January 26, 2014

Dobber Sports

2014-01-26

Can I interest you in a midseason fantasy hockey guide? Get it here.

 

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I hope you had a better fantasy hockey week than I did. I didn’t start Kari Lehtonen a single time because of built in mistrust – opting to roll with Anton Khudobin instead. Of course Lehtonen had his best week of the season by far while Khudobin put up a sub .900 sv% (though he won a bunch of games at least…). But enough about me…

 

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The outdoor game in SoCal between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings made for an enthralling visual spectacle, but also poor TV – the angles were bad, and the game was sloppy – and poor hockey. Outdoor games generally are also tough for fantasy owners (just not a lot of offense), especially those fantasy owners who don’t own Jonas Hiller…

 

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While there wasn’t much in the way of offense during Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium; Ducks forward Matt Beleskey turned in one hell of a fantasy outing with a goal, four shots, and five hits. Beleskey has played more than 15 minutes in about half of his past ten games, and has two goals, five assists, a shot rate above two per game, and a whole whack of hits. The downside is that as Beleskey’s overall hockey utility has come up, his PIM rate has come down…

 

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Matt Fistric managed nine hits in under 14 minutes of work. That’s some serious efficiency, but also speaks to the extent to which the Ducks were hemmed into their own end all night long by the Kings.

 

Anaheim’s ~+50 goal differential and their forward depth are suggestive of a super elite club, but their reliance on a sky high on-ice shooting percentage and their relatively permissive puck possession game at even-strength are negative indicators. Generally speaking: I’m not buying them as an elite contender yet.

 

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The Rangers and Devils play the third outdoor game of the season on Sunday. While there’s only a 10% chance of snow in New York on Sunday it’s still cold as hell so be wary of that if you own a handful of Devils and Rangers. 

 

Thankfully the league has promised not to stage six more outdoor games next season.

 

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Saturday night was “soft goal night” in the NHL, and a whole host of capable netminders like Carey Price, James Reimer and Sergei Bobrovsky were chased. Also Avalanche rookie Sami “spellcheck” Aittokallio only lasted two periods

 

Reimer’s game was frustrating for Leafs fans I’m sure – pucks were just going right through the usually sturdy Leafs goaler and Manitoba native – but Sergei Bobrovsky’s outing was way, way worse. Bobrovsky was getting beat with soft moving backhanders from 50 feet-out, 45 foot slappers with the Jackets on the power-play, and other long distance attempts. Also he was facing the Buffalo Sabres offense!

 

I don’t mean to shame Sergei Bobrovsky, a well above average NHL netminder who I rate quite highly. But it’s worth pointing out that all goaltenders have games like Reimer did Saturday, or like Price has had all January.

 

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Boy, oh boy the Montreal Canadiens are really bad at hockey.

 

Canadiens players had a “players only meeting” on Saturday following their fourth straight loss (the club has been outscored 19-5 over that stretch). All of the relevent indicators suggest that the Canadiens have been playing Buffalo Sabres quality hockey over the past month or two, and unfortunately for the Habs. Price hasn’t been nearly as sturdy as Ryan Miller was all through the fall of 2013. Price has now posted a .889 save percentage in the month of January, and has given up four goals against or more in 8 of his last 11 starts since New Years Eve.

 

Has Price’s recent stretch and the absent play of the club in front of him cost the Canadiens netminder the starting role for Team Canada at Sochi? I’d imagine it might have.

 

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Speaking of Ryan Miller, his Uncle Sam Olympic mask is sweet.

 

Also freshly minted Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray says he won’t necessarily sell Miller, Steve Ott and Matt Moulson at the trade deadline. I don’t believe him.

 

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The Carolina Hurricanes offense has risen from their slumber in a big way over the past week. On Saturday afternoon the ‘Canes lit up the Senators with six goals (one of them an empty netter). Nathan Gerbe continued his stellar week with a three point outing, while Tuomo Ruutu authored a stellar fantasy game (five hits, two shots and a goal ain’t too shabby).

 

Basicall you know your team is crushing it offensively when Andrej Sekeras has a six point fantasy week, damn….

 

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Not much to add on the Ottawa Senators side: Kyle Turris is a bad, bad man which we all know and Mika Zibanejad continues to fill the boxscore while racking up minuses for some baffling reason (he’s certainly not a defensive liability)…

 

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The Blues beat the Islanders who were totally jobbed by a “distinct kicking motion” call that was specious at best. Fun to hear Thomas Vanek suggest that top teams receive the benefit of the doubt more often from the league, but honestly, the way the NHL calls goals directed into the net off of players skates is frequently baffling. I just tend to think that an intent based standard like “distinct kicking motion” is really tough to officiate consistently…

 

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Kevin Shattenkirk managed six shots from the blue-line for St. Louis, while Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen pitched in six shots of their own. Vanek took five shots for the Islanders, and put up two points which should serve to inflate his trade value. Too bad the chances of the Islanders recouping a lottery pick for Vanek’s services (which is essentially the cost they paid to acquire him from Buffalo) are essentially nil.

 

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The Boston Bruins cashed in three power-play goals to rout the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The Bruins power-play has been anemic for years, though it realy took a big step forward last season in terms of shot rate (without the results being there). This year, the B’s power-play is generating shot volume at a rate only a tick above league average, however B’s shooters are capitalizing on 15% of their shots in 5-on-4 situations. Anyway, Zdeno Chara screening and Torey Krug quarterbacking things on the back-end appears to be working out nicely…

 

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Speaking of the Bruins, if you need hits these days Kevan Miller might be your man. Or you can pick up a Schenn brother. The brothers Schenn combined for 15 hits on Saturday vs. Boston (with Luke adding five PIM and a couple of shots to complete an oddly useful fantasy day).

 

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To add insult to injury for the moribund Montreal Canadiens and their struggling starter Carey Price, three Capitals players managed their first goal of the year on Saturday (Jay Beagle, John Erskine and Casey Wellman).

 

Also, Alexander Ovechkin returned from injury and went back to doing Ovechkin things (a goal, an assist, +3, with six shots and four hits and nearly 12 minutes of PP TOI). 

 

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Ugly fantasy week overall for P.K. Subban who managed just a single point (an assist on the power-play), and was a -7 on the week… 

 

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How about Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Tyler Johnson, upstaging Calder front runner Nathan MacKinnon with a hat-trick on Saturday night in Tampa Bay. Johnson scored on every shot he took and I hope you picked him up on the waiver wire this past week.

 

Radko Gudas, I might add, recorded nine hits in Saturday night’s game. Also Victor Hedman recorded three assists and man is he making the Swedish Hockey Federation look silly for not picking him as one of their top-nine defenders for the Olympics. Seriously, Hedman might be a top-nine NHL defenseman, and he’s being Erik Gustafsson on the Tre Kronor blue-line’s depth chart? What complete codswollop. 

 

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Avalanche fourth liner John Mitchell played up the lineup on Saturday, skating for nearly 17 minutes. Cool to see a player like Mitchell – who has bounced from city to city and been effective everywhere – get an opportunity like that. He managed a goal too, and it’ll be worth tracking his minutes. Mitchell can play, and if he’s getting prime opportunities he’ll likely be productive.

 

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Congratulations to those of you who’ve suffered through having Christian Ehrhoff rack up minuses and contribute no PPP all season, and enjoyed his three point night on Saturday. Well earned, you guys, enjoy the regression!

 

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We should probably talk about Columbus Blue Jackets defender Ryan Murray, who is sort of crushing it at the moment. On Saturday Murray played more than 20 minutes for the sixth time in his past 11 games. He has nine assists during that stretch, including a lovely play to set up Derek McKenzie last night

 

I think it’s safe to say that Murray is having a better draft +2 year than Nail Yakupov or Alex Galchenyuk are (although injuries have played a role in that). A left-handed defenseman who can distribute the puck, is reliable in his own end, and is logging top-four minutes for a team trending in the right direction. Is that something the Edmonton Oilers could use?

 

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Did you hear the report that Kevin Lowe offered to step down as the Oilers President of Hockey Operations? Oilers owner Darryl Katz wouldn’t allow it, but that’s very interesting.

 

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I always had a bit of a fetish for the idea of bumping Dustin Byfuglien back up to forward, but having watched it over the past few weeks, it’s a mistake. Byfuglien is a ridiculously good defenseman and playing on the backend allows him to be on the ice more often.

 

It would be cool to see him play for a coach flexible enough to just use him at both spots situationally in a game (say, Zdeno Chara style, where Byfuglien played defense at evens but was used at net front on the PP). 

 

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Troy Brodie is doing a spot on Leo Komarov impression in recent weeks and found himself playing top-nine minutes against the Jets on Saturday. He had a nice game too managing a goal, a couple shots and five hits. Phil Kessel meanwhile managed a couple of points (a goal, an assist) to continue his hot streak.

 

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The Penguins have enviable top-end talent and a stable of defensive depth unrivalled anywhere in the league. But boy do they need to upgrade their bottom-six forward group. Of course that means that Ray Shero will overpay for a slow skating defender and a couple of aging top-six veteran forwards at the deadline.

 

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Like Zemgus Girgensons, I’m so, so certain that Stars forward Cody Eakin is approaching the point where he’ll really have fantasy value soon. But he’s just not quite there yet. On Saturday Eakin managed a couple PIMs, four shots and three hits; but nothing else. Next season, maybe…

 

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Sharks stalwarts Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau combined for three goals in their first game since signing three year extensions this week. I really hope they win a Stanley Cup before they lace them up.

 

Enjoy your Sunday!

 

Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.

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