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Blue Line Buzz: Bows To No One

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

(all statistics through The Day of The Doctor (November 23))

This coming week is the unofficial kickoff of the holiday season in the United States, complete with stampeding masses of humanity clamoring over sale items just hours after being thankful. However, you can be excused for assuming that the holidays have been going on for the last two months, as retail stores have had Christmas products and displays up alongside the Halloween candy since late August. There's something off about starting to push one holiday's wares before the other has even ended; Starbucks comes to mind as their stores have been decorated in Christmas gear since the beginning of November, complete with the red holiday cups. Let one holiday have its place then start the next one.

Welcome Back

St. Louis fans are in the midst of a tremendous season as the Blues are positioned as a legitimate favorite for the Stanley Cup. They just do everything well, led largely by their talismanic captain, David Backes, forwards who grind down opponents and one of the deepest blue lines in the league. Complementing the dynamic pairing of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo are the steady likes of Barrett Jackman, Roman Polak, Ian Cole and Jordan Leopold. Not to mention Jay Bouwmeester. The former Panther and Flame is once again relevant, rewarding owners who burned a late draft pick or waiver pick up, sitting with 17 points and a plus-11 rating through 22 games; one point more than Shattenkirk and one less than Pietrangelo (who added two more helpers in Saturday's 6-1 rout of Dallas).

It's Bouwmeester who is leading the Blues in shots on goal from the blue line with 47 to the 44 fired by Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo and his plus-11 is tops of the team as well. Bouwmeester had his best offensive days in Florida, notching three 40-plus point seasons over four years, including potting 15 goals in each of his last two campaigns with the Kitties. His days in Calgary were less than productive vis--vis the massive contract he signed in 2009, but Bouwmeester seems to be enjoying life in St. Louis. Once traded to the Blues at deadline day last year, he notched seven points over 14 games, giving him 24 in 36 contests since he's donned a St. Louis sweater.

He's always been one of the league's top skaters and is in a tremendous situation with one of the league's top teams. Bouwmeester has points in seven of the Blues' last 10 games, including a five-game point streak that saw him notch a goal and five helpers. Of note is the fact that he has seven helpers on the power play this season, tying him for sixth in the league with the ubiquitous Ryan Suter of Minnesota.

The usual bellwethers for defensemen production are strong with Bouwmeester, as he has over two shots-on-goal per game and a healthy 2:26 per-game on the man advantage. Worth noting is the fact that the Blues divide power-play ice time almost evenly between the former, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo. One of the more important indicators for Bouwmeester is the fact that he has produced before. The fact that he can blend in on a ridiculously deep team instead of being tasked with being the shoulders bearing the team's weight can only be a benefit for the former Olympian. Grab him and be thankful.

Buffed Up

Few defensemen in the NHL have been as productive as Winnipeg's jumbo jet the last two weeks. Dustin Byfuglien, a player taken in most drafts after the elite defenders were snagged for his across the board production. Buff is regularly one of the position's leaders in shots on goal and power play points, blasting away in Manitoba. After potting no goals in the season's first 18 games, Byfuglien has six goals in the last seven tilts and a whopping 86 shots on goal for the season, tying him for 11th in the league among all skaters, first among blue liners.

We expected Byfuglien to produce with numbers like the 19 points he has through 25 games, and he's delivering penalty minutes (36) and a modest 45 hits. Byfuglien is a premium player; a goalscoring defender who can rival the likes of Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban. Who else has been quietly producing, players who won't require you to give up an elite forward in a trade?

Andrej Sekera, Carolina: After jumping out to a quick start, Sekera vanished for a bit, but the crafty puck mover has three goals in the last two games. A little consistency from Sekera would be welcomed from owners who grabbed him. Before his recent scoring outburst, Sekera had just one assist over seven games along with a barren stretch of one point over six games earlier in the season. Throwing out those 13 contests, Sekera has nine points in 10 contests. He's great when he's scoring, just be aware of his penchant for vanishing.

Tom Gilbert, Florida: Examine him only in the deepest of leagues as an option, but Gilbert is quietly putting up numbers for the ever-rebuilding Panthers. Gilbert scored in Friday's loss to Calgary and has five assists over the course of the last six games. However, all five of those assists are concentrated in two games, going pointless in the other four contests. Outside of Brian Campbell, Florida doesn't have the most productive of teams, but Gilbert is getting some looks. Campbell's 12 points leads all Florida skaters. Gilbert is seeing 2:41 per-game on the power play, but the Panthers don't score too often. Caveat Emptor.

Kris Russell, Calgary: Russell has logged a few travel miles the last two seasons, playing for both Columbus and St. Louis before ending up in balmy southern Alberta. The Flames have been receiving steady production from Dennis Wideman in the wake of Mark Giordano's ankle injury, an injury that has afforded Russell the chance to get his name on the scoresheet as well. Russell has a goal and four assists in the last six games and has been seeing a solid share of power-play time for the Flames. Of his 12 points, nine have come in the last 13 contests. Giordano is slated to be out of the lineup for another month or so, leaving Russell in a good spot.

Whip Around

-Minnesota center Mikko Koivu won't be mistaken for a player who will challenge Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin for the Art Ross Trophy, but the guy can dish the puck. Watch here as he waits until the last second before threading a cross-ice pass to Zach Parise for a game-tying shorthanded goal in Saturday's shootout win over Winnipeg.

-Jaromir Jagr is New Jersey's leading scorer through 23 games with nine goals and nine assists. Jagr hasn't been padding his stats too much either, as his last two goals have been vital to the Devils' recent success. On Wednesday, Jagr tied up the Devils' contest against Anaheim with 1:01 remaining in the game, a game New Jersey went on to win in overtime. Jagr then further cemented his name with the greats of the NHL on Thursday, notching the overtime winner against Los Angeles, the 121st game-winning goal of his career, tying Gordie Howe for the all-time record. The goal also was the 690th of his career, tying him for ninth all-time with former teammate Mario Lemieux.

-We had an Alexander Edler sighting Friday in Vancouver, along with a Sedin twins appearance. Edler had been amazingly quiet before snagging a goal and an assist in Friday's win over Columbus, with just two points over the last month of the season, a span of 14 games. Edler is regularly a player who challenges 40 points, almost hitting 50 in the 2011-12 season (11-38-49). Grab him from a frustrated owner now, because he's too good to stay this quiet.

-Speaking of Swedes underperforming, Tobias Enstrom has endured a rather slow first quarter of the season, with just nine points through 25 games. While his stat line is a surprise, it's also a surprise that he has played in all the Jets' contests, as Enstrom usually misses several stretches of game per season with nagging injuries. Enstrom has just three points in his last 20 games, a span which included an eight-game and a six-game pointless stretch. Enstrom is still eating power-play time, but the numbers simply aren't there. Given his track record, he could be had via a trade, but this recent run of futility is disconcerting.

-New Jersey rookie Eric Gelinas keeps producing. He has three points in the last three games and seven of his season's eight points are on the power play.

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