Update: The Blue Jackets have been hit hard by injuries again (Again? Or still?). Seth Jones has been placed on IR and is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Cam Atkinson is also said to be out for tonight with an undisclosed injury that doesn’t seem to be too serious. Perhaps the latter is the reason for the Foudy recall (below).
The Detroit Red Wings fired 72 shots on goal! How incredible is that? Oh wait – (checks notes) – sorry, that was totaled over their last four games. Yes, that's an average of 18 shots on goal per game. Outshot 40-19 on Sunday, they still managed the win. But this team right now is playing to lose.
The offense has completely dried up and it's killing fantasy value across the board. Dylan Larkin has 15 points in his last 16 games, Robby Fabbri has 10 points in his last 16 games. In that same span, no other player has more than seven (Bertuzzi).
Hidden, buried, deep inside that dry spell is a fantastic goaltending performance. Jonathan Bernier is 7-5-0 with a 1.97 GAA and a 0.940 SV% in 13 games (eight Quality Starts). His season-long numbers are below average, but since December 12 he has been a Top 3 fantasy goalie. Even Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is 17-1-2 in that span, has a lower SV% at 0.928. Only the Columbus goalies have been more impressive. Coach Jeff Blashill is forcing a strong defensive system on his young roster and they're still learning it. They're learning how to kick in some offense while still being defensively responsible, and as you can see – it's not coming along very quickly. Perhaps a player like Alexis Lafreniere injects enough talent to change this style next year, but if not then this will be the team where offense dies next year. It's an alarming trend and I call it "The Nashville".
Andreas Athanasiou's two goals was enough to give him a plus-1 on the day and steals some of my jokes away. I'll still poke a little fun: he was minus-40 heading into the contest. Had he gone minus-2 then perhaps I would have revived the 'DobberHockey Quest for Minus-100' feature.
Robby Fabbri suffered another injury. The only good news there is that it was to his upper body and not one of his knees. He left the game and did not return, with no update after the game. See it here.
Brad Marchand was held off the scoresheet Sunday for the third consecutive game. It's the first time this season that he's gone three games in a row without a point. Marchand has 10 points in his last 16 games.
One of my preseason hunches, that had long been dead, is back on my radar. I mean, this hunch was dead, stomped on, a fork stuck in it, and then buried. But the mound of dirt that was covering this hunch of mine has suddenly moved around and a dirty hand is reaching out. Jimmy Vesey, yet again, is playing with Jack Eichel. And this time it's working. The Sabres have always had a crush on Vesey ever since he decided to test the free agent market when he graduated college. After three years in New York with only modest improvement year over year, Vesey was finally acquired by Buffalo. I think their big mistake was putting him with Eichel immediately. He's still a relatively young player and he's certainly still new to the NHL at 26. Unless you're a proven veteran or superstar, you need time to adjust to a new team. Putting him on the first line right away like that, to me, was a mistake. They needed to stick him on the third line and make him earn his way up. But they put him with Eichel in preseason, dropped him to the third line to start the year, gave him a shot on the line in December again, dropped him back to the third line…and now he's back. This time he's been with the team half the year, he knows the system, knows the players and seems to be comfortable. He has four points in three games but has been with Eichel and Sam Reinhart for four straight. He's starting to see PP time too and on Sunday picked up his first PPPt. On Sunday, Vesey saw 25:52 of ice time in a regulation game! Vesey is a short-term play here and you can hold him for as long as he remains on that line. If he keeps producing on that line, then of course that means this would be a longer-term play.
Prospect goaltender Jonas Johansson, who I've been pretty high on this year, was recalled by the Sabres (as I'm sure you know by now) last week. Linus Ullmark is out for three or four weeks and Carter Hutton has been inconsistent all season (to put it politely). Hutton does have three Quality Starts in his last four games, while Johansson has started two of the last three and has been mediocre (0.889 SV%, 0-1-1). I'm very interested in the goaltending situation with Buffalo for keeper leagues because the team is eventually going to be great for a long time. I know you don't believe that, but I say this because any team with a superstar forward and a superstar defenseman is going to eventually be a playoff team. Eichel is now a superstar, while Rasmus Dahlin is another year or two away from being that superstar defenseman. So when Buffalo starts piling up the W's, who will be their goalie? My guess in the summer was Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. But UPL has had a rough start to his pro career, while Johansson has been amazing with a 0.925 SV% in 20 AHL games.
Ullmark has been solid, but to me his numbers look, long-term, like those of a very good backup in the NHL. Hutton has been terrible ever since he suckered the Sabres to pay him big based on one strong 32-game season for St. Louis. I don't see either of them as options. So to me it's between UPL, who needs time, and Johansson who is actually close to being NHL-ready. Right now, in my mind, Johansson is the best bet. But let's see if the Sabres buy out Hutton this summer and then sign a guy like Braden Holtby or Jacob Markstrom. Johansson fantasy prospect profile here.
Speaking of goaltending, another Dobber Darling had a big game yesterday – Igor Shesterkin. Another start, another Quality Start, and another win. His numbers now sit at 5-1-0, 2.34 and 0.933 with four QS. Sunday's performance saw 42 saves on 43 shots. Yes, I think next year he is a 55-game starter. Henrik Lundqvist will be the backup and mentor and I think Alexandar Georgiev gets traded if Lundqvist doesn't do something surprising such as retire this summer with a year left on his contract. Lundqvist turns 38 in three weeks. But mark my words: Shesterkin is their guy. His fantasy prospect profile is here.
Kaapo Kakko's goal on Sunday marked just his third even-strength point since November 12. That's 34 games with eight PPPts and three ES Pts. It was his second goal in 34 games. Not the splash we envisioned in September.
Trevor Moore scored his first goal for the Kings in his second game. He was not among the eight forwards on the team to receive PP time, so no change in that department on a new squad. He lined up with Blake Lizotte and Austin Wagner.
Joonas Donskoi has three points in his last 19 games. Market correcting at its finest right there.
Cale Makar seemed to slip a little upon returning from injury, but he's obviously back in form now. When he returned, he had five points in nine games and was minus-6. Since then, he has nine points in eight games and is plus-5.
Ryan Graves continues to ride the Makar train, and in fact is settling in a lot more comfortably. He had been a favorite of my a few years ago, ranking rather high on my Fantasy Prospects list for defensemen. He ranked as high as 14th in January of 2017. But that's where he peaked and he had slipped steadily after that as his AHL numbers fell and he was traded to Colorado, only to continue seeing the numbers fall. But partnering up with a superstar can really help a guy out. Besides his gaudy plus-39 rating which leads the entire NHL (second place is Dougie Hamilton at plus-30 – what a gap), Graves also has 20 points in his last 39 games. He has 88 BLKS in that span, too. He's 6-5, 220 pounds and I really think he has found a home playing with Makar. This partnership is going to last several years, making Graves a very real fantasy asset. His contract this summer will be very interesting.
I wish I knew what was going on with Alex DeBrincat. To me, he has elite upside and in keeper leagues is a definite buy-low. But I don't understand why his production has been so terrible. Just 20 points in his last 36 games, and he's a minus-14 in that span.
Thanks to points on each of a pair of empty netters Sunday, Kyle Connor has seven points in two games on the weekend. That pulls him up above a point-per-game level, now on pace to reach 85.
Darnell Nurse signed a contract extension with the Oilers. The AAV will reportedly be slightly higher than $5.5M.
Liam Foudy has been called up from junior hockey (the OHL's London Knights) on an emergency basis. Foudy is Columbus' top-ranked forward prospect not currently playing in the NHL in terms of fantasy value, ranking 104th on my Prospects List (which is due today, but I'm sorry will be late again). Foudy has 43 points in 32 games for the Knights and had three goals and four points in seven games for Team Canada at the WJC. According to a report in the Athletic, an NHL team can call up a CHL player under one of the following situations:
1. The NHL club currently has two players on the roster under emergency recall, meaning the recalled player is the third emergency recall
2. The junior club's season is finished
3. It comes at a time "that is not inconvenient" to the junior club (re: games missed)
The Jackets are using the third option here. They can do this for up to five games per season.
See you next Monday.