The NHL is back! I know they were only off for three nights but I swear it felt like they were gone for a month. Maybe it’s all the rum and eggnog I drank over these past few days to help pass the time or maybe I’m just a fantasy addict. Either way, I’m glad to have some actual games to cover in these ramblings.
Even after last night’s trouncing at the hands of the Boston Bruins Robin Lehner’s stats remain well ahead of Craig Anderson’s. Lehner sits with a 2.68 GAA and a 0.922 Save%, which is pretty good considering the fire he has taken this season from opponents.
This is more about how poorly the Senators are playing than anything else though. The Sens were outshot 42-33 last night, which has been a recurring theme this year. The Sens have actually done a good job of getting shots of their own. They currently rank third in the league in shots per game. The problem is that they allow even more ranking third worst in the league in shots allowed. Last year’s Corsi darlings are finding themselves on the wrong end of the possession game this year and it’s killing their goaltenders.
Senators defenseman Patrick Wiercioch received his fourth straight healthy scratch.
Rookie Cody Ceci has been skating in his stead but has just two points in eight games this season. I prefer Ceci out of the two long term but I think it’s time to get Wiercioch back in the lineup.
On the other side of the ice Tuukka Rask pitched a 33-save shutout. Credit the Boston penalty killers for not allowing a single shot on goal on three Sens power plays. They even scored one short-handed, courtesy of Brad Marchand.
Rask is the best goalie to own in fantasy right now and I would trade any other goaltender to get him.
Reilly Smith is thorough enjoying his time alongside Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The trio combined for seven points last night of which Smith contributed two goals. He’s now scored seven points in the past three games.
I never would have guessed a couple of years ago that he’d be the more productive of the Smith brothers (his brother is Brendan Smith of the Red Wings) but here we are. Brendan is just trying to find consistency at the NHL level and Reilly is on pace for a 60-point season. Not bad for a sophomore.
Of course, Smith is currently shooting 21.9% on the season, which is so ridiculously high that you know he’s due for some regression. At the same time his on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five is only 8.88%, which is only slightly above league average so perhaps he isn’t due for as much regression as you’d think.
After slumping earlier this month Torey Krug has gotten back on track with points in two straight, which is hardly much of a run but a good sign nonetheless. Both points were power play markers, which makes sense. The Bruins boast one of the league’s best power plays and Krug mans the top unit. He’s been put in an excellent position to succeed.
Congratulations to the New Jersey Devils for clawing out a point in last night’s miserable game against the Blue Jackets. They managed only 17 shots in a 65 minute affair. What the hell?
The lone Devils goal was scored by the usual suspects in New Jersey: Adam Henrique, Marek Zidlicky and Patrick Elias. Despite the heroics of Jaromir Jagr this season if I had to trust three players to score for me on the Devils it would probably be those three.
Which isn’t to dump on some of the other guys in the swamp, I just trust them the most. Next up on my list would probably be Jagr and rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas. Gelinas hasn’t scored in four games now but I’m not overly concerned just yet.
Ryane Clowe made his return to the Devils lineup for the first time since October 13. He was eased back in skating just 10:38 on 13 shifts. He could add a necessary dynamic for the Devils if he can get healthy, which could be the difference between making a playoff push and embarrassingly forfeiting a lottery pick.
Curtis McElhinney got the win for the Blue Jackets. He has done fantastic work keeping the Blue Jackets afloat with Sergei Bobrovsky sidelined. Bobrovsky is travelling with the team and could be back soon but if the Blue Jackets can manage to rally back into the playoff hunt they can thank McElhinney for helping them tread water.
The Cam Atkinson-Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov line is starting to gain some traction. The trio combined for the lone Jackets goal last night. Anisimov now has five points in the past four games, while the other two have scored three apiece over that span.
For all the flack being given to the Toronto Maple Leafs for getting consistently outshot by hilarious amounts the Washington Capitals have been nearly as bad but no one is giving them much trouble about it. The Capitals are the second worst team in the league in terms of shots allowed, second only to those Leafs.
Last night was much of the same for Washington as they clawed out a 3-2 win despite being outshot 40-34. That’s not necessarily a huge margin but considering the score was always close there were no blowout effects in play.
Philipp Grubauer continues to be exceptional for the Capitals as he becomes yet another impressive young goalie to come through Washington. His story is particularly impressive because I remember writing him off when he was drafted because of his pitiful junior numbers. He never once had a GAA below 3.00 or a save percentage above 0.910 at that level, which is like the bare minimum for decency at that level. Then when Grubauer jumped to pro he had to start at the ECHL where he put up career numbers but by that point he was a forgotten man to me.
Credit the Capitals’ goaltending coaches. A great deal of credit has been given to the coaching of Mitch Korn in Nashville and Sean Burke in Phoenix but the Capitals have had a similar run of churning out talented netminders.
I still think that Braden Holtby is the guy for Washington going forward, both this season and into the future but I’ve felt that way before only for a shakeup to come. All I know is that this has made Michal Neuvirth expendable. Suddenly there are a bunch of teams carrying more than a couple of talented goaltenders to the point where the market is so saturated I’d be surprised if a team could get more than a fourth rounder for one of these backups. That basically means they are better off keeping all three unless they are Carolina where all three goalies have one-way deals so someone has to move.
All that highlights for me is how embarrassing it is that the Oilers still can’t find a goalie. I mean, if you want to talk bold moves how about going out and paying one of these great goalie coaches like $3 million a year to beef up the talent coming through the system?
Back to the game, the Capitals won on a late goal from Eric Fehr, who has five points in the last six games. He has quietly turned himself into a productive player skating on the Capitals’ second line and second power play unit. Be forewarned, Fehr is a serious Band-Aid Boy. He’s already missed nine games this year and it’s that missing of games that derailed what was once a promising career. It’s nice to see he’s finally become an impact player but that only goes so far.
I didn’t realize this until last night but Nicklas Backstrom took the team lead in scoring away from Alexander Ovechkin earlier this week. With Ovy held off the board while Backstrom scored another two points that distance has magnified. Backstrom is the Capitals’ most important player and it is fun to see him have the scoring title now too.
Their linemate, Marcus Johansson has now failed to score in three straight games. I wouldn’t be concerned until I see him bumped off the top line though.
Dmitri Orlov has now skated in 12 straight games for the Capitals after getting dicked around by them earlier this year. It was always a noodle-scratcher that he couldn’t find his way into the lineup even when the Capitals were dealing with some injuries. He’s clearly an NHL calibre defenseman and has some serious upside too. He notched his first power play point of the season last night but did so with just 44 seconds of ice time on the man advantage. Temper your expectations for now but he’s one to look out for in the future.
Cam Talbot made his third straight start for the Rangers and literally the worst case scenario happened – he played well but lost anyway. Sure the loss gives the Rangers an excuse to go back to Henrik Lundqvist but they never really needed one to do so. Instead, they suffer another loss when they are trying to fight to stay afloat and Talbot was good enough that you could probably excuse giving him another whirl. We are nowhere near goalie controversy time yet but it is coming because Lundqvist has stunk and is probably playing hurt.
I was listening to a recent BS Report podcast by Bill Simmons and he went off on a tangent about how he thought Sweden was such a good bet for the upcoming Winter Olympics because of how they’d get to ride Lundqvist. I couldn’t resist emailing a response to discuss how stupid I thought that theory was. Sorry, it’s just the wrong year to get on board with Lundqvist. Maybe this extended break is exactly what he needed to get healthy but if this doesn’t resolve the issue then you can bet Lundqvist is going to be hurting come Olympics because, believe it or not, they are only 46 days away. Lundqvist will have had eight days off when he starts tomorrow against Tampa Bay (assuming he starts) so if he was going to get healthy now is the time. FINGERS CROSSED!
Having said all this, NHL.com clearly thinks otherwise. But I do think Sweden is a good bet for the Olympics. They have a stacked group of forwards and the best group of defensemen in the tournament. I just don’t think you pick Sweden based on Lundqvist because this year he has stunk.
I already outlined this earlier this year but if I am laying money on any one goalie to win the Olympics for me (and I most certainly have), it’s definitely going to be Tuukka Rask. You can get Finland at 12/1 right now!
I recently scooped Mats Zuccarello off the wire only for him to go “cold” on me. He has now failed to score in back-to-back games. I’m giving him some more time though because he’s been very good of late.
Despite all their injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins keep getting the job done. It helps that they play in the dreadful Eastern Conference and thus only have to face real NHL talent about once a month but you can only play the hand you are dealt and they are doing a great job of it.
Jussi Jokinen and James Neal erupted with three points apiece last night. Largely skating together on the second line though Neal did spend a fair amount of time up on the top line as well. They even paired together at four-on-four to score the overtime winner.
That has to be sweet revenge for Jokinen who the Hurricanes could barely even give away last year. I never understood why they went about things the way they did. Surely he wasn’t such a locker room disruption that they literally paid to see him gone. Whatever the case, the Penguins have Jokinen at a bargain price because the Hurricanes are paying half his salary to help beat them up.
Jokinen has scored six points in three games against the Hurricanes this year. That’s probably coincidence but it doesn’t make it any less sweet for him.
Brooks Orpik made his return to the Penguins lineup, which while not all that fantasy relevant is still a good sign.
The second line fared much better with Nathan Gerbe’s two points leading the way. Gerbe has scored seven points in his last ten games and warrants a look as this second unit gains steam now that Alex Semin is healthy.
Semin, by the way, hasn’t done a ton since returning to the lineup. He has scored just four points in six December games but he is improving and has fired a ton of shots (21) in that span, which is positive.
Jordan Staal, the third member of that line, has now scored eight points in his last nine games.
Justin Peters made his third straight start for the Hurricanes and has lost all three. He has kept the Hurricanes in games though, with two of those losses coming in overtime.
I don’t know what the Hurricanes do with their trio of goaltenders but it seems pretty clear that Peters is, at the very least, a quality backup, which is something Cam Ward definitely needs to push him.
I’m so very glad the Buffalo Sabres went out and acquired Linus Omark just to skate him fewer than 10 minutes per game. Listen, it’s justifiable, they played a competitive game on the road pushing a likely playoff team to a draw, it’s just frustrating to see as a fantasy guy because he’s obviously not going to produce under such circumstances.
John Scott scored his first goal in nearly four years, which was a nice bonus if you happened to have rostered him hunting some PIM last night.
Props to Matt Moulson for continuing to be productive without John Tavares. I felt like Moulson was finally starting to feel the sting when he opened the month with a five-game scoreless drought but he’s gotten right back at it with six points in his last six games. This is going to go a long way towards earning him a fat contract this summer now that he’s proving he can score away from a top centerman. All the same, I’m sure we’d all feel more comfortable if he was skating with someone as talented as Tavares again.
Former Sabres GM Darcy Regier deserves a new job just for swindling extra assets out of that Moulson-Vanek redundant exchange. That trade is looking worse and worse by the day.
Zemgus Girgensons is enjoying his time under new head coach Ted Nolan. He’s now riding a three-game scoring streak and has eight points in the last 12 games. Not sure he’s worth grabbing outside of the deepest of leagues but it’s clear he’s embracing a larger role.
Nice work by the Leafs bouncing back from a bad opening period to take a 3-2 lead with three straight goals in the second period.
Phil Kessel scored his first goal in two weeks and hopefully his two-point night gets him back on track. Wait, what am I saying? I don’t own Kessel in any pools. Boo! Let the slump continue.
Cody Franson also had a two-point game, which helped elevate him above the 0.5 points per game mark.
Dion Phaneuf had himself a fantasy line to make note of with one assist, 12 PIM and five SOG. My fantasy team thanks you, Dion. Phaneuf did go minus-one for the game, but as I mentioned earlier this week we should expect some pullback on Phaneuf’s plus/minus over the second half.
Here’s a weird stat: Joffrey Lupul has only scored in three of his past 16 games. He has nine points in that span, thanks to some serious multi-point efforts but the reality is he is laying more eggs than Mother Goose.
Jonathan Bernier made his third straight appearance for the Leafs and has pushed each contest into an extra period. He lost the previous two but came out ahead in this one.
Reviewing all of these Eastern Conference games got me thinking – one of the wonderful consequences of how miserable the East has been this year is the second life it has given to teams like New Jersey, Columbus, etc.
Because everyone in the East has been bad these teams have remained in the hunt despite some serious early season struggles. Many of these teams have simply been disappointing despite some real talent on their roster. Now they have to figure if they can just get it together they can take a serious run at it. The West is nowhere near as forgiving.
Look at the Eastern playoff race right now. Assuming Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa Bay and Montreal are all locks here’s how the rest of the race shapes up:
Washington – 44
Detroit – 43
Toronto – 43
Philadelphia – 38
Columbus – 38
NY Rangers – 38
New Jersey – 38
Carolina – 37
Ottawa – 37
My goodness is that ever a cluster of mediocrity.
Looking back on my bet against the Leafs making the playoffs I suddenly realize that part of what seduced me was how many teams there were within striking distance. The problem is that all of these teams are going to be actively stealing points from one another like Washington did from New York or Columbus did from New Jersey.
You can certainly make a case for any of these teams rising up and snatching a playoff spot and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The Chicago Blackhawks exacted revenge on the Avalanche for last month’s 5-1 blowout in Colorado. They trounced the Avs 7-2 in Chicago last night and it wasn’t even close. They outshot the Avs 37-18 and have now outshot opponents 74-30 in their past two games. This is why I say the Blackhawks shouldn’t bother spending on a goalie. Antti Raanta has made 10 straight starts now and the team has picked up 16 of a possible 20 points. They could probably stick a broomstick in goal and win with ease.
Patrick Sharp led the way for Chicago with a hat-trick as part of a four-point night that got him back on a point-per-game pace.
Jonathan Toews also got four points, his third such game this year.
Niklas Hjalmarsson notched a couple of assists last night. He has slowed down after a hot start to the season but I could see him finishing with around 30 points and solid peripherals, which should play in deeper leagues.
I sincerely hope you didn’t have JS Giguere in net last night as he was on the hook for all seven Blackhawks goals in just two periods of play. Semyon Varlamov came on for the third and the Blackhawks were kind enough to let up with no goals.
I picked a great night to dump Nathan MacKinnon in my one-year pool. I’d been carrying him for a while now despite my logjam at RW with only two roster spots nightly and Ovechkin, Ryan Kesler, Johansen and Radim Vrbata all ahead of him. Some of those guys have multi-position eligibility but on most nights I just wasn’t finding room for him. And then tonight I drop him and the Avs top line gets blitzed.
All three of MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene were shutout and went minus-three to halt what had been an impressive scoring streak.
I just wish I’d also dumped Erik Johnson who went minus-four last night. I’ll see how he bounces back though because before last night he’d scored six points in five games.
If there’s a silver lining to be had it’s that the Avs second line has started to click with each of PA Parenteau, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny getting on the board for the second straight game following some real slumps.
Things just keep on getting worse for the Minnesota Wild and Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom has now dumped eight straight games, all in regulation, including the last four since taking over for Josh Harding.
But I’m not even sure that Harding would be saving the Wild right now as they have played some miserable hockey for the last month or so and as I mentioned earlier this week, they don’t even look like a playoff team (they currently aren’t one).
There were some silver linings though. The Wild offense finally woke up with Mikko Koivu scoring his first goal in eight games.
Charlie Coyle ended a small three-game scoreless drought of his own.
Mikael Granlund has points in three straight since returning from injury.
Jason Pominville even chipped in with a couple of assists, which is practically unheard of the way his season has gone.
Dany Heatley’s corpse, dragging ass on the second line, even found the back of the net.
For the Jets this was the perfect storm of things I want to see.
Blake Wheeler continues to find the back of the net this month. He scored two goals last night to give him nine in December, this after not scoring one for all of November.
With Wheeler scoring Andrew Ladd got on the board with a couple of assists. His December has been much more trying but he does have four points in his last four games so perhaps this is where things start to trend upward.
Tobias Enstrom scored a goal, albeit on an empty net but baby steps, right?
Dustin Byfuglien also scored a goal, his first since November 21.
Evander Kane notched a shortie and fired eight shots on net.
Most importantly, because I seem to have goalie vendettas, Ondrej Pavelec got chased after conceding three goals on six shots. Al Montoya then came on to stop 22 of 23 for the win. I don’t know for sure that Montoya’s good enough to start for the Jets but I do know that Pavelec is not.
This whole Carter Hutton starting games thing needs to stop. I don’t know how the Predators went back to him after his last few starts but somehow he has played five in a row and lost all of them. Well, actually that’s not true. He’s lost four of them. One game he got yanked with no decision on his record. Boo-urns.
With those two gobbling up so many minutes rookie Seth Jones was limited to just 11:01. He has seen his minutes cut significantly in quite a few games of late and I’m writing him off in one-year leagues.
Ryan Ellis has points in three of the last four games but is right down there with Jones at around 11 minutes so I’m not buying him just yet.
Craig Smith’s scoring streak came to an end at three games last night. He didn’t even manage a shot. He’s still on the radar though.
The rest of the Stars’ top line was held quiet last night but Jamie Benn kept things rolling with his fifth point in the last four games.
The big news was Alex Goligoski notching a couple of assists. He’s now sitting on 13 points in 36 games, which is still well off where he needs to be but if he goes for 22 points over the final 45 games he’s looking at a 35-point season, which is nothing to shake your fist at.
Erik Cole hasn’t done much of anything this year but holy man, he’s scored six goals this month, which is almost making him look like a competent fantasy asset again.
I have completely given up on Ray Whitney. Stick a fork in him. He’s down to skating like 12 minutes per game for the Stars because he just isn’t a very useful player. They are still giving him plenty of power play time so there is still the chance for a revival but realistically the dream is over and the magic is dead. Hand over your robes and your wand Mr. Wizard.
Acknowledging that I made a joke about the Oilers not being able to find a competent goaltender above Devan Dubnyk notched his second shutout of the season. This was against the Calgary Flames though and they have as much kick as a legless mule.
Honestly, this was just a dreadful game for fantasy purposes unless you scooped up Ryan Smyth for a laugh. He scored the only two goals, one of which was an empty-netter.
That lack of offense meant good things for Flames starter Reto Berra who stopped 26 of 27 shots in the loss. Berra is enjoying a nice little run here in December having conceded three goals or fewer in all five starts this month. That’s hardly enough of a sample to draw conclusions about though.
Sean Monahan is seeing some serious chunks taken out of his ice time of late. He did skate 2:22 on the power play but was at only 10:26 overall. He doesn’t deserve more ice time because he clearly isn’t ready for a starring role at this level but you also hate to see him so limited.
Mike Cammalleri, on the other hand, skated over 22 minutes including nearly four with the man advantage.
Mikael Backlund was also up over 22 minutes but that’s because he spent over four minutes killing penalties. Backlund is Cammalleri’s linemate but I would much prefer the latter to the former.
I don’t know if any of you are still hanging on but Lee Stempniak has now gone nine games without scoring. I didn’t expect much from Stempniak beyond a 50-point pace and some decent shot totals. The shots have been there, he’s shooting more than three per game but the scoring has not been and his minus-18 rating for the year has made him deadweight for my fantasy team.
My apologies to Logan Couture and his fantasy owners around the world. Since anointing him as a superstar breaking out earlier this month Couture has gone into a tailspin scoring just two points in ten games including the current seven game drought he is riding.
I don’t know what to say other than it’s been tough luck. His linemates are scoring, so is the top power play unit on which he skates. He is even firing the puck a ton. He just can’t muster a point right now for whatever reason.
The Sharks’ top line is having no such issues. The trio of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns combined for two goals and six points last night. Pavelski has points in three straight since being promoted to the top line.
Jason Demers has quietly put together a three-game scoring streak, including power play points in each of the past two games. He bears watching if he can continue to produce with the man-advantage. He’s only a second unit guy so don’t get your hopes up.
It’s a rare occasion when the Phoenix Coyotes outshoot someone but they managed to pull that trick off last night against the Sharks to help them claw out an important point against their division rivals. They lost the shootout but whatever.
Credit third liner David Moss for much of the draw as he scored the Coyotes’ first two goals. Moss is a lot like Fehr above. He showed some promise early in his career but injuries derailed any hope of being a real star. Now all you can hope is he has one of those random seasons that third liners have. Even with Phoenix’s offensive explosion this season Moss has been unproductive.
Keith Yandle put an end to a five-game drought last night. I told you it was only a matter of time.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s drought continues however. I suspect it will end soon as well.
Happy Birthday Mr. Sharp, you’re a beauty:
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.