Ramblings: Saturday Round-Robin Results, A Wild Situation (Aug 9)
After Friday's six-pack of must-watch elimination games (with five resulting in the elimination of a team), Saturday's pair of round-robin games may have seemed like a letdown for hockey fans looking to get their fix. Yet these games had playoff matchup implications, which made them worth checking out if you had the chance.
In the first game, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 4-3. The win gave the Golden Knights a 3-0-0 round-robin record and the top seed in the West. Vegas will face the #12-seed Chicago Blackhawks in the round-of-16 playoffs. With a 2-1-0 record in round-robin, the Avalanche will receive the #11-seed Arizona Coyotes.
In the game, Alex Tuch scored in overtime to give Vegas the win. Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals and fired four shots on goal to lead the Vegas scoring charge. Shea Theodore chipped in a pair of assists.
In the second game, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-1. The win gave the Flyers a 3-0-0 round-robin record and the top seed in the East. That means the Flyers, who at the pause were the fourth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, face the #12-seed Montreal Canadiens in what seemed like an improbable playoff matchup prior to the return to play. If the Flyers aren't getting the respect they deserve, it's worth mentioning that they finished the regular season with wins in nine of their last ten games.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel led the Flyers attack, scoring twice in the first period. If he was somehow in your multicategory playoff pool, he had a big day for you with a plus-2, six shots, and three shots.
Joel Farabee scored a goal and added an assist, while Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere each had two assists. In case you're wondering about Ghost, he had been scratched for the first two games of the round-robin. He finished the game with 15 minutes in icetime but logged as much power-play time as Ivan Provorov.
Another Flyer that was scratched in the round-robin was James van Riemsdyk, who returned to the lineup after being healthy scratched for Thursday's game against Washington. He doesn't seem to offer the kind of consistency that coach Alain Vigneault desires, so his fantasy value is starting to take a hit as a result.
With the loss, the Lightning finish the round-robin as the second seed in the East, which doesn't change from the regular season. A bigger concern for the Lightning, though, is the status of top blueliner Victor Hedman. He left the game in the first period after possibly twisting his ankle. Just as we await word on Hedman's status for Game 1 of their next series, the Lightning will await their next opponent. That team will be the winner of the Toronto/Columbus series, set to conclude Sunday night.
As you may expect when Hedman is out of the lineup, Mikhail Sergachev logged a ton of minutes (exactly 26 minutes) and first-unit power-play time. Unfortunately, he finished the game without a point and was tagged with a minus-3.
Overall, I didn't make a point to watch as many of the round-robin games as I did play-in series games. Maybe because regardless of the outcome, the round-robin teams already knew they were going to the next round. The games simply didn't seem as intense, which I can understand. Even though these teams have incentive to play hard to 1) face a potentially weaker opponent in the next round, and 2) enter the more meaningful games on a high note, I still wonder about these games being treated more as warmups or preseason games.
In terms of projecting results for the next eight series, you'd have to figure that at least a few play-in teams that already feel the intensity of must-win games will advance past round-robin teams that have been in a more comfortable mindset for a while. Picking which of those play-in teams will advance will be the more challenging part, but you know there will be more surprises beyond what we saw in the play-in round.
The Columbus/Tampa series from last season is a perfect example of this theory. The Lightning coasted into the playoffs after having the regular season title wrapped up well in advance, while the Blue Jackets had been playing must-win games for a while. Yes, the Lightning were ready for the series, storming out to a 3-0 lead in Game 1. Then panic set in after they coughed up that lead, and they never recovered. Imagine if the Jackets get past the Leafs on Sunday and we get a repeat of that series. Those trade deadline adds of hard hitters Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow could end up being huge for the Bolts, even if the price for each was also that.
I didn't know how long overtime between the Canucks and Wild would last, so I posted yesterday's Ramblings without getting too in-depth about the series I spent the most time watching. After a Game 1 in which the experienced Wild defense shut down Vancouver's young scorers, the Canucks were ultimately able to solve that defense and Alex Stalock for a four-game series win. The Canucks are now the highest-seeded remaining West play-in team, which means that they will face the loser of the St. Louis/Dallas game on Sunday. My thoughts will focus mainly on the Wild, though.
Even though this was one of the few play-in picks that I'll get correct, this series was one of the ones that I was the least sure about. I'm surprised that more experts didn't pick the Wild to win, to be honest. They exceeded my expectations, particularly after hiring Dean Evason as coach. Prior to that, and perhaps even now, they seemed to be a team that was constantly stuck in the middle of the league: Not strong enough to be a true Stanley Cup contender, but not weak enough to collect multiple high draft picks.
I appeared on a podcast earlier this year where the host asked me about Mats Zuccarello. I responded by saying I wasn't paying much attention to him in fantasy leagues, and eventually got into the fact that the Wild didn't need to add another 30+ year old player to a lengthy contract, which of course resulted in me criticizing how the Wild were building their team. That was not long before Bruce Boudreau had been fired, then replaced by Evason, who provided the short-term improvement that many new voices behind the bench are capable of. Yes, my perceptions of teams can change.
The one player who stood out for me on the Wild was Kevin Fiala. Between his skating ability and shot, he was the one Wild player that looked like he could do real damage every time he had the puck on his stick. I think I said he would reach around 60 points next season, but after watching this series, I'd estimate this number to be closer to a floor than a ceiling. Paul Fenton takes a lot of heat for his tenure as the GM of the Wild, but trading Mikael Granlund for Fiala looks like a stroke of genius today. Evason also seems to be able to get the most out of Fiala, as Evason also coached Fiala in the AHL when the two were both in the Nashville organization.
Once Kirill Kaprizov is brought into the fold, the Wild will have a second potential gamebreaker. And if they win the placeholder lottery on Monday, then they will be able to add a third. That would change the Wild's situation in a big hurry.
One lasting image of this series is Matt Dumba raising his fist in the air during the national anthems. Given the challenges he has faced as a visible minority playing hockey, I support his peaceful protest and messages as executive board member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
On a different note, I will also remember Dumba taking what seemed like a million shot attempts on the Canucks net. Actually, it turned out to be 14 shots on goal over those four games. If he were able to shoot at that pace over an entire 82-game season, he would have nearly 300 shots over a full season. Dumba scored at a rate well below expectations this season (24 points in 69 games), and shots from the point don't have the same effectiveness that they used to (unless you have a cannon like Shea Weber). Yet I like the fact he is trying to generate offense, and a high shot total will be beneficial in multicategory leagues.
The biggest question mark for the Wild appears to be in net. Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk are both under contract for next season, which means they could form some type of timeshare tandem. If you're looking for an AHL goalie that could force his way in as the starter as early as next season, then you'll want to keep an eye on Kaapo Kahkonen. He posted a 2.07 GAA and .927 SV% in 34 games for the AHL's Iowa Wild. Those numbers were good enough for him to be named the AHL's goalie of the year. Contracts aside, he deserves his shot.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Mikko Koivu may have played his last NHL game. The longtime Minnesota center is now 37 and is a UFA this offseason. Given his lengthy service time and role as team captain for the Wild, I wonder if his #9 is retired by the organization.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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