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Neutral Zone Wrap: Looking Behind the Stars

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Life makes you do desperate things. No, weíre not talking about those types of things. More like fantasy moves made under duress, against oneís belief system and moral upbringing. Although it would seem these actions would take place when in a rut and/or when a shakeup is required, there are times when all you want to do is push closer to the top.

Hereís an example: I hate the Leafs. Like, really hate the Leafs. This is coming from someone who grew up and lived most of his life in Toronto. I make it a point to never draft any Buds, you know, just to clear my conscience. So why would I pick up Morgan Rielly and James Reimer in one league within a couple weeks? Because I like pain Ė but I enjoy winning even more. They just happened to be the best short-term available options at the time.

So sometimes you have to hold your breath and fearlessly dive in. While regret may be the first emotion, youíll soon realize players are interchangeable and can be dropped anytime. And if these players end up succeeding, pretend like you planned it all along. (FWIW, Iím now first in this league, but not because of those guys. Phew, I can sleep peacefully.)

While many clubs may be hurting and looking for a whole new outlook, a few sit in a positive position and only need to tweak the system:

Stats as of Tuesday, Nov. 24.

The greatest show on ice can be found in Dallas (17-4, second in the league at 3.51 goals per game). Antoine Roussel (three points in five games) is making the most of his lighter workload (averaging 13 minutes). Cody Eakin (points in his last three) has picked up the pace after a long lull (two in 14 right before). You canít trust Mattias Janmark (two in 14) until he can consistently produce. Even though heís second in command on the back line, Alex Goligoski (three in 13) is falling way behind. So please get better soon, Jason Demers (10, plus-6, should return this week). The tandem of Antti Niemi (2.41 GAA, .917 save percentage in 12) and Kari Lehtonen (2.34 and .923 in 10) is awesome for Big D, but frustrating for fantasy owners.

A move to Brooklyn isnít exactly doing wonders for the Islanders. Sad to see Ryan Strome struggle at two levels (five in 12 with NYI, three in seven on the farm). But that has opened up more opportunities for Brock Nelson (five goals in five, seven points in last six). And Frans Nielsen (five in four, 15 shots) seems to be turning the clock back two years (when he hit his career-high 58). These are awkward times for Travis Hamonic, who is continuing to produce (points in last two, 10 PIM, 10 shots) even though his trip out of town is imminent. Itís difficult for Marek Zidlicky (two assists in 12) to be a power-play specialist while sitting on the bench (scratched two of the last four). No worries for Jaroslav Halak (2.14 GAA, .919 save percentage in 11 after early injury), yet Thomas Greiss (2.26 GAA and .927 in 10) is poaching enough starts to make him fantasy-worthy.

With a growing list of injuries (although a couple casualties should be back soon) and offensive excuses (an anemic 2.39 goals per contest), the Bolts will need lots of luck to return to the Finals. Itís fun to play with the captain Ė just ask Vladimir Namestnikov (three in last four, 18-plus minutes a night). I canít say enough good things about Alex Killorn (points in four of five). Hard work is slowly paying off for Brian Boyle (two goals in five). Fresh off a killer AHL run (76 in 79) and continuing Tampaís tradition of rolling out diminutive speedsters, Jonathan Marchessault (second career NHL goal Saturday Ė on the top power-play unit) has reappeared on the main stage. A lot more was expected from Anton Stralman (seven in 22), while thereís no need to reach for Jason Garrison (nothing in 20).

Things may ultimately improve in Anaheim, but the current outlook (37 goals, fifth in the Pacific) is bleak. Congrats to Rickard Rakell (four in six, including two power-play helpers) for climbing the charts to the first line. The hype entering the season for Carl Hagelin was huge, but itís amounted to very little (three of his five scored last Monday). Where have you gone, Jakob Silfverberg (four, minus-8)? Perhaps 2014 first-rounder Nick Ritchie (scoreless in four since the call-up) is the answer for supplementary scoring. For all the minutes Kevin Bieksa logs (22:29), one would assume a greater front-end return (three assists but 36 PIM, 61 hits, 37 blocks). Heíll never be the main man in net, but Anton Khudobin (2.43 GAA, .917 save percentage in seven) is sneaking in a few decent efforts.

Youíre never gonna guess what team is in line for another lottery pick. McSavior may be out in Edmonton, but others have filled the void. Former top-three selection Leon Draisaitl is so hot (17 in 11), heís melting the ice (okay, not literally). Newfoundland native Teddy Purcell (seven in seven, plus-7) canít get enough of that wonderful stuff. No one in the lineup misses No. 97 more than Nail Yakupov (10 in 13 with, but one in eight without). People probably didnít expect this much progress so quickly from Oscar Klefbom (nine in 13). Wait a little bit longer on Darnell Nurse (five in 12), but youíll eventually be rewarded. KHL breakout performer Anders Nilsson (2.83 GAA, .908 save percentage in 10) has supplanted the disappointing Cam Talbot (3.09 GAA and .890 in 12) on top of the Oilersí trash pile goalie depth chart.