Well, well, well. That didn’t take long. Henrik Lundqvist bounced back in a big way with a shutout of the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
In fact, the whole Rangers squad appeared rejuvenated after three days off and a return to the East coast. They outshot the Caps 36-22 for their second win of the season.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was out with the flu so John Moore took his place on the power play skating 2:46 with the man advantage. Moore only skated a total of 14:17 for the game but chipped in with the opening score of the game and fired five shots to boot. Definitely one to keep an eye on in keeper leagues.
The story for the Rangers thus far is the revitalized Brad Richards. I mused last spring that he must have been battling an injury, otherwise I couldn’t explain why such a smart and crafty player would fall off so quickly. Maybe he wasn’t hurt but the rebound I was calling for that seems to be happening.
With two assists last night Richards is now up to seven points on the season. Richards also fired five shots last night bringing him up to 27 for the season. We’ll have to check in around the 25 game mark to know if this is for real but so far it looks like the old Richards is back.
Ryan Callahan seems to be showing no ill effects of his off-season surgery. He was up to his usual rotisserie tricks sniping a goal on six shots with five hits thrown in. And this game took place away from Madison Square Garden and their overzealous scorekeepers so you can’t even accuse Callahan of inflation in this one.
That was a real nice comeback game for Braden Holtby stopping 34 of 36 shots in the loss. But the most important thing here might be the loss. If that’s a win, Holtby is back in the driver’s seat. With the loss backup Michal Neuvirth has life again.
I continue to question what the hell the Capitals are doing with rookie Tom Wilson this season. He skated just 5:26 for the game – though he did receive 49 seconds of power play time – and hasn’t received much more than that in any game this season. I understand he brings a physical element to the game that the Caps want but how is he bringing that in less than 10 minutes a game?
He fought last night – his second fight of the season – and now has more penalty minutes than SOG. Is he around to be their overqualified goon? Seems like a real waste to me.
Speaking of wastes, Martin Erat continues to be criminally underutilized by the Capitals. He has suited up for every game but is skating an average of just 8:47 per game. He is getting a regular shift killing penalties so we can’t call him nonexistent but he is damn close.
Something’s got to give and you have to figure it will be a trade – though I cannot see a team jumping to take on Erat’s $4.5 million cap hit this year and next but perhaps closer to the trade deadline and with some cap retainment on the part of the Capitals a deal could get worked out. Or maybe someone just sees something in the old Nashville game film that gets them as excited for Erat as the Capitals once were.
Here’s a fun stat: after firing eight shots last night Alex Ovechkin has now taken 50 shots this season, which is nearly 25% of the Capitals’ 212 shots as a team. Say what you will about him, Ovechkin remains a fantasy hockey stud.
The Ducks looked really impressive in the first period last night. They dominated the Flames at five-on-five, moving the puck quickly and efficiently up the ice. They aren’t a fast team individually but they have great team speed. Maybe it was a product of their opponent but it was very impressive watching them move the puck around with purpose.
The Ducks were absolutely miserable on the power play however. They were up 2-0 in the first when Flames forward Tim Jackman took a five-minute penalty for butt-ending. You don’t see that one every day.
The Ducks spent the first two and a half minutes just trying to gain the Flames’ zone and when they finally did they quickly gave up a breakaway to Lee Stempniak for a short-handed goal, getting the Flames back into a game they easily could have been out of with even a bit of competence from the Ducks’ power play.
To be fair, the Ducks did wind up scoring a goal on their power play only it was inadvertently waved off by the always annoying referee intent to whistle rule. The Ducks power play came into the game worst in the league (just one goal on the year) so their struggles were no surprise but they can’t even catch a break.
Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen were the two defensemen on the Ducks top power play unit. You’d think those two would be good but they looked horrible. Vatanen had absolutely no confidence or poise with the puck and Fowler, who is supposed to be a veteran now (even if he is only 21 years old) was no help.
I don’t know what the answer for Vatanen is. I want to say he needs more time in the AHL because he doesn’t seem ready for the speed of the NHL game but he dominated the AHL last season to the tune of 45 points in 62 games. I guess the goal is to keep giving him NHL minutes to see if he’ll sink or swim. After all, the only way to adapt to a faster pace is to play at it.
I was much more impressed with the play of Hampus Lindholm. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on the rookie defenseman:
From the first day of rookie camp to now, the improvement has been really remarkable. He absorbs everything and he’s taking everything in. He was plus-4 tonight with a couple points. He’s still only 19, so it’s going to take a little while, but he’s getting better every night.
I wouldn’t rush out to acquire Lindholm just yet but when he has drawn into the lineup he has played predominantly alongside Francois Beauchemin, which is great insulation for him. He has also been eating up power play time at nearly four minutes per game. If he can lock down those power play minutes there will be points to be had.
From what little I’ve seen of Lindholm, I really liked how he picked his spots offensively. He’s still just a rookie so we know there are going to be hiccups but at 19 years old he already has half an AHL season under his belt and like so many Swedes has pro experience back home as well.
Again, I’m not advocating going out and grabbing him just yet but you’d be foolish not to monitor this situation.
Check out the patience by Ryan Getzlaf on this assist:
What I really liked was Corey Perry driving the net hard and removing the Flames’ defender from the play opening up a lane for Dustin Penner to follow up the play. Obviously Perry is driving because he wants a goal but he could easily let up once he realizes he is covered. Instead he keeps driving. That’s the sort of selfless play that wins games and is something you can teach in virtually any sport.
Penner looks like a real fit with Getlaf and Perry as they can really control the puck between the three of them. You can tell the Ducks still don’t trust Penner on the same level as those two as he didn’t see nearly the same third period ice time but otherwise he was an impact player in his mere 14 minutes of ice time.
Following that first period the Flames really carried the play the rest of the way but couldn’t overcome the early deficit, splitting goals with the Ducks the rest of the way.
I really liked what I saw out of Jiri Hudler. He skated over 23 minutes leading all Flames forwards in ice-time. Whenever he was out there the Flames were generating opportunities. He scored a goal bringing him up to eight points in six games this season.
I would normally criticize Hudler’s high shooting percentage (23%) but he has always been a low-volume/high-efficiency shooter (career 14.1%).
This could be the year he finally breaks 60 points so long as all of these minutes he is playing don’t wear him out.
Sean Monahan was finally held off the score-sheet. It was only a matter of time. I didn’t really see much out of him this game.
I came away more impressed with Joe Colborne, despite his limited minutes (just 8:47 for the game). He picked up an assist on Hudler’s goal and had three or four chances for goals himself including a goal that was correctly waved off for a high stick. Maybe it was circumstantial but he seemed to be around the puck a lot and probably deserves more than fourth line minutes. Maybe he takes Monahan’s spot if the rookie is sent back to junior.
Ducks prospect Stefan Noesen is out for the year with torn knee ligaments. That’s a major set-back for a prospect who was just transitioning to the pro game this season.
Five for Howling with Five for Fantasizing:
Martin Hanzal has been arguably the best Coyote forward for fantasy depending on your needs. He's got 1 goal, 3 assists, 7 PIMs, 12 SOG and is playing over 18:40 a night. He's also got 16 hits and 3 blocked shots. He's available in 93.9% of ESPN leagues and almost all Yahoo leagues.
Bobby Orr weighs in on if there is a place for fighting in hockey, an excerpt from his new book Orr: My Story, which would make for a darn good Christmas present for all you early shoppers.
If you are interested in a deep statistical dive on goaltending you really ought to check out Brian MacDonald’s work. It’s brilliant stuff. Definitely check out his piece comparing Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider among others.
I stumbled upon MacDonald’s work while reading Eric Tulsky’s new Outnumbered blog over at SB Nation. He breaks down some interesting ideas in easy to digest ways like his piece earlier this week on projecting future performance for young players like Nail Yakupov.
Speaking of Yakupov, check out Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts including thoughts on Yakupov being scratched recently:
Dallas Eakins's decision to scratch Nail Yakupov in Toronto was eerily similar to the Kovalchuk move. There are two major differences. First, Eakins is a lot more secure now than Fraser was then. Second, the banishment lasted just one night for Atlanta. Yakupov sat a second straight game on Monday in Washington.
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.