Ramblings: Barkov Is Unstoppable; Pacioretty Keeps Scoring; Improving Players – January 20

Michael Clifford


There was significant injury news that came out Friday, Dobber heads.

The first bit of news was the revelation of a knee injury to Rangers defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s apparently been playing through a meniscus tear in his left knee through all season and it’s gotten to the point where he needs surgery. As reported in that linked story from Newsday, the hope is that the surgery being done now will afford him the opportunity of returning this season.

This is a big blow for his fantasy owners. He hadn’t been superlative this year, but it’s hard to find a waiver wire replacement for a d-man on pace for nine goals, 40 points, and 160-plus shots on goal. The assumption is that Ryan McDonagh will assume top PP duties for now and that this should open up a role for Tony DeAngelo, who was called up on Friday.

I understand that people will want Brady Skjei on the top PP unit, and he may at times, but Alain Vigneault loves his veterans. Anyone who follows their lineup decisions on a day-to-day basis knows this. I’m just not sure AV turns the keys of the power play over to Skjei. It’s not to say he won’t earn some more ice time, I would just expect McDonagh to eat most of the prime man-advantage minutes.


We got an update on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:

Those 5-6 weeks are due to cracked ribs suffered in his last game. In the meantime, Drake Caggiula was moved to the top line, Leon Draisaitl is centering the second line, and Ryan Strome was moved to the top power-play quintet. I put the over/under on how long Strome lasts on the first PP unit at 5.5 periods.

This is pretty poor timing for RNH as he was well on his way to his first 20-goal season since 2014-15, leading the Oilers in that category, and generally had been playing well.

I suppose Strome would be the immediate replacement, but I would take a shot on Mark Jankowski if he’s available in your leagues. The Flames have four games in the next six days, three of them at home, and the road contest is in Edmonton.


The last bit of news isn’t nearly as devastating, but Nino Niederreiter is going to be out at least another 10 days. Fantasy owners have been playing without him so I assume you’re getting by just fine. It just sucks because he’s been very productive when healthy even though he had been playing just 15 minutes a game this season.


Aleksander Barkov scored his fifth short-handed goal of the season in Florida’s overtime win over Vegas on Friday night. For the season, Florida now has a plus-2 goal differential when Barkov is on the ice for the penalty kill. That’s right, the Florida Panthers are outscoring the opposition 5-3 on the season when Sasha is penalty killing. Utter insanity.

Barkov added two assists and is now a point-per-game player this year. Evgenii Dadonov, Jamie McGinn, and Aaron Ekblad had the other tallies, the latter the overtime winner.

It’s been stated over and over but Barkov and Huberdeau are great at driving percentages, just don’t get fooled by Barkov’s gigantic rise in shots per game (2.33 last year, 3.26 this year). His shot attempt rate is fairly similar to last season, it’s just the increase in ice time that has helped make a difference. Just be wary when (if?) he started playing under 22 minutes a game.


Outside of the top line for Florida, James Reimer was a difference-maker for the Panthers in their victory, stopping 33 of 36 shots. He has nine wins and a .924 save percentage since Roberto Luongo went down with an injury in early December. He had a brutal start to the season but Optimus Reim has been very good for the Panthers over the last six weeks or so.


James Neal scored his 20th goal of the season in the loss for Vegas. That makes 20 goals in every season he’s been in the league, lockout-shortened season included. As of today, only he, Phil Kessel, and Alex Ovechkin have scored at least 20 goals every season for the last decade. Others that have a chance to get there with 20 this season include Jeff Carter (if he can return from injury and go on a tear), Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. That’s it. Pretty good company.


Max Pacioretty scored his 13th and 14th goals of the season in their road game against Washington, giving him six goals in his last six games. He added an assist on Paul Byron’s second-period tally.

Keep in mind that this is a season where the Habs are awful, everything’s gone wrong for Pacioretty, and he’s now on pace to score 25. This should firmly shut the “buy low” window.

Antti Niemi stopped 24 of 26 shots in the 3-2 win. He now has a .919 save percentage with the Habs in very limited action.

Lars Eller scored his 10th goal of the year for Washington. Keep an eye out for his name later in these Ramblings.


John Gibson stopped 23 shots in Anaheim's 2-1 win over Los Angeles. It was not a good game to watch by any possible measure. 


There were only a few games played on Friday night so I thought it’d be a good time to take stock of some players showing improvement in their expected goals rate (ixGF/60) this year compared to the last couple seasons. This is all at five-on-five.

For those unfamiliar, expected goals takes shot quantity and quality to the next level, accounting for a variety of variables such as shot distance and shot angle. There are more variables accounted for, but I don’t want to butcher the parameters so recommend reading this primer from Corsica Hockey. All the data here will be taken from Corsica as well.

With that out of the way, here are the biggest changes in individual expected goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. I’ll start with the biggest improvements and move to the biggest declines. The parameters are as follows: forwards with at least 300 minutes played this year, and 1000 minutes played from 2015-17. I’ve arbitrarily cut them off at the top-25.

These obviously need more context so let’s discuss a few players.

Jonathan Marchessault

By almost any objective measure, Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith are one of the top lines in the league. Marchessault, or JAM, was a favourite of Dobber’s for years, and when he finally got a chance with the Panthers, he exploded for 30 goals. He’ll push, or surpass, 30 goals and 70 points this year.

There is one caution here: their line is shooting 11.5 percent at five-on-five and Karlsson is shooting over 27 percent. Both of those are high and both will decline, be it this year or next. That has helped JAM rank fourth in the league in primary assists/60 minutes, which has obviously boosted his point totals. The counter to this would be that he has just seven (!) power-play points this year. If he were to start producing more on the PP, it could help off-set the decline in five-on-five assists.

It’s not about the assists, though. It’s about the goals. JAM has fit in well with his line mates and it shows both in his actual goals and expected goals. As long as he doesn’t get buried with lesser talent – which I can’t imagine happening – he’ll likely threaten 30 goals every year.

Gustav Nyquist

I was musing about this on Twitter a couple days ago, but what a weird career Nyquist has had. He scored 55 goals in his first 139 NHL games, an 82-game pace of 32 goals. Then in 2015-16, Blashill cut his ice time by over a minute and a half, and the ensuing shot rate/percentage drops produced a 17-goal season. He had a poor year last year, but has rebounded nicely this year.

His five-on-five shooting percentage is high at 14.3 percent, but his power-play shooting percentage is 6.7 percent, which has led to one PP goal. His 5v5 percentage should decline, but his PP percentage should improve, so it’s not a certainty his overall goal output will tumble.

I won’t dive into this too much because Nyquist is doubtful to be a significant fantasy contributor this year with all the issues the Red Wings have. It’s just worth pointing out that the 28-year old winger has proven his scoring ability in the past and it’s not something that should be doubted.

Sven Andrighetto

Andrighetto has 34 points in 56 games since being acquired last year by Colorado in exchange for Andreas Martinsen. That works out to a 50-point pace per 82 games, and he’s done so playing 15:35 per game.

For an injury update, he’s skating in a non-contact jersey of late, indicating he’s not far off from returning from the injured reserve.

Though he might only reach roughly 15 goals this year, that’s still pretty good for a middle-six winger on a rebuilding team. His improvement in ixGF would indicate it’s not a mirage. It’s worth noting, too, that his shot rate is over 16 attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five this year which is top-30 in the league among forwards with at least 400 minutes played. He’s even slightly ahead of teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

This could be a revelation for the Avs. Certainly, half a season does not a career make, but he’s shown signs of improvement along with his team. If he can maintain his current course, he can be a 20-goal threat. He won’t be a fantasy star or anything, but could provide useful depth in deeper leagues.

Tomas Hertl

A tweet from a few days ago cuts to the core of Hertl’s scoring issues:

Being able to put yourself into situations to score by doing the right things on a consistent basis should be the goal of most any hockey player. Hertl does that in spades. He’s also shown the inability to finish at the level he should for years. This is concerning.

That isn’t to say that Hertl isn’t useful or is a bad player. Far from it. What is starting to creep into my mind is that Hertl might not be the 30-goal scorer he’s shown promise of doing in the past. Maybe he gets there once or twice. A consistent threat? It’s not looking great. If he can post 20-goal, 50-point seasons, that’s fine for fantasy and good for the Sharks. It definitely won’t be living up to expectations, though, based on his underlying numbers.


I’m going to save the declines for my next Ramblings.


The hockey world lost perhaps its most renowned writer and author on Friday, as long-time Canadiens chronicler Red Fisher died at the age of 91.

I will let the words of the inimitable Michael Farber fill in his legend rather than fumbling it myself.

I am 31 years old, and have only been taking the NHL “seriously” for a little under 10 years. Which is to say Red Fisher is not someone I read with any regularity. So I asked my dad, who grew up outside Montréal, if he read Fisher’s stories when he was younger. My dad replied, “I always read his stories when I was a kid. Everyone did. Everyone had to because he was that good.” That’s probably all that needs to be said.

Rest in peace, Mr. Fisher. 


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