Now that the NHL is back into the swing of things after the All-Star break, we can take some time to reflect on injuries and healthy players lacing up the skates again for the stretch run. One of the teams that will be benefiting from the injury bug passing is the New York Rangers. Just in time to face the injury riddled Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Letestu all out) on Tuesday, the Rangers welcomed back Daniel Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. For Thursday's game against the Devils, the Rangers saw Vinny Prospal make his season debut. In two games since the break, Callahan has 2 goals -- 1 power-play goal -- and six shots, Dubinsky has an assist and a plus-1 rating and Girardi has returned where he left off with solid play on defense. Prospal had a goal but was minus-1 against the Devils. Despite losing twice, the Rangers received solid contributions from their returning players.
The returning players allow coach John Tortorella to go back to some lines that had been successful earlier in the season. Dubinsky and Callahan are back with second-year center Artem Anisimov, while the team's most consistent line of Brian Boyle centering Brandon Prust and either Ruslan Fedotenko or Mats Zuccarello can go back to the grind-it-out, old-school brand of hockey that made them so effective through the first half of the season. Also expect to see Wojtek Wolski, who was acquired from the Coyotes when Dubinsky went down with a stress fracture in his leg, playing with agitator Sean Avery and captain Chris Drury, while Prospal and Gaborik likely will skate with rookie Derek Stepan.
On defense, Girardi likely will team up with Marc Staal to re-form a formidable defensive unit that increasingly has worked on its offensive game.
What does this all mean for fantasy purposes? Well, the Rangers can ice four sturdy lines, all with scoring punch and defensive acumen. They can provide you with a solid goal differential (plus-20) as well as two players who can provide steady penalty minutes (Avery and Prust). You should be able to start any of these Rangers and be rewarded with solid fantasy play.
Top Pick-Ups (owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! Leagues)
1. Matt Cullen, C, Wild (25 percent) -- After a season in Ottawa Cullen would like to forget, he's rebounded to have a nice first half. With 31 points in 48 games, he's on pace for a career-high 50. Prior to the All-Star break, Cullen had a five-game scoring streak, tallying 2 goals, 5 assists, 3 power-play points and eight shots on goal. He helped his team win four of five in that span. Expect his points to continue to flow as he takes the ice with Pierre-Marc Bouchard (11 points in 13 games) and is a regular fixture on the power play (17 points).
2. Ray Whitney, LW, Coyotes (42 percent) -- The slick-skating veteran has 10 points in his last 11 games, 5 of which have come on the power play. With 10 goals and 27 assists on the season, Whitney continues to impress well into his 19th season. He is second on the team in scoring behind Keith Yandle and has 108 shots on goal. Expect his point output and solid power-play abilities (19 points) to continue.
3. Mark Recchi, RW, Bruins (33 percent) -- If you haven't yet noticed, Recchi has had a fantastic season. He is skating on a line with the red-hot Patrice Bergeron as well as the underrated Brad Marchand. Totaling 36 points, 15 while on the man-advantage, Recchi continues to dazzle at the age of 43 (his birthday was Tuesday). He is a plus-16 and also helps fantasy owners in shots on goal with 87. Ride Recchi with complete confidence, as he has 9 points in the past seven games.
4. Roman Hamrlik, D, Canadiens (30 percent) -- Hamrlik has been a benefactor of the Canadiens' injury problems. With defensemen Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov out of the lineup, the veteran blueliner has found some time on the second power-play unit with Yannick Weber and a spot on the first defensive pairing with offensive defenseman James Wisniewski. In the past six games, he is a plus-5 with 2 assists and a point on the power play. He will contribute in penalty minutes (44) and shots. Look to add the defenseman to your roster.
5. James Reimer, G, Maple Leafs (9 percent) -- It looks as if the young goaltender has butterflied his way past "The Monster," Jonas Gustavsson, and is hot on the heels of starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere. In eight starts, the 22-year-old is 5-3-0 record with a 1.96 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and a shutout. His two most recent starts were a loss to the Lightning in which he held the high-scoring club to two goals on 31 shots, including stops against Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos on quality scoring chances, and a 27-save shutout win against the surging Carolina Hurricanes. Look for Reimer to continue to build on his start, and if the Leafs fall farther out of the Stanley Cup Playoff race, the starts should continue.
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