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Blue Line Buzz: Shark Week

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.


Being situated on the East Coast, there's a deluge of coverage for the Rangers, Capitals, Flyers, Bruins and Penguins; even while having NHL Gamecenter Live, it's hard sometimes to plow through more than a period of Northwest and Pacific Division games before losing the battle to stay awake. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to watch the Sharks on their recent trip to the Eastern time zone, enjoying their balanced, gritty brand of hockey and earning even more respect for Joe Pavelski. Last week's contest against Buffalo was a great one and their battle with Tampa Bay Thursday gave Eastern Conference fans a glimpse of one of the NHL's stronger teams. (Although, as this is being written, San Jose is trailing Carolina 2-0 after the first period).

The balance of their scoring, the chemistry San Jose shows between Logan Couture, Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Jumbo Joe Thornton must be nightmarish for teams to game-plan against. The Sharks play the game at a good pace and feature one of the most clutch players in the league not talked about enough in Joe Pavelski (well, since Dany Heatley is no longer on the Sharks). All four players have 44 points or more and three of the four boast goal totals of 22 or greater. True it's a top-heavy team, but most teams in the NHL would kill to have four players being that productive in their top-six forwards.

Also, one of the additional benefits of seeing Sharks' games at normal, East Coast times is the commentary of Randy Hahn and Drew Ramenda. True, the Sharks still have some work to do, but they're a treat to watch, although they may not be happy with the losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina.

-Is the on-ice reporter's booth in Detroit at The Joe narrow enough? Even Pierre McGuire must feel like a sumo wrestler in a twin-size bed while doing his on-ice reports that brim with pertinent info. However, one can make the argument that the booth was designed specifically for McGuire, who's probably not having fun out there.

-Pavel Datsyuk earned an assist after blowing a tire and playing the puck while on his stomach Friday against Nashville. That effort was trumped by a game-winning goal with five seconds remaining that saw him undress Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Keep an eye on Datsyuk, he may have potential.

-A couple notes about the Anaheim broadcast of the Devils-Ducks game on Friday evening: The Ducks broadcast team commented on a Martin Brodeur save on a shot at his feet from a tough angle, saying how old-school Brodeur is and that it's hard to beat him like that. Any Devils' fan, or fan of a team that knocked the Devils out of the playoffs, will tell you sharp-angle shots at his feet are the book on Brodeur. Carolina exploited the weakness in 2006 with Ottawa, the Rangers, Carolina and Peter Laviolette's Flyers (the Canes' coach in 2006) following suit, producing a cavalcade of soft goals that put the Devils' behind, and eventually, out. With Brodeur's half-butterfly/standing technique, he often cheats when the puck is down on the goal line, positioning himself for the pass and leaving himself vulnerable to low sharp-angle shots.

Secondly, during the first intermission, Anaheim showed scenes from Times Square in New York City. True, Times Square is not far from the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, a mere 13-15 miles and roughly a 20-25 minute train ride (and probably a good hour-plus in the car), but worlds away. There isn't much in northern New Jersey to highlight, but you have to wonder if this would be akin to showing clips from Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive for an Anaheim broadcast.

-Two trades occurred last week involving defensemen, (alas, no Rick Nash news as yet), but neither defender changing their address should factor much into the fantasy hockey world. Both Nicklas Grossman (from Dallas to Philly) and the ageless pylon Hal Gill are heading to teams that are not hurting in terms of scoring from defensemen.

The Gill trade is intriguing due to his playoff experience (Cup winner in 2009 with Pittsburgh) and his presence on the Preds' blue line could open up even more space for Ryan Suter and Shea Weber to hop up into the play, not that either need much of an invitation. Gill is the quintessential stay-at-home blue liner, surely to make owners of Pekka Rinne happy.

-Defenders got heavily involved in scoring on Friday with Tyler Myers getting in on the action for Buffalo along with stay-at-home teammate Robyn Regehr. Brent Burns continues his strong play for the Sharks while teammate Dan Boyle grabbed the other tally in the loss to Carolina. Burns is poised to crack 10 goals for the third time in his career. In the same game, Canes' rookie Justin Faulk snagged a power-play goal sneaking down below the circle. Faulk has three points in the last four games through Friday.

Lastly, Erik Johnson continues his second-half surge, scoring in his third-straight game in Friday's win over Edmonton. Staying in Denver, and moving off the blue line, Ryan O'Reilly is making a name for himself this season and continued the trend Friday by assisting on all three Avs goals.

He's back?

Montreal certainly has become an easy target for criticism this season, especially with Anglophone "interim" head Coach Randy Cunneyworth being vilified for the language he doesn't speak. While we'll ignore the classy gesture from the Bell Center (or Centre Bell) faithful when they cheered a bleeding Zdeno Chara Wednesday and focus on the team's lightning rod, P. K. Subban. Much has been made of his tumultuous season, but the enigmatic defender had assists in three straight games this past week and appears to be rounding into form.

Subban still has not scored since December 27 and sports just seven assists since then, including the recent three-game run. Most likely, Subban is the type of player that will disappear once you activate him, but he does have the talent to produce, making him highly frustrating to own.

Lightning Storm?

Tampa Bay received the usual from Marc-Andre Bergeron during the beginning of the season: a red-hot start followed by a few months of invisibility leading to nagging injuries that keep him out of the lineup. It's been no secret that Tampa Bay needs a puck-moving defensemen, maybe not as much as a goalie (hello Brett Connolly in a package to Vancouver for Roberto Luongo?). However, former second overall pick Victor Hedman has five assists in the last four games through Friday and seven points in nine games since returning from injury.

Hedman is known more for his defensive play and bruising hits (ask Sidney Crosby), but there is a quiet offensive potential to his game. Hedman posted 20 points as a rookie and 26 last year, his second season in the NHL. Tampa Bay needs someone to step up offensively and Hedman responded the last week, punctuating his efforts with a three-assist game in Thursday's win over San Jose. The Bolts will likely be short Pavel Kubina by sometime in the near future, as the veteran was pulled out of action prior to Thursday, as a trade is assumed to be in the works. Kubina is a physical defender with playoff experience, something that will go to waste on Tampa Bay this season.

Welcome Back Wiz

Columbus is a mess and has been a mess all season. The club likely will be in a mess for several more seasons provided they deal the face of the franchise in Rick Nash. It seems more of a certainty that Jeff Carter, who is doing his best to play his way out of Columbus, will be dealt than Nash, but rumors abound of Nash's arrival in the Big Apple. The Jackets have been up and down this season with regards to their defensive production. Grant Clitsome has not lived up to expectations, as he owns a scant three points since November 19. Nikita Nikitin is injured and David Savard has not received many minutes with the big club, but does own seven points in 22 games. Savard has much upside, but at this point, he is more potential than production.

As much as Columbus fans groaned having to endure watching Jeff Carter, the club welcomed James Wisniewski back to the fold last Saturday after missing 17 games with a broken ankle. Wisniewski has slammed home two goals and four points in his three games since returning, managing a shocking feat in the process: finishing a plus-1 in three-straight games on the Blue Jackets. Wisniewski has been in and out of the lineup this season due to suspension and injury, but has managed a productive season on a sub-par team, posting 21 points in 32 games; point-per-game numbers that are behind the Penguins' Kris Letang, but not by too much. If you can get your hands on Wisniewski via a trade for the season's final seven weeks, it can be a boon, as notched 30 points in 43 games for Montreal down the stretch last spring.

Duck Hunt

Anaheim fell to the Devils in a shootout on Friday, after receiving a late tying goal from defender Sheldon Brookbank, his first goal in 164 games. Brookbank is a name that is only familiar to people who stream goons, but the Ducks as a whole have been one of the league's hottest teams of late. Corey Perry is playing like Corey Perry and Jonas Hiller has been one of the league's top netminders the last month.

From the blue line, Lubomir Visnovsky is still paving the way for Anaheim, sitting with four points in nine February games, but more impressive is that he's worked his way to a plus-4 rating on the season. Over the last four weeks, Visnovky is second among all NHL defenders in plus-minus with a plus-8 rating while chipping in seven points. Conversely, Cam Fowler has been struggling much in 2012 with a scant three points since January 4.

Those looking for some waiver help in deeper leagues may want to examine Luca Sbisa, who has 20 points on the season. Sbisa was active in the attack during Friday's shootout loss to New Jersey, jumping up into the play and making strong passes out of the defensive zone.

Waiver Work

-Washington's Dmitry Orlov has a goal and an assist in the last two games and could be worth a look in deep leagues.

-The Rangers' Ryan McDonagh continues his solid play with three points in four games the last week. McDonagh leads all NHL defenders in plus-minus the last four weeks with a plus-9 rating. His 22 points are three more than teammate Dan Girardi and not far from the numbers of Michael Del Zotto.

Questions, comments and suggestions for future articles are welcomed. Contact Dan Pennucci at pennucci42@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @DVNucci42.

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