Writing "2014" into my Ramblings headline felt really strange, and probably will for a couple of weeks. Before we get started: I'd like to wish a happy new year to all of the fine readers who make up this community!

 

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Team Canada lost at the IIHF's U20 World Junior Championships on Saturday, falling 5-1 to a Finnish team that were 1/14 longshots to win the tournament at the outset. With a handful of top-players like Rasmus Ristolainen, Teuvo Teravainen, Jusso Ikonen and Juuse Saros in tow, I thought from the outset that it was very odd that Finland's U20 side was priced so far back of Team Canada, the Russians and the Swedes.

 

Though the Finns go into Sunday's championship game against the host country Sweden as underdogs, they're really just a couple of power-play goals and another nice game from Saros from winning gold. This is one of those times I really wish I still gambled on hockey.

 

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Nice rant here from my Nations colleague Cam Charron on how "safe play" and "conservative roster selections" cost Team Canada at the tournament. I'm loath to agree with Don Cherry, but I honestly do think that Team Canada would've been a more formiddable side with Connor Brown, Max Domi and Darnell Nurse among others. If you need a checking forward: Scott Laughton and Bo Horvat, who are also very capable offensive players, can do that. But what good is a fourth line when you're down 5-1 anyway?

 

Watching Canada take on Russia in the first period of their game on Sunday morning, and the skill gap is apparent again.

 

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When you see the quality of the young players being developed in the USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and even Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, I really think Canada needs to relax with the "it's our game" expectations in international competition.

 

First of all: the growth of hockey in other countries is a good thing for the sport as a whole and being threatened by it is churlish. Secondly: we're probably putting too much pressure on teenage skaters with this "gold or bust" mentality. I mean, gold should always be the goal, but medalling at all should be considered a success. Same goes for Sochi in my view...

 

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I don't think Joe Thornton is going to make Team Canada - there have been reports that Team Canada has decided on five centreman who will play centre (Toews, Bergeron, Crosby, Tavares, Getzlaf), and while the likes of Giroux, Stamkos can bump to the wing, Thornton can't - and I'd be surprised if Patrick Marleau did.

 

Now look I don't really buy the "Kunitz chemistry with Crosby" argument personally (buying into the false value of a partnership is what got Gus Fring blown up), but one area where I do think familiarity can pay off is with the man-advantage. Systems take on a greater degree of importance five-on-four and it's tough to cobble together anything sophisticated with a new group of players who aren't particularly familiar with one another for a short, single game elimination tournament. Also in those tournaments: the marginal value of every additional power-play goal is very high.

 

The Sharks have boasted the best power-play for years now, and generate shots at a sky-high rate and I've long thought Team Canada should just staff the fourth-line and the extra forward slot with the Sharks first power-play unit power-play (say: a Thornton, Couture, Marleau fourth-line with Burns as an extra forward who can also play D)...

 

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Okay let's get to Saturday night's games starting with an injury roundup. The Maple Leafs lost Carl Gunnarsson and David Clarkson to injury in the first period of a 7-1 blowout loss to the New York Rangers. Minnesota Wild centre Mikko Koivu got hurt while blocking a shot (though he returned and promptly recorded two power-play points because he's a bad-ass) and may not join his team on their upcoming road-trip though we'll know more about his status today. Pavel Datsyuk didn't play on Saturday night with an undisclosed injury that some think is of the "lower-body variety" (because that clears it up). Meanwhile Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal also left his club's game against the New York Islanders with an injury that we'll hear more about in the coming days.

 

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In the matinee game the Boston Bruins handled the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in a game that was primarily decided by goaltending. Yep Tuukka Rask versus Ondrej Pavelec played out pretty much the way you'd expect, although Boston crushed the top-end of Winnipeg's roster head-to-head when the result was in doubt too. After all that's sort of what Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron do...

 

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Though he had three even-strength points on Saturday, Torey Krug hasn't seen his even-strength ice-time expand at all without Dennis Seidenberg (lost for the season with injury) in the lineup. Dougie Hamilton's burn has also stayed pretty consistent despite Boston's depleted back-end. The early beneficiaries then, in terms of seeing a significant bump in their even-strength usage, are Mark Bartkowski and Johnny Boychuk. Bartkowski and Bocyhuk aren't sexy names, but that seems worth noting.

 

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Krug went into Saturday's game with an even-strength on-ice shooting clip well below 6%. So a three point outburst shouldn't have been much of a surprise, he was due to regress somewhat at even-strength even if he doesn't see the ice more often in Seidenberg's absence.

 

I might also mention to those lucky Krug fantasy owners: that Krug's rather unique and productive role hasn't changed in the slightest due to an injury further up the lineup is counter-intuitively an excellent indicator. Krug's been great in a prescribed role, and owners should simply be content that the Bruins  know how to use him effectively and are sticking too it.

 

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Brad Marchand didn't have a great fantasy day or anything (he's had a pretty bad fantasy season), and continues to be left off the power-play entirely. However, he did manage three even-strength shots which is a good sign. Early in the season when he was really struggling, Marchand's shot-rate was in the toilet. That it's bouncing back strikes me as a positive indicator.

 

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Strong game from Zach Bogosian who managed five shots on goal and six hits. If you're in deep a league that counts both of those categories, he's only owned in 9% of fantasy leagues and could be an OK depth guy despite the complete lack of production.

 

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The Colorado Avalanche have only won six of their past 16 games in regulation, but they're winners of three in a row and have begun to put some distance between themselves and the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in the Central Division. I'm still not a believer, but they did well to defeat the San Jose Sharks on Saturday behind two goals from rookie Nathan MacKinnon.

 

MacKinnon is an interesting case in some ways. Remembering that the NHL eats its young, MacKinnon has been generally crushed at even-strength by the underlying data. Don't believe me? Well then consider that playing San Jose in a home game on Saturday afternoon, Roy worked hard to matchup MacKinnon against San Jose's line of Shepherd, Desjardins and Kearns (who I'd call their fourth-line). MacKinnon responded well with four shots and a couple of goals, but that type of deployment tells you a lot about where MacKinnon's game is at, I think. He's able to help a good team score, which is wildly impressive for a teenager at the NHL level. But if he were facing top-line competition, he wouldn't be ready to help a good team win.

 

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A different point in a similar vein: Sharks forward Logan Couture is on a four game goal scoring streak for San Jose, and is also handling the toughest matchups among all Sharks forwards this season. Despite his recent run of success, Couture's production isn't quite so sparkling as it has been in years past. But essentially he's San Jose's primary heavy-lifting forward (and I'd imagine this is, in part, designed to keep a relative oldster like Joe Thornton fresh for the Spring).

 

See: Logan Couture is at an age where he can help a great team win by battling and out-scoring th top-end of opponent's rosters. He's sacrificing some offense this season to do it, however.

 

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The New York Rangers may have wanted to pace out their regression a bit. By the way, anyone still buying this Leafs shot quality nonsense?

 

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The Buffalo Sabres won in regulation over a pretty good team in the New Jersey Devils. That game featured 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers leaving his feet for a hit, which certainly isn't something you see every day.

 

Worth noting about the Sabres: they were on pace to be the league's all-time worst possession team (or at least the worst possession team in the BtN era which began in 2006-07). They've turned things around a bit under Ted Nolan, however. In fact they've turned things around quite a bit. Since the Nolan hire the Sabres are "Corsi'ing" at a rate above 46% which is a marked improvement on the 42ish% rate they'd been at under Rolston. 46% still sucks, of course, but it's more consistent with what you'd expect from a run of the mill bad team as opposed to a historically awful one.

 

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I rate Carolina Hurricanes netminder Anton Khudobin, who has missed much of this season with injury, and it was good to see him play so well against the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

 

Hurricanes forward Manny Malhotra scored for the third time in his past four games, and it's awesome to see him continue to have success at the NHL level. Also this may be nothing or it may be the start of an interesting trend but Pat Dwyer has averaged over 17 minutes in each of Carolina's past two games. He has two points and 9 shots in those contests. That's worth keeping an eye on, I think...

 

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Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald didn't have a good game on Saturday, but he plays a tonne of minutes and is among the few defenders who will hit the unrestricted free-agent market this summer. In other words: book him for a minimum of $4 million, which he richly deserves as he's played more minutes for less money than most in his NHL career so far. On the other hand, buyer beware. His WOWYs numbers when compared with Hamonic are not pretty and seem to be getting uglier.

 

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The Florida Panthers outlasted the Nashville Predators on Sunday, thanks largely to the efforts of Tim Thomas. Nice game for Aleksander Barkov, who managed a couple of assists and was solid. Also Ed Jovanovski (remember him?) returned to action for the first time in what seems like forever. He played over 15 minutes and was a +3 with one shot on goal.

 

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Seth Jones is back to handling big minutes after a brief absence and scored on Saturday. Meanwhile Roman Josi seems to be turning his season around offensively (he had four shots and an assist on Saturday) and led all Predators in ice-time against Florida.

 

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The Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens in overtime thanks to a controversial hooking call that went against and infuriated PK Subban. It was a terrible call in my opinion, but I wish Subban had waited until Tuesday evening to get publicly upset about it (Canada needs him in Sochi, after all!).

 

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Clarke MacArthur has three times the number of points that David Clarkson does this season.

 

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This St. Louis Blues team is taking on a bit of a Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail mystique. Lose a bunch of top-six forwards: just keep sticking bushels of goals into your opponents. Pretty impressive stuff, and from Jaden Schwartz in particular. He's playing secondary comp, but man is he skilled.

 

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Tomas Tatar just embarassed Brenden Dillon and Cameron Gaunce on Saturday night. The Red Wings rolled over the Stars 5-1 and there isn't much to say about Dallas at the moment beyond that they're actually kind of good they just desperately miss Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas.

 

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Ryan Suter recorded his first career hat-trick against Washington on Saturday night, Mike Green scored a beauty, and when Koivu got hurt Mikael Granlund was the guy who stepped into his role as a top-line center. Granlund is another talented young player who isn't quite ready to help a good team win. If he plays a prolonged stint on Minnesota's top-line, he'll probably put up some points, but I'd expect some minuses to accompany any such production.

 

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Philadelphia stayed hot with a win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night. The Coyotes will want that one back, what with Minnesota and Colorado both vanquishing their respective opponent's. Coyotes are going to have to make a move here soon, or they'll run out of road. They're in especially deep with Oliver Ekman-Larrsson still out of the lineup, though at least they got Doan back from his Rocky Mountain fever on Saturday.

 

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Finally the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Los Angeles Kings, who scored three times in the third period to maintain their dominance over Vancouver this season. The Canucks had Chirs Higgins on the power-play last night, and if Higgins can keep logging first unit power-play minutes in addition to playing a whole tonne at evens and producing shots on net at a top-10 rate leaguewide, he'll be an exceedingly valuable fantasy player. I'd take a flier on him if he's available in your league, honestly.


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Comments (5)add comment

donpaulo said:

donpaulo
... The Leafs made my hometown rangers look like all stars yesterday... and I thought I was frustrated with my team's performance. I feel for you all in Leaf nation
January 05, 2014
Votes: +0

sasquatch said:

sasquatch
... I too wanted to here the thoughts on Holtby's complete no show and your thoughts on the Washington netminding situation... I own holtby in 2 leagues and that absolutely hurts, was mid trade talks on selling him too, stress the word 'was'.... ouch!
January 05, 2014
Votes: -1

Dobber said:

Dobber
... Rodgort - I suspect your upset over having Holtby active, and not so much that it wasn't mentioned in the ramblings smilies/cheesy.gif
January 05, 2014
Votes: +0

germant said:

germant
... "Watching Canada take on Russia in the first period of their game on Sunday morning, and the skill gap is apparent again." - are you saying that after the first period Canada's skill gap (over Russia) is apparent? I hope so because after the first, despite being down two (one off a Canadian player's skate and one a weak goal by Fuccale), Canada had carried much of the play.

I do agree that it's unfortunate that people value regional representation over success. Domi, Brown, Nurse should all be there but this discussion wouldn't be happening were they playing for gold.
January 05, 2014
Votes: +0

Rodgort said:

Rodgort
... I'm a ittle upset you forgot to mention Holtby's stat line from last night: Goals Against: 5 Saves: 6. Rocked the ol' .545sv% how many people did that burn last night?
January 05, 2014
Votes: +2
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