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Blue Line Buzz: Flaming Mess

Jason Chen

Consistently fires muffins. Blue Line Buzz on Mondays, Daily Puck and DFS on Sundays.

Sure, they probably deserved that 5-4 win against the Oilers on Saturday, but the Flames don’t breed much confidence. The offense usually lives and dies with their top line, the defense remains in flux with too many bodies and not enough minutes to go around, and the goaltending remains a carousel. It took the Oilers less than seven minutes to tie the game, and they would’ve sent the game to overtime had it not been for a careless mistake from Cam Talbot and Michael Frolik’s first career hat trick.

As far as that blue line goes, it’ll be a topic of conversation until the Flames can establish which four guys will lead the group. T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup and hasn’t played much with Mark Giordano, but it’s safe to assume these two are the alpha dogs. Dennis Wideman provides offense and Kris Russell is really good at blocking shots; having both played under Bob Hartley last year, they know very well what he expects. The odd man out again seems to be Dougie Hamilton, who’s too good to toil on the third pairing at even strength, even with heavy power-play minutes.

Of course, if the goaltending continues to be as porous as it’s been, it doesn’t matter who plays on defense, because the numbers are going to get ugly. The Flames caught a breath with the win, but another string of poor games might force Brad Treliving to make a move. Wideman remains the most likely candidate, if only because it seems like a worse idea to trade Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton or Russell.

If any team acquires Wideman, it’s because they think he can be a significant upgrade on offense; otherwise, why bother at such a steep cap hit? The opportunities alone should give him a slight fantasy boost, and the same goes for the other four defensemen, even if they’re unlikely to get dealt. Sometimes, it’s better to be the big fish in the little pond than the little fish in the big pond.

Quick notes:

- Vancouver’s Luca Sbisa was placed on the injured reserve with an undisclosed injury, which means he’s out at least a week. The obvious beneficiary here is Ben Hutton.

- Slava Voynov signed with SKA St. Petersburg, closing the NHL chapter of his career.

- Andrej Meszaros signed with Sibir, so he has officially been KHL’d.

Last week’s top five performers:

Zdeno Chara, BOS – After dropping the first two games of the season without their captain, the Bruins have lost just twice in eight games with Chara in the lineup. The 38-year-old clearly still has plenty left in the tank, collecting a goal and three points in his past three games, all on the power play. He went undrafted in a lot of leagues amidst fears of a decline due to age and injuries, but is very much worth owning for the rest of the season.

Drew Doughty, LA – He hasn’t scored a goal yet, but it should happen sooner or later after collecting five points in his past three games. Following another slow start, Darryl Sutter’s squad has now rattled off seven straight wins. He played nearly 30 minutes in a 4-3 win over Nashville and also registered 11 shots on goal and seven hits this past week.

Ryan Suter, MIN – The Wild haven’t been very consistent this season, but Suter continues to be a stalwart. He’s the type of guy you see on the ice all the time, but he doesn’t seem to do a heck of a lot until you look at the scoresheet after the game and see that he’s recorded 30 minutes of ice time, an assist and a couple of shots on goal. Despite scoring eight points in nine games so far, Suter’s probably going to still end up in the 40-point range this season. The Wild are winners in four of their past six.

Jason Demers, DAL – He led Stars defensemen with two goals this past week, giving him points in three consecutive games. Demers has become quite the fantasy darling early this season, drawing the spotlight with a 15 PIM game against Pittsburgh and now adding a few points. He’s a regular on the Stars’ blue line, but let’s face it, the one everyone wants is John Klingberg.

Alexander Edler, VAN – He had at least one shot on goal in every game to start the season until that streak was snapped Friday against Arizona, but Edler did pick up an assist to give him two points in his past two games. After the Canucks gave their blue line a face lift over the summer, it’s clear that this defense is a lot more mobile as a whole, and Edler and Chris Tanev form the undisputed (and perhaps one of the league’s more underrated) top pairings. The Canucks have won two of their past three.

Top five trending up:

Colin Miller, BOS – When the Bruins acquired him from Los Angeles, the former fifth-round pick had developed a reputation for being able to shoot the puck, and he proved it by scoring 19 times for the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester last year. He hasn’t scored a goal yet, but Miller’s starting to get comfortable in his first NHL season, averaging around 15 minutes a night. He’s on a three-game point streak and has failed to register a shot on goal just twice this season. The 23-year-old certainly has the potential to play a bigger role down the road.

Jake Muzzin, LA – He’s on a three-game point streak with a goal and three assists, and much of that comes with Doughty asserting himself as the league’s top defenseman, but, hey, fantasy owners aren’t complaining. Muzzin’s a steady defender who’s worth owning with Doughty and the Kings on a tear.

Jeff Petry, MTL – He picked up an assist Sunday night, giving him three helpers in his past two games. After a slight hiccup against Vancouver and Edmonton, the Habs have turned it around and won their last two games. Petry was given a lucrative contract to help move the puck, and he’s been doing it well. He’s an underrated fantasy player, but he certainly puts up underwhelming numbers for a player of his skill set.

Brian Campbell, FLA – Didn’t know he was still in the league, did ya?! The Panthers have lost two straight, but they’re getting some vintage, Buffalo-era Campbell right now – he’s logging heavy minutes, with 24:51 and 26:43 in those two games, which were preceded by a three-point effort. The 36-year-old scored just 27 points last year; it’s a good bet he’ll improve on that easily this year, but by how much, who knows.

Luke Schenn, PHI – Perhaps he’s just tired of hearing his name in the rumor mill and figured that if he plays well, someone will take him; otherwise, I don’t really have an explanation for Schenn’s recent hot streak – four points in four games. The Flyers are mired in a three-game losing streak and they haven’t been able to blame Schenn. That must be tough for Philly fans.

Top five trending down:

Mark Giordano, CGY – And to a certain extent, the entire Flames defense. Sure, they snapped a four-game losing streak against their Alberta rival, but Giordano has just one assist in five games and isn’t playing with T.J. Brodie, his regular partner from last year.

Victor Hedman, TB – He just seems to be on the verge of entering that elite tier, but then a four-game losing streak will happen and the thought kind of evaporates. Hedman had just one assist this past week with an ugly minus-5 rating. He should turn it around soon, though.

John-Michael Liles, CAR – It doesn’t seem too long ago when Liles was considered a very good second-pairing defenseman with a lot of offensive upside, but that’s just a memory now, and while the 34-year-old continues to log 20 minutes a night, he’s doing it for a team that values his experience more than his scoring. He has just one assist in 12 games this season.

Matt Carle, TB – So it’s not all on Hedman, because, whoa, what happened to this guy? Carle was a healthy scratch Saturday against Boston before returning to the lineup in the second half of a back-to-back. He finished the night with two shots and a plus-2 rating, so maybe Jon Cooper was just trying to send a message.

Brandon Gormley, COL – So much for Patrick Roy being able to turn this guy around. That Gormley-for-Stefan Elliott swap between Colorado and Arizona for young players who needed a change of scenery? Yeah, it’s not the scenery. Gormley has played in only one (11:11 TOI) of the Avs’ last four games and has yet to register a point.

This week’s top five picks:

P.K. Subban, MTL – He’s a no-brainer every week, but the matchups this week are extra spicy. The Habs play three games this week, all home dates: geographic rival Ottawa, Subban’s close friend John Tavares and the Islanders, and long-time rival Boston. With Subban, the hotter the spotlight, the better he plays.

Brent Burns, SJ – Home dates are always good, and he’s got three (probably two) wins in the bag with the Sharks hosting Columbus, Florida and Anaheim. He scored two goals Sunday, and when big men get rolling, they’re like the Juggernaut.

Kris Letang, PIT – The Pens are on a draining Western Conference swing, but the Canucks, Oilers and Calgary all present opportunities to score. The Oilers can only win if they score lots of goals, and the Flames can’t figure out their goaltending.

Torey Krug, BOS – He gets four games this week, even though the matchups are brutal with Dallas, Washington, Montreal and Brooklyn. You just never know sometimes, so cast a wider net and go for the quantity once in a while. Chara fits here, too.

Mark Streit, PHI - Same with Krug, though the matchups aren’t as tough with the Canucks, Oilers, Flames and Jets (who are actually quite good), but it’s even more exhausting as a four-game week on the road.