Duchene Walks To New Team, Laine Breaks Drought, plus more…
Lots to talk about today, and there will be lots more over the next few days, so let’s cut right to the chase…
Several hours after being traded across the Canadian Tire Centre hallway, Matt Duchene made his Blue Jackets debut against his now-former team. Although he was held without a point against the Senators, Duchene was inserted onto the top line alongside Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. Pierre-Luc Dubois, the regular center for this line, was moved to a line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Anthony Duclair. Dubois’ value could take a hit over the final quarter of the season if Duchene replaces him on the top line.
Here are the Jackets’ line combinations in their first game with Duchene:
#1 23.6% ATKINSON,CAM – DUCHENE,MATT – PANARIN,ARTEMI
#2 21.5% DUBINSKY,BRANDON – NASH,RILEY – ROBINSON,ERIC
#3 20% ANDERSON,JOSH – FOLIGNO,NICK – JENNER,BOONE
#4 19% BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – DUBOIS,PIERRE-LUC – DUCLAIR,ANTHONY
Of course, Artemi Panarin was in the Blue Jackets’ lineup on Friday, and it appears he won’t miss any games whether he is traded or not. You have to admire the intestinal fortitude of GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who assuming he does not trade Panarin, is going all in to win a Stanley Cup. There is high risk, though, considering that a) the Jackets are no guarantee to even make the playoffs, and b) Duchene, Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky could all leave the Jackets high and dry after the season. But if you have a legit chance to win your keeper league this season, aren’t you employing a similar strategy? Let’s worry about next season next season.
One notable takeaway from the lines above was the healthy scratching of Alexander Wennberg. Once projected to be the Jackets’ first-line center, Wennberg has just two goals and 23 points all season. Wennberg has not recorded a point over his past seven games, and we know that John Tortorella is not the most patient and nurturing of coaches when it comes to underperforming players. Wennberg was already thought to be a loser in Mike Clifford’s detailed analysis of the Duchene trade, but this news seems to solidify this prediction so far.
Bobrovsky pitched the 22-save shutout against the Senators. He’s bounced back this month, posting a 6-2-0 record with a 2.01 GAA and .929 SV% over the month of February. Hopefully you didn’t sell him for peanuts while he was slumping earlier this season. The Jackets will need Bob to continue this solid play in order to secure a playoff spot.
On Friday morning the Senators recalled Drake Batherson and Logan Brown from the AHL. The recalls signalled that the Sens have officially moved on from Duchene and likely Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel, none of whom were in Friday’s lineup. Batherson (49 points in 41 games) and to a lesser extent Brown (34 points in 39 games) have both been highly successful in the AHL and could step into top-6 roles very quickly.
Batherson and Brown were both held without a point on Friday in 11:26 and 9:32 of total icetime respectively. However, both received second-unit power-play time. If you consider the kind of season Thomas Chabot is having after Erik Karlsson was traded, it’s not a stretch to project Batherson and maybe even Brown as half-point-per-game producers next season, as they could both be given significant roles relatively quickly. They may need more time to get their feet wet in the NHL, though, if Friday is any indication.
The Washington Capitals paid a heavy price to land free agent defenseman Nick Jensen, sending Madison Bowey and a second-round pick in 2020 to Detroit in return (Capitals also receive a fifth-round pick). Although Jensen is employed in virtually no fantasy leagues, the Red Wings’ fan I spoke with earlier this year thought Jensen was his team’s best defenseman this season. The Capitals must be hoping that Jensen is this season’s version of Michal Kempny, who looked very impressive in the playoffs last season. The Jensen acquisition could help Braden Holtby’s numbers to some small degree.
Mike Smith stopped 25 of 26 shots he faced in the Flames’ 2-1 win over Anaheim. That’s now four wins in a row for Smith, who has also started five games in a row. What could have been a four-start week for David Rittich could end up as a zero-start week for him, as Smith figures to receive another start on Sunday against Ottawa based on the current trend. Since Valentine’s Day, Smith is 4-0-1 with a 2.17 GAA and a .924 SV%, which are considerably better numbers than he posted over the first quarter (3.48 GAA, .876 SV%).
However, if you’re a Flames’ fan, how confident are you in your team’s goaltending entering the playoffs? I think I’d need a drink or two if my team’s hopes were riding on Smith, and that’s just from watching his style of play. Here’s what I mean:
— Sportsnet 960 (@Sportsnet960) February 23, 2019
Patience pays off, right? Patrik Laine scored twice in the Jets’ 6-3 win over Vegas. It’s been awhile since we’ve said that, as his previous two goals were only over his last 23 games and he had not scored a goal in his last 15 games. In spite of that serious goal drought, Laine is still within the league’s top 30 with 27 goals. Talk about peaks and valleys. Do you think you could maybe perhaps spread out some of that goal scoring, Mr. Laine?
Some of the recent criticism of Laine centered around the fact that he wasn’t skating to or shooting from the tough areas to score, so his effort in earning this goal is a step in the right direction and could help turn his confidence around.
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) February 23, 2019
This game also signaled the return of Nikolaj Ehlers, who had been out of the lineup since early January with an upper-body injury. Ehlers also scored a goal in the Jets’ victory. Here’s how the lines looked for the Jets:
#1 31.8% CONNOR,KYLE – EHLERS,NIKOLAJ – LITTLE,BRYAN
#2 24.6% COPP,ANDREW – LOWRY,ADAM – TANEV,BRANDON
#3 18.4% LAINE,PATRIK – SCHEIFELE,MARK – WHEELER,BLAKE
#4 10.6% APPLETON,MASON – PERREAULT,MATHIEU – ROSLOVIC,JACK
It’s worth mentioning that Ehlers was on the Scheifele/Wheeler line before his injury, yet with his return it was Laine who was placed back on that line. If Laine had been slumping all this time, I wonder why the heck the Jets waited this long to move him to the top line. The Jets had lost three games in a row (including a 7-1 loss to Colorado on Wednesday), so maybe this stacked top line will stick. If that’s the case, you need to create your trade offer on Laine immediately if that’s something you’ve been putting off.
Carl Soderberg and J.T. Compher each scored twice in the Avalanche’s 5-3 win over Chicago. Soderberg, who now has 20 goals, now has five points and a plus-7 over his last two games. Compher, meanwhile, has four points over his last two games.
Patrick Kane scored a goal, but his 13 shots on goal in 24:46 of icetime are more eye-popping. His point streak is now 20 games, which is the longest in the NHL this season. Over that point streak, Kane has 43 points (17g-26a).
Fantasy owners have told me they are concerned about numerous Minnesota Wild players, including Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, and Mikael Granlund. Wins on Thursday and Friday might alleviate some of that worry, but the Wild could be a dismantled team soon if recent play and personnel moves are any indication. To get an idea of the current state of affairs in Minny, have a listen to this Minnesota Wild podcast that one Twitter follower shared with me. At about the 22-minute mark, Wild beat writer Michael Russo explains that a considerable number of babies have been born to Wild players recently. If Dobber’s theory about newborns negatively impacting player production has credibility, it could explain why the Wild have been in a funk.
First, the Wild lost Matt Dumba to injury for an extended period. Then they downgraded at forward when they sent the now red-hot Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes for the ice-cold (and now injured) Victor Rask. Then they lost captain Mikko Koivu with a season-ending ACL injury. Then Charlie Coyle was traded for the less proven (but perhaps higher upside) Ryan Donato. Staal is on the final year of his contract and may not be back next season, so he may be traded at the deadline.
Sure, the Wild will have Koivu back next season and may have Matt Dumba back before the end of the season. Free agency notwithstanding, though, the Wild may be a team in transition next season. Changes could result in increased opportunities for Donato, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson Ek, which will be positive for keeper owners who have been waiting patiently on them. Even with the long-term contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter still in tow, the Wild could go on a bit of a youth movement.
The Wild player I’m most concerned about fantasy-wise is Devan Dubnyk, whose goalie stats are all trending downward. If the Wild win fewer games next season, then so will Dubnyk. As well, both Dubnyk’s save percentage and goals-against average have moved in the wrong direction for the second consecutive season. Even worse, Dubnyk has a 3-5-2 record with a 2.89 GAA and .898 SV% over the month of February. These numbers were considerably worse before Dubnyk posted back-to-back wins on Thursday and Friday night.
Goalies are an unpredictable bunch in 2018-19, but right now I’d rather retain Tuukka Rask and maybe even Robin Lehner (depending on where he plays next season) on one of my keeper teams for next season over Dubnyk. With Dubnyk’s recent struggles, there are even questions in Minnesota whether he should be the starter going forward. Dubnyk’s wins against the Rangers and Red Wings on back-to-back nights are encouraging. But as one Twitter follower pointed out, the Wild face a murderer’s row of clubs over the next two weeks in the Blues, Jets, Flames, Predators twice, Lightning, Panthers, and Sharks. I’m not at the point where I’d drop Dubnyk in a single-season format, but you may want to consider benching him for a week or two.
Brian Elliott, not Carter Hart, will be starting Saturday’s outdoor game against the Penguins. This is kind of a surprise, as Elliott hasn’t started an NHL game since November 15. However, Elliott has entered each of the last two games in relief of Hart and played well. After a stretch of 10 wins in 11 games, Hart has sputtered in allowing three goals in the first period of his last two games.
I’m still wondering in the back of my mind whether the Flyers will send Hart back to the AHL since Cam Talbot is also now on the roster and hasn’t played yet. But if Hart stays, it makes me wonder why they acquired Talbot in the first place. Or maybe Elliott is being given a showcase start for a potential trade. Or maybe the Flyers are being super cautious in case another goalie is injured. Regardless, I’m confused. Maybe this mess will be untangled soon.
UPDATE: Hart expected to miss at least 10 days with a lower-body injury (Sportsnet).
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.