October 28, 2014

steve laidlaw

2014-10-28

Recapping last night's games including the Rangers' huge comeback and more…

 

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What an awesome comeback by the Rangers against the Wild last night. After getting thoroughly dominated by the Wild for two periods spending much of them on the power play thanks to brutal penalties from Chris Kreider and John Moore who were both issued match penalties the Rangers were down 3-0 heading into the final 20.

 

You simply do not spot the Wild a 3-0 lead and expect to come back. This was a team that had given up only six goals all season before last night. They gave up five in one brutal meltdown.

 

Let's credit Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello for sparking the Ranger comeback. Nash and Zuccarello assisted on the first Ranger goal and then Nash followed that up with one of his own. Zuccarello added another assist before scoring the game winner.

 

For Nash this is merely a continuation of what's been a great start to the season. He is tied for the goal-scoring lead with nine in nine games. Obviously he won't maintain this pace but he should reach 40 goals with this hot start. I'd be looking to sell high but the question is, who are you going to get? Not too many slumping stars early on.

 

Anze Kopitar is a notable one but I'm not convinced that Kopitar would really be an upgrade. Alexander Ovechkin has "only" five goals and six points through eight games. I doubt you get any wiggle room there but you'd be amazed.

 

Zuccarello was a guy you'd want to be trying to buy low on (though obviously not with Nash) but he just quadrupled his season scoring and reminded his owners why he was so valuable as a depth scorer. Zuccarello is being deployed as a top-six forward and is seeing frequent (though not constant) top unit power play time.

 

It should be noted that Zuccarello was not on the top power play unit on the lone power play opportunity the Rangers had but with Chris Mueller and Dan Girardi seeing time on the "top unit" it's certainly questionable, what the best power play group is for the Rangers. I'd just as soon call the group with Ryan McDonagh, Zuccarello and Derick Brassard on it the top unit but maybe that's just me.

 

It is disconcerting seeing McDonagh not on the top power play unit. He is skating huge minutes for the Rangers, currently ranked ninth in the league in time on ice at 25:25 per game. Of the skaters (they are all defensemen) skating over 25 minutes per game only McDonagh and Alex Pietrangelo spend less than three minutes per game on the power play. McDonagh is close at 2:49 per game and has frequently been skating on the top power play unit but it hasn't been the no-brainer that it should be and since he's got just three assists through nine games there is reason for concern. This was supposed to be the year he jumped over 50 points.

 

The good news on that front is McDonagh has yet to score a goal but his shot rate remains high. With 22 SOG so far McDonagh is on pace for his first career 200 shot season. This is a defenseman who scored 14 goals last season so he doesn't necessarily rely just on assists. Now he scored 14 goals on 7.9% shooting, which is too high for a defenseman but he can get to 10 goals simply by maintaining this rate of shots. If you do the math 10 goals on 200 shots is 5% shooting, which is plenty reasonable.

 

Anyways, we need to wait and see how everything looks when Derek Stepan returns but I'd be gearing up for another 40-45-point season from McDonagh and since that's the case maybe look at this early lack of power play time as a great opportunity to buy low.

 

Anthony Duclair scored his first NHL goal and has five points through seven games. It sure feels like he belongs in the NHL but the Rangers have said that if he proves to be one of the top nine forwards that he'll stick with the big club. That sounds great until you start to do the math. Nash, Martin St. Louis, Kreider, Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, and Lee Stempniak are all top-nine wingers with Brassard, Stepan and Dominic Moore the centermen.

 

You can make an argument for Duclair over a couple of those guys but Moore is a centerman and Duclair isn't playing up the middle and Stempniak is a proven veteran who plays multiple roles. I don't see where Duclair fits if he has to be a "top-nine" forward. Why the Rangers couldn't keep him in a fourth line role is beyond me. They could totally skate him 10 minutes a night on the fourth line, have him jump up when necessary and give him some power play minutes. And then he's there in case of an injury.

 

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Some injury news to report on for Minnesota. Jonas Brodin was the one rocked from behind by Kreider but he returned to skate over 22 minutes. Erik Haula was the recipient of the elbow from Moore and he did not return. Concussion is likely here. Haula isn't really notable for fantasy right now but you hate to see that all the same.

 

The Wild power play is a serious problem. They spent 14 minutes with the man advantage in this one but failed to score. They still haven't gotten a goal on the power play this season, 0/24 so far. Obviously they won't remain O-fer but there's a solid chance that they stink this season.

 

The counter point is that the Wild were right around league-average on the power play last season, ranking 16th at 17.9%, a perfectly respectable total. If you are going to try to jump on any Wild slumpers it's optimism about the power play progressing.

 

Your top targets would have to be Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek. It's no surprise that these two have been each other's top linemate this season and are appearing together on the dreadful top power play unit.

 

It's worth mentioning that Vanek does have four assists through seven games so he hasn't been completely hopeless and as one of the streakiest players in the league it wouldn't take long for him to get it going. I think he's a safe bet for over 60 points once again so if you can buy low, do it.

 

I'd be more concerned about Koivu. He hasn't lost his top unit power play time but I have to question why not. Mikael Granlund is on the roster and is definitely a more creative (though less physical) player. Presumably this is because they are allowing Jason Pominville to be the main distributor of the puck but I'm not a huge fan of that.

 

Anyhow, Koivu has been a sneaky good producer in fantasy leagues for years. Not just because he was producing at a 60-point pace year after year but because he could contribute positively in peripheral categories like shots on goal, hits and even PIM while not being the drag on plus/minus some top players on non-glamour teams are. Injuries are taking their toll though. Koivu did skate every game in the lockout season but has still missed 55 games in the past four seasons.

 

I think that with a reduced role and with injuries more of a factor I think we start looking for less from Koivu. This isn't like a Mike Richards situation where the Monstars have drained his powers into a magical hockey puck. Koivu still has something to offer, just treat him like a 50-point guy instead of a 60-point one.

 

One guy who is rolling hot for the Wild is Jason Zucker who has five goals – REGRESSION! – already having scored on half of his shots. I can't scream regression fast enough here and I actually really like Zucker as a player, he just isn't being used in a manner conducive to continued scoring. Third line minutes with limited to no power play time will not get you more than 40 points and even that is a reach.

 

You could definitely turn sour on Darcy Kuemper for this result. I totally get it. Five goals on 12 third period shots is not the way you want to lose when it was looking like a really good chance you'd score ANOTHER shutout from the young starter. This stuff happens. Niklas Backstrom will go tonight for Minnesota but that's a scheduled start, Kuemper is still their guy and I have nothing but confidence in his abilities.

 

If you are looking for an alternate excuse for the Wild running out of gas, maybe they are all just sick? Apparently a bad cold has been circulating the Blues and Wild dressing rooms since making trips through Anaheim and LA.

 

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UPCOMING GAMES

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HOT PLAYERS

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