December 19, 2014

steve laidlaw

2014-12-19

No mumps for Fleury, Foligno keeps scoring, Green back on top and more…

 

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Some major happenings on the injury front for the Pittsburgh Penguins. First, starter Marc-Andre Fleury's mumps test results came back negative so he started last night and recorded a 29-save shutout. Then word came down that backup netminder Thomas Greiss is being tested for the mumps. So my analysis from yesterday got flipped on its head mere hours after publishing. Oh well.

 

The shutout was Fleury's league-leading sixth of the season, establishing a new career high less than half-way into the season. I'd love to argue that Fleury has used up his luck for the year but that's not how this works, especially not when the Penguins are playing so well defensively.

 

The other big news was Sidney Crosby returning to the lineup after a three-game layoff. He barely lost any ground in the scoring race. He was held scoreless last night though, leaving him three back of a now three-way tie for the scoring lead between Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin and Jakub Voracek all of whom were in action last night.

 

Crosby has just two points in his last six games, an unheard of stretch of futility for him. But we all know he can make up for that in a mere game or two.

 

Malkin recorded an assist on the game-winner to draw into a tie for tops in scoring at 38. We should all knock on wood here as Malkin is possibly the only Penguin to avoid the injury bug, a big part of why he's performed so well. I wouldn't be averse to quietly shopping Malkin around to get out in front of the injury that has a high likelihood of occurring. Better to get out too early than too late right? But make sure you are asking top dollar.

 

Another score for Blake Comeau who has three goals in the last four games. All signs are pointing to a re-enactment of the 46-point season he had for the Islanders a few years back, though he is currently on pace for (51) a little more.

 

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Outstanding performance from Calvin Pickard stopping 47 of 48 shots in the overtime loss.

 

The Avalanche are a fine example of how fickle goaltending can be. Last season Semyon Varlamov was a superhero elevating Colorado to a division title. This year he's been banged up and inconsistent. Reto Berra, the backup, has been an absolute train wreck. So here comes Pickard, up from the minors and standing on his head for an objectively bad Avalanche team.

 

If this had been a year ago, I'd have bet on Sami Aittokallio being the goaltender to come up and shine having put up better AHL numbers and earning a lone NHL start. This season, not so much. Aittokallio has been ventilated on a nightly basis in the AHL meanwhile Pickard has played so well at both levels that he should probably stick around as backup.

 

Unfortunately for Pickard, Varlamov has golden boy status with his fat contract so he has little chance of stealing the starting job. He probably doesn't even get the backup job because Berra has a couple of years remaining on his own deal.

 

I never understood why the Avalanche signed Berra. Not only did he not appear to be all that talented but committing that much term to a replacement talent is just weird. It's never that bad to take gambles on goaltending but if Berra prevents the Avalanche from using Pickard signing him was a mistake.

 

Read more on Pickard, Aittokallio and the rest of the Avalanche prospects over at their DobberProspects page.

 

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As mentioned earlier, Voracek and the Flyers were also in action last night losing in a shootout to the Panthers. Voracek scored his 12th of the season though. A really positive sign for Voracek owners is that he has continued to produce even as his on-ice shooting percentage at even strength has regressed to a more reasonable 9.66%.

 

My only concern for Voracek would be how little the Flyers have in scoring depth. Not that teams aren't loading up against the Flyers' top line anyways but that becomes a tougher grind as the season wears on and there's little support behind them. I mean, this breakout season I keep hearing about for Sean Couturier doesn't seem to be happening. Nice player but I don't see anything different from what he did to get 39 points last time around.

 

Certainly Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are productive guys on the second line but digging a little deeper, over half of Simmonds' points have come on the top power play with Voracek and Claude Giroux. Similar story for Schenn with half of his points coming from either that top power play unit or from cameos on the top line. Maybe if we found those two a centerman it could work (and no Couturier is not the answer.)

 

Scott Laughton is currently in that role. No one needs to sell me on Laughton long term. He is the future solution to this conundrum. But he's a rookie so he isn't ready to fill that spot every shift, every night.

 

This all comes back around to statuesque Vincent Lecavalier who made his return to the lineup after five straight healthy scratches. He went minus-one in 11:48 of action on the fourth line. I never understood why they kept trotting that hunk of marble out there. Sorry to say, but he should be on full-time display in the press box.

 

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