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Neutral Zone Wrap: Missing Grit

Evan Berofsky

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Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky

Don't expect one player to carry your team. Even two or three can't win you a title all by themselves. It may work on a weekly basis in a head-to-head format, but you will need contributions across the board to survive the season. And consistency is the key. Slow and steady sometimes ends up winning the race. Scouting the waiver wire helps in this evaluation. If some of your guys are slumping, then maybe it's time to search for replacements. Try to fill holes with the best long-term solutions, unless you need an immediate boost and the end of the year is approaching. But don't even think too far into future forecasting until you've corrected present problems.

Here are a few suggestions to ponder from around the league:

When Craig Anderson went down, many doubted Colorado's chances. After all, Peter Budaj has never been touted as someone who could shoulder the goaltending load. But since Anderson hurt his knee in warm-ups on October 26th, Budaj has been solid (6-3-1, 2.60 GAA, .913 SV%). With both Kyle Quincey and Kyle Cumiskey sidelined (both out with concussions), Colorado is relying on Jonas Holos and Kevin Shattenkirk (both at two points) to shore up the blueline. Even though Holos logs the minutes (21-plus over his last nine, but healthy scratch the last two), Shattenkirk – who scored his first career goal on the power-play Wednesday – remains the better fantasy option due to his offensive upside. After missing a couple, David Jones (now up to seven goals) is back to potting pucks. And if Kevin Porter continues to score (four goals in six), then he'll surely receive more looks.

Times appeared to be tough in Pittsburgh, but it didn't take long for the Pennsylvania power to find their way. No need to worry about Marc-Andre Fleury (1.72 GAA, .933 SV% in last four) losing his grip on the #1 position. While they're not top-tier forwards, both Matt Cooke (points in four of five) and Pascal Dupuis (six in eight) know how to contribute. The Mike Comrie experiment has failed of late (one in eight), thereby giving him the opportunity to be a healthy scratch on Wednesday. Paul Martin (two in three, back on the first PP unit) is regaining his early-season form, while Alex Goligoski (two in six) recent slip shouldn't be a cause for concern.

It's early, but San Jose is clearly missing an ingredient or two. As mentioned in a previous edition, the leadership, experience, and grit Rob Blake provided for two seasons cannot be underestimated. And expecting to fill the void with Jason Demers (three in 15) hasn't quite worked out. Marc-Edouard Vlasic's attempt has been equally futile (zero in 17). At least there is promise in the forward contingent, as Logan Couture has stepped up (seven goals) and Torrey Mitchell (two goals in five) is waiting to break out. Stats would obviously tell the story that Antero Niittymaki (7-1-3, 2.08 GAA, .920 SV%) leads the way over Antti Niemi (2-4, 3.73 GAA, .880 SV%), but the fact the Sharks went after the former Lightning and Flyer netminder before acquiring Chicago's Stanley Cup savior should have foreshadowed the current splits.

The State of Minnesota may be an American hockey hotbed, but fans are giving the Wild the cold shoulder. However, the team may be turning the corner this month after starting with a 5-2 record. On the frontlines of the resurgence is Martin Havlat (eight in seven) and Antti Miettinen (three in four), the latter returning after missing two weeks with a concussion. He may still dish out the hits, but Cal Clutterbuck (six points, all goals) can also drive to the net. And once Guillaume Latendresse (six in eight after last year's revelation with 37 in 55) re-enters the fold, the Wild – at least the modern incarnation – should be an offensive force.

Erratic results have plagued St. Louis. Since pulling off a run of eight games without a regulation defeat, the Blues have managed to go 0 for 5 with the best of them a shootout loss to Nashville where they were outshot at home. Even with Jaroslav Halak's troubles (19 goals allowed in four, yanked halfway through one, accidentally directed one home), there's no reason to believe his job is in jeopardy. The loss of T.J. Oshie (broken ankle, out three months) has hurt the Blues immensely, but David Perron's absence (concussion, return unknown) is just as important. Brad Boyes finally is generating points again (four in three). So is Patrik Berglund (six in four), a favorite of this column. Now if only Erik Johnson (one in 10) could wake up. And if you're impressed by Matt D'Agostini's six markers, check the most recent numbers (one in seven) to rethink your decision.


All 30 clubs have now been mentioned at least once. To celebrate this special, once-in-a-four-month event, we'll have another of our famous lists next week. Be happy. Get excited. And come prepared.