collected often wins the race.

Here are a few examples of NHL clubs that have played it cool and a couple who can't adjust the temperature:

For a franchise that looked to be on the move several times, Phoenix has turned the focus to the on-ice product. Without a bona fide superstar on the roster (Keith Yandle may be the closest thing to one), the Coyotes are collecting contributions from various sources to succeed. Old man Ray Whitney (12 points) is leading the charge, helped ably by Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata (each with 10, while Hanzal tops with 30 hits). Daymond Langkow (seven) missed almost all of last season, but he's back to setting up others. Good to see Taylor Pyatt (six, second on team with 25 hits) on a solid run. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (five, upping the ice time a few minutes per game) is definitely one to watch, while David Schlemko (six, including four in three) still surprises. Many thought Phoenix would be lost in net, but Mike Smith (5-2-2, 2.40 GAA, .927 SV%) has excelled as he looks to cement the top job.

Nashville had been another location left for dead, but has also impressed up to now. Raise your hand if you thought David Legwand (11, including five on the man-advantage) could carry an offensive load like he did five years ago. Keep it raised if you also envisioned 2009 fourth-round pick Craig Smith (nine) to bust out. Proceed to Vegas if you also claimed it would take Patric Hornqvist eight games to register a point (and all four are goals). If both Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn stay healthy (combined 12 for 12 when in the lineup), they should continue to help with scoring. So will their latest returnee Martin Erat (two in three to start his comeback). And Colin Wilson (five), if you could do some more out there, then that would be great.

Who would have thought the Blues would be in the midst of a goalie controversy? Jaroslav Halak (1-5, 3.58 GAA, .840 SV%) should be the undisputed starter but has faltered early, and Brian Elliott (4-1, 1.67 GAA, .940 GAA) looks to be back in 2009-10 Ottawa Senator form. Alex Steen leading in points (nine)? They'll take that. Jason Arnott (eight) and Jamie Langenbrunner (four) can still contribute, right? Sure they can. And David Backes (five), Patrik Berglund (five) and Chris Stewart (three) could surely do better? You betcha! Carlo Colaiacovo (three in six) might have finally shaken off another concussion and is ready to help St Louis' putrid power-play (worst in the league working at a 3-for-36 pace).

Is it time to panic about Jarome Iginla (only at four)? Probably not, but don't get your hopes up until Calgary lands a true No. 1 center. Because Brendan Morrison (nothing in six) is not the answer and Olli Jokinen (standing at seven) has never made the grade. Perhaps youngster Roman Horak (five in his first eight pro contests) could work with Iggy, but he'll need more big-league seasoning. Not much scoring from the blueline, with four in front at three points each. This list includes Jay Bouwmeester (at 24:36 a night), who has clearly looked to be the Flames' best rearguard and Mark Giordano, who can't seem to put much of an offensive resume together (though the 25 blocked shots are nice).

Blah, blah, blah, Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin returned after missing a couple games due to some pain from a possible mystery surgery he never had. Jordan Staal is off to the best start of his career (six goals, nine points in 12), but he missed Saturday's game with a vague lower-body injury and is still day-to-day. Now that these generic topics have been covered, let's see who really is making headlines in Pittsburgh. James Neal (second in the NHL with nine goals) is reaping the benefits when Malkin is healthy. Take note: Matt Cooke (eight, including five on all special teams) doesn't just knock people out. Pascal Dupuis (nine) and Richard Park (six) will help you out if given the opportunity. Steve Sullivan (only three assists) could also be of service, but he first has to do so where it counts. Matt Niskanen (four) may be the second-best Pens D-man, but keep an eye out for Paul Martin (three) and his quest to fully reclaim his fantasy respectability.

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble.

If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow @evanberofsky on Twitter.

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