Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Late-season help

Updated: March 9, 2011, 4:27 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

There's no need to panic, but exactly 33 days remain in the NHL regular-season schedule. That's not many. For a little perspective: Toilets, towels and bed sheets in certain North America households will go a longer period of time without being cleaned. Gross, perhaps, but true.

The point is moves made in the final four weeks and three days could make the difference between a first-place victory or respectable, yet unsatisfactory, middle-of-the-pack finish. It's time to start thinking about making fast fantasy friends with players who, at other points in the season, wouldn't deserve secondary consideration. Here are a few Band-Aids to add in case of extended injury to one of your blue-line regulars, options who all are owned in less than 15 percent of ESPN.com leagues:

• The Columbus Blue Jackets have received more attention is this space throughout the season than anyone would've anticipated, and the majority of said content has been negative. Not so in this case. With April approaching quickly, Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome deserve their due. Blue-line partners on the Jackets' top power-play unit, Tyutin and Clitsome have good chemistry with one another and the squad's most dangerous forwards. Clitsome, in particular, has been hot, earning six points in his past seven contests. Recently emerging from a five-game scoring slump, Tyutin appears to be back on track, as well.

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

Most tellingly, the two have combined for 15 power-play points since mid-January. They won't hurt you in the ice-time department, either.

Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres is an interesting fantasy option in the here and now. Any defenseman who racks up 10 points in six games, no matter how uncharacteristic, will garner at least a little bit of attention. What adds comfort to the endorsement of the 24-year-old is that the Sabres are using him heavily with the man advantage. And he's shooting up a storm. Sekera will burn out soon enough -- promise -- but he probably has a few points left in the tank before that happens.

• As a long shot for the desperate, Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild is largely available in ESPN.com leagues. A fantasy asset for the future, the 21-year-old is making a bit of a statement now by ending his recent four-game scoring skid with three points in his past three contests. A true power-play performer, all but one of Spurgeon's six points earned in the past three weeks have come with the man advantage. This kid is going to be really good some day -- in the not-too-distant future -- and he's already better than just OK right now.

Rising and falling

Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks (down seven spots): Rookie fatigue maybe? Fowler looks a little off-kilter lately, an observation solidly supported by his recent lack of production. The 19-year-old hasn't scored a point in the past 10 games, and his minus-10 during that span is also worrisome. On the upside, Fowler is still getting loads of opportunities with the man advantage.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings (down three spots): Johnson is in a funk. A depreciation in on-ice minutes, both with the extra skater and at even strength, reflects that state of affairs. The 24-year-old's current pointless streak of five games should end soon, but Johnson won't be the same scoring threat he was a couple of months ago. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Andrew MacDonald, New York Islanders (up four spots): It's ultra puzzling that MacDonald isn't more popular as a fantasy blueliner. With eight points in his past nine contests (with a plus-7 rating), the talented puck-moving D-man is clearly in another productive groove for the Islanders. And yet he's owned in less than a third of ESPN.com leagues. Bizarre. The only threat to MacDonald's value between now and mid-April is the potential return of veteran defenseman Mark Streit. And there hasn't been much news on that front of late.

Key injury notes

John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche left Tuesday's contest versus the Minnesota Wild with a leg injury. Stay tuned.

Atlanta Thrashers D-man Dustin Byfuglien is ruled out for Wednesday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes because of an undisclosed lower-body injury.

• Although skating, Mike Green is still nowhere near ready to return for the Washington Capitals. As the blueliner continues to recover from what most refuse to call a concussion, we're sticking with our original prediction: Green should be back within the next two weeks or so. Hopefully.

• Listed as day-to-day for the Detroit Red Wings, Brian Rafalski continues to battle back spasms. There's still no concrete timetable for his return.

• Another victim of back spasms, Marc-Andre Bergeron could return for the Tampa Bay Lightning at any moment. Mind you, that was his status at this point last week. So, if that isn't the case, Brett Clark's presence as point man on the team's top power-play unit will be extended.

• Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the Minnesota Wild's Marek Zidlicky is nursing a hand injury.

Power-play performers

Logging some monster minutes for the Pittsburgh Penguins, defenseman Paul Martin is back on the squad's top power-play unit with Kris Letang. Without a point since mid-February, Martin should put a few dents in the scoreboard from here onward if that trend continues.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and contributor to Rumor Central for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE