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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:15 PM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Isles second line warrants a look



While the New York Islanders' secondary scoring spike over the past few games is likely "too little, too late" for the team's playoff hopes, it could be just what the doctor ordered for any fantasy team in the midst of a championship run.

Every point is crucial this time of year as the vast majority of fantasy leagues have reached their final playoff round, so the play of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo should not be overlooked. The Isles' current secondary line -- comprised of three forwards owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues -- has kicked it into high gear over the last week and a half.

Josh Bailey
Center - NYI
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 31
SOG: 99 | +/-: -8
New York remains mathematically alive in the playoff race entering Friday's action after sweeping a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- who endured a major setback in their pursuit of the East's top seed. Despite facing Marc-Andre Fleury twice this week, the Isles managed to post 10 goals in two games en route to a pair of 5-3 wins over their Atlantic Division foes.

Bailey (LW - 2 percent) put forth a 5-point game in Thursday's win over the Pens and has accumulated 3 goals, 9 assists and a plus-8 rating over his last six games. The ninth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft is only 22 years old and has looked confident moving the puck over the past few games. His linemate, Nielsen (C - 5 percent), has centered the secondary unit for most of the season, but has recently seen a major spike in his production as well with 4 goals and 5 helpers over the six-game stretch.

Flanking Nielsen on the right wing is Okposo (RW - 9 percent), who has taken his goal-scoring to new heights with 5 goals over his last four games, adding an assist in Tuesday's road win in the Steel City. The story for Okposo, 23, has been his ability to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career despite failing to register a goal in his first 15 games this season. Okposo has accomplished that feat by scoring 14 goals since the turn of the calendar year.

Kyle Okposo
Right Wing - NYI
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 41
SOG: 143 | +/-: -14
The inconsistency of these three players is still a glaring concern in the long-term, as the Islanders have sought a lift from their depth lines all season long -- to the point where the team's top line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau has accounted for 42.6 percent of the team's goal-scoring. But as the team finally seems to be reaping the benefits of its young core players late in the season, fantasy owners would be wise to take notice.

Over the last two games, though, the team's primary unit has gone pointless -- despite the team sweeping a home-and-home with the star-studded Pens. The secondary unit has shouldered the load and has been extremely promising from a fantasy standpoint. For any injury-plagued or underperforming fantasy roster during championship week, any of these three offensive players could provide a boost.

The Islanders have a pair of home games this weekend against the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, and still have five remaining regular season contests overall. Therefore, time is of the essence for fantasy owners to catch on to this potentially rewarding trend.

To submit a question for NHL.com's weekly Fantasy Mailbag, contact PJensen@NHL.com.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Jets, Hurricanes

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena:

JETS

Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Antti Miettinen
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Wellwood - Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Spencer Machacek

Zach Bogosian - Ron Hainsey
Dustin Byfuglien - Tobias Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
 
HURRICANES
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Tim Gleason - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
 
Cam Ward
Brian Boucher

Antropov returns to the lineup for the Jets after missing the past five games with a lower-body injury. Mason will get the start in goal for Winnipeg, his fifth in six games against the Hurricanes this season. Ward will make his sixth consecutive start for Carolina.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 10:24 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Miller, Shattenkirk, Thornton

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:21 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 30th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
7th 77 88 5 93 2
8th 77 86 5 91 3

9th 78 86 4 90 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 78 95 4 99
7th 78 89 4 93 3
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Western Conference is essentially about four Pacific Division teams -- Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose -- chasing three playoff spots.

Like musical chairs, when the music stops April 7, one team will be left without a 'chair' when the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The top point-getter among those four teams will win the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West, opening its playoff campaign with home-ice advantage. Two other teams will claim the consolation prizes of the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. One will rue what could have been.

The Sharks were in the No. 3 spot in the West standings when play began Wednesday. But, after two consecutive losses -- including a 2-0 shutout loss to Phoenix -- they find themselves out of a playoff spot. Wins on Friday night by Dallas (against Vancouver) and Los Angeles (against Edmonton) would put San Jose in a deeper hole.

San Jose and Dallas begin a home-and-home series Saturday with their respective playoff destinies in their own hands.

Meanwhile, the win Thursday by Phoenix was a huge boost for its playoff hopes because the victory moved the Coyotes ahead of the Sharks in the standings and with the Sharks and Stars playing one another, only one of the two teams closest to Phoenix can take the two points each time. The Coyotes probably won't care who wins those games, but they will be rooting for them to end in regulation.

The Kings, who have seven wins in their past nine games, can continue to help their playoff cause with another win, this time against an Edmonton team already eliminated from the postseason.

The key factor to remember as we approach what should be a breathtaking final week of the season is that 94 points is the projection for the final playoff spot in the West, so every game these four teams play has significant implications for other three.

The Avalanche meet the Flames in Calgary on Friday night with both having 'mathematical life,' but little realistic hope for the playoffs because the projected point total being beyond their capability. But, the loser of this game will see all hope die. Neither team has helped its cause down the stretch. The Flames went 1-3-3 in their past seven games and the Avalanche went 0-3-1 in their past four games.

An interesting game takes place Friday in Detroit. The Red Wings play host to Nashville in a game that has home-ice implications in the first round as Detroit tries to remain in the top half of the Western Conference bracket. Both teams have already clinched berths, but the Wings have just a one-point lead on Nashville for the No. 4 spot. Idle Chicago is just two points behind Detroit.

Detroit, which has an astounding 30-5-2 record at home, would love to claim home-ice advantage for what will be a massively difficult first-round series against either Nashville or Chicago.

In the East, the Sabres play host to the Penguins. The Caps kept the pressure on -- not to mention their playoff hopes alive -- with a win Thursday in Boston. With 92 points being the projection in the East, Buffalo (86 points) can move closer to that cutoff with a victory. A regulation loss and the idle Caps (also on 86 points) will move back into the No. 8 spot in the East, thanks to the tiebreaker.

The East race is another case of musical chairs, as the Senators, Sabres and Capitals vie for two spots. The math says the Sabres need to win three of their final five games to hit the magic mark in the East, A loss Friday and then the equation becomes three wins in four games. That's a big difference at this point of the season, especially because Buffalo does not currently own the tiebreaker on the Caps, which have five more regulation and OT wins.

As for the Florida Panthers, they are putting their fans through a bit of agony as they try to end their 12-year playoff drought. They have lost to the Oilers, Islanders and Wild in the past week. They are in Columbus on Friday and, with a win, they can essentially 'let the joy' begin in South Florida. Another loss and they won't be doing themselves any favors.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:10 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Remembering the 'Life As A Scout'

Back in November, NHL.com had an opportunity to join NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards on a trip through Western Canada not only to view a few of the top prospects eligible for the 2012 Draft but gain exclusive access to "Life as a Scout."

"We're getting paid to watch hockey. Does it get any better?" Edwards told NHL.com.

In a span of 72 hours, and beginning in Regina, Sask., NHL.com accompanied Edwards to gain an exclusive first-hand look at the process of scouting and what it entails.

Edwards will be one of the several full-time scouts at the final meetings offering his assessment of those players he has witnessed over the course of the 2012 season.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 5:16 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes back in action to begin final stretch run

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an anxious three days for the Phoenix Coyotes as they could do nothing but watch the standings as their Western Conference foes attempted to compile points and leave them behind.

Now the Coyotes enter their final five games of the season with a clear mission -- and in control of their own fate. Win four of five and they are likely headed to a third straight NHL playoff berth. Stumble more than once along the way, beginning with tonight's huge game against the San Jose Sharks at Jobing.com Arena, and things get much more uncertain and gloomy.

"You look at the standings, and if we win our games we're fine," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who returns from a three-game suspension tonight. "You'd rather be sitting where Nashville is or Vancouver is, but we're not, so we have to find way to win our way in and earn it. But we control our own destiny and that's all you can ask. It's right there for us."

In addition to Doan, the Coyotes were able to heal over the three-day break. With the exception of winger Taylor Pyatt, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said everyone else on the roster is available for duty, meaning leading scorer Radim Vrbata and defensemen Adrian Aucoin and David Schlemko are prepared to play. Tippett has a lot of different ways he can go lineup-wise and wasn't tipping his hand at the pregame skate.

The Coyotes finish the season against three teams out of the playoff race -- Anaheim, Columbus and Minnesota -- as well as Western Conference-leading St. Louis. So the chance to improve their position and have a direct effect on a competitor ends tonight.

The Sharks lost 3-1 in Anaheim on Wednesday, making this game incredibly crucial for them as well. San Jose finishes its season with two games each against Los Angeles and Dallas -- the other two Pacific Division teams fighting for three playoff spots along with Colorado and Calgary. Not everyone will survive.

"Our players know exactly where we are and what the scenarios are … but this is the last game that we have that we can have an effect on the one of these teams we are battling," Tippett said. "So that makes it of the utmost importance. After that we have to take care of ourselves, but this is a huge game."

The Sharks will be without defenseman Douglas Murray, who suffered a lower-body injury early against the Ducks. Veteran Colin White will replace him in the lineup.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Colin White - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin
Michal Roszival - Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
 

 
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:50 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharp, Keith vie to be EA Sports' latest cover athlete

CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp has already defeated teammate Patrick Kane in an advertising-sponsored burrito contest, so why not take on Duncan Keith for the right to grace the cover of a video game?

EA Sports announced on Thursday that fan votes will determine which player winds up gracing the cover of its EA Sports NHL 13 video game, with two players from each team facing each other in the first round of the competition.

Sharp and defenseman Duncan Keith were chosen to face off for the Blackhawks.

"It's pretty special and we'll see how everything plays out," Sharp said after Thursday's morning skate at United Center. "I'm not exactly sure how all the fans vote for it, so maybe I'll get back on the Twitter or something and get my fan base up. But it's a cool competition."

Keith, who didn't participate in the skate and is serving a five-game suspension for an elbowing incident, wasn't available for comment.

The first-round winners from each team will advance into a field of 32 players that includes two "wild card" selections and from there the field will be whittled to a top 16 through voting. That will net a 16-player single-elimination playoff bracket to determine the ultimate cover player.

The Blackhawks have already had star Patrick Kane (2010) and captain Jonathan Toews (2011) on the cover of the EA Sports NHL series, and both said they'd be thrilled to welcome another Chicago star into the club.

"We've had two in the past couple years, so it'd be nice to have another one, I guess, and have the Hawks well-represented," Kane said. "It's a cool game. I remember growing up saying, 'This is a game I want to play with this guy on the cover or that guy on the cover,' and to be one of those athletes was pretty special. It'd be nice to have the Hawks represented again. Hopefully Duncs wins, though. We don't want Sharp to win."

Toews didn't have a rooting interes other than to see another Hawks player showcased.

"It's awesome," he said. "There's been a lot of Hawks on there lately. That'd be cool. It's one of those things that's kind of like a fantasy a little bit. When you get a chance to do it, you don't really believe it's happening, that you've come that far. But you always have that. I always have that [2011 game] sitting next to my DVDs, so it's pretty cool."

Sharp, meanwhile, got in a friendly shot at Kane after hearing his fellow star forward was rooting for Keith.

"I was [into video games] when I was a little kid," Sharp said, smiling. "I used to play a lot of games with my older brother and my friends, but ever since they put Kane on the cover I stopped being a fan."

How about if he wins this competition, though?

"Oh, well then things will change," Sharp said, laughing. "I'll get back into it."

Voting began on Thursday and fans can vote as often as they want at NHL.com/CoverVote. Fans can also get more information at EA Sports' NHL Facebook page and are encouraged to use the hashtag #NHL13Cover on Twitter to support their favorite players.

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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Likely lineup for Blues

CHICAGO -- Tonight's lineup for the St. Louis Blues, who face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at United Center.

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins - Kris Russell

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Halak will get his first start since March 21 at Anaheim, as Elliott has started the last three games -- all shutouts -- but will sit out tonight.

The Blues activated winger Matt D'Agostini, who missed the last 25 games with a concussion, but he will not play tonight. Also, Andy McDonald (shoulder) will not play, but coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's morning skate McDonald would play Saturday vs. Columbus. Also scratched are right wing Chris Porter, left wing B.J. Crombeen and defenseman Ian Cole.

Defenseman Roman Polak (bruised knee) did not accompany the team to Chicago, but could return to the lineup Saturday as well.

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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:24 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Perron offers skating lessons for EA cover votes

CHICAGO -- David Perron and T.J. Oshie are going to battle.

The players were chosen as the St. Louis Blues' representatives to compete for the cover of EA Sports NHL13, which will be decided by fan voting.

Fans can go to NHL.com/covervote and vote for their favorite player to be the next cover star. Perron didn't waste any time spicing up the offer for fans if they vote for him. Perron said if he wins the voting, he'll randomly select one fan to receive a 60-minute private skating session from him, as well as a jersey, stick, gloves and helmet that Perron uses, courtesy of Reebok.

"It's only an hour of my time and a few pieces of equipment," Perron said. "The point is to give back to the fans who are going to vote on you to maybe be on there. It's having fun with it more than anything. I talked with my agent [Allan Walsh] about it and we thought it was a good way to be maybe be a little different from the other guys.

"I was surprised by [the selection]. I think it's a cool way for the fans to vote for whoever's going to be the next guy on there. ... Hopefully the fans enjoy it and it's something I thought about for a while to do it and it's important to do it."

When told of Perron's giveaways, Oshie thought he'd chime in with an idea of his own:

"Hopefully they can just watch my play and hopefully that's enough to win the fans over," Oshie said. "I'll be like Wal-Mart, who says they'll match it. You bring in the better offer and they'll match it, so I'll match [Perron]. Whatever he wants to do, I'll do.

"I might just stay old-fashioned and let the play decide."

Oshie even went as far to say he helped Perron with his idea.

"In the morning, I saw him at breakfast and I made sure he knew what to stay," Oshie joked. "I told him to look at my tweet if he needed any ideas and I guess he wanted to one-up me and go above and beyond and start offering skating lessons ... I don't know what he threw out there."

Both players are quite familiar with the EA Sports collection of games and said they grew up playing them. Both said they're grateful to be part of the voting process.

"It's going to be fun for me and Perry [Perron] to go back and forth even though in the end, if one of us doesn't win, we want the other one to win," Oshie said. "... It's a fun thing, fun thing to be a part of for the fans. EA Sports is a good game. I grew up playing their games all the way up -- NHL, NFL, NBA ... you name it. It's a fun thing for the fans, fun thing for the players."

Perron said the EA hockey games were the only ones he requested for Christmas from his parents.

"I bought every single game ever since it started that I can remember," Perron said. "That was the only Christmas present I would ask for and I would get pretty much when I was growing up.

"I was really excited every year because as much as my parents were saying that they weren't going to get that, I just kind of knew that I would get it for every Christmas. My brother and I would play until we tried to win the Cup."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Playoff spot in the bag, Blues go for division clinch

CHICAGO -- Step by step, the Blues have been presented with goals, and each time, they knock the door down and reach uncharted territory.

First, it was clinching a playoff berth for the first time since the 2008-09 season and only the second time since the work stoppage.

Next up is the Central Division title, and it's there for the taking when the Blues (48-20-9) play against a division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-9) at United Center.

Coupled with Detroit's surprising loss at Columbus on Wednesday night, the Blues have the chance to wrap up their first division title since 1999-2000 with a regulation or overtime win over the Blackhawks.

"It'll definitely be a good accomplishment for us," winger T.J. Oshie said. "You look at the points that are in our division and the teams that are in our division ... even Columbus coming up with a big win (Wednesday). It's a tough division, and to be at the top of that would be a good stepping stone for this team. It would be a stepping stone because we want to get up to that big goal at the end, but it's definitely something we'd like to have on the resume."

The Blues have a chance to knock the Red Wings off the perch for a change. Detroit, which has clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season, has owned the Central, winning it in nine of the last 10 seasons.

"This would be a good feeling for someone else to be able to do this other than those big two (Detroit and Chicago, which won the division in 2009-10) and maybe sometime down the road give them something to think about," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got lots of goals in front of us now between the Jennings (Trophy), the division, the conference, the Presidents' (Trophy) ... they're all obtainable. They're in our control.

"We spent seven months getting to this stage. We want to just keep going. We don't want to give up something that we've earned and kept for a little while. We've got teams pushing us in every aspect. The loss for Detroit to Columbus opens up a door for us tonight, so hopefully we jump all over it."

For a team with so many younger players who haven't experienced what's been presented to them, the Blues have been even-keeled and not looked too far ahead and lost sight of what's in front of them.

"There's been a lot of patience with this team from the fans and management and players," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "To be in the position we are and contending for first place in the division and the conference and potentially overall, it's pretty gratifying and it shows the hard work we've put in this year.

"Everybody's smart enough in this room to know that the Presidents' Trophy isn't going to get you anything in the playoffs. It doesn't give you any freebies, any first-round byes or guarantees you're going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know the toughest part is still to come. We're excited about the potential, but you look at our game in Tampa Bay to be the first to clinch a playoff spot, we didn't bring out any champagne. It was business as usual and moved on."


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Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff