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Blue Line Buzz: Extra Orca

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.


- Arguably, Thursday's highlight of the night belonged to Minnesota's Devin Setoguchi. In a game that featured a handful of injuries and Montreal's Andrei Emelin taking out teammate Erik Cole, it was Setoguchi who stole the show. With a shootout attempt to tie the game, Setoguchi headed toward Carey Price only to lose the puck and then blow a tire. This shootout attempt is reminiscent of Ilya Kovalchuk's blown attempt (immortalized with a Rick Jeanneret call) from November 2010, a highlight that punctuated the Devils' woeful start to the season. The comparisons are obvious, so which player's failed attempt was worse? Kovalchuk's seemed more of a metaphorical failure, but, with Minnesota in the playoff hunt, Setoguchi's could hurt a bit come April. Thoughts?

- If you're looking for something amusing, to say the least, to follow on Twitter, might we suggest Don Cherry (@CoachesCornerCBC). Grapes figures to rapidly rake in followers, although I'm sure there will be a rigorous screening process to prevent Europeans and people from Quebec from mingling with good old Canadian boys. The link features an interview with Cherry where he says Sidney Crosby has to stop "trying to be a tough guy." Hockey fans are well aware of Cherry's rants, but a classic one several weeks ago features him mocking Detroit for their puck-possession game and lack of fighting. (The rant starts around the 3:45 mark). With wisdom like this, who wouldn't want to see Don Cherry on Twitter.

- While Canada's hockey personalities are plentiful, fans here in the lower 48 got a healthy dose of Mike Milbury, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones Wednesday on NBC Sports. The raging debate stemmed from Eric Nystrom's questionable hit on Pittsburgh's Kris Letang in Wednesday's shootout win by the Penguins. No suspension was deemed necessary based on the NHL's review of the play, as reported by NHL VP of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan.

- Welcome to your new life Randy Carlyle. Have fun solving the Leafs' goaltending situation and dealing with the media circus in Toronto.

Wild Looking Tame

Minnesota shook up its blue line this past week, shipping out Marek Zidlicky for a host of spare parts from New Jersey, including Kurtis Foster and then sending away team leader Nick Schultz to Edmonton for Bloomington, Minn. Native Tom Gilbert on Deadline Day.

The phrases "Minnesota" and "productive blue line" have not been used in the same sentence this season unless to point out the Wild's lack of defensemen scoring. The Wild go from having one slightly effective blue liner in Jared Spurgeon to three sharing the duties on one of the league's lowest ranked power plays (25th, 15.2 percent through Friday). The week after the trade deadline has not helped make it any clearer which inconsistent defender will emerge from the crowd; a week punctuated by a 6-0 loss to Detroit Friday and a groin injury to goalie Niklas Backstrom Thursday against Montreal.

None of these three options, Spurgeon, Gilbert or Foster, will hardly win you your league on their own, but sifting through the numbers hopefully may reveal one player will have more value than others.

Spurgeon sits with 22 points on the season, 12 of those coming on the man-advantage. His season average on the power play is 2:48, but he currently has a three-game points drought, although Spurgeon did lead all Wild defensemen in power-play ice time Friday.

Foster led the Wild in Thursday's loss to Montreal with 5:29 of power play time, but he has no points three games since the trade from New Jersey, where he had fallen out of favor. Keep in mind that the Wild, for whom Foster had played before, are the veteran's third team this season. However, in three of the last four games, Foster has seen more power play time than Spurgeon and new arrival Tom Gilbert. Foster owns 12 points this season with 10 coming on the power play.

In his three games with Minnesota, Gilbert has seen 3:20, 3:18 and 2:00 of power play time, respectively, putting two shots on goal with no points.

The only commonality between the last three games among the Wild's trio of power-play defensemen is that none of them have registered a point. Foster appears to be the leader in power play ice time with Spurgeon a close second. Foster has a much stronger shot but Spurgeon appears more adept at dishing the puck out. Gilbert, however, has been the most productive of the three over his career, having cracked 30 points three times, but just a modest 17 this year.

If you're looking for a definitive answer on whom to rely when it comes to the Wild blueline situation, it's about as clear as mud. Each of the three have their own advantages and disadvantages, Foster more than Gilbert as he knows the Minnesota system having already spent time there. As for upside, Spurgeon certainly is the choice and has a chance at grabbing 30 points this season, albeit backloaded with assists. Spurgeon appears to be the long-term solution in the Twin Cities, but Gilbert, who became expendable in Edmonton, could be a good option next season.

Happy hunting.

Z A Zero So Far

Many of the signs pointing to Marek Zidlicky following last week's trade to New Jersey signaled the possibility of a rebound to what had been an abysmal season. With a week's worth of games to serve as a sample, Minnesota is looking like they were onto something when they limited his playing time and shipped him away. Through four games with New Jersey, Zidlicky is a minus-4 with no points and one shot on goal. This is coupled with several turnovers and one game with a plus rating. Until he proves wholly ineffective, Zidlicky will be used on the team's top power play unit.

The Devils have deployed several different defenders on their power play this season; Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne, Kurtis Foster (for whom Z was traded) and Andy Greene have all manned the point at one juncture of the season. Even with an experienced quarterback like Zidlicky at the point, much of the team's power play runs through Ilya Kovalchuk on the left point and Patrik Elias on the half-wall. David Clarkson occupies space in front of goal and Zach Parise buzzes around the offensive zone. Zidlicky is still adapting to New Jersey's style of play, but the Devils' power play is not the most productive, clocking in at 16.7 percent, good enough for 18th in the league through Friday.

The potential is certainly there for Zidlicky to make a late-season impact, but the initial sample size is showing him to as ineffective as defenders already on New Jersey's roster. The Devils have 18 games left beginning with Sunday's contest against the Islanders, so the chance to produce is there, but it's looking like Zidlicky won't chip in more than a handful of assists and maybe one or two goals. He's certainly worth a pick-up in most leagues if he's available, just make sure you can cut ties with him quickly if his first four games in Newark are an indicator of what will come in the final 18.

Extra Orca

Marc-Andre Gragnani may become known as the throw-in for what will be one of the most examined trades over the next five seasons. When Buffalo shipped its budding star power forward Zack Kassian to Vancouver for center Cody Hodgson, the two squads also exchanged defenders, with Gragnani joining Kassian and Alexander Sulzer coming to Buffalo. Kassian played well in his initial contests with the Canucks while Cody Hogdson saw some time with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Neither Hodgson nor Kassian had a point in their first two games with their new teams. s

Unfortunately, for Gragnani, who had struggled in Buffalo, he heads to a team with one of the deepest blue lines in the NHL. Gragnani had been a healthy scratch in his final days as a Sabre, with 12 points over 44 games and just 35 shots on goal. He had been seeing 2:41 of power-play time with Buffalo, but there just was not a shred of consistency following his solid performance in the Buffalo's short playoff stint last Spring. Gragnani now has to compete for ice time with Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Dan Hamhuis, to name a few.

Vancouver's top power-play unit is set with Edler and Salo bombing away from the point, but Gragnani saw some time with the second unit in Thursday's win over St. Louis, logging 1:40 with a shot on goal. It was nearly a disastrous start for Gragnani, being bailed out by Roberto Luongo after a neutral zone turnover almost gave St. Louis a shorthanded goal on his first time bringing the puck up the ice.

Unless injuries knock out a player above Gragnani on the power play depth chart (a distinct possibility considering one of those players is Sami Salo), there is not much value for Gragnani in Vancouver this season.

Lightning Needed

When the Lightning shipped Matt Gilroy to Ottawa for Brian Lee, their need for a puck-moving defender became even greater. The team is dealing with a nagging injury to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who had been ineffective being leaving the lineup anyway, but the Lightning have been using several players on the power play.

Brett Clark has been seeing the bulk of the team's minutes on the power play, logging 4:28 in Friday's overtime win against the Rangers and over 2:45 in each of the last three games. However, Clark's numbers leave a bit to be desired with a minus-23 rating and a mere 12 points.

Brian Lee made an impact on Friday with two assists in the win over the Rangers, logging 2:03 on the power play, although neither of his assists came on the man-advantage. Lee was a ninth-overall pick that never materialized in Ottawa but he was thought to have an offensive flair to his game. Considering Lee just left a team with the otherworldly Erik Karlsson and veteran Sergei Gonchar, he will have more chances to produce and jump into the play. Keep an eye on his ice time, but the Lightning are in desperate need of production from the blue line.

Contact Dan Pennucci at pennucci42@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @DVNucci42.

No question of the week, but give us your best Don Cherry tweets below. What would Grapes say?

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