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Neutral Zone Wrap: Wings of Change

Evan Berofsky

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It may be two months until the real postseason begins, but the fantasy playoffs come around a lot sooner. Assuming you're battling for a spot to move on, the goal is simple: put out the best lineup. Of course, some factors cannot be controlled. But for the most part, you decide where your team is headed. So are you prepared to handle all the daily/weekly decisions?

The task appears to be difficult, although it would help not to visualize these choices as a set of seemingly insurmountable permutations and calculations. You maintain a set number of variables, so work with them to create an optimal unit. (This concludes the math portion of this column.)

Basic rules still apply. Pool the source information. Read the updates. Check to see who plays the most. Combine linemates/teammates, as long as it works and doesn't block other resources. But most importantly, do all of this calmly and rationally. Your first inclination towards a decision is usually the right one, unless of course you are using incorrect data or are working on less than four hours of sleep.

There are no guarantees you will succeed if you utilize these techniques, but hey, it's a solid base of evaluation from which you can expand and repeat on a game-by-game basis. So go out there and win one for the Kipper. Make your parents proud, even if they have no idea what you're doing.

Here are five clubs who may be of service on your quest to glory:

Wednesday night's 6-0 destruction versus Boston may not be the sign of a total turnaround, but Buffalo sure will take it. They will also be happy with the recent efforts of the previously maligned Ville Leino (five points in six games) and Nathan Gerbe (four in seven). Tyler Ennis (two points in his fourth contest back from a second significant injury) may finally be at 100%, but still requires patience. If scoring isn't your thing, then maybe a mean streak from either Patrick Kaleta (two goals, 24 PIM, 14 hits in last four) or Paul Gaustad (five points, eight hits in six) will jump-start your squad. The struggles continue on the blueline, where Jordan Leopold (one in 14 with a minus-4) has significantly regressed and Marc-Andre Gragnani (two in 11, healthy scratch the last five) has grown to enjoy the view from the press box.

Based on current form, maybe it's time to give a shout out at the Devils. Success seems to be trickling past the first line and down the ranks. The case of David Clarkson (eight in five, including five goals and four power-play points) is already well-documented but others such as Dainius Zubrus (seven in five) and newcomer Alexei Ponikarovsky (five in four) are joining the story. Adam Henrique (groin strain) has just returned from a minor tweak, but he should be back to normal in no time. While Adam Larsson (bruised back) recuperates and Kurtis Foster (man-advantage specialist with his last five points coming there) reassesses his overall situation, maybe Andy Greene (two in five, remember those 37 in 2009-10) can slide back into his old role.

No need for Ottawa to panic, but some of their troops have become causes for concern. After challenging early for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Milan Michalek remains AWOL (no goals in 12). Kyle Turris came out blazing (registered a point in seven of first 11) but doesn't possess any momentum (one in seven). Colin Greening (one in seven) has also fallen off the mark. Erik Condra may be able to boast the best plus-minus (+12), but the reality doesn't point to anything special (two in 13). Chris Neil (three in seven, 41 hits and 18 PIM in 10) may be the only one in the Sens' supporting cast who has experienced recent success. The returns may not be super for Filip Kuba (four in nine), but he can serve as an adequate third or fourth fantasy D-man. Craig Anderson hasn't been able to buy a win in the last few weeks (last one was January 19), but the alternative (Alex Auld and his zero starts in 2012) couldn't be much better.

The Sharks are tanking while their rivals are climbing the Pacific Division standings. Give Michal Handzus a hand for managing to help out (four in four). A small dose of kudos to Jamie McGinn (also four in four) for acting more like a scorer and less like a banger. Both Andrew Desjardins (one in six) and Benn Ferreiro (one in 10) have taken turns on the first unit, but you wouldn't have noticed. San Jose has finally gotten their money's worth out of Brent Burns (five in three February dates, including three PPAs). The days of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and multiple-point efforts are long gone (try nothing in nine). With Antti Niemi (2.33 GAA, .920 SV% with four shutouts in 40) firmly entrenched as the starter, Thomas Greiss (1.98 GAA, .930 in 12) has shined as the steady backup, thereby pushing Antero Niittymaki (riding the AHL bus) out of the equation.

Many have expected Winnipeg to crash back to Earth, but the Jets haven't obliged. No scorers in the top-75, but various contributions to fill the gap. After a brief spell on the sidelines, Evander Kane (with a team-leading 18 goals) can now terrorize defenses again. The flu has bitten Kyle Wellwood, but his numbers of late (eight in 10) still impress. So much talent and leadership from Bryan Little (two in eight) and Andrew Ladd (two in seven), yet so little production. Alex Burmistrov brought a ton of promise (and nine points) in October, but he has tailed off considerably (only nine since). Farewell, Eric Fehr (two in 30), we barely recognized you. Neither Ron Hainsey (two in 16, just one PPP all season) nor Johnny Oduya (two in 11) can be counted on for much of anything.