Ramblings: Anaheim Eliminated; Pittsburgh Rolls; More on Defence Scoring; Johns – April 19

Michael Clifford


The second elimination of this postseason came at the hands of the San Jose Sharks as they sent Anaheim packing in a four-game sweep following a 2-1 Game 4 win.

The story of the series was Martin Jones. He allowed just four goals in the four games, allowing one or none in three of them. Not that San Jose didn’t play well but Jones was the reason why this series ended in four instead of six or seven.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Ducks do this offseason. Their core is locked up for a lot of money, they don’t have a lot of cap space, and they have to sign restricted free agents Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. Even if they aren’t expensive, it won’t leave them much wriggle room. That necessarily excludes a splash in free agency so anything they do will have to come via trade. Is the core good enough to make another run? Getzlaf/Perry/Kesler will all be at least 33 years old next year. Maybe a lengthy offseason is just what the doctor ordered.


The big news all day Wednesday was whether Sean Couturier would be in the lineup for Philadelphia. He was inadvertently injured in practice by Radko Gudas and was a game-time decision. He was eventually ruled out just before warmups and Nolan Patrick took his spot on the top line.

It did not go well for the Flyers.

Pittsburgh was up 2-0 after 20 minutes and 4-0 after 31 minutes. They were basically on cruise control from that point, with the game ending up 5-0. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and an assist while Matt Murray stopped all 26 shots he faced.

The Flyers still have the offence to get back in this series but if Couturier can’t return, things are looking bleak.

To his credit, Patrick played well enough. Regardless of line mates, matching up against Crosby is difficult for any centre, let alone a rookie. If he can hold on to his top power-play status next season, he could have himself a nice fantasy campaign. He’s been impressive over the last couple of months and showed a lot of progression.


It was a, shall we say, feisty game between the Devils and Lightning last night. Tampa Bay extended their series lead to 3-1 with a 3-1 win. Nikita Kucherov had a goal and two assists, figuring into every marker. There were 11 power plays between the two teams and Kucherov found a way to hurt the Devils in more way than one as Sami Vatanen left the game following this hit:

I’ll leave it up to you guys to discuss if there will be supplemental discipline. There was no update from the coach after the game on Vatanen.

It was nice to see Damon Severson stay in the lineup, and he managed eight (!) shots on goal in this game. He had been a healthy scratch for the team at times in the regular season and the playoffs. I’m still a believer in his talent but with the emergence of Will Butcher, there won’t be much in the way of meaningful power-play minutes for Severson next year. Without those power-play points, he’ll be hard pressed for 30-point seasons until the offensive depth on this roster greatly improves. I’m still bullish on him as a talent but bearish on his situation. I’m not sure he’ll have much fantasy relevance outside of deep leagues and dynasties for the 2018-19 season.


I’m not sure what it is with Filip Forsberg and this Colorado blue line, but, uh, this was amazing:

Nashville put their foot on the throat of Colorado with a 3-2 road win to go up 3-1 in the series. Colorado fought back from a 3-0 deficit to make it 3-2 in the third period, and hit a post late, but just couldn’t find the tying goal.

Jonathan Bernier, by the way, was injured at some point in the second period and did not start the third. Andrew Hammond will be the goalie going forward if Bernier’s injury lingers.

Don’t forget about Craig Smith in your fantasy drafts next year. I’ve written about him before but he was a pretty consistent 20-goal scorer before a rough 2016-17 campaign. He’s bounced back on that Nashville second line this year with Kyle Turris and Kevin Fiala to go with top power-play minutes. All the big names will be popular in drafts (Forsberg, Arvidsson, Josi/Subban/Ellis, even Fiala), but don’t forget about Smith as a bench option. He had a goal in this game on an absolute snipe which was a nice reminder of what he can do for your fantasy squads.


The Selke Trophy finalists were named Wednesday night. The trophy is handed to the top two-way forward in the league. And they are:

I don’t want to get deep into it here but I think there’s a good case could be made for both Aleksander Barkov and Mikko Koivu. Of course, then you have to take a name (or two) off the list, and which name(s) do you remove? Not so easy to pick just three.


Josh Morrissey has been suspended for one game by the NHL for his cross-check on Eric Staal in Tuesday night’s game. If Tyler Myers isn’t ready to go, the Jets will be a little short-handed on the blue line for the next matchup.


A couple of days ago in these Ramblings, I discussed how goal-scoring by defencemen had been changing and continues to change in the NHL. If you haven’t read it, you can do so here. The long and short of it is that defencemen are scoring a higher percentage of their team’s goals at five-on-five but a much lower percentage of their team’s goals on the power play. Naturally, this has an effect in fantasy because if defencemen are scoring fewer power-play goals, they have less of an impact in leagues that count power-play goals as their own category.

One thing I failed to consider was how power plays themselves are changing. Tyler Dellow has written about this extensively already, so for those with subscriptions to The Athletic, you can check out his work there. To get you started, I recommend this read on 3F-2D power plays and how they compare in production to 4F-1D power plays, and how it pertains to the Leafs. It was written a year ago but the principles still apply.

Of course, that is what I had failed to consider: teams moving to using four forwards on the power play. With power-play conversion rates at their highest in decades, the sharp declines in PP goal-scoring from defencemen didn’t make sense without a mitigating factor. That factor is defencemen are on the ice for less ice time per minute of their team’s available PP minutes and the rate is declining every year. Here you go (all data from Natural Stat Trick):

That chart shows us how many minutes defencemen are on the ice for every minute of their team’s available power-play time. Four years ago, there was 1.6 minutes of ice time allocated to defencemen for every minute of their team’s power play. This year, there was 1.33. Knowing that teams aren’t going to five-forward power plays with any sort of regularity, this means teams are shifting to four-forward/one-defenceman PP setups.

It bears out this year, too. If you look at the top-10 teams in goals per minute on the PP, they all use one defenceman on the top quintet. They also have a lot of talent, too, but putting more offensively-gifted players in offensive situations leads to more goals. Shocking, I know.    

Yes, while defencemen are scoring fewer power-play goals, there’s a reason for that. Not that it comes as a surprise to you astute fantasy players, but guys locked into top PP roles (Shayne Gostisbehere, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns) carry a lot of value.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up.


While I’m talking about defencemen, I’m a bit excited for Stephen Johns next season in the fantasy hockey game.

Ken Hitchcock dragged the Dallas Stars from a wildly entertaining offensive team into a defensive slug. I don’t think there’s much debate about that. Hopefully the next coach takes the leash off all the offensive talent has, and will potentially have (hey Valeri Nichushkin), and this team can return to being as much fun to watch as they used to be.

With regards to Johns, among the 152 defencemen with 1000-plus minutes last year at all strengths, he was fourth in blocked shots per 60 minutes. Of the top-15 defencemen in blocked shots, he was second in shot attempts per 60 minutes (just behind Alex Edler). Blocking shots is one thing, being able to chip in offensively is another, and very few do both. Johns is one of them.

He put up monster peripheral numbers with over 200 hits and over 150 blocked shots. He averaged over 1.6 shots per game. He scored eight goals despite not being very far off his career shooting percentage mark. He did all this while playing fewer than 18 minutes a night. He’ll never touch the top PP unit, but if he can earn a couple more minutes in ice time under a new coaching regime, he has the makings of a very, very solid multi-cat roto performer. Keep an eye to see what the Stars do with their blue line in their offseason. Hopefully he’s earned top-4 minutes. We shall see.  


There were some interesting tweets from Micah Blake McCurdy on Twitter Wednesday morning pertaining to the Vegas-Los Angeles series. This one stuck out to me from Vegas:

Honestly, it’s not often we see teams shooting from the angles and not the mid-to-low slot. Sure, there are teams who can’t get to the net, but you often at least see them shoot from further out.

One thing that popped into my head: royal road passes. These are passes made across the slot in order to get the goalie moving laterally. You can read up on the math here from Hockey Graphs, as well as other pass types, but basically it boils down to high conversion rates. Players who can get a good shot off following this type of pass score much more often.

I haven’t seen anyone tracking playoff data for Vegas for these types of passes (if someone has, let me know in the comments), but my guess is Vegas is often looking for royal road passes. I just found it interesting.


An observation from former Toronto Marlies assistant coach Justin Bourne:

My thought is coaches play not to lose rather than play to win. They’d rather give a guy they know is average-to-below-average ice time than a guy whose future they’re uncertain of. Human beings avoid uncertainty like the plague, coaches are no different.

There is a fantasy hockey lesson in here: don’t be afraid to swing for the fences in drafts, particularly in the later rounds. I preach this all the time and it won’t be the last time I mention it this offseason.

Look at ADPs last year: Brandon Dubinsky and Bo Horvat drafted next to each other; Andrew Shaw and Anthony Mantha a half-round apart; same for Evgeny Dadonov and Scott Hartnell. Different categories factor in – hits and penalty minutes particularly – but people drafting guys whom we know won’t excel offensively are drafting for fifth place instead of drafting for first place.


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