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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Thin Blue Line: Power-play stars

By Victoria Matiash
ESPN.com

As with individual flowers brought together in a romantic bouquet, not all points are equal in typical fantasy play. While an even-strength goal or assist -- the modest yellow tulip, if you will -- elegantly adds to a running tally while bolstering plus/minus, scoring with the man-advantage mimics an entirely different genus. Sexier and brasher, the power-play point is the crimson rose of the mixed-bag bouquet. It's not the blossom you bring Grandma on a Sunday morning.

As far as providing the precious power-play points that usually serve two fantasy categories, Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens is the reigning Casanova (in the most positive sense possible). Every one of Markov's 4 points and 6 assists has counted with the extra skater. Plus, the return of P.K. Subban -- a decent power-play performer in his own right -- hasn't dulled the shine on Markov's fantasy armor in the slightest. With fellow defenseman Raphael Diaz, Markov and Subban make up a solid special teams' trio as far as the Habs' blue line is concerned.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Erik Karlsson, Ott (1)
2. Tobias Enstrom, Win (5)
3. Kris Letang, Pit (2)
4. Brian Campbell, Fla (3)
5. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (6)
6. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (7)
7. Andrei Markov, Mon (9)
8. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
9. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (12)
10. Dan Boyle, SJ (8)
11. Ryan Suter, Min (10)
12. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (17)
13. Alexander Edler, Van (13)
14. Mark Streit, NYI (14)
15. P.K. Subban, Mon (21)
16. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (16)
17. Drew Doughty, LA (18)
18. Niklas Kronwall, Det (20)
19. Dennis Wideman, Cgy (22)
20. Jack Johnson, Cls (19)
21. Shea Weber, Nsh (15)
22. Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (56)
23. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (23)
24. Justin Schultz, Edm (24)
25. Keith Yandle, Pho (25)
26. Mike Green, Was (29)
27. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (27)
28. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (31)
29. Duncan Keith, Chi (26)
30. James Wisniewski, Cls (65)
31. Matt Carle, TB (28)
32. Alex Goligoski, Dal (30)
33. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (11)
34. Raphael Diaz, Mon (32)
35. Nick Leddy, Chi (33)
36. Justin Faulk, Car (34)
37. Mark Giordano, Cgy (35)
38. Marek Zidlicky, NJ (38)
39. Sheldon Souray, Ana (39)
40. Ian White, Det (40)
41. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (43)
42. Joni Pitkanen, Car (36)
43. Brent Seabrook, Chi (41)
44. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (47)
45. Dan Hamhuis, Van (50)
46. Slava Voynov, LA (45)
47. Paul Martin, Pit (52)
48. Sami Salo, TB (53)
49. Victor Hedman, TB (57)
50. Ryan Ellis, Nsh (49)
51. Travis Hamonic, NYI (42)
52. Kevin Bieksa, Van (54)
53. Tom Gilbert, Min (48)
54. Dougie Hamilton, Bos (46)
55. Jared Spurgeon, Min (58)
56. Dan Girardi, NYR (61)
57. John-Michael Liles, Tor (55)
58. Cody Franson, Tor (63)
59. Ryan Whitney, Edm (37)
60. Tyler Myers, Buf (44)
61. Andy Greene, NJ (73)
62. Erik Johnson, Col (51)
63. Marc Staal, NYR (NR)
64. John Carlson, Was (62)
65. Stephane Robidas, Dal (66)
66. Paul Postma, Win (64)
67. Brent Burns, SJ (NR)
68. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (68)
69. Joe Corvo, Car (NR)
70. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (70)
71. Patrick Wiercioch, Ott (69)
72. Kurtis Foster, Phi (75)
73. Simon Despres, Pit (NR)
74. Jordan Leopold, Buf (72)
75. Francois Beauchemin, Ana (NR)

Across the NHL, Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers and Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers are standouts as far as power-play production is concerned. Both of Timonen's 2 goals and 5 of his 7 assists were scored with the extra skater. Plus, the 37-year-old has been particularly hot of late. Meanwhile 6 of Schultz's 7 points were tallied with the man-advantage. Unless veteran Ryan Whitney manages to claw his way back onto the Oilers' top power-play unit, Schultz's numbers should grow steadily in this regard.

On the flip side, other power-play powerhouses of seasons gone by haven't been as impressive this campaign. Zdeno Chara, for instance, has only one power-play point to show for himself through 11 games. While expected to finish strong in most categories once again, Chara loses a touch fantasy sparkle via the addition and use of rookie Dougie Hamilton. There's no telling how long coach Claude Julien intends to keep the quintet intact, but Hamilton is the current anchor of the Boston Bruins' top power-play unit. The one that includes forwards Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci. As long as that formation remains effective, Chara will have a reduced number of power-play goals and assists.

Now, this isn't to suggest that Chara be moved at the next opportunity, or that Markov, Timonen, etc. should be pursued/held onto under any and all circumstances. But if your squad is a touch anemic in the triple-p category, some blueliners make more fragrant trade targets than others. Perhaps the right package -- including a coveted yet expendable forward and/or goaltender -- from your side may garner just the right candidate (plus other assets). One that will continue to blossom with the man-advantage for many games to come.

Rising and Falling

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (re-emerges at No. 67): He's (essentially) back. After missing more than a fifth of the shortened regular season, Burns finally returned to action from one of the more puzzling injuries this calendar year. Expect an awkward warmup from the former fantasy darling before all the rust is shaken off. But once he's comfortable, Burns will be expected to contribute to the Sharks' scoring card often. Outside of Burns and Dan Boyle, no other member of San Jose's blue line holds our fantasy interest at the moment.

Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes (re-emerges at No. 69): From healthy scratch to one of the hottest D-men in the league, Corvo has burst back onto the scene as a relevant fantasy asset once again. Blistering hot or numbingly cold in fits and spurts throughout his career, the 35-year-old should be utilized accordingly. Ride him now while he's smoking (3 points in 3 games).

Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers (down 22 spots): Fallen out of power-play favor with coach Rangers coach John Tortorella once again, Del Zotto hasn't seen a significant lick of action with the man-advantage since early last week. Bumped by Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman, Del Zotto will fall further down the rankings if this trend continues.

Tom Gilbert, Minnesota Wild (down five spots): With a healthy Jared Spurgeon back in play, Gilbert is relegated to third-banana as far as power-play performers are concerned. And we still anticipate a rise in Ryan Suter's numbers as the squad's top defenseman becomes ever more comfortable.

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (down six spots): It's not like he's going to finish the season with 4 points, but until Weber breaks out of this weird scoring funk, we have no choice but to drop him out of the top 20, particularly since the Predators are dead-last in the NHL with an average of 1.77 goals per game. The return of forward Patric Hornqvist will help, and GM David Poile may also be inspired to add some much-needed firepower up front. If this Nashville club is to have any realistic shot at securing a spot in the postseason, something has to give.

Key injury (and other) notes

Missing three straight contests with a lower-body injury, Kris Letang should return to action for the Pittsburgh Penguins before the weekend. … Nursing a suspected head injury, Cam Fowler will miss at least another week for the Anaheim Ducks. Veteran Francois Beauchemin remains fantasy-relevant in the meanwhile. … Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson could miss some time after suffering a shoulder/torso injury this week. Rookie Tyson Barrie deserves consideration as a potential dark horse in Johnson's stead. … You may as well write off Dmitry Orlov (upper-body) for the rest of the fantasy season. The young Washington Capitals blueliner is ruled out for at least another month. Keep an eye on how young call-up Tomas Kundratek develops in Orlov's continued absence. The 23-year-old rookie has 3 assists in his past four games for the Caps. … Benched for two straight games before returning to the Buffalo Sabres' lineup Tuesday night, Tyler Myers must raise his quality of play fast. The next couple of weeks could be key to how much success Myers enjoys this campaign. … Ryan Whitney has also spent far too much time in the Oilers' press box (aka: coach Ralph Krueger's doghouse) of late. Presuming he's back in the lineup next contest, it's time for the frustrated (and hopefully inspired) veteran defenseman to seriously strut his offensive stuff.

Power play performers

After spending the lockout overseas, Dmitry Kulikov is clearly getting back into the North American swing of things with the Florida Panthers. With 3 points in three games, the 22-year-old is putting his exceptionally dismal start behind him. Only Brian Campbell is enjoying more power-play minutes on the blue line at present.

If all goes swimmingly, this will be the final mention Lubomir Visnovsky garners for the rest of the season. Fitting in and playing well for the New York Islanders, the 36-year-old veteran is already skating on the top power-play unit with Mark Streit, as anticipated. If, by chance, Visnovsky is available for the price of nothing, dig your claws in immediately. However reluctant he was to leave his Slovakian homeland, the steady offensive-defenseman appears fresh as a Saint Valentine's daisy now that he's re-committed to the NHL.