- Category: Hockey Rambling
Ryan Suter’s three-game scoring streak came to an end last night but not for lack of trying. He skated over 30 minutes for the umpteenth time this seen. He’s a beast. Suter leads the league in minutes played and it isn’t close. Apparently he thinks anyone could play those kinds of minutes, though. Yeah, right.
Jonas Brodin is starting to get back into the swing of things with three points in the last two games. He went scoreless in eight straight after returning from injury but that appears to be behind him, which is good news for everyone on the Wild.
Matt Dumba drew back into the lineup but only skated 9:53. I don’t get this move by the Wild at all. I suppose they don’t necessarily have the depth in the system to send him down entirely but at the same time this is just poor asset management. At this point in his career, Dumba needs to play.
Jason Zucker got back into the Wild lineup for the first time since October 8th. He skated just 13:35 but his presence knocked Nino Niederreiter back to the third line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. Niederreiter still skated on the second power play unit with Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley’s corpse, so not all is lost but that’s still not promising for Niederreiter owners.
Heatley’s corpse, was quite alive, by the way. It picked up a goal and an assist in 9:44 last night. It has now scored in two straight for the first time this season. I wouldn’t bother hitting the waiver wire just yet. In fact, I’d be more concerned that this is the first wave of the zombie apocalypse.
Mikko Koivu had himself a whale of a game netting the game winner to go along with two assists. Minnesota’s whole top line is hot right now but I probably wouldn’t look to sell. Zach Parise is one of the best owns in a fantasy league because of how much he shoots the puck, Koivu is always underrated for his rotisserie value and even Charlie Coyle offers good all-around fantasy value.
Josh Harding had another stellar outing stopping 34 of 37 shots, which is only surprising because of the sheer volume of shots he faced. The Wild don’t normally allow that many shots.
Credit the Senators for firing all those shots, especially in the first period when they jumped out to a 2-1 lead and 18-6 advantage in shots. Unfortunately for them, the Wild played them even on shots the rest of the way and snuck away with the victory.
Craig Anderson’s disappointing season continues and his numbers are looking eerily similar to his crash-and-burn sophomore season in Colorado. If there’s a silver lining in this for Sens fans and Anderson fantasy owners it’s that once Anderson was dealt to Ottawa, that season, he took off boasting an 11-5-1 record with a 2.05 goals-against average in 18 appearances. So perhaps there is a buy-low opportunity to be had here.
I don’t personally believe that to be true. Anderson has long had the ability to be elite for stretches but I think most NHL goaltenders are capable of that. Anderson has never put together a full season’s worth of elite play. And while this may be the “non-elite” half of Anderson’s season, the Senators are not playing the same brilliant puck-possession game that they did last year that enable them to be so damn pesky all season.
You could blame the Senators’ difficult schedule for their struggles this season. So far they have played 10 of their 22 games against the obviously more challenging Western Conference. That’s 10 more games than they had to play against the West all of last season.
Everyone in the East – save perhaps Tampa Bay – is getting beat up by the West but Ottawa having opened the season with a nasty six-game Western swing put them in a hole early. Now they already have a third of their 28 games against Western opponents out of the way, which should mean things get easier going forward.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Anderson will be the guy starting when those “easier” games come along. I remain steadfast that Robin Lehner is the better goaltender in Ottawa. The Sens aren’t performing any better in front of Lehner than they are for Anderson but the difference is that Lehner is simply playing better.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds.
Marc-Andre Fleury recorded a very Fleury-esque shutout last night, his second of the season, as he needed to make just 18 stops to blank the Capitals in a key Metro Division matchup. The Penguins have done an excellent job all year of shielding Fleury as they sit tied for third in the league in shots allowed at just 25.0 per game. That puts them right in line with notably stingy teams like the Wild, Blues and Kings.
And the Penguins obviously boast a powerful offense. They have struggled a bit recently with scoring but it’s not for lack of opportunity. They currently sit 10th in the league in shots per game with 31.1. Overall, they sit behind only San Jose, Chicago and St. Louis in terms of shot differential, which backs up their stance as legitimate Cup contenders even playing in the notably weaker East.
Shot differential is by no means everything. After all, the Devils sat third in the league last season but were a lottery team. But it is interesting to note how the Penguins have made strides to improve their team play in front of their goaltender in an effort to cover up for his short-comings. The Penguins were notably in terms of shot differential a year ago so these improvements make them feel like more of a contender.
Oddly enough, the Boston Bruins have been only an average shot differential team this season but the otherworldly goaltending of Tuukka Rask has kept them afloat.
Back to the Penguins, though.
James Neal notched a goal and an assist as he works his way back into shape. He also fired four shots on goal, which is a season high. A couple years back Neal averaged four shots a game, which was his breakout 81-point season.
Neal won’t do quite that well this season because the Crosby line eats up too many minutes. Last season Neal averaged 3.4 shots per game. He’s bellow that so far but he is only seven games in so he has plenty of time to course correct. I still have high hopes for him this season as he should still score near a point per game. If you find the buy low window is still open I would have no issues jumping through it.
Neal being productive is good news for Malkin owners. He had two assists last night and has done that feat in three of the last four games. Malkin has only three goals on the season and is shooting just 5.1% so there is another level to be reached here, whether or not that’s possibly with Crosby in the lineup remains to be seen.
Kris Letang’s struggles so far continue to frustrate me but I know it’s only a matter of time. His five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage sits at just 5.1%, which helps to explain why he has just one even-strength point all season.
On a positive note, Letang did fire six shots on goal and is averaging over three shots per game, a feat he has never accomplished over a full season. I don’t know that he can keep it up but I do know that it’s only a matter of time before the points start to rain, however in the meantime I’m tearing my hair out.
The Capitals got thumped on shots by the Penguins 40-18, which is hardly surprising considering what a terrible team the Caps have been by that measure all season.
Braden Holtby has been tremendous under fire all season and he stopped 36 of the 40 shots last night for a pretty solid outing all things considered. However, he, Mike Smith and the Toronto goalies are guys I fear for going forward.
The Capitals, Coyotes and Leafs are among the worst teams in the league in allowing shots ranking 26th, 27th and 30th respectively. Those teams also don’t shoot the puck nearly as much as they allow it.
So far those teams have been buoyed by some high-efficiency offense and stellar goaltending but if either of those factors slip those teams will start losing, which can put a big hurt on the value of the goalies on those teams.
Back to the Capitals…
Alexander Ovechkin fired just two shots last night, a season low. His three-game goal streak was also ended. Probably just a blip on the radar though – Ovechkin has been playing like a mad man this season.
Nicklas Backstrom tried to pick up the slack leading the Capitals in shots with five. It seems to me that every big game the Caps have, teams always find a way to take Ovechkin out of the game so Backstrom is forced to step up. He isn’t the best fantasy option on the Caps but there’s no doubt in my mind that he is their best player.
John Carlson has stepped into Mike Green’s power play minutes with the offensive defenseman on the IR. Carlson had scored in three straight but that was snapped last night. Keep this in mind for keeper leagues because we are just a year away from Mike Green becoming Mike Green’s expiring contract.
If the Capitals have any interest in taking another step as a franchise they should consider getting away from Green and that becomes a real possibility once his contract reaches its final year. It’s still a ways away but that could be when Carlson finally gets his big break. He’s already a proven 35-point guy so he has value while you wait for his break to come.
Sergei Bobrovsky had a nice bounce-back affair after getting blitzed by the Oilers on Tuesday. I’m sure you Bobrovsky owners had been licking your chops at this Canadian road swing. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Nikita Nikitin scored the game winner in overtime and added an assist earlier. He now has four points in his last five games but before you go over the moon for this once-upon-a-time waiver wire wonder you have to realize he skated just 15:04 with no power play time. Nikitin has seen next to no power play time all year and with the depth on the Blue Jackets blue line (not an oxymoron, I swear!) there is little chance he sees much any time soon.
Cam Atkinson notched an assist on the OT winner, his first point in five games.
Nick Foligno might be heating up a bit. He now has four points in his last five games and he stepped into the injured Brandon Dubinsky’s power play minutes. He could be a nice short-term fill in for Dubinsky should his foot injury keep him out of the lineup for an extended period.
Jack Skille got into his second game of the season with Dubinsky out but skated just seven-odd minutes because he’s a big ol’ bust.
Boone Jenner has been back in the Jackets lineup for three games now. He’s yet to score since his return but is seeing big minutes on the Artem Anisimov and Atkinson as well as second unit power play time.
Going by the numbers Calgary’s Reto Berra wasn’t particularly impressive last night stopping just 16 of 18 shots but one of those stops was this one, so hats off to Berra:
If your league doesn’t have a category for erection causing saves, you’re doing it wrong.
I suppose this next save makes Martin Brodeur a cougar:
Brodeur’s stat-line was underwhelming last night as he stopped just 22 of 25 but he saved New Jersey’s bacon in overtime and more importantly has now won five in a row as well as seven of his last eight. His only loss was a disappointing 1-0 affair of despair against the Flyers.
My apologies to Brodeur and his fans who together share an inability to let go. He seems to still have something left in the tank, although I would much rather point to three straight years of below average play than to 12 games of average play when assessing Brodeur’s viability going forward but that’s just me.
Patrick Elias notched three points last night, his first three since returning to the lineup this month. He is a necessity for the fantasy viability of many players in New Jersey so it’s great to see him back.
One guy who has been just fine without Elias is Jaromir Jagr, which is probably because Lou Lamorello somehow opened a portal to the Benjamin Button universe. Jagr scored last night to give him 17 points in 21 contests so far. We’ve seen this sort of start from Jagr before so you need to SELL HIGH because he cannot be counted on to skate in 82 games. Nor can he be counted on to be productive in the games he does play. Remember the Devils play an absurd number of back-to-backs this season.
Eric Gelinas got on the board for the first time in four games scoring a goal and an assist, both on the power play. Six of Gelinas’ seven points this season have come with the man advantage so Elias’ return will definitely help keep Gelinas viable for fantasy owners.
Travis Zajac scored the OT winner for the Devils, his fourth point in his last five games. He has been skating some big minutes but only alongside Jagr and Dainius Zubrus and on the second power play unit so if you are hoping for some kind of revival you really must believe in Lamorello’s wizardry.
It should be mentioned that that was Mathieu Perreault getting robbed by Brodeur. Perreault has gone cold having not scored in six straight games. Isn’t this his M.O. – come up, start hot then cool off until he gets benched/demoted?
Perreault skated just 12:15 last night although he was present on the second power play unit but it’s clear that even Bruce Boudreau’s patience can wear thin on this guy. But it should be noted that at least he is getting scoring opportunities so the puck luck just isn’t going his way right now. I would probably kick him to the waiver wire until he shows signs of heating up once again.
It’s possible that all of Perreault’s luck has been tapped by Dustin Penner. He has scored seven points in his last eight games with Ryan Getzlaf in the lineup. We’ll all just pretend those three without Getzlaf never happened. With two assist last night Penner now has 15 points on the year.
I don’t think he can sustain this level of production. Hell, even 50-points seems like a long shot to me but it’s clear that Penner is a fit with Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Those three can shield the puck from anyone in the league and rag valuable minutes in the opponents’ zone. But Penner has been the second luckiest guy in the league so far this year by five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage so no matter how good the fit, Penner can’t keep this up.
It helps that Penner has gotten a promotion to the top power play unit because that’s where guys can really boost their point totals, especially guys who can carve out space in front like Penner. I would try to sell high if you can but odds are you won’t find too many believers out there. It’s probably best to just ride it out with Penner in the hopes that maybe he’s this year’s “net-presence” guy to go bonkers with the puck luck and superstar chemistry on his way to a 60-point season.
Cam Fowler has nine points in his last 11 games. I picked him up on a lark a couple of weeks ago, hoping to capitalize on his favourable schedule. Then he went out and posted back-to-back two-point games. He’s been in my lineup ever since. I’ll probably drop him eventually when this hot-streak runs out but if it runs long enough I might be able to sell him for someone I trust a little more.
Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert wonders if the Ducks will make the right moves with their goaltending.
Jonas Hiller had yet another mediocre performance last night and really hasn’t looked solid since opening the season with a four-game win streak. And if you really want to get into it he hasn’t been the same since getting wiped out by vertigo a few years back.
That said, I would buy low. The Ducks have solid possession stats and it’s virtually impossible for Hiller to remain in Anaheim and not get starts. So if his performance can rebound to even average then he’ll put up wins behind an otherwise solid team.
I realize that Lambert’s article suggests the Ducks should trade Hiller while they can but we all know how difficult it is to trade a goalie, especially mid-season. I don’t see any viable destinations that the Ducks would actually consider for a reasonable price. So I'm in the buy low camp.
New Sabres management did something of a house-cleaning earlier this week as they sent four of their youngsters – Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen – down to various levels of the minors.
You can understand the logic behind the move. Buffalo probably accepts that they will be bad this season but they don’t want to be embarrassingly bad. There’s also not much sense in overextending these young guys in an environment not conducive to their success. It’s one thing to bring one or two rookies along in a season, it’s quite another to do so with five or six the way Sabres have.
As a youth coach I understand just how difficult it can be to indoctrinate new players into your program. Having to teach and re-teach all of the basics to a larger group of new players can be exhausting and at a certain point impossible. With too many new players some guys can get left by the wayside if they don’t pick things up as quickly.
I know that NHL teams have nearly endless resources when it comes to player development and that includes a large coaching staff but even at that level it must be difficult getting new players up to speed with the team system and to learn the ins and outs of the NHL game in general, not to mention the constant spotlight that NHL teams are under, the pressure to get results on the ice, and the limited practice time available during the regular season.
I’m sure that what the Sabres are hoping for is to make better use of their AHL program to teach the fundamentals and values of their program at a level with more reasonable competition and lower stakes. It should be good for everyone involved… except Grigorenko.
In a strange turn the Sabres tried to send Grigorenko to the minors on a 14-day conditioning stint because he is still not eligible to go to the AHL full-time and his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, is already carrying two imports so they can’t take him either. The NHL decided to block the Sabres’ attempt so now he is essentially stuck with the big club.
I was already sour on Grigorenko’s fantasy prospects and this just makes things worse. It’s hard to think of anything the Sabres have done right with his development.
Grigorenko sticking in the NHL means one less spot for someone else. Maybe that means Zemgus Girgensons gets sent down or perhaps someone like Corey Tropp or Brian Flynn. It probably means Patrick Kaleta’s path back to the NHL is blocked, which, I mean, good riddance, right?
Regardless, the Sabres were still able to call up Luke Adam and Brayden McNabb yesterday. It will be interesting to see if Adam can carve out a spot on a scoring line or not because he has shown flashes of upside in the past. He is scoring over a point per game in the AHL this season, which would seem to indicate he has mastered that level of competition but he also scored at that level three years ago before dropping to a point every two games over the last two seasons so it’s hard to see Adam being anything but erratic at the NHL level.
Asked about the struggles of Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers, Pat LaFontaine brought up how the New York Islanders gave up on Zdeno Chara too early. "The thing that encourages me is that [Myers has] already proven what he can do. We need to create the environment so that he has everything he needs to go back where he was ... If it's something where we've tried everything to give him that environment [yet fails], then maybe a change is what is needed." That said, Lafontaine stressed Myers will be given time under the new regime.
At this point, I’d rather have Scheifele, especially in a fantasy league. He simply has more opportunity and upside.
Adrian Aucoin has officially retired. He was only a modest fantasy option for much of his career but was intriguing for leagues that offered bonuses for defensemen who could score goals. He once scored 23 goals in a season of which 18 came on the power play.
The Canucks Army blog held a contest to come up with a new hockey stat. The winning entry was the Bieska Rating, which is a measure of Don Cherry’s preference for players. Needless to say this made my week.
Grantland’s Sean McIndoe sets the story straight on five hockey facts.
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.