Ramblings: Another Lehner Shutout, Varlamov Continues to Shine, Palat Scoring on Top Line (Aug 30)

Ian Gooding

2020-08-30

After a two-day pause to promote social justice and racial equality, NHL teams were back in action on Saturday with three games.

Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1 (Tampa Bay leads series 3-1)

After losing Game 1, the Lightning have struck for three consecutive wins and are now one win away from the Eastern Conference Final.

Ondrej Palat scored the Lightning's first two goals while taking five shots on goal. After a slow start to the postseason with no goals and two assists in his first eight postseason games, Palat has scored goals in three consecutive games and recorded points in four consecutive games. He's benefitting from both time on the top line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov and first-unit power-play time. A Steven Stamkos return at some point might hurt his value, but for now he has the potential to roll alongside Tampa's big guns.    

The game really looked like it would really tilt in Tampa's favor late in the second period after Nick Ritchie was assessed a five-minute major for hitting Yanni Gourde from behind. Gourde was down on the ice for quite a while after this hit – at least enough time for the referees to make the right call. Fortunately, Gourde was eventually able to return to the game. 

Remember that Ritchie was acquired from the Ducks at the trade deadline straight across for Danton Heinen, which you can read about here. Ritchie was brought in to provide the Bruins with both scoring and a physical presence, yet he's only scored one goal with no assists in eight postseason games while being a healthy scratch for the last three games of the Carolina series. There's still some potential for Ritchie in bangers leagues since he's only 24 and is closing in on 300 career regular-season games. Yet because of his undisciplined play, he might be looking at another healthy scratch if he's not suspended. Either way, his time with the Bruins so far hasn't been memorable.

Victor Hedman scored a power-play goal on the five-minute major to give the Bolts a 3-0 lead. Jake DeBrusk scored a power-play goal of his own in the third period to break Andrei Vasilevskiy's shutout bid, but that's as close as the Bruins would get.

Nikita Kucherov chipped in two assists in this game. He now has seven points (2g-5a) over his last three games.

NY Islanders 3, Philadelphia 1 (NY Islanders lead series 2-1)

Semyon Varlamov was pulled in the first period of Game 2 after allowing three goals, but Barry Trotz had enough faith in Varlamov to start him in Game 3. Trotz made the right call, as Varlamov was back to his old self in stopping 26 of 27 shots to earn the win. Game 2 was Varlamov's first Really Bad Start of the postseason. With the Game 3 win, he has now posted quality starts in nine of his 12 games. All of those quality starts have led to wins, which Varlamov has more of than any other goalie during the postseason. Also in those wins, Varlamov has allowed a combined ten goals. If he's on his game, the Isles are scoring enough to win.

Over the first two periods, it looked like this wouldn't be an ideal game for playoff poolies. Tyler Pitlick opened the scoring for the Flyers, while Matt Martin replied in the second period for the Islanders. Leo Komarov put the Isles in the lead for good with just six seconds left in the second period.

Anders Lee scored an insurance goal early in the third period. The Isles' captain now has goals in all three games against the Flyers and six goals in his last eight postseason games. He has found his playoff groove after starting his postseason career with just one goal over his first 17 playoff games. Unfortunately, he has yet to record an assist in 12 postseason games this season. Lee has seasons of 40 goals and 21 assists (2017-18) and 34 goals and 18 assists (2016-17), so the lack of assists is nothing new for him.  

Lee's linemate Jordan Eberle recorded two assists in the win. Eberle has not scored a goal in seven games, but he is producing at a nice pace nonetheless (eight points in 12 games).

Vegas 3, Vancouver 0 (Vegas leads series 2-1)

If I could change my Stanley Cup winner (currently it stands as Colorado over Philadelphia), it would be to the Vegas Golden Knights. The depth of the Golden Knights is apparent in this series, as their bottom 6 is miles ahead of the Canucks' bottom 6. They've actually managed to make Quinn Hughes look frustrated, as the Calder Trophy nominee is now a minus-5 over the three games in this series.

When I speak of that depth, I'm referring to someone like Alex Tuch. On many other teams, he'd be in the top 6. Yet on a deep Vegas roster, his most frequent linemates have been Nick Cousins and Nicolas Roy. They're talented players in their own right, but definitely not top liners. I'm surprised Tuch doesn't score more often, considering his breakneck speed and ability to find openings. But this comes back to the fact that he’s on the third line. Even with that deployment, there he was again in Game 3, scoring a goal in his fourth consecutive game. If he can find his way onto one of the two big lines, look out.

I cannot write about this game without mentioning Robin Lehner. Back between the pipes after the Game 2 loss, Lehner posted a 32-save shutout. That's two shutouts in the three games in this series. Lehner was particularly impressive in the first period, when he turned aside 16 shots from the Canucks. All four of his career wins against the Canucks have been shutouts, spanning three different teams (Sabres, Islanders, Golden Knights).  

Even though the teams are already back at it Sunday night, Vegas would be best served to keep Lehner in for Game 4. He's been largely unaffected by the distraction that was Marc-Andre Fleury's agent acting immature on Twitter. The Lehner trade to Vegas may turn out to be the best trade of this year's deadline, especially since the thought at the time was that he'd simply be goaltending insurance in case Fleury was injured or struggled. Well, the latter has happened. This postseason run will help Lehner cash in somewhere (finally) in free agency this offseason.

Zach Whitecloud and Mark Stone scored the other Vegas goals. Stone has goals in three of his last four games.

Finally, I'm not sure if this is common knowledge among the Dobber audience, but Vegas will be exempt from the Seattle expansion draft. Talk about another break going their way. If any team could handle losing a player in the expansion draft, it would be the Golden Knights. Interesting read from Golden Knights blog The Sin Bin explaining why.

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On a side note, what the 2020-21 season will look like is still up in the air. Will the season start in December, January, later, or not at all? Will there be a bubble or not? If the league will run games in empty buildings like MLB has, then one thought that has crossed my mind is that teams will probably be limited in travel. For instance, I wouldn't expect teams in different conferences to play each other. Further to that, I think there's still a strong bet that there will be a reduced schedule, even though the league has stated it wants the full 82 games played. I think when the league made that statement, there was hope there would be fans in the stands by now. Yet that still doesn't seem to be possible.

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

UPCOMING GAMES

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency DAL Players
21.2% JAMIE BENN JOE PAVELSKI ALEXANDER RADULOV
18.6% JOEL KIVIRANTA COREY PERRY TYLER SEGUIN
7.2% NICK CAAMANO JASON DICKINSON MATTIAS JANMARK

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