What a hectic night. There weren’t all that many games for a Thursday night but I got caught all over the place trying to be a sports fan.
First, I was watching the Colts-Titans football game, which featured yet another come-from-behind victory by Andrew Luck and the Colts. They are the cardiac kids incarnate.
Then I checked in while my favourite NBA team, the OKC Thunder, took on the Golden State Warriors. That was a barn-burner of the highest degree. These are two of the most prolific offensive teams in the league featuring some of the biggest and most exciting offensive stars. The absolutely filled it up in a 115-114 affair that featured two seeming game-winning shots. I could hardly care that the Thunder lost a heartbreaker, my heart had already been melted by the brilliant basketball action.
And all during that time I was trying to write the ramblings and just after the basketball game finished I check NHL.com and see Kris Versteeg had been traded to the Blackhawks. My mind was literally everywhere and I was emotionally drained. So if I missed something, I apologize.
You can find my take on the Versteeg trade here.
Anyways, on the hockey last night...
It was all going well for Poulin until the third period. He had held the Kings at bay while his team took a 2-0 lead heading into the final period out-shooting the Kings 22-15. Then the wheels came off as the Kings rallied for three unanswered goals in the victory.
That can’t happen for Poulin if he wants to continue stealing starts from Nabokov. Don’t get me wrong, Poulin is still playing better than Nabokov and gives the Islanders a better chance to win right now but he also will get less rope. Right now Poulin is averaging one good start for every bad one. That’s not going to be enough to knock the veteran back to full-time back up.
The good news for the Islanders is that John Tavares was in the lineup after missing practice with a hip issue earlier this week. He registered an assist and is on a four-game scoring streak. To be honest, that’s hardly worth mentioning with Tavares at this point as he’s been held off the score-sheet in fewer games (three) than Sidney Crosby. That kind of consistency is invaluable and will be key for Tavares to make a leap to the next level.
Thomas Vanek missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. Brock Nelson has taken his spot on the top line and has seen huge minutes as a result, including over six minutes on the power play last night.
The results haven’t been there but if Nelson can demonstrate some ability to mesh with then he could create a future spot for himself when he is further along in his development. Nelson has tremendous upside if he can mesh with Tavares because he has the physical tools necessary to get to the dirty areas and get goals.
Rookie defenseman Aaron Ness scored his first career NHL goal. I’m not all that high on his upside but it’s notable nonetheless.
On the Kings’ side it was the youngsters that brought them home.
Slava Voynov opened the scoring for the Kings and managed two points in the contest. He now has points in three straight as he turns his season around. By the way, that noise you just heard was the sound of the buy-low window closing.
Tanner Pearson scored his first career NHL goal in his first regular season game. He skated on a line with Linden Vey and Trevor Lewis but did see some second unit power play time, which is where he scored his goal.
I can’t remember where but I read an interview with Kings coach Darryl Suter where he was asked if he would reunite the line of Pearson, Vey and Tyler Toffoli that had been so successful in the AHL earlier this season. Suter felt that Toffoli was clicking well with Mike Richards and didn’t plan on moving him off his line.
Good thinking. Toffoli scored the game-winner and has points in all five games since being called up. The sample size is still a bit too small but I don’t know how the Kings send Toffoli down with the start he’s had. Even if all they can do is skate him on the third line and second power play unit, as long as he’s getting 15 decent minutes per game he can be productive. But he probably deserves more than that. All he does is score.
Dustin Brown has been back up on the top line with all the injuries the Kings have had but is scoreless in four straight as his dreadful season drags on.
Good on the Blue Jackets pushing the Bruins to overtime on the road in Boston. Of course, they were facing the Bruins’ back up Chad Johnson but still, every point counts.
Sergei Bobrovsky’s slump to start this season continues. You might be tempted to call it regression considering how well he played last year but remember, regression is simply performance reverting back to the mean. This is well past regression so if you really believe in regression you would have to consider Bobrovsky a good buy low because he is better than the numbers have shown.
The Blue Jackets have been experimenting with Ryan Murray on the top power play unit these past few games, pairing with James Wisniewski. The experiment hasn’t particularly worked because that just isn’t Murray’s game but what’s interesting is the move has bounced Jack Johnson to the second power play unit.
Johnson is off to a pretty miserable start to the season with just five points in 18 games. He’s only a couple of big games from getting things back on track so it’s too early to panic but if Johnson isn’t scoring I have to ask what good he is doing the Blue Jackets because he is still an uneven defender.
Fast forward three years. To say that Johansen isn't "big" enough anymore is a thing of the past, as he's pushing 220 pounds--roughly 30 pounds more than his draft weight. He's learned to use his body in a physical way to shield the puck and to win battles. He always had the skating and the stick-work to go with the vision. It was just going to be a waiting game to see if he could develop the frame--and the drive to use it--to be that Joe Thornton type of center that Johansen has said he wants to be.
I think he’s a year or two away. He has graduated to the top line but is still just a second unit power play guy. I think that there is some potential for chemistry between he and Nathan Horton, whenever Horton joins the Jackets lineup because those two could be huge possession beasts so there is potential for a big second half from Johansen. Right now, he still has some improvements to make but the important thing is that he’s on the right track.
Johansen was scoreless but did fire six shots last night.
Nick Foligno drew back into the lineup after a week on the shelf. He scored a goal and had a solid rotisserie performance with three shots and seven hits. Foligno has struggled to stay healthy but he’s been reasonably productive while in the lineup, which is impressive because he’s bounced around a lot. Last night he was on the fourth line with second power play unit time. You obviously can’t expect much offensively but if he can score at a 40-point pace while producing in the peripheral categories then there is a place for him on rotisserie rosters.
Loui Eriksson has been on since returning to the lineup. He now has points in four straight as he looks to straighten out his season.
Patrice Bergeron has benefitted from Eriksson’s return as well with points in three straight.
Brad Marchand, unfortunately, has just two points in five games since Eriksson’s return. Some players are just beyond rescuing.
No Stamkos? No problem.
The Lightning routed the Ducks as Jonas Hiller made his first start in a week, ceding five goals on 20 shots dropping his save percentage below .900% for the season. Not good.
There is an argument to be made that Hiller is the fourth best goaltender in the Ducks’ system at the moment but given his contract status there is little that Anaheim can do. They can’t bury him because a goaltending needy team would surely claim him but they also can’t get much in a trade because he’s a pending UFA, is due a fair amount of money still this season and is currently struggling.
Apparently the Predators are sniffing around him in case Rinne’s hip infection woes prove to be a problem all season. I think it amounts to a coin flip whether or not we see Rinne return in an effective state this season so maybe there could really be something there but I’m not sure that Nashville is a better destination for Hiller.
In any case, coming off his first NHL loss Frederik Andersen was demoted today. It had nothing to do with the loss however, Viktor Fasth was simply ready to make his return after a conditioning stint in the AHL.
You can bet Fasth sees the next start.
The Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf for the third straight game, which is unfortunate because he was on a tear before getting hurt.
The lone positive for the Ducks was probably Cam Fowler notching an assist. He’d been benefitting from Getzlaf’s hot streak to help turn his season around but this was his first score since Getzlaf went down. Obviously all of the Ducks are hurt when Getzlaf goes down but it’s good to see when someone who has struggled as much as Fowler these past few years is able to still scrape together some production.
Teemu Selanne, by the way, still hasn’t scored in six games since returning from injury.
For the Lightning it was Valterri Filppula’s breakout game. Both he and Martin St. Louis notched three points.
The two aren’t playing together at even strength but Filppula was promoted to the top power play unit which is a huge boost. Still, Filppula’s production thus far is a bit smoke and mirrors as he is shooting an absurd 26.7%, which is double his career average. But so long as the minutes are there he will still maintain some level of productivity, just probably not so many goals.
The Lightning also seem to have changed up their power play strategy with Stamkos out. Ryan Malone has been bounced from the Tampa Bay power play entirely.
He had already slipped in the lineup before Stamkos went down but had maintained his role as net-presence on the top power play unit. Now he finds himself on the fourth line with no power play time whatsoever.
Malone skated just 10 minutes last night and his fantasy value is about to hit rock bottom though he did manage a fight to maintain some fantasy relevance but I have a hunch he’s drop worthy in all but the deepest of leagues. In fact, I’m dropping him today.
Recent call-up JT Brown has taken Malone’s spot on the top power play unit and is also skating with Filppula and Teddy Purcell at evens. He managed an assist last night, the second of his career. He hasn’t been much of a scorer at the pro level yet but he was prolific in his two years of college play so we know there is upside.
Victor Hedman had two points last night and is quietly building on the improvements he made last season. He looks like a good bet for at least 30 points this season and may even reach 40. I don’t know if he’ll ever live up to the hype associated with being the second overall pick but if he can become even a modest producer I think we would all take that.
What is up with the Bizarro Coyotes?
Phoenix currently sits sixth in the league in scoring (3.15 goals per game) but 24th in team defense (3.05 goals allowed per game) all while they keep clawing out points on their way to the league’s third best record.
This start is somewhat reminiscent of the Predators putting together a top 10 offense a couple of years ago despite having no stars up front. The key to that Predators team was the star power of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the blue line.
The story is similar in Phoenix with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle acting as the offensive hubs for the Coyotes. Granted, the Coyotes do have more talent up front than that Nashville team did including some pseudo stars in Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata but the situations are still similar.
I suppose you can argue that Shane Doan offers some star power as well. I don’t see him that way but he is hot right now. He notched two points last night and has points in five straight as well as nine of his last 10. I would personally sell high, however. It’s been forever since he was a 70-point threat.
OEL notched an assist last night and has points in four straight. Yandle did him one better with two points. They both have 16 points in 20 games this season and are probably producing a little over their heads but unless you are getting someone like Subban or Letang I don’t really see how you could sell high here.
Vrbata and Martin Hanzal both got back into the lineup last night. Hanzal was held scoreless but Vrbata got back into it with an assist.
All this scoring going both ways has not made owning Mike Smith all that easy. The Blackhawks pummelled him with rubber last night firing 52 shots. Smith stopped 48 of those so while he allowed four goals his play was still admirable. And that’s the thing about Smith this year, his save percentage is a respectable 0.918% but because the Coyotes are allowing so many shots he has just a 2.87 goals-against average.
In fact, the Coyotes have allowed the fourth most shots per game in the league this season (35.8), which is more than five more per game than they are taking. The Toronto Maple Leafs and to a lesser extent the Colorado Avalanche are getting all the attention for their unsustainably good play while getting so consistently outshot but the Coyotes are right there.
Only Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo the three teams below Phoenix in shot attempts allowed have a worse shot differential than the Coyotes.
If I had to guess I would say it’s the offensive bubble that is going to burst for Phoenix, especially considering the loaded Western Conference they play in.
For the Blackhawks there isn’t much to say as all of their top dogs got in on the action and really I already touched on the big news above.
Nick Leddy notched two assists to end a four-game scoreless drought. He is quietly on pace for a 40-point season, which is more than possible considering Chicago’s firepower.
Brandon Pirri scored a goal and continues to produce about a point every two games despite very limited minutes. He is due for some pull-back however shooting 23.5% so far but is skating on the second line with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane so he is in good company.
Well, well, well, JS Giguere is human, after all. Giggy took his league-leading save percentage (note, I’m not counting Petr Mrazek and his lone start, a shutout, in this) into St. Louis and got knocked back a couple pegs to merely a tie for third with Josh Harding at 0.947%. It was bound to happen, and frankly, it will continue to happen.
Somehow he didn’t get credit for the loss despite getting blitzed for five goals on 23 shots. Semyon Varlamov took the loss allowing two goals on six of the shots he faced.
It actually wasn’t a terrible game for anyone on the Avs from a fantasy perspective outside of the goaltenders. Yes, both PA Parenteau and Matt Duchene went minus-two but given the score it could have been worse and Duchene even chipped in with a goal and a fight.
Ryan O’Reilly was probably the Avs’ best skated with a goal and an assist.
Paul Stastny is on a hot streak with a single point in each of his last five games and ten points over his last nine in total. It’s too early to tell but this might be his bounce back year.
Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal in nearly two weeks and has quietly kept productive despite trailing off after his opening the season on fire.
Bruiser Patrick Bordeleau doubled his PIM output for the season last night dropping two 10-minute misconducts for a total of 20 on the night as things got out of hand in the third period.
It’s really hard to lose a game when your team spots you seven goals. Jaroslav Halak did more than enough to get the win but was honestly, just adequate, giving up three. His save percentage is an underwhelming 0.907% on the year. I know it’s hard to stay in it when your team plays so well defensively but Halak should do better.
Imagine this team with a stalwart between the pipes?
He’d probably duplicate whatever insanity Tim Thomas did a couple of years ago.
Speaking of insanity, Alex Steen…
What can you say? It’s beyond unbelievable. I don’t see how this stops. He is seemingly immune to regression.
Actually, I know exactly how this stops. Someone gets injured. Someone important.
The Blues have had very good health so far with only Jordan Leopold and Brenden Morrow missing significant time. It obviously comes to a halt if Steen himself gets hurt but this run probably goes to shit if David Backes (also too hot to handle), TJ Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk or even Jay Bouwmeester misses time. But maybe this perfect storm can continue to swirl for 65 more games. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
That gang sucked Derek Roy into their vortex of luck last night as he scored three points after going scoreless in his previous five. He skated just 12:22 but he got a spot on the top power play unit and that’s how he stumbled into all three of his points.
But really, everyone got in on the act as the Avalanche were in a giving mood. Even Patrick Berglund and Chris Stewart got points. There really isn’t much to take away from a game when the opposing goaltender comes up sieve.
Goligoski got three assists and is one more game like this from reaching a 40-point pace.
But really, this is about Benn and Seguin. Holy crap guys! In less than 30 minutes combined these two contributed five goals and 11 points.
Seguin scored four goals and added an assist. Benn had just one goal but piled on five assists. These are easily the best two fantasy performances of the season and at right around the quarter-pole that’s actually something worth bragging about.
Rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin who got a much-needed two points as he attempts to rally from a dreadful start to the season. He has been skating on the top line recently, which is obviously a positive considering what they are capable of.
You know who else got tugged along for the ride? Sergei Gonchar, who scored just his third point of the season.
On the other side the lone impressive performances went to Matt Stajan who scored two goals on six shots to end a four-game slump and David Jones who scored a goal and an assist ending a six-game drought.
These guys aren’t better than depth options so I wouldn’t be affected by their little burst.
Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman continue to receive the largest chunk of ice time for the Flames and each added an assist. If you are looking for fantasy worthy players in Calgary they don’t make ‘em better than these two.
Lee Stempniak is scoreless in two games since returning to the lineup and was minus-three last night but did fire five shots, which is a positive sign.
Mike Cammalleri’s three-game scoring streak came to an end last night.
What a heart-breaker for the Canucks as Tomas Hertl scored with just over a minute remaining in regulation to push the game into overtime and then the Sharks scored a power play marker to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Dan Boyle scored the OT winner and added an assist. He is on fire since returning to the lineup. He has points in five of six games for seven altogether. He’s old but he can still produce among the best of them.
Hertl keeps on chugging along and now has 11 goals on the year. I know he’s skating with the passing genius that is Joe Thornton but you have to figure his 20.8% shooting will come down at some point. After all, he’s no Steen.
Thornton, by the way, is riding a six-game scoring streak.
At 25 years old, Wingels is nearing the edge of the “youngster” moniker. But with a first name like Tommy, he’ll always be a kid in my eyes. But youngsters are impressionable. They see the big NHL stage and the superstars around them and model themselves after their favorites. Tommy Wingels took this in a different direction. He molded his game after three very different players.
You probably aren’t going to own Wingels in most leagues but he has a lot of value in rotisserie leagues that score hits and/or blocked shots. He is currently filling in for Brent Burns on the top line. Wingels will be back down to the third line once Burns returns but his cameo hints at a possible future on a top line somewhere. We’ve seen players who play a pesky game but have some offense stick on a top line before so don’t rule out 60-point upside long term, even though it’s a real long shot.
Kevin Bieksa scored the lone Canucks goal, it was his first of the year. It was a power play marker. Bieksa hasn’t been getting too much power play time this season but he was on the top unit last night. If Tortorella ever settles on a defense pairing for the power play and Bieksa happens to be on it his stock could be on the rise.
Alex Burrows got an assist, just his third point of the season but before you get too excited Burrows was still just a second unit guy last night but happened to change onto the first unit to get the assist. Not sure Burrows is ready to turn it around just yet.
A week after being sent down Filip Forsberg was recalled by the Predators.
The Sabres are just not a good team and I don’t think there’s much a new coach can do to help that situation. Meanwhile, Bryzgalov has long been a goalie in need of strong support on all levels. How’s he getting any support in Edmonton?
Sean McIndoe contrasts the Oilers’ failed rebuild with the Avalanche’s seemingly successful one. Seems to me that for every successful story of bottoming out and rising back up there is an equally miserable story of bottoming out and staying down.
Harrison Mooney with some satire on how loaded the Pacific Division is.
Jamie Benn with a beauty:
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.