Saturday’s boxscores resembled the 1980s in that there were a number of 5-4 and 6-4 games. Before we dive into those, the Sabres, Leafs, and Rangers announced some injury news earlier in the day.
Jeff Skinner is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks with an upper-body (possible shoulder) injury that forced him to leave Friday’s game. The Buffalo winger had been ice cold during December, as he had not scored a goal and registered just two assists over his last 11 games. Deployment has something to do with it, as Sabres scoring falls off a cliff after the Jack Eichel line, where Skinner hadn’t been playing. This is an area that the Sabres will need to address if they are to be considered a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
These were the lines at Sabres practice on Saturday:
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) December 28, 2019
If this sticks for Buffalo’s game on Sunday against Boston, this is a huge boost for Kyle Okposo. With four more years at $6 million per season for Okposo, the Sabres can try to reap some return on their investment here. Likewise, this would hurt Sam Reinhart’s value, although Reinhart remains on the first-unit power play. Marcus Johansson would take Skinner’s spot on the first-unit power play.
The injury didn’t look good, and the timeline for recovery confirms it. The Leafs will be without Ilya Mikheyev for at least three months after having surgery to repair an artery and severed tendons in his wrist. At the time of injury, Mikheyev was fourth in rookie scoring with 23 points (8g-15a) in 39 games. He was also taking advantage of playing on a scoring line with John Tavares and William Nylander, recording six points in his last six games. Alexander Kerfoot took Mikheyev’s place on that line on Saturday, although he did not record a point.
The Leafs also announced that Jake Muzzin is week-to-week with a broken foot. In a related move, Timothy Liljegren was recalled from the AHL. Liljegren has 17 points in 27 games with the Toronto Marlies. See his Dobber Prospects page for more.
The Rangers will be without Brendan Lemieux for about 3-4 weeks with a fractured hand. Lemieux hasn’t been a huge scorer for the Rangers (13 points in 35 games), but he has value in bangers leagues with a league-leading 87 penalty minutes. His 86 hits also places him second on the Rangers.
Call it either post-hype sleeper or opportunity on a rebuilding team, but Ryan Strome is having a career year. With two goals and two assists in the Rangers win on Saturday, Strome now has 11 points over his last 10 games and nearly a point per game (35 points in 38 games) over the season. Strome has also taken six shots on goal in back-to-back games. Part of the problem for him in Edmonton is that he barely spent any time on Connor McDavid’s line. In New York, however, he’s been a fixture on Artemi Panarin’s line. Linemates and opportunity matter.
When I noticed Alex Killorn on the Lightning’s first-unit power play earlier this season, I added him in one league and advised you to do the same. Killorn scored twice and added an assist with a plus-4 in 21 minutes of icetime on Saturday. That gives him 31 points in 34 games, which includes 25 points and nine power-play points over his last 21 games. Oh, and he has as many goals (13) as Nikita Kucherov. Since the Lightning have played fewer games than any other team, you’ll also receive the added benefit of a few additional games if you add him now.
With four assists on Saturday, Victor Hedman now has seven points and a plus-5 over his last seven games. He’s also one of three defensemen currently scoring at a point-per-game pace. John Carlson and Roman Josi are the others.
Bryan Rust is another player who was a must-add earlier this season due to opportunity with some high scorers on the top line and first-unit power play. Rust added to his total on Saturday with two goals and two assists, giving him 30 points in just 24 games. You might have to take this next stat with a grain of salt, as Rust’s season didn’t start until late October. His point-per-game total is currently 11th in the league, and similar to the likes of John Carlson, Mitch Marner, and Patrick Kane. His advanced stats scream regression (19.8 SH% is an example), but you’ll want to keep rolling him out there while he’s getting sustained icetime with Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. He very likely won’t have the staying power of those two, though.
Matt Murray earned a much-needed win on Saturday, stopping 44 of 48 shots. Unfortunately, he has now allowed at least three goals in each of his last seven starts. Expect the Penguins to continue to lean more toward Tristan Jarry in the near term.
Hopefully you haven’t been in a position where you’ve been forced to be patient with Mikael Granlund. The struggling Nashville forward made an appearance on the boxscore on Saturday, scoring twice with a plus-2. Over his last five games, Granlund has taken just six shots, which doesn’t offer much hope for a turnaround. Granlund has been on a line with Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene, which is better than being buried down the lineup for his lack of production.
Speaking of Duchene, he assisted on both of Granlund’s goals while firing a season-high nine shots on goal. In spite of the solid effort on Saturday, he’s still struggling to score a goal with a now eight-game goalless drought and just one goal in his last 14 games. Currently it looks like neither Granlund or Duchene are better off with their recent moves to Nashville.
With a power-play goal on Saturday, Denis Gurianov now has goals in three consecutive games and points in four consecutive games.
Tyler Seguin took a season-high ten shots while converting on one of them. Even if Seguin’s scoring is down a little this season, he’s still a top-10 option for shots on goal. Seguin has reached 300 shots in each of the previous three seasons. Only Alex Ovechkin has taken more shots that Seguin since the 2016-17 season.
Mark Stone scored two first-period goals to lead Vegas to a 4-1 win over Arizona. Later in the game, Stone appeared to get his leg tangled and left for the dressing room, but returned moments later. Stone has 15 points over his last 10 games, so the Golden Knights can ill-afford to lose a scorer like him.
After a slow start, Shea Theodore is rounding into form and on pace for his first 40-point season. With three assists on Saturday, Theodore has 11 points over his last eight games. He was a player I bought low on earlier this season in a trade, and I’m glad I did.
Speaking of Sunday goalie starts, Jacob Markstrom could be back between the pipes on Sunday against Calgary after an extremely busy Saturday. Markstrom made 49 saves in stealing a 3-2 win for the Canucks over LA. Markstrom is the hot goalie with four consecutive wins, but that might not be the only reason he starts Sunday. Thatcher Demko has just returned to the Vancouver lineup after dealing with another concussion, so the Canucks may not want to rush him into an important Pacific Division matchup.
I watch the Canucks more than any other team, so I can tell you firsthand that Markstrom has gotten better and better during his time in Vancouver. He’s had some tremendous games both this season and last, so he’s not a goalie I’d underestimate even in fantasy. Here’s an example as to why:
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) December 29, 2019
This may sound cliched because he's the goalie, but there's also a solid case that even with the young talent on the Canucks, Markstrom has been the team MVP this season.
If your league counts shorthanded goals (not a category I prefer, but to each their own), Warren Foegele is a player to own. With a shorthanded goal on Saturday, Foegele and Sebastian Aho are tied for the league lead with three shorthanded goals. Foegele also added another goal and assist for a three-point game and a plus-4 rating. Foegele has yet to establish himself as a reliable fantasy option, but playing on a line with up-and-coming Andrei Svechnikov could help his numbers going forward.
The Sharks needed a big game from anyone, and they got that from Timo Meier on Saturday. Not only did Meier record his first career hat trick, but he also took six shots, dished four hits, and ended up with a plus-5. Talk about filling the boxscore.
Meier had not recorded a single point in his previous four games and is on pace for a significant drop from his 66-point breakout from last season. The problem isn’t goals, as Meier is on pace for a similar number of goals as last season (30). Meier has been affected by much of the instability in San Jose, but he’s also receiving far fewer minutes with San Jose leading scorer Logan Couture than he had last season. You could try buying low, particularly if you need help with goals.
Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard about Canada’s horrible 6-0 loss to Russia at the World Juniors, which included an injury to top prospect Alexis Lafreniere and the Barrett Hayton post-game “helmet” issue (see below).
Barrett Hayton didn't remove his helmet for the Russian anthem and Russia's players were not pleased about it 😬 pic.twitter.com/thv5tCj82F
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 28, 2019
Now that Hayton has issued his apology, I’m hoping it’s a leadership lesson learned for the youngster and we can move on. I’m not about stripping the C or removing him from the team or anything extreme like that, but even if he is “still a kid” it’s still fair to say this was a careless oversight for someone who was named team captain for a country with gold-medal aspirations year after year. Certainly we should expect better from Team Canada going forward after what was a brutal day.
For more fantasy hockey tidbits, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.