Ramblings: Niskanen Suspended One Game; Varlamov Blanks Caps; Gurianov Strikes Flames; Blues Notes on Goalies and O’Reilly (Aug 21)

Ian Gooding

2020-08-21

Matt Niskanen has been suspended one game for his cross-check to Brendan Gallagher's face during Game 5 on Wednesday. This is no doubt a light suspension if you consider that the time that Gallagher would likely be out. However, I've heard that one game in the playoffs is considered to be worth at least two in the regular season. By issuing the suspension, the NHL is at least acknowledging that this wasn't a hockey play. So it's better than nothing.

You've probably seen the damage to Gallagher by now, but if not and you're okay with some blood, you can watch it here. Gallagher has a broken jaw, so he will miss the rest of the series against the Flyers, however long it will last. Even if the Habs win two straight and get past the Flyers, it's quite possible that we've seen the last of Gallagher in these playoffs anyway.

I know that a team's coach will defend his player during a critical point of a playoff series. Yet check out the spin below from Alain Vigneault regarding his player's actions. I'm not a doctor and I don't even play one on this website, but getting cut a little bit is vastly different from a fractured jaw. It might be gamesmanship, but I'm sure Vigneault will want to take this statement back later. Gallagher's teammates might turn around and use it as extra motivation, though.  

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We've grown so accustomed to daytime hockey that it seemed strange that we had to wait until the late afternoon or evening to get our hockey fix. We shouldn't complain, as we had gone months without any hockey before this return to play. Both games involved teams being eliminated, which means that there will be no hockey on Saturday. Sucks, doesn't it.  

NY Islanders 4, Washington 0 (NY Islanders win series 4-1)

Anthony Beauvillier continues to find the net, scoring the Islanders' first two goals. Now at six goals, Beauvillier is tied with Nazem Kadri and Bo Horvat for the league lead in playoff goals. While on a hot line with Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, Beauvillier might come down to earth. He is, after all, shooting at a 22.2% accuracy during these playoffs. He is averaging three shots per game in the playoffs, which is a great sign if you're looking for a potential breakout next season.

Speaking of Bailey, he scored a goal of his own (empty net) and added two assists to go with a plus-3 for the game. Bailey now has eight assists, which places him among the league leaders in that category. Both Bailey and Beauvillier are scoring at over a point-per-game pace at the moment, so you can't rightfully say that the Islanders don't possess any scoring.

Semyon Varlamov recorded his first shutout of the playoffs, being tested less than what a Capitals team usually would (just 21 shots). The Isles are a defense-first team, so Varlamov's numbers shouldn't be a surprise (7-2-0, 1.67 GAA, .934 SV%) while they are winning.

Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup, although his return clearly wasn't enough for the Capitals. In fact, the Caps managed to score just eight goals over the five-game series and just 13 goals in their eight postseason games. That's a massive letdown if you loaded up on Capitals such as Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson. Backstrom might be excused somewhat for his one assist because of his injury. Yet what about Jakub Vrana, with not even a single point? Or rental Ilya Kovalchuk, who recorded just a single assist in eight games? John Carlson recorded six assists in five games, but he was a minus-11 in the postseason. Ouch.

The thinking was that if the Capitals stumbled in the playoffs, it would be because of Holtby. Yet the goalie wasn't necessarily terrible, posting a 2.49 GAA and .906 SV% and four quality starts in the eight postseason games. It all comes back to the lack of scoring.

You know that changes are coming in Washington, a team that won a Stanley Cup just two years ago. Maybe they'll be looking for a new coach. They're almost certain to move on from Holtby, who becomes a UFA. He'll sign for a lot of money with a team that is desperate to upgrade its goaltending situation. Just spitballing, my guess of possible locations would be one of the Alberta teams, Buffalo, Detroit, or maybe even San Jose with some cap maneuvering. One of those teams will overpay, but you probably shouldn't in fantasy drafts wherever he lands.

Dallas 7, Calgary 3 (Dallas wins series 4-2)

In case you didn't stay up late, this was the tale of two games. The Flames quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the game was seven minutes old and appeared to be in great shape to force a Game 7. Yet by the early second period, the Stars had tied the game. Thanks to five second-period goals, the Stars held a 6-3 lead by the time the second period ended.

Cam Talbot, who has had a solid postseason otherwise, was pulled for David Rittich after the Stars tied the game. Rittich, who was playing his first postseason game, obviously wasn't any better in allowing three more goals, so the more experienced Talbot was back in for the third.

Denis Gurianov scored four of those goals for the suddenly scoring Stars. This is a new Stars franchise record for a playoff game, including its time as the Minnesota North Stars. He is also only the second rookie to score four goals in a playoff game. Or to put it another way, only four players in NHL history have ever scored five goals in a playoff game.

During the second intermission, Cassie Campbell pointed out that Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano are the only regular Stars forwards that have averaged less icetime than Gurianov during the playoffs. Don't forget that Gurianov is the only Stars player to have scored 20 goals this season, so let's just say the scoring-deprived Stars could do worse than to give the 6-3 Russian additional icetime.

Here's an interesting take on how far Gurianov has advanced.

You can also view Gurianov's Dobber Prospects profile here.

Overshadowed by Gurianov's game for the ages (which also included an assist for five points) was Miro Heiskanen's four-point game and Joe Pavelski's three-point game. Heiskanen has been piling up the points in the postseason, recording 12 points in just nine games. Pavelski has also provided six postseason goals, including a hat trick in Game 4.

The Stars get the unenviable task of facing the high-flying Colorado Avalanche in the conference semifinals. That means the Vegas Golden Knights will face the winner of the Vancouver/St. Louis series.

I'll dive into the Flames situation in a bit more detail tomorrow. There's a few things to unpack there. But for now…

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If the Canucks don't win their series with the Blues, at least they can say they were able to chase 2019 sensation Jordan Binnington out of the crease after Game 2. At the time of writing, I don't know whether Winnington (as Dobber likes to call him) or Jake Allen will start in a must-win Game 6 for St. Lou. From the opinions I've read or heard, there seems to be a 50-50 split on which goalie it will be. Allen didn't play terribly in Game 5, but he certainly hasn't had to steal a game the way Jacob Markstrom has for the Canucks.

I'm interested to see how this evolves, not just for Game 6, but also beyond for the Blues (whether that beyond is this season or next). The Midseason Guide had a 65/35 split rest of season for Binnington. I would imagine that Allen will receive a bigger chunk of that workload next season. Fantasy owners no doubt remember the pre-Binnington days of the Blues sticking with Allen in spite of some significant struggles. Yet in a more limited role of 24 games this season, Allen posted both the best single-season goals-against average (2.15) and best save percentage (.927) of his career. A heavier workload might hurt those numbers, but this is hardly a goalie that is washed up.

Over the past two playoff seasons, Ryan O'Reilly has 33 points (12g-21a) in 34 games. That's a 0.97 PTS/GP pace. Compare that to the past two regular seasons, where he has 138 points (40g-98a) in 153 games (0.90 PTS/GP). The best players up their game when the games matter most. O'Reilly's line with David Perron and Jaden Schwartz has dominated the Canucks in 5-on-5, taking 55 shots compared to 11 for the Canucks over the first four games in this series.

O'Reilly is tremendous at a lot of things when he's on the ice, whether it be faceoffs, puck battles, playmaking, or scoring. Yet multicategory fantasy owners may look at his 12 goals, 118 shots, and very low hits and penalty minutes totals as being disappointing. If he hasn't already, O'Reilly appears to be morphing into a Jonathan Toews or early Patrice Bergeron type of player. What I mean is a top-notch two-way player with the Selke Trophy to back it up, but stronger in real life than in fantasy. That could result in O'Reilly being a bit overvalued on fantasy draft day.

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For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.

UPCOMING GAMES

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency CBJ Players
28.5% OLIVER BJORKSTRAND PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS ALEXANDRE TEXIER
13.6% CAM ATKINSON NICK FOLIGNO ALEXANDER WENNBERG
10.2% LIAM FOUDY RILEY NASH GUSTAV NYQUIST

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