Ramblings: Bjugstad and Muzzin New Team Debuts, Avs Breaking Up Top Line?
The schedule returned to normal on Friday with eight games on the schedule. Earlier in the day, however, the Penguins and Panthers hooked up on a multiplayer trade that you can read about here, as far as a fantasy take goes.
In fact, two of the traded players made their debuts with their new team. Both Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann were able to pull into to Pittsburgh mere moments before their game against Ottawa. Bjugstad played 16 minutes and lined up with Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust while assisting on one of Rust’s two goals. This might turn out to be a solid arrangement for Bjugstad, who you may remember went off with 26 points in 35 games after the All-Star break last season.
Meanwhile, McCann received 10 minutes in what would have been a fourth-line role.
Bjugstad’s and McCann’s debut could have been accelerated by the fact that Evgeni Malkin missed this game because of an upper-body injury. This allowed the Pens to ice a power play of Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel, who scored his now-career-high 25th and 26th goals of the season. An eventual Malkin return would shake up the lines again, with Guentzel likely pushed back to the second-unit power play and Bjugstad possibly moved off the Kessel line.
After being a reliable option for the first two and a half months of the season, Carter Hutton’s numbers are taking a nosedive. After posting a 4.15 GAA and .860 SV% over the month of January, Hutton’s struggles continued on Friday. He allowed four goals on 22 shots before being pulled at the end of the second period in the Sabres’ eventual 7-3 loss to Chicago. Although his numbers aren’t a whole lot better, Linus Ullmark might give the Sabres a better chance to win at the moment. But to paraphrase what Dobber says, the guy with the contract will get the longer rope. Regardless, fantasy owners should be benching Hutton for the time being.
Patrick Kane took advantage of a fading Sabres’ team, scoring two goals and adding two assists. He has posted a staggering 25 points over his current 10-game point streak. That run has helped Kane climb up to second in league scoring with 31 goals and 75 points in just 51 games. Kane has reached 100 points once in his career (in 2015-16), but he’s currently on pace for 121 points in what has clearly been a live puck season.
Look who was on a line with Kane and Jonathan Toews on Friday night. Yes, it was none other than ex-Oiler Drake Caggiula, who scored a goal and added two assists. It’s not quite time to add him to the list of players who have surpassed expectations since being exiled from Edmonton, as he entered this game with just a single assist in eight games as a Blackhawk. But this promotion could be a massive boost to his fantasy value if it can somehow stick.
After missing a significant chunk of the season due to injury, Viktor Arvidsson has been on a goal-scoring tear over the past month. Since December 31, Arvidsson has hit the twine 13 times in 14 games, including the two goals he scored on Friday in the Preds’ win over Florida. That leads all players over that span. Arvidsson has been lucky enough to benefit from a 22.0 SH%, but over that same span he also leads all players with 59 shots on goal. Do the math and that’s over four shots per game. Arvidsson has been good for nearly 250 shots over the past two season, but that shot pace would push him over 300 SOG.
It was the rare “shutout but no win” for Thomas Greiss, who stopped 41 shots in regulation and overtime before losing in the shootout to Tampa Bay. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn have been an absolute godsend to Islanders’ goaltenders, who currently lead the league with a team 2.36 GAA, over a full goal per game lower than last season. The Islanders are still a middle-of-the-pack team in shots against, so much of this success is on the goalies Greiss and Robin Lehner. In fact, I’m almost prepared to suggest that Lehner will lose fantasy value if he signs anywhere else this offseason.
Andrei Vasilevskiy did record the win and shutout on Friday night, stopping all 36 shots he faced in regulation and overtime while stopping all three Islander shootout attempts.
Jake Muzzin made his long-awaited (or so it seems) Leafs debut on Friday, skating 18 minutes while alongside Morgan Rielly at even strength (with Rielly moving over to the right side). Fantasy-wise, I don’t see huge gains in Muzzin’s value this season with this trade. He saw limited power-play usage in this game and overall could be forced to fight Jake Gardiner for second-unit time. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is a good hockey trade for Toronto, which receives a much-needed top-4 defenseman. The trade could even help Frederik Andersen, who hasn’t had an easy time over the last two months (3.04 GAA, .908 SV% over December and January).
I’m pretty sure this trade is also the final straw in Gardiner’s exit from Toronto after the season. Not that there was much doubt, given the Leafs’ cap situation. Plus, why on earth would he want to re-sign there anyway, given the way he gets treated by his own team’s fans?
Here’s more on the Muzzin trade fantasy-wise from Dobber himself.
Andreas Athanasiou assisted on all three of the Red Wings’ goals on Friday, giving him five assists over his last three games. I saw him play live recently and came away just as impressed with his wheels as the Wings’ fan sitting beside me. Athanasiou doesn’t exactly play alongside the Wings’ top scorers (Luke Glendening and Darren Helm), but he did receive reps on the first unit in this game. With 33 points, Athanasiou has already matched his career high in just 46 games. Yet it would be interesting to see what kind of production he would have with better linemates.
Nothing to do with Athanasiou’s hockey skills or fantasy value: Last season I named one of my fantasy teams “Nice to Athanasiou.” See what I did there?
Nino Niederreiter is enjoying his time in Carolina, and not just because of the enjoyable post-game celebrations. Since being acquired by the Hurricanes, Niederreiter has scored five goals in five games, including his first-period goal on Friday in the Canes’ 5-2 win over Vegas. The Hurricanes really needed a player who could score from the slot, but uniting him with a playmaker like Sebastian Aho can’t hurt, either. Not to mention that Niederreiter’s icetime is over two minutes per game higher than it was in Minnesota. It’s still very early, but so far the Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade has turned out to be a huge win for Carolina.
Oh yeah, here’s that Carolina post-game celebration. Yay or nay? It seems like it’s more for the kids than the traditional hockey fan, but I don’t mind it. If it helps build the fan base in Carolina, then it’s a good thing.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 2, 2019
If you’ve been waiting patiently for Shea Theodore, he scored two goals in a losing cause for the Golden Knights, including one on the power play. He’s scored two power-play goals and taken nine shots over his last four games.
Something to keep an eye on when watching your Saturday games: In an attempt to shake things up, the Avalanche may be splitting up the league’s top line (Denver Post). The plan is expected to be Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog being centered by Carl Soderberg, while Nathan MacKinnon centers Alexander Kerfoot and Colin Wilson. If true, this could provide a huge boost for Soderberg, who already has five goals over his last five games.
But in an attempt to spread out the scoring, both MacKinnon and Rantanen could be negatively impacted by the move. Or not. Or maybe coach Jared Bednar will reunite them quickly and the whole thing won't matter. But it's worth mentioning that 46 of Rantanen's 48 even-strength points this season have been with MacKinnon on his line, while 38 of MacKinnon's 43 even-strength points have been with Rantanen on his line.
Juggling the lines won’t fix the Avalanche’s goaltending, which has been horrendous over the past two months. Only the Chicago Blackhawks have allowed more goals over that span than the Avs’ 89 goals allowed over their past 24 games.
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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