Please have your say - vote on the better multi-category player between Dustin Byfuglien and David Backes. VOTE HERE!


Woah! Hey now, are these signs of competency I am seeing out of Evgeni Nabokov and the Islanders?


Nabokov has won two straight and three of his last four, all of which he has performed well in. He’s allowed three goals or less in all but one start since returning from injury. Seems to me like Nabokov is gunning for an Olympic spot.


The competition will be tough with Semyon Varlamov having a great season and Sergei Bobrovsky coming off his Vezina winning campaign. That third spot is wide open though and probably Nabokov’s to lose. I’d say his first half of the season might have cost him a spot but this recent rush puts him right back on track.


I like Nabokov as a third goalie in deeper leagues. His recent market correction has only done enough to get his save percentage above .900 and his goals-against average below 3.00 but an extended run like this gets him back to his averages from the past couple of seasons. Of course, that’s not how this stuff always works. The reality is that regression to the mean involves future performances occurring at a level near the mean not overcompensation for past deviations.


In any case, his current numbers are still ugly enough to scare people off but there’s a solid fantasy tender still there for the taking.


He’d be especially good if the Islanders could get Lubomir Visnovsky back from injury. He is still out with a concussion and there is no timetable for his return. This is all too reminiscent of Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger. In a sense, we should be thankful those high profile names went through what they did because the awareness around concussions in hockey has reached a level I’m not sure they would have otherwise.


The silver lining to Visnovsky continuing to miss time is that Andrew MacDonald’s fantasy relevance continues. Kudos to those of you who stuck it out through the bad times – MacDonald has now scored five points in the last three games.


The spoils are modest, MacDonald still isn’t scoring at a point-every-other-game pace and he barely fires the puck having not landed one shot over his current scoring streak but he’s also not the plus/minus sapping monster you might think a defenseman eating big minutes for the Islanders would be.


Kyle Okposo had his third straight multi-point effort scoring the overtime winner last night and adding an assist. He has now scored 13 points on a scoring streak stretched to eight games now. His recent flurry has brought him back up to the point-per-game mark, which leaves him on pace for a 30-goal/80-point season. Holy mackerel!


Buying Okposo has to have been the single best move I made all year. I was buying high at the time (I also sold high on Lars Eller) but considering the chemistry he was showing with John Tavares and the rave reviews he has received over the years for his work ethic and I just figured he was a can’t miss. Looking good right now.


It still feels a bit too good to be true – like Okposo should finish closer to 60 points than to 80 – but it’s hard to argue with what he has done through 42 games. The warning signs are clear, he is shooting 14.8%, which is about 50% than his career average. That’s due some regression but maybe skating with Tavares just does that to players. Also, Okposo has carried an abnormally high shooting percentage through a full season before so it’s not unthinkable he could do so again.


All told there’s more good than bad here. I promise to show more brevity when I write about Okposo in the Mid-Season Fantasy Guide.


After a brief pre-Christmas rush Michael Grabner has now failed to score in three straight games. Let’s see if he drag this slump out for two whole months like he did his last one.


The Checking Line takes a look at a prospect I’ve been following for quite some time now, Anders Lee.




You’d have figured Corey Crawford’s return to the lineup against the Islanders would have been a gimme but it can never be that easy can it? The Blackhawks did their best to provide support firing off 39 shots but to no avail.


Still, there were some notable performances.


Brent Seabrook scored a goal to help continue his hot run that may be locking down another Olympic appearance. I’m not saying he necessarily deserves it, Canada easily has eight defensemen who are better than him but he’s got the chemistry (with Duncan Keith), the experience and now he’s got the numbers having scored 13 points in his last 13 games to give him 29 in 43 for the year.


I still remember seeing Seabrook glued to the bench once the games got real serious. If you look back he averaged 8:26 per game but I swear once the round robin was over it must have been closer to 2:00. So yeah, if Canada needs a guy who knows how to work the door and warm the bench then Seabrook would make one hell of an Olympian again.


Kris Versteeg notched an assist last night. He has scored 16 points in 24 games with the Blackhawks so far. That scoring pace would see him score 55 points in an 82 game season, right around his career high of 54. He is what he is at this point.


Patrick Sharp got an assist of his own to keep himself among the top 10 scorers in the league (technically top 11). He sits tied for ninth with the aforementioned Okposo and Alexander Ovechkin, who will talk about more later. Sharp is pumping shots at an incredible rate and sits third in the league in that category. He could easily have a top-10 fantasy season if he keeps up this pace.




I don’t know why but I always presume that these Capitals-Hurricanes contests are going to be great big goal-scoring fantasy bonanzas. They rarely are so I don’t know where I got that idea. The reality is they scored less than five goals per game in their five contests last season. This season that has picked up a bit thanks to my hunch finally coming through.


You’d think that you could blame it on the backups taking hold of this game but Anton Khudobin was very strong stopping 38 of 41 shots in the overtime win. This was his first start since October and just his third decision of the season but he is now 3-0-0 with some solid numbers. Four games is an impossibly small sample size but between Khudobin and Justin Peters the Hurricanes might actually have some goaltending they can rely on now that Cam Ward is battling injuries for the second straight year.


Ward is also perpetually league average or worse, which is always a troublesome place to start. The Hurricanes can’t possibly trade him but if they could find a buyer right now do you think they would? I’d say yes because a team with an internal budget like Carolina could do themselves a huge favour by avoiding spending big money on a goalie.


In fact, why do teams spend big money on goalies at all? Seriously, this season has been ridiculous. It has been like the ultimate proving ground for my 100 capable goalies theory, which basically amounts to my believing that at any given moment there are around 100 goalies on Earth capable of stringing together a good run as a starter if given the opportunity and some luck.



Consider that the average save percentage is 0.914% this season. There are currently 36 goalies who have a save percentage at least that high. If you aren’t into small sample sizes then you can cut out the 10 goalies who have failed to start at least 10 games. That still leaves you with 26 guys producing league-average results and you would cringe if you saw all the big money goalies who are not playing up to that level.


But I digress…




Jeff Skinner carried the Hurricanes to the win last night scoring a hat trick that included the overtime winner. He has been on a torrid pace since returning from injury in late November. He has 21 points in 20 games in that time but particularly impressive is how 16 of those 21 points have been goals.


The best part (for me) is how he has single-handedly brought Eric Staal back from the dead. That’s actually probably a misnomer. Staal starts off slow EVERY year before taking off in December. I know this because I own Staal in just about every league I am in, every single year. He’s my ultimate fantasy crush for reasons I can’t even explain.


Regardless, these two are showing chemistry I never thought they could show to the point where I felt one of these two would always suffer depending on who was handed the lead role. I always kind of assumed that it would be Staal as top dog so I continued my fan boy ways all while looking down on Skinner’s upside.


Anyways, you know all about the fireworks those two are setting off. The real question is who gets to ride their coattails. For much of the time it has been Tuomo Ruutu but he is so lost he can’t even stumble into points skating with those two. In the past couple of games it’s been Alex Semin up on the top line. Semin is now riding a five-game scoring streak that will hopefully lead to more success in the second half.


Semin’s promotion breaks up his chemistry with Nathan Gerbe and Jordan Staal so their brief runs of relevance may be coming to a close.


Oddly enough, Ruutu has points in back-to-back games since receiving his demotion to the third line.




On the other side of the ice Philipp Grubauer put up his first clunker in a while and has now lost three straight. Never mind that two of those losses came via overtime or shootout, while the other one was an impressive loss while under siege in Ottawa, this still likely provides an opening for Braden Holtby to get back in net. He needs to take full advantage or risk falling into another goalie controversy.


Ovechkin ended his drought at four games with a goal last night. You certainly can’t accuse him of not trying to score though. He fired 31 shots on goal over that slump and landed another nine last night.


Adam Oates threw a bit of a curveball into the lines dropping Ovechkin back to the second unit with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr. It worked for Ovechkin, I suppose, but oddly enough his goal was assisted by Marcus Johansson, a guy he wasn’t supposed to be skating with anymore. Both Grabovski and Fehr were held off the board.


Johansson, by the way, notched two assists last night. He and Nicklas Backstrom were joined by Troy Brouwer on the top line. Brouwer notched a goal and warrants a look in the short term.


Brouwer’s season has been disappointing after his strong performance last season. It’s also been fairly predictable considering his career high for points is 40. He’s one of those big-bodied guys who could play the net presence role and go off for 60 if all the right things clicked. They did last year, there just weren’t enough games. Now his shooting percentage has regressed to the norm and he’s on pace to fall short of 40.




Hey, my Roman Josi pickup from last night is already paying dividends! Plus-one with one shot on goal. That’s infinity times better than what Kris Letang has done for me lately. For a greater explanation see yesterday’s ramblings.


Josi continues to play HUGE minutes alongside Shea Weber in all situations. That has me optimistic about Josi for the second half but the more I look at it, the more that feels like a pipe dream. Nashville currently has the 25th ranked offense in the league. On the plus side they have the eighth most efficient power play. The catch is they receive the 25th fewest power play opportunities in the league, which almost defeats the purpose of all that efficiency.


And look, Weber is on pace for 50 points despite these circumstances but Josi is riding shotgun. He’ll be lucky to get points even 60% of the time that Weber does. That leaves him looking at maybe 15 points in the second half, assuming he gathers few on his own. That lines up almost perfectly with his current scoring pace so all things considered maybe I shouldn’t be so optimistic.


The good news in Nashville is that with Josi and Weber eating the big minutes Seth Jones has been freed up to do more scoring:

As the coaching staff looks to find the right situations and amount of playing time for Jones, he has responded well. Trotz and Housley have the luxury of throwing Weber and Josi out on the ice for half the game and then some, so managing the minutes of the other defenseman is made somewhat easier, especially in home games when they have the last change.

So I guess it was Mike Fisher’s turn to be the hot forward this week. He notched two assists last night to give him three straight multi-point efforts. It always seems like there is one guy going but only one at any given time. Don’t pick up Fisher. It will be someone else’s turn next week.




Nicklas Svedberg (yes another freaking rookie goalie) made his NHL debut last night for Boston and was very solid claiming the overtime victory.


Brad Marchand scored the overtime winner for Boston. He has six goals in the last 10 games and is slowly waking from his early slumber.


So is Patrice Bergeron who assisted on the winner. He has points in four straight games now. Those two don’t see nearly the power play time they need to and given the injuries on the Bruins blue line they may have to play incredibly tough defensive minutes that will limit their offensive upside but I still think they were too dormant in the first half. I like them to pick up the pace, especially whenever Loui Eriksson returns from injury.


Over half of Torey Krug’s points this season have come on the power play. It’s no doubt then that when the Bruins power play slumps so does Krug.




So much for the #UnleashMontoya movement. Al Montoya was gouged for four goals by the Senators last night to put an end to his six-game winning streak (in starts). No matter. I still think Montoya is a better goaltender than Ondrej Pavelec, the problem is that you, me, your mother, the mailman, the Zamboni driver, a book of matches and several other inanimate objects are all better goaltenders than Pavelec.


Jacob Trouba has points in four straight games.


Nice game from Dustin Byfuglien following the US Olympic team snub. I’ll be interested to see how some of the guys held off the list respond over the coming weeks. Okposo and Byfuglien both came with big opening statements. Byfuglien is now on pace for 59 points this season. I’m curious how he holds up over the long haul. In the past he has fallen off in the second half but his off-season commitment to conditioning may give him the leg up he needs.




Bobby Ryan, on the other hand, did not have a big “response” after the announcement. It’s only one game so no conclusions here. Literally zero. I want to see how this plays out though. Ryan took some of the harshest criticism from USA hockey brass and did not take kindly to it. I don’t blame him but he seems to be taking it as well as can be expected.


With Jason Spezza injured the recently formed trio of Mika Zibanejad, Milan Michalek and Cory Conacher has found some success. They combined for five points last night.


For Conacher the equation is simple: minutes = success. He has five points in his last three games and has skated over 14 minutes in each of them. Conacher has eight points in 13 games where he has skated at least 14 minutes this season and just six points in 28 games where he has skated less than that. Of course, minutes = success is true for almost anyone.


Craig Anderson has now won four straight games. Probably time to jump in on this. Ottawa needs points. Gotta ride the hot hand.




I don’t care if it came against the rookie Martin Jones, the St. Louis Blues have got to feel ecstatic about last night’s dominant win over the Kings, especially with Alexander Steen and David Backes out of the lineup.


The Kings have tormented the Blues ousting them from the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons and dominating them in the regular season as well.


Jaden Schwartz is filling in admirably with the two top dogs out, though his hot streak can be traced back well before then. Either way, he has scored 21 points in his last 19 games. I have my doubts about him maintaining this once Steen and Backes return because of the lack of power play time Schwartz receives so start shopping him now (in one-year leagues).


Schwartz’s ability to step up has kept TJ Oshie fat and happy (Ken Hitchcock as well, all too literally). Oshie has four goals and five points in the last three games.


Vladimir Tarasenko is starting to get in on the action as well with six points in the last five games. I’ve got very little confidence in his ability to sustain this production even though his minutes had risen to above 15 in each of the last nine games before last night.


The most ridiculous numbers on the Blues might still go to their trio of blue liners. Alex Pietrangelo is on pace for 52 points, so is his defense partner Jay Bouwmeester. Kevin Shattenkirk leads the way with a 60-point pace though.


With Jaroslav Halak officially down it is time to start riding the Brian Elliott wave. I hate to promote Smelliott like this but there’s no questioning what he can do behind this stacked team.




Jones got a really early hook from Darryl Sutter last night, yanking the netminder after just the second goal. Neither goal was pretty but they both came on the power play after some strange bounces in front. Not sure what Jones was supposed to do other than be perfect like he had been earlier this season.


Ben Scrivens came on in relief and fared even worse. Maybe Sutter just felt the temperature of the game and figured he’d give Jones a break. He has not lost three straight but I’m not sure you can blame him for any one of them but the first one in Dallas.


Scrivens, by the way, has also lost three straight and the Kings have lost five in a row now, all in regulation.


There is a laundry list of Kings slumping right now so here goes:


Tyler Toffoli hasn’t scored in six straight games now.


Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams have each been held off for four straight.


Mike Richards has just one point in the last 10 games, while Slava Voynov has one in the last six.


Jake Muzzin has ceased to exist altogether.




Nothing like a visit from the Buffalo and the Wooden Sabres to cure what ails you. The Minnesota Wild had dropped six straight contest before last night’s win. Embattled goaltender Niklas Backstrom had personally lost eight in a row, all in regulation.


They got a reprieve for one night anyway.


Even the offense got it going scoring four goals (albeit one into an empty net). Unfortunately, their power play continues to drift down the efficiency standings after an 0/4 night. They now sit 13th but you know that’s going to keep falling.


Despite the miserable play there are some hot streaks going on in Minnesota right now.


Mikko Koivu has six points in the last four games.


Mikael Granlund has four points in six games since returning from injury.


Ryan Suter has 11 points in his last 11 games.


The hottest one of them all is Dany Heatley’s corpse, which has scored a staggering two points in the last 13 games despite an increase in ice time with Zach Parise now on the IR. Highest scoring zombie in the league!




Buffalo… *sigh*… I don’t even want to talk about Buffalo.




You know what I think about the Montreal Canadiens shelling Kari Lehtonen after I started him last night?



He had been riding such a hot streak I though he was impervious to danger. Apparently, not so.


Shawn Horcoff and Ray Whitney both missed last night’s contest with the flu but are we sure it’s not osteoporosis?


Alex Chiasson took Whitney’s spot on the top power play unit. He failed to score last night but did contribute two assists in that role in a game earlier this week. He hasn’t done much of late but that owes to a serious decrease in ice time since Valeri Nichushkin stepped his game up.




Max Pacioretty and PK Subban each had four points last night, those damn fantasy wreckers!


David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, Pacioretty’s linemates, were happy to ride along with two points each. I think something like 85% of Desharnais’ points over the past three years have come with Pacioretty on the ice. With Pacioretty back and humming Desharnais has picked himself off the mat and made himself fantasy worthy once again.


Desharnais is on pace for 40 points now but he could easily finish with 50 at this rate. Definitely one of the better grabs for the second half, especially in points-only formats.


It’s worth mentioning that despite his usual big minutes Andrei Markov was held scoreless last night. He has just five points in the last 17 games and is trending downward in the second half. I don’t trust Markov and his bionic knees for a second so I suggest getting out while you still can.




I was all set to post this great article on how Michael Raffl continues to impress on the Flyers’ top line and he goes and gets himself concussed in the first period of last night’s game. Not his fault of course.


With Matt Read already out of the lineup that left the Flyers scrambling to find lines that worked. They notably did not want to break up the Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds line that had been working so well but did so anyhow bumping Schenn onto the top line for stretches and giving Sean Couturier the second line center spot.


Despite the line shifting Simmonds and Hartnell manage to find the lone Flyer goal as well as firing five and four shots respectively. The point helped stretch Hartnell’s scoring streak to six games. Simmonds has a donut recently on his record but has 12 points in the last eight games all the same.


As hot as those two are Vinny Lecavalier is NOT. He has just one point in six games since returning from his latest injury.


Steve Mason played well but saw his five-game winning streak come to an end.




I did not like what I saw from the Colorado Avalanche line combinations last night:




Line Combination













Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny are clear winners gaining Ryan O’Reilly on their line. Landeskog extended his five-game scoring streak last night.


It may not actually matter who Matt Duchene skates with as he managed an assist last night. He could very well push Jamie McGinn to some solid production over the short term.


Nathan MacKinnon is the big loser in all of this as he sees his minutes cut and is forced to play with fourth-liners. He has already seen his production fall off enough.


Probably not that surprising since his minutes had been cut in the two previous games but Tyson Barrie found himself scratched last night. I was optimistic he might have found a regular home finally especially after a nice little four-game scoring streak in mid-December. Not so much. He had been leading the Avalanche in power play time in many games prior to last night’s scratching. Back to square one.


Erik Johnson continues to see big power play minutes though. He has really come around this season. He has now scored nine points in his past nine games, which has been magnificent since I’ve had him on my roster for that entire streak. I picked him up for schedule reasons and nothing else and have rode him for two solid weeks now.


I don’t expect Johnson to finish the season on my roster but I love when a short-term pick up pays off for an extended stretch.




Here comes the cavalry for the Blue Jackets!


Nathan Horton made his debut for Columbus last night and made an immediate impact with a goal.


Check out the Blue Jackets’ lines from last night courtesy of FrozenPool:




Line Combination

















Cam Atkinson clearly gets the shaft on this one dropping from the top line and from the power play altogether.


Interesting development, Ryan Murray led the Blue Jackets in power play time last night. Anybody know how long this has been going on? He was paired up with James Wisniewski on the top unit and they both notched assists.


I’m not overly interested in Murray because I don’t really see much offensive upside, especially not right away but what this does is push the slumping Jack Johnson off the power play effectively killing what little fantasy value he had remaining.


Sergei Bobrovsky also made his return to the Blue Jackets lineup last night but he sat while Curtis McElhinney dropped an impressive shutout. Think that’s enough to ignore the 10 goals he’d given up over his previous two starts though? Yeah, me neither. Bob gets back in the saddle soon enough.




Was anyone else expecting a late flurry from the Coyotes? Don’t get me wrong, they put one on outshooting Columbus 21-10 in the final frame, they just didn’t manage to tie the game like I expected. They had pushed their previous six contests to overtime and I totally expected that to continue. 


All the loser points they’ve assembled have single-handedly kept them afloat in the playoff race while the Dallas Stars put on a surge. Well, I guess not single-handedly – the Minnesota Wild’s own slump has helped as well.


The big news in this one is that star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson went down with an upper body injury in the first period and did not return. They cannot afford to lose him for any amount of time.




I’m not touching the predictable destruction of the Oilers at the hands of the Sharks in the late game beyond pointing out that Logan Couture has scored goals in three straight games now. You can do it Couture!


He is on pace for just 66 points now, which is not the superstar breakout I was pegging him for a month ago. A seven-game drought will do that to you. The good news is that he is shooting just 8.7% as a career 12.1% shooter. Some positive regression gets him right back in the saddle.


Okay, fine, one more point. Bracken Kearns also has goals in three straight since his recent call up. He hasn’t seen much ice time but has seen second unit power play time. On this team that’s worth a look.




Dobber runs down the 20 Biggest Shocks, Stars and Trends in 2013.


It’s really sad how many of those were injury related. Like, really, really, really sad.




USA Hockey accidentally told a 67-year-old man he had made the Olympic team. Pretty funny stuff.




Not all that surprising but Gilbert Brule is retiring from hockey.




Nice move by Marchand on the winner:





You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.

Write comment
Comments (12)add comment

donpaulo said:

January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

kidd said:

Hilarious commentator comment Oilers score in the first minute, then the ducks match it 46 seconds into the game. So 1-1 only 46 seconds played. Commentator pipes in "first one to 10 wins" LOL
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

toddmackay said:

Goalies this year Steve, do you think this season will have a record breaking number of goalies to suit up this year? There just seems to be so many different players playing, it's crazy!
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

metaldude26 said:

Thanks for the comments! repenttokyo - you might be right but I think the cap fluctuation kind of throws things out of whack. I'll bet they are among the lower cap teams again next year even with all those big money deals.

bletchley - I agree with that sentiment. He has been dry, which will happen to defensemen from time to time. His power play minutes have remained up though - second on the team only to Subban with over 4 minutes per game. I'm just saying he's no longer blowing us away with production where we might ignore his injury riddled past.

rataylor - I was only going off of what the Caps do, Ovechkin wore the gray "2nd line" jersey in practice, which makes that the second line. Semantics, really.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

bullwinkle said:

Brule doesn't need to retire He can always join the Sabres!
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

rataylor22 said:

Line Combos.....UGH!!!! Teams/coaches frustrate me so much sometimes! You get a line that is playing great together and then for no apparent reason just split them up because why not. Benn-Seguin-Nichuskin has been money all season when they have played together, and again last night Nichu was off that line and Chaisson was playing with Seguin-Benn. And this is coming from a Seguin-Benn owner, I don't own Nichu anywhere but those three play so well together. And yes Nichu scored last night, but it was on a penalty shot so that has nothing to do with his line. Just ridiculous.

Agree on Seabrook. It is absolutely silly for anyone to say he should be on the Olympic team. There are easily 10-15 guys I would take before Seabrook, and probably more than that. Duncan Keith + pylon would be almost as good as Duncan Keith with Seabrook. Put Seabrook on any other team and he wouldn't even be in the conversation.

I would never call Ovechkin's line the second line, regardless of his center. As a Grabo owner, I hope this sticks for a while but I doubt it will.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

bletchley said:

... Markov isn't trending downward at all. He's just dry of late. that'll change with how much PP time he gets.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

repenttokyo said:

i don't think the canes have an internal budget anymore not with 3 players signed at 7 mil each and only 3 mil in cap space.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

fulcrum said:

... Unreal.....Great rambling.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

mojavedesert said:

inanimate objects I have a $100 bill that says it is not as good a goaltender as Pavelec. smilies/cheesy.gif
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

Excelsior said:

... Monster ramblings +++
January 03, 2014
Votes: +0

baumer said:

... Wow! Incredible write up Steve. I love reading your recaps. Well done sir.
January 03, 2014
Votes: +1
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