In this week’s Eastern Edge, we continue analyzing the big storylines from around the Eastern Conference. We began our journey with observations from Boston to New Jersey in last week’s article. I know I promised that we’d close out the series this week with thoughts on teams from New York to Washington, but I got a little carried away and only made it to Philadelphia. So, if there’s any news in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto or Washington that you want me to discuss next week, please DM me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza!
New York Islanders
No Man is an Island
After an outstanding performance last season that saw them finish fifth in league standings, most predicted the Islanders to regress this year – I guess the team missed the memo. New York has won 18 of their first 25 games and sit fourth in the league despite playing fewer games than the teams around them. They’ve maintained the strong defensive play that made them so successful last season, allowing just 2.36 goals per game – only Boston and Arizona have been better defensively. It’s interesting to note that teams with a 1A/1B goaltending situation have done a good job of keeping the puck out of the net. Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper have shared the net in Arizona while Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask have split time in Boston. Continuing the theme, Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have shared the net pretty equally and both have performed pretty well thanks to the strong defensive system that coach Barry Trotz has implemented. Greiss sports an impressive 10-2 record, alongside a 2.10 GAA and .931 SV%. Varlamov is 8-3-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .922 SV%.
As you would expect, Mathew Barzal leads the team in scoring with 23 points in 25 games. More surprisingly, Brock Nelson sits second with 20 points in 25 games, while Anthony Beauvillier, Derick Brassard and Josh Bailey share third spot with 17 points in 25 games. It’s kind of crazy to think that Barzal is on pace for 75 points this year despite a lack of power-play production. He has just 4 PPP through 25 games but has started to see more time on the man-advantage recently. For me, Nelson’s production has been the biggest surprise. This is his seventh season in the NHL and he’s on pace for 66 points – his career-high is 53, which he established last season. Nelson is starting significantly more of his shifts in the defensive than the offensive zone, which makes his offensive production even more impressive.
New York Rangers
O-ffense from De-Angelo
The Blueshirts have an abundance of talent on their blueline. Tony DeAngelo has 19 points in 26 games, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba each have 14 in 26 while Brady Skjei has 10 in 25. Nineteen points in 26 games, that’s pretty good right? Well, let me give you some more perspective as to how good DeAngelo has been this season. Only 12 defensemen in the NHL currently have more points than DeAngelo and all of them play more than 20 minutes a night while he averages just over 18 minutes a game. With that being said, I’d probably advise you to sell high on him now as it’s unlikely he achieves the 60 points he’s currently on pace for. He’s currently scoring on 14.3 percent of his shots, but that number tends to range between four and nine percent for most defensemen over the course of a full season. In addition, he’s registering a point on 65.5 percent of the goals his team scores, when that number was closer to 40 percent in previous years. While DeAngelo has been seeing a lot of time on the team’s top power-play unit, he’s had to share that role with Adam Fox recently.
Speaking of Adam Fox, one of our readers requested that we discuss him this week. So, if you’ve been looking for more information on Fox, say thank you to Morgan!
The 21-year-old rookie has 14 points in 19 games after going pointless in his first seven games of the season. I haven’t had a chance to see him play very often, so I’ll defer the eye test to someone who has. Shayna Goldman frequently writes about the Rangers for the Athletic and referred to Fox as the team’s best defender in November as he’s effectively boosted their offense while reducing shot quantity and quality from the opposition. While you might be weary of the fact that he has just 46 shots through 26 games, it’s important to note that 20 of those shots came in his last seven contests. He’s created a bigger role for himself with his strong play and his ice-time has increased significantly since the beginning of the season. However, we must keep in mind that he’s still a rookie and is probably more susceptible to the fatigue that sets in during the latter stages of an 82-game season. He had been playing just 30-40 games each year during his time at Harvard University. When it comes to the fantasy hockey value of both Fox and DeAngelo, I’m weary because neither one is guaranteed to see the majority of the team’s power-play time. As I look at the league’s highest scoring defensemen, I notice that most guys also happen to quarterback the team’s top power-play – and they don’t have too much competition for that role. I’m really impressed with what Fox and DeAngelo have done this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them put continue to produce as the season progresses. However, I’d probably prefer to capitalize on their current value in the form of a trade, instead of holding onto them all year.
Jean-Gabriel is playing well
The month of November saw Jean-Gabriel Pageau score 11 goals in 16 games, only Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak scored more during the past month. One of the most amazing things about Pageau’s production is the fact the he doesn’t see much time on the power play. He’s seen more than a minute of power-play time in just 7 of his 27 games. Five of those games have come recently, as coach D.J. Smith attempted to improve a league-worst power play (currently clicking at 9.3 percent) with one of the league’s hottest forwards – but it wasn’t very effective. I hate to be wet blanket in this situation, but if you own Pageau in your fantasy hockey league, you should probably sell ASAP. He’s currently scoring on 22.2 perecent of his shots and it’s very unlikely he’s able to maintain such a high success rate throughout the season. In addition, his status as an excellent defensive forward prevents him from being deployed in situations that would help his production. For example, when someone who’s known for their offensive abilities is struggling, the coach will usually continue to play them on the PP and start them in the offensive zone in an attempt to get them going. However, Pageau starts way more of his shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone and is integral to the team’s penalty kill – not the power play. His strong defensive play is more important to the team’s success than his goal-scoring abilities. Since he’s seeing less offensive opportunity, his offensive production will be much harder to maintain.
Hart’s Still Beating
There was a great deal of concern among fantasy hockey managers who drafted Carter Hart as he stumbled out of the gate this season. He won just two of his six starts in October, posting a .864 save percentage and 3.32 GAA in the process. In stark contrast, November saw him post a 6-2-2 record alongside a .927 SV% and 1.94 GAA. However, this turnaround has been more of a team effort than just a bounce back from Hart. Brian Elliot’s numbers also saw great improvement in November (4-0-2, .926 SV% & 2.38 GAA) compared to October (3-2-0, .904 SV% and 3.10 GAA). However, the 34-year-old Elliot seems to deal with injuries every year, so Hart should start seeing more starts as the season progresses.