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Neutral Zone Wrap: The Hangover, Part III

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).


The post-New Year's hangover is inevitable. Now I'm guessing you didn't wake up missing a tooth or slumped over in a seedy Asian hotel, but you still might be unaware of what has happened lately. In case you haven't heard, Sidney Crosby hasn't returned. Neither has teammate Kris Letang. And Jeff Skinner. And several other folks who have been diagnosed with concussions quicker than a regular fourth-line shift. Heck, if you looked at all the current NHL rosters, then you'd find each one is missing at least one key player.

Same goes for fantasy. You may be complaining about who's out. But then again, so is everyone else. Time to focus. Grab a caffeinated beverage, take a few deep breaths, and get your squad in gear. Make sure you set your lineups by the deadline, assess what you've got, and keep an eye out on the waiver wire. And if you're in a position of strength, you may attempt to upgrade from the weaker contingent. As I've mentioned many times, don't be shy when it comes to wheeling and stealing. (But don't get too greedy. No one likes a pig. Unless it's covered in BBQ sauce.)

Line up and take a peek at these clubs. Yeah, so they may be working without a piece or two. But all can provide enough material to help you in certain situations:

Is any team out there ready to stop Boston? Maintaining arguably the league's top goalie tandem (c'mon, you know their names), the defending champs are running through opponents with ease (well, except for Vancouver). With Marc Savard (yes, we know why) the only casualty, the Bruins have been lucky to throw out a similar lineup night after night. Although with Brad Marchand's current suspension (tough for someone on a 13-point-in-10-game run), guys like Benoit Pouliot (nine in nine) and Chris Kelly (four in seven) can receive some adulation. He works so hard and logs a ton of time, so it's good to see Dennis Seidenberg's point totals catch up (seven in seven). Maybe a little more from Joe Corvo (two in eight) would be of service, but you really can't complain as an owner; he was a plus-4 in their 9-0 rout of Calgary last week.

The depth is wearing thin in Phoenix, especially down the middle. When Daymond Langkow (five in 14) occupies your #1 center position and your other notable pivotman is sidelined (that would be Martin Hanzal in the press box with the supposedly unknown injury), it's tough to rely on guys like Kyle Chipchura (four in 23) and Marc-Antoine Pouliot (two in four since the call-up) for significant support. And don't count on much from new acquisition Gilbert Brule. (But he was the sixth pick of the 2005 draft! Everyone who gets selected that high should be great!) Good to hear Mikkel Boedker's name again (four in 12), if only to then forget about him for another few months. Have to be impressed with Oliver Ekman-Larsson (eight in 13), who at 20 serves as the Coyotes' workhorse on D (no offense to All-Star Keith Yandle).

Due to rotating injuries, Florida's fantasy makeup always changes. But that hasn't stopped the Panthers from continuing to lead the Southeast Division. Since the move from Vancouver, Mikael Samuelsson (six in nine) has been nothing short of helpful. Tomas Kopecky (four in eight) is once again being remembered for his offense. And for someone who has earned a reputation for defensive skill, Marcel Goc (four in three) doesn't suck going the other way. Maybe Shawn Matthias can earn additional shifts, but his stats (equaled career-high of 16 points) aren't the worst for a third-line center. Scott Clemmensen (5-1, 2.78 GAA, .904 SV%) has performed well as a fill-in (remember those 25 wins with Jersey in 2008-09?), but this could be his shining moment as long as Jose Theodore (knee boo-boo) continues to sit.

After a hot beginning, maybe Edmonton has finally hit a wall (two regulation victories in 13). The Oilers have struggled without young stars and leading scorers Jordan Eberle (twisted knee, indefinite) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (separated shoulder, out another month), but this has only allowed Sam Gagner (six in six) to reemerge from his fantasy hole and for Ryan Jones (fifth on the club with 12 goals) to keep up his solid pace. Magnus Paajarvi is back, but that's no reason to get excited (although he did hit nine in 10 during his AHL stay). The team is far more decimated on the blueline, with mainstays Ryan Whitney (ankle problem, again) and Tom Gilbert (sprained knee) down for a bit. That means we're back to making Corey Potter (seven in nine, including three on the power-play) look good, while giving a little push to Jeff Petry (two in five, noteworthy due to PP minutes).

And remember when the Wild were the best thing to come out of Minnesota since the Mighty Ducks? Well, a 2-8-3 record since mid-December certainly diminished their prospects of glory. Kyle Brodziak (two in 11, last goal was 12 games ago) has slipped off the mark, Devin Setoguchi has recovered but is up to his old tricks (healthy scratch for doing something wrong), and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is (yikes!) down with another suspected concussion. But don't dismiss Cal Clutterbuck - this generation's Esa Tikkanen (minus the supporting 80s Oiler powerhouse) - for his non-aggressive numbers (his two points Tuesday helped). Casey Wellman (six in 10) has sure made the most of his tenure after superb minor stats (54 in 62 over two seasons).

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