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Neutral Zone Wrap: Leafs, Wings, Devils, Thrashers, Ducks

Evan Berofsky

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Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky

Another week, another frustrated glance over your lineup. You shake your head in disbelief over how poor some of your players have performed. Why hasn't Player X done anything yet? And why is Player Y only skating on the third line and receiving less than a minute of power-play time? So many issues, so many colorful adjectives and exclamations to express them.

However, if you are one of the lucky few whose rosters have been blessed with lots of points and zero injuries, then congrats. You may now officially shut down all operations and go into hibernation until mid-April. Your team is perfect. No, seriously, you're on pace to win your league.

Of course, reality is based on a slightly longer schedule where a larger sample of game activity is taken into account. So Player X might pick it up soon, especially when the training camp legs kick into fifth gear. And Player Y could do just fine in his lower standing or he'll improve after pairing up with a reliable scorer. And Player Z, well, who really cares about him. Unless he becomes the next hot waiver commodity and then he's relevant…for at least one or two contests.

Sometimes, the key is not to let impulse get in the way of common sense. Anger and panic are two actions you won't find on any online fantasy roster or Add/Drop menu, so they shouldn't exist in your repertoire when making GM decisions. In the meantime, take a deep breath, relax, and join us on a virtual trip to the following exotic locales:

(NOTE: There's not enough of a resume to delve into the six clubs who began the season in Europe. Once the Sharks, Wild, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Bruins, and Coyotes play catch-up and totally shake off the jetlag, then they are fair game for analysis.)

Confidence is sky high in Leaf Nation, as the Buds sit atop the Eastern Conference. The bad news? There are still 77 games remaining. No surprise Phil Kessel is tied for the team lead in goals (five). The shock comes from the fact Clarke MacArthur is the other half of the equation. Kris Versteeg (two points) may not be living up to expectations, but there's genuine chemistry with Kessel and Tyler Bozak (three). Don't expect Mike Komisarek (three) to keep up this point pace; just hope he can stay healthy for an extended period. But you can bank on goalie-of-the-future Jonas Gustavsson seeing more action, even if Jean-Sebastien Giguere is bogarting the early appearances (four to one in favor of the latter).

Forget about the youth movement: Detroit is going old school. 13 players on the roster are at least 30, but you wouldn't be able to tell if you've watched the Wings' first five (3-1-1). At 35, Todd Bertuzzi (team-leading six points) can still rock the hand-to-eye coordination. No need to remind anyone Nicklas Lidstrom (four assists) is 40, but someone might want to put some oil in that creaky 37-year old Tomas Holmstrom (zero). And don't think for a second Chris Osgood (3.01 GAA, .860 SV% in two starts) is going to be sharing time with Jimmy Howard (1.59 GAA, .940 SV% in three). As for Detroit's young'uns, keep an eye on D-man Jakub Kindl. While the fantasy evidence is lacking (no points, minus-3), he has been part of some recent man-advantage duty and has developed a more complete game after three seasons in Grand Rapids.

Something smells rotten in the state of Jersey - and it isn't the sewage. Maybe it's the fact the Devils are last in the league in average goals for (at 1.66 a night). Or perhaps they are allergic to home ice (0-3). Even Martin Brodeur appears to be human (3.18 GAA, .890 SV% before Thursday's shutout), but it's still early. Brian Rolston's absence (hernia, gone four to six weeks) can't be the answer for their drought, although the veteran provides strong leadership. Summer signing Anton Volchenkov (broken nose, sore neck) may be missed on the back end, but one skater shouldn't be the difference. One defenseman who has impressed is Matt Taormina (three), who made a name for himself in the AHL last season (50 in 75) with current head coach John MacLean and has joined the top power-play unit. No need to pull your hair out over Zach Parise's sluggish start (two), as this goal-getter should heat up especially when he's in line for a major contract extension. So much promise for David Clarkson, but not a lot to show for it (no points, minus-6).

Looking for an unknown producer? Make a stop in Atlanta. Coming into October, no one would have envisioned guys like Anthony Stewart (four goals, including a hat-trick at Anaheim) or Chris Thorburn (four points, 11 PIM) as fantasy fill-ins. Even Ben Eager (two, 15 PIM) is worthy of selection, while his ex-Chicago teammate Andrew Ladd (six) is enjoying the new digs. Evander Kane (three goals) is ready to lift the offense on his shoulders, but needs support from supposed stars Nik Antropov (one) and Niclas Bergfors (two). First-round selection Alex Burmistrov (zero) could be returned to junior, but his hard work as a fourth-liner should allow him to continue his NHL progress as a 19-year old.

Anaheim needs some supplementary scoring in order to survive. Beyond the Big Three (combined 19 points), there hasn't been much in the way of forward production. Only Teemu Selanne (six) and Saku Koivu (three) can claim a contribution, so others like Jason Blake (finally notched his first Wednesday), Matt Beleskey (one, minus-7), and Dan Sexton (zero, minus-3) must find a way to hit the net. At least the D is returning to solid state, now that Toni Lydman (two goals in three) has returned and rookie Cam Fowler (three) has provided serious questions to the clubs who passed him over in the draft.