Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Stralman's struggles

Updated: December 1, 2010, 4:29 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

If the Columbus Blue Jackets' power play emitted an aroma, it wouldn't smell terribly tantalizing. In plain terms, the team stinks with the extra skater, to the success-rate scent of just 11 percent. To put that number in the proper perspective, only the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are worse with the man advantage, and they have a combined 18 wins in 46 games.

Which brings us to the Blue Jackets' gaggle of defensemen and their lack of production. The chicken/egg argument of whether the team's D-men aren't contributing because the power play isn't thriving or vice versa matters little. The point is, through over a quarter of a season, all seven regulars on the blue line have four goals and 34 points in total. Subtract Marc Methot's 10 assists, and the collective number takes on a jaw-dropping flavor. But on the upside, there's no way this trend lasts; either in regard to the team's anaemic power play or the lack of contribution from the back end; which goes hand in hand.

You see, the Jackets are winning games. They're in fifth place in the Western Conference with a 14-8 record. So the talent is there. And although anyone with a fantasy interest shouldn't give much of a hoot about the likes of Jan Hejda, Rostislav Klesla or even Mike Commodore and Fedor Tyutin, the lack of production from Anton Stralman has been a concern. Stralman produced six goals and 28 assists in 73 games with the Jackets in 2009-10, including 22 power-play points. That's a far cry from his six helpers (zero goals) collected this season. But the power-play performer is still munching up a monster's share of minutes with the man advantage and regularly getting chances. 'Tis a slump is all, and it will end -- it's only a matter of time.

Furthermore, GM Scott Howson insists he has no plans to make any drastic changes to his blue line and expects any issues concerning the lack of offense will eventually right themselves. That only adds further weight to the argument that Stralman will become a fantasy asset again in the not-too-distant future.

Rising and Falling

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. Mike Green, Was (1)
2. Dan Boyle, SJ (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
4. Chris Pronger, Phi (5)
5. Duncan Keith, Chi (3)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (10)
7. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (8)
8. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (6)
9. Drew Doughty, LA (7)
10. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (9)
11. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (12)
12. Ryan Whitney, Edm (14)
13. Kris Letang, Pit (18)
14. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (11)
15. James Wisniewski, NYI (13)
16. John-Michael Liles, Col (19)
17. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (16)
18. Alex Goligoski, Pit (17)
19. Bryan McCabe, Fla (15)
20. Brian Rafalski, Det (24)
21. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (20)
22. Alexander Edler, Van (21)
23. Stephane Robidas, Dal (25)
24. Joni Pitkanen, Car (26)
25. Shea Weber, Nsh (22)
26. Jack Johnson, LA (23)
27. P.K. Subban, Mon (27)
28. Niklas Kronwall, Det (28)
29. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (29)
30. Brian Campbell, Chi (30)
31. Marek Zidlicky, Min (33)
32. Erik Johnson, StL (31)
33. Dennis Wideman, Fla (34)
34. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (32)
35. Joe Corvo, Car (36)
36. Anton Stralman, Cls (35)
37. Brent Burns, Min (38)
38. Mark Giordano, Cgy (39)
39. Brent Seabrook, Chi (41)
40. Tyler Myers, Buf (40)
41. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (37)
42. Kurtis Foster, Edm (42)
43. Keith Yandle, Pho (43)
44. John Carlson, Was (44)
45. Victor Hedman, TB (45)
46. Kevin Shattenkirk, Col (64)
47. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (49)
48. Paul Martin, Pit (47)
49. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (46)
50. Erik Karlsson, Ott (48)
51. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (50)
52. Matt Carle, Phi (55)
53. Cam Fowler, Ana (67)
54. Jordan Leopold, Buf (58)
55. Ryan Suter, Nsh (56)
56. Pavel Kubina, TB (51)
57. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (59)
58. Filip Kuba, Ott (54)
59. Brett Clark, TB (57)
60. Ian White, Car (61)
61. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (52)
62. Cody Franson, Nsh (53)
63. Michal Rozsival, NYR (62)
64. Zach Bogosian, Atl (63)
65. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (60)
66. Daniel Girardi, NYR (69)
67. Andy Greene, NJ (66)
68. Kevin Bieksa, Van (65)
69. Jamie McBain, Car (71)
70. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (68)
71. Marc-Andre Bergeron, FA (75)
72. Alec Martinez, LA (off)
73. David Schlemko, Pho (off)
74. Anton Babchuk, Cgy (72)
75. Douglas Murray, SJ (off)

Bryan McCabe, Panthers (down four spots): He appears a bit tired, doesn't he? After a solid October, McCabe has merely four points in 13 games in November. Perhaps McCabe's owners were a bit spoiled last season with his output of 43 points and 83 penalty minutes for the Florida Panthers; it may be more reasonable to expect a slightly more modest output this time around. It also doesn't help that fellow blueliner Dennis Wideman is getting the heftier share of power-play minutes.

Sergei Gonchar, Senators (down three spots) The minus-13 rating would be much easier to stomach if the usual production was in play, but Gonchar has only a couple of assists in his past nine games. Plus, the 36-year-old veteran has seen his ice time decrease a bit recently as well. Now, the state of affairs is far from wretched; once the Senators turn their fortunes around again -- and they will -- Gonchar will fall back into the habit of contributing nearly every contest. But in the meanwhile, his fantasy value takes a minor dip.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, free agent (up four spots): The power-play specialist could sign with a team at any moment. And once he does, Bergeron immediately becomes a solid fantasy asset.

Alec Martinez, Kings (debut at No. 72): The 23-year-old has played all of three games in the NHL this season (four last season) and he's already had the pleasure of skating on the Los Angeles Kings' top power-play unit. Keep an eye on whether he sticks there. Paired with Drew Doughty on the point, Martinez netted a goal with the man advantage in his first game of 2010-11.

Key injury notes

Dion Phaneuf is skating and could return to the Maple Leafs' lineup before too long. Phaneuf suffered a leg gash that required surgery in early November and was originally expected to miss 4-6 weeks. It appears his recovery is on schedule.

Out with an upper-body injury, Jason Demers has missed four straight games for the San Jose Sharks. There's still no definitive word on when Demers will return.

Battling a bout of pneumonia, Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks is a game-time decision for Wednesday's contest versus the Calgary Flames.

Potent Pairings

Joni Pitkanen and Ian White, Hurricanes: Paired at even strength, Pitkanen and White have developed some nice chemistry since the latter arrived via trade from the Flames. Pitkanen, a consistent threat with the man advantage, has tallied four points without the extra skater in the six games White has been a member of the Carolina Hurricanes (plus one power-play assist). As for the newbie, the ex-Flame has three points himself since joining the Canes. And both defensemen remain dangerous on the power play, when Pitkanen is paired with Joe Corvo on the first unit and White is coupled with Jamie McBain on the second.

Power Play Performers

When watching him play or give and interview, it's difficult to believe Cam Fowler isn't yet 19 years old (Dec. 5). The teenager carries himself with a sense of poise and maturity that would look good on many young lads in their early- to mid-20s. However, Fowler is establishing himself as a valuable asset on the Anaheim Ducks' top power-play unit, whichincludes the likes of Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne. With a goal and four assists -- including three power-play points -- in his past four games, the teen is clearly finding his groove. And he's available in more than 92 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Four points, including two power-play assists, in three games is enough to garner a bit of attention, especially when the production comes from an unexpected source such as David Schlemko. Indeed, the Phoenix Coyotes are utilizing Schlemko with the extra skater, and as long as they continue to ride that trend, the 23-year-hold carries a bit of fantasy value. Schlemko earned 31 points in 55 games with the AHL San Antonio Ramparts in 2009-10, so it's not as if he isn't capable of contributing offensively.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com

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