Ramblings: Lehner’s Vegas Debut; Hot Scorers Toffoli, Fiala, Ryan (Feb 29)
Happy Leap Year Day! If you've bucked the odds and were born on this day, I hope you celebrate like it's nobody's business.
It's good to be back writing after taking last weekend off. Writing the Ramblings on weekends means that I don't get out as often as I used to, and that can include live hockey games. So it was nice to experience both the WHL and the NHL on consecutive nights, with the local Vancouver teams winning both games. Special thanks to Mike Clifford and Tom Collins (writing his very first Ramblings!) for stepping up in my absence.
Toffoli has points in all four of his games with the Canucks, which includes four goals playing on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. However, you may remember Toffoli's hat trick in that outdoor game, which turned out to be his final game as a King. Going back six games, Toffoli has eight goals and ten points. He's also been firing the puck a ton, with an average of exactly five shots per game over his last seven games.
Of course, he's not going to score at this pace forever, but it's fair to say that his ceiling with the Canucks is higher than it was with the Kings. Even if Brock Boeser returns before the regular season, Toffoli would be bumped to the second line at worst, which features Bo Horvat and old friend Tanner Pearson. Having said that, don't count on Boeser returning by the end of the regular season, so Toffoli should get an extended look on the top line.
Now that it seems like Toffoli could put up some amazing numbers with the Canucks, will he sign there this offseason? Unfortunately for Canucks fans, I don't see this happening unless there's some serious out-of-the-box cap maneuvering by Jim Benning. In other words, this could turn into another Anson Carter-type situation, where he leverages a big season from a major opportunity with the Canucks to a lucrative contract with another team where he loses value. This is more of a fearless forecast than anything, rather than an evaluation of Toffoli's ability. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what happens this offseason.
If you're thinking of benching or dropping Kevin Fiala, don't. This tweet was posted before Friday, when Fiala added yet another goal and assist. Or to put it another way, I'll bet you didn't expect this out of Kevin Fiala.
In case you're wondering what Fiala's October was like, he registered just one assist in eight games. If you have already added him, I'm guessing it was on the waiver wire. Fiala has both goals and assists in three consecutive games along with goals in five of his past six games. Yet he's still available in over half of Yahoo leagues.
With a 24-save shutout on Friday, Alex Stalock has now won each of his last four starts. At the moment, he's also wrestled the Minnesota starting job away from Devan Dubnyk. Stalock has started seven of the past nine games for the Wild. Since Dean Evason took over as coach two weeks ago, Stalock has started five of the past seven games. Just before he was let go, Bruce Boudreau seemed to flip-flop between goalies, making a switch every couple games. Evason seems to be leaning toward Stalock, who has the much smaller contract but who has performed much better this season.
Thursday was truly a special moment for Bobby Ryan. In case you missed it, Ryan posted a hat trick in his second game back from the NHL's substance abuse program (and first game in front of the Ottawa home fans). Ryan's reaction to his accomplishment showed that these games truly mean something for the players, even if the Senators as a team face another death march to the end of the season.
On paper, it's easy to label Ryan as an underperforming forward with an inflated ($7.25 million cap hit until 2022) contract. However, this is a real person who has tackled challenges beyond what many of us have faced in our lives. If you're not familiar with Ryan's story dating back to his childhood, I encourage you to read about it.
Let's discuss Ryan for fantasy purposes, though. It's unlikely you own him in your fantasy league (just 6 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, which was probably even lower before the hat trick). Ryan had entered the game without a goal since the first game of the season (a span of 16 games), so him scoring all of his goals in one game isn't going to help if he wasn't in your lineup for that one game. More sustained production game by game (eg. Toffoli, Fiala) is obviously more desirable, even if it comes in smaller doses.
Conversely, we're reaching the point in the season where just about anyone is a viable option, especially on a very short-term basis. The hard-working Senators still have games to play, and the options that could provide the goals for this team are very wide open. As well, don't forget how powerful emotion can be. So now that Ryan has recovered, you may not want to rule him out completely. Even if you don't add him to your fantasy team, it's hard not to pull for him.
Important fantasy players continue to fall like flies. On Friday, Chris Kreider was the latest victim, suffering a fractured foot while blocking a shot. The Rangers, who aren't very far off from a playoff spot, opted to sign Kreider to a long-term contract instead of trading him, so this really couldn't come at a worse time.
In spite of the loss to the Flyers, the good news for the Rangers was the return of Pavel Buchnevich after missing two games because of a car accident. Buchnevich recorded an assist in his return.
If you recently added Mike Green from the waiver wire because of his recent trade to Edmonton, should you be that surprised that he is injured again? After playing just two games for the Oilers, Green is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks with a sprained MCL. Green was acquired to pick up some of the slack with Oscar Klefbom out, but with the trade deadline over.
Mark Stone missed Friday's game because of a lower-body injury with no timeline for his return. My fantasy playoffs start in two weeks, so I'm just hoping he's back in time. Chandler Stephenson, who has benefitted from opportunities before, moved up to Stone's spot on his line with Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson while recording an assist.
Robin Lehner's first start as a Vegas Golden Knight turned out well. Lehner stopped 32 of 34 shots to earn a win over the Sabres. One of those goals happened to be very late once Vegas cemented a 4-1 lead, so this was an impressive performance. I was just as shocked as you were that the Vegases would trade for Lehner, but given Marc-Andre Fleury's so-so season, I can now understand why. Now that it has happened, expect Fleury and Lehner to split starts down the stretch, which is at least as good – if not better – for Lehner's fantasy value compared to Chicago. As for the playoffs, Fleury is still the guy, but Peter DeBoer probably won't waste his time turning to Lehner should Fleury struggle.
In spite of a season that could be better, Fleury is on a five-game win streak. Vegas as a team has now won eight in a row and appears ready to run away with the Pacific Division (yes, I know about the games in hand, Canucks and Oilers fans). Some other Golden Knights have been heating up after struggling earlier on, including the following:
Paul Stastny: six points in his last six games and 17 points over his last 21 games after just 19 points over his first 45 games
Karlsson: four goals in his past three games after a 20-game goal drought
By the way, that was Jeff Skinner with the aforementioned garbage goal on Lehner. He also fired eight shots on goal, so there was no lack of try on his part. Skinner has averaged about two shots per game over his previous nine games, which simply isn't going to cut it for him to get out of his slump. So Friday's game is a step in the right direction if you have to remain patient.
With two assists on Friday, Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games. During that stretch, he has 12 goals and nine assists. Since December 7, only Auston Matthews and Mika Zibanejad have more goals than Aho's 23 goals (although Aho is tied with Alex Ovechkin and Dobber favorite Dominik Kubalik over that span).
Goalie starts for Saturday, according to Goalie Post:
Tuukka Rask (@ NYI): Tuukka hasn't been himself in his past two starts, allowing six and four goals in losses to Vancouver and Calgary. The Islanders are known more for defense than offense, so this has the makings of a low-scoring game. I'm not benching Rask in this one.
Mackenzie Blackwood (@ LA): Blackwood has won each of his last six games. But what might be even more surprising is that he was kept on the bench for the past two games because of a hot Cory Schneider. Yeah, the Devils are well out of the playoff race, but their goalies are suddenly worth owning. I'm comfortable starting Blackwood against a Kings team that is near the bottom of the league in goals for per game.
Martin Jones (vs. PIT): It's hard to recommend starting Jones, but he has a very respectable 1.76 GAA and .938 SV% over his last four games. The Penguins will also be playing their second game in back-to-back nights. Are you feeling lucky?
Finally, it's hard to believe that it's been ten years. Apologies to the Americans reading this. 😊 Canadian fans, do you remember where you were when this happened? I cheered so loud I woke up my infant son, who was having his afternoon nap. Here it is in many different languages, for your viewing enjoyment.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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