Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Writer
Hello, winter! When that first snowfall hits, you know you're well into the flow of hockey season (unless you live in the Prairies, where the birds fly south in July). It's time to sneak out in the middle of the night and skate on your neighbor's backyard rink. If they own a pool, then fill it with ice cubes and wait. And if you become impatient, then always remember liquid nitrogen freezes everything much quicker.
Make sure you dress extra warm to read this week's column. The concierge will assist you should you be missing gloves, a hat, or a full-helmet visor. But please, don't throw any snowballs at the monitor. After all, this is a serious forum and the material should be handled with the proper respect and decorum. Although studies have shown that nine out of 10 bartenders recommend drinking at least three beers before ingesting the Wrap. After all, you need a minimum amount of sustenance if you're going to get plastered.
Where do we start this week? How about in...
... Chicago, where they will have to find a citizen to fill in for Patrick Kane. The dynamic winger sprained his knee (or something to some area of his leg, according to vague reports) and will miss up to three weeks. The good news for the Hawks fans comes from word that Marian Hossa (lower-body malfunction) should return in the next few days. In the meantime, Jack Skille has moved up to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg. But neither Skille (two points in eight contests) nor Stalberg (back in the doghouse) deserves your short-term fantasy dollar. Dave Bolland (four in the last two, a couple added minutes) has received the biggest boost of late and is available in most leagues. Bryan Bickell slumped during the tail end of his original stint with the big boys (one in 10), but appears to be more comfortable alongside Bolland (three in two so far). And don't forget about Troy Brouwer (six in nine), who fills out the third line in style. Marty Turco (winless since mid-November, 14 goals against in three) was one of the more intriguing offseason signings, but Corey Crawford (now backstopping seven consecutive victories) has stepped in and stolen the show.
Staying with clubs who have trouble winning at home, the Rangers are mired at MSG (6-8-1) but sport a sparkling mark on the road (11-4). Maybe that Sean Avery discouragement endorsement is coming back to haunt whoever dropped him (only five in 13, but a whopping 59 PIM). Jeff Skinner and Sergei Bobrovsky may be the most discussed rookies, but Derek Stepan (10 in 11, including four power-play points) is quietly moving his way into the Calder Trophy talk while Artem Anisimov (nothing in nine) has fallen off the charts. After struggling in his debut, Brian Boyle (standing at 11 goals) is making the most of his second chance on Broadway. Michal Roszival (a two-point night vs. Ottawa Thursday) is healthy again and ready to produce if he feels like it. And bless Alexander Frolov's little heart. Poor guy just can't catch a break in any lineup (stuck in a nine-game scoreless streak). The more the Russian complains, the further he'll endear himself to a mild-mannered head coach like John Tortorella.
What else does Montreal need to do to earn the respect of the masses? The Habs are following up a mediocre end to November (alternating results in six) with a flying start to December (unbeaten in four). Too bad P.K. Subban (a healthy scratch in three straight) has been absent from their latest good fortune, but don't you dare give up on him yet. Mathieu Darche may not earn the big minutes (averaging about 14), but he's helping out on the man advantage (three PPPs in four). After a really slow start (one in his first 20), Lars Eller (four in four) is showing a few signs of being that highly touted prospect the Blues selected with the 13th pick in 2007. Benoit Pouliot (six in eight) is building on his late 2009-10 success and is - more importantly - maturing as a two-way skater (a plus-eight and third on the team with 47 hits).
Even a few injuries and individual slumps can't keep the Sabres down. The impending sale of the organization promises a brighter future, at least financially. However, that isn't a knock against the current crop of talent in the Queen City. Although he's seeing his fair share of ice time, Tyler Ennis (a three-point effort in between nine blanks) can't consistently produce. Tyler Myers may not be accumulating many points of late (two in 12), but his combined contributions (which includes a plus-seven in two) cannot be discounted. While waiting for Tim Connolly (groin pull) and Drew Stafford (shoulder tweak) to return, Buffalo have welcomed back Jason Pominville (concussion) and were able to plug in Nathan Gerbe and Luke Adam, although neither youngster have done anything to impress.
Even though the win-loss record may not show it, Vancouver (15-8-3) have seemed to hit a roadblock. Roberto Luongo has only appeared ordinary in the last few (three or more allowed in six of 10) while the defense (still minus Sami Salo) is slowly rounding back into a solid group. Thank goodness the offensive participators know what they're doing (27 goals in six) or else the Canucks would find themselves in serious trouble. The flu wasn't able to stop Mason Raymond (seven in six) from notching a hat-trick, although a concussion - and a brief demotion - stopped Mikael Samuelsson in his tracks. And so much for Raffi Torres (two in 14) serving as a reliable fantasy option.