Ramblings: Finland Strikes Gold! Plus thoughts on Tarasenko, Koskinen, Parise, and more
David Rittich returned to the net after a brief injury absence, stopping 32 of 34 shots in the Flames’ 3-2 over the Flyers. You probably know by now that Rittich has been by far the better Flames’ goalie. If the Flames are to continue their stay at the top of the Western Conference, it’s imperative that they play the hot hand instead of the guy with the higher salary in Mike Smith.
In yesterday’s Ramblings I discussed my son’s decision to pick up Nate Schmidt over Ryan Pulock in a single-season ESPN league. I’m going to throw a third defenseman into the mix in Noah Hanifin, who was also available and who I also owned as an injury replacement on one of my other teams at one point. With two assists on Saturday, Hanifin has seven assists over his last six games. In his first season in Calgary, Hanifin is on pace for just over 40 points, which would be a career high. Hanifin seems suitable as a fourth defenseman in single-season leagues.
On a side note, I know that it can take years before we determine the real winner of a trade. But when you factor in Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, can we declare Calgary the early winner of the offseason trade with Carolina? Calgary has Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, who has already established a career high in points in half a season. For Carolina, Dougie Hamilton has struggled mightily (although he scored another goal on Friday night), while Micheal Ferland has cooled off (just one goal since November 21). Carolina also received prospect Adam Fox in the deal, so there’s still time for this deal to be more favorable for the Hurricanes.
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In Friday’s Ramblings I mentioned Jared Spurgeon and his icetime with Matt Dumba out of the lineup. Hopefully you’ve noticed, as Spurgeon is really heating up. With two goals on Saturday, Spurgeon now has three goals and five points over his last two games. Spurgeon hadn’t taken advantage of the situation scoring-wise until those last two games, but he’s been an absolute minute muncher since Dumba’s injury, averaging just over 26 minutes per game since December 18.
I’ll have to admit that I was not buying into a potential bounceback for Zach Parise. Yet if you took a flier on him in the later rounds of your draft, you’ve been handsomely rewarded. With a goal and two assists on Saturday, Parise has nine points (4g-5a) and a plus-7 over his last five games, along with a point-per-game pace of 38 points in 39 games. After declining returns for three consecutive seasons together with numerous injuries, Parise should be considered a candidate for comeback player of the year. He’s on pace for 80 points, but I’m thinking that 70 points is more realistic and within reach. That target of 70 points would actually represent a career high for his time with the Wild.
Definitely not the worst possible news for Canucks’ fans and Elias Pettersson owners. The Calder Trophy favorite has been diagnosed with a slight MCL sprain in his knee. This injury typically requires 1-2 weeks of recovery. Brandon Sutter assumed first-unit power-play duties, which is a fairly significant dropoff from Petey. I’m crossing my fingers that he’ll be back by then, as I’ll be going to a Canucks’ game in guess what… two weeks.
Remember what I said about picking up backup goalies or injury replacements from top teams, no matter their track record? Michael Hutchinson stopped all 28 shots he faced in the Leafs’ 5-0 victory over the Canucks. Frederik Andersen could return as early as Monday against Nashville, so this could be a one-off for the time being. Then again, the Leafs could choose not to rush Andersen back and reward Hutchinson with another start.
Auston Matthews had gone five games without a goal entering Saturday’s game, but he has taken care of that problem. Matthews scored his 20th goal of the season to go with two assists. He wasn’t really cold, as he now has 12 points in his last eight games.
He might still be in a timeshare with Jaroslav Halak, but Tuukka Rask has been doing everything he can recently to earn more starts. In stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 win over Buffalo, Rask has now won three consecutive games. He has allowed just five goals over those wins while posting an impressive .949 SV%.
With two goals on Saturday against Montreal, Craig Smith now has a five-game point streak and a three-game goal streak. This might be a result of the injuries that the Predators have encountered, but Smith is now tied for the team goal lead with 14 goals. P.K. Subban assisted on both of Smith’s goals as he was looking to put on a show for the fans in Montreal.
A rebound game for Sergei Bobrovsky? A night after being removed midway through the second period against Carolina, Bob stopped 27 of 30 shots in the Jackets’ 4-3 win over Carolina. He now has wins in six of his last eight games.
Injury news: Nikolaj Ehlers is expected to be sidelined for one month with an upper-body injury. This means that Kyle Connor is expected to move to the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, while Jack Roslovic will move up to the second line with Patrik Laine and Bryan Little (NHL.com). Connor has been held without a point in his last 10 games, so this might be what is needed for his production to rebound. Roslovic also has just one point over his last 10 games.
Another day, another win for Robin Lehner. That’s seven wins in a row for the Islanders’ goalie, who also has top-drawer goals-against average and save percentage. I’ve written about him in more detail for other days, but I’ll mention that he’s battled some personal issues that probably have something to do with the time he’s missed throughout his career. So it’s great to see him overcome these issues and have a career year. This story on Lehner is a few months old, but you can check it out at The Athletic (subscriber account required).
Vladimir Tarasenko was back in the Blues’ lineup on Saturday after a one-game absence due to illness. Interestingly, his main even-strength linemates were Tyler Bozak and Zach Sanford, while rookie Robert Thomas was moved up alongside Tarasenko’s usual linemates Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. Tarasenko recorded an assist late in the game while retaining his spot on the first-unit power play. He entered the game without a point in his last four games and is on pace for just 23 goals and 50 points, which is not what you bargained for.
I recently acquired Tarasenko in an attempt to buy low in a non-keeper league (while consolidating my roster with players coming off IR and IR+, which is a great feature for storing injured players who aren’t placed on real IR). The Blues are having a disaster of a season, which is affecting Tarasenko’s overall scoring totals as well as his plus-minus (-16). But he has still taken 141 shots, which would put him on pace for nearly 300 shots again. He’s a career 11.3% shooter who is currently shooting at 7.8%, so he could experience some better puck luck soon. But there could still be some problems with his surgically repaired shoulder. So acquiring him is a bit of a risk on my part, as there could be another IR stint if there are lingering issues.
I’m also wondering if more time with the Blues’ lone All-Star representative Ryan O’Reilly would help Tarasenko. O’Reilly might be the only bright spot for the Blues this season, leading the team in scoring. Of Tarasenko’s 14 even-strength points, 11 have been with O’Reilly as his center. This season might be a writeoff for the Blues, but it might be worth it for O’Reilly and Tarasenko to get used to each other to help Tarasenko end the season on a high note.
After Ken Hitchcock’s hiring had a great immediate effect on the Oilers’ D, the Oilers are back to being the defensively-challenged Oilers. Mikko Koskinen was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on eight shots… to the offensively-challenged Kings. Cam Talbot stopped 14 of 15 shots in relief, but it was too little too late. The Oils have now lost seven of their past eight games while allowing an average of nearly five goals per game.
Koskinen, who is supposed to be the better goalie this season, has a 4.45 GAA and .869 SV% during that losing stretch (6 GP for Koskinen). I thought the Hitch hiring would be great for Oilers’ goalies, but that clearly hasn’t been the case for the past three weeks. Whether you decide to sell high on Koskinen depends on how much faith you have in the Oilers as a team. Given the Oilers’ track record and personnel, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.
The Oilers/Kings game was probably one of the least compelling games that I’ve at least glanced at this season. There wasn’t much work for Jonathan Quick, who needed to make only 16 saves to post a shutout. Even though Quick’s value is down this season (the team in front of him has something to do with it), Quick has now posted victories in five of his last seven starts. Quick’s season numbers (2.88 GAA, .902 SV%) are largely disappointing, but his numbers since returning from injury on November 29 (2.47 GAA, .916 SV%) are more encouraging.
Lukas Radil is owned in virtually no leagues (zero percent at the time of writing), but he’s been making some noise lately. With a goal on Saturday, Radil has now scored goals in three consecutive games. At 28 years old, he’s hardly what you’d call a prospect. However, he’s been placed on a line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier, which is obviously helping his short-term value. After spending his career in the Czech league and the KHL, Radil has scored eight points in 17 games in his first NHL season. If you’re in a deep league and need short-term help, he doesn’t seem like a bad option.
With three assists on Saturday, Brent Burns has scored multiple points in each of his last four games, totaling 11 points over that span. Burns also fired six shots on goal while amassing 30:45 in icetime (Erik Karlsson wasn’t that far off, with two assists and 29:15 in icetime). If you were thinking that Burns is going to slow down soon, that’s not happening yet, as he’s scoring at over a point-per-game pace.
Nikita Kucherov: no points and a minus-4 on Saturday. The Lightning lost in regulation for the first time in over a month (November 27, to be exact). Can’t win ‘em all.
Finally, congratulations to Finland for its victory in the World Junior Championship! Kaapo Kakko’s goal with less than two minutes to play sealed the victory for the Finns. What a finish! Remember his name, not only because it’s great alliteration, but also since he’s the number 2 ranked 2019 draft-eligible player over at Dobber Prospects.
Kaapo! Kakko! Less than two minutes to go!
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 6, 2019
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