Eastern Edge: Evaluating three lines from the Lightning-Islanders Conference Final
In this week's Eastern Edge, we'll look at a few important lines from this year's Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.
Kucherov has 25 points in 17 games and Point has 25 in 16, with both players sitting atop the playoff scoring race. After posting two 100-point seasons in the past three years, Kucherov has firmly established himself as a superstar in the NHL. On the other hand, Brayden Point hasn't quite received the recognition he deserves for his brilliant play. However, that's starting to change now that more of us have the opportunity to watch him dominate, with Tampa being one of three teams remaining in the playoffs.
Over the past few years, Point and Kucherov have thrived with a number of different line mates, including Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat. Based on their success together, it's probably fair to label Point and Kucherov as a dynamic duo at this point. However, that isn't to say Ondrej Palat is merely along for the ride – Palat engages in physical battles and uses his impressive hockey IQ to help facilitate the line's offense. His importance is highlighted by the fact that Point and Kucherov have registered more impressive possession numbers with Palat on the ice, compared to Johnson and even Stamkos in recent years.
Through 200 minutes of ice time in this year's playoffs, the Palat-Point-Kucherov trio controlled 64-percent of the shot share and outscored their opponents by a margin of 14 to 6. They thoroughly out-chanced the opposition, overseeing 64-percent of all scoring chances and nearly 68-percent of all high danger opportunities created while they're on the ice (stats via NaturalStatTrick). From a fantasy perspective, I'm most interested in Ondrej Palat going into next season's draft. At this point, everyone knows how good Kucherov and Point are – but Palat has quietly tallied 13 points in 17 postseason games. He's definitely someone to target in the later rounds of your fantasy drafts.
Barclay Goodrow – Yanni Gourde – Blake Coleman
Tampa's third line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman has been excellent during the 2019-2020 playoffs. Through roughly 200 minutes of ice time, the trio has controlled 56-percent of the shot-share and 64-percent of the goal-share. They've comfortably out-chanced opponents, claiming 56-percent of the scoring chances and 60-percent of the high danger opportunities created while they're on the ice. Those are some excellent possession numbers considering they start a modest 54-percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. While we tend to expect solid possession numbers from lines that are frequently deployed in the offensive zone – and placed in a position to score – it becomes much more impressive when a line can consistently create offense from defensive zone starts (stats via @NaturalStatTrick).
Yanni Gourde leads the line with 12 points through 17 games during the postseason. Of the three players that make up Tampa's third line, I think Gourde represents the most intriguing option in fantasy hockey leagues. He burst onto the scene with 64 points in 82 games during the 2017-2018 campaign – his first real season in the NHL. He followed up that performance with a less impressive, but still respectable, 48 points through 80 games in 2018-2019. This past regular season was Gourde's most disappointing as he managed just 30 points through 70 games. It's worth mentioning that he played only 14 minutes a night this season, after averaging 16 minutes of action during the past couple of years. He's been relied upon often during this year's playoffs, averaging 18 and a half minutes of ice time and thriving in this increased role. I think Gourde's strong playoff performance will result in a more prominent role with the team next year, which should help him return to a 50-60-point pace. Before writing this article, my perception of Gourde painted him as a mediocre player with one good season under his belt. I was surprised to find that he's played just three full seasons in the NHL and only really struggled during the 2019-2020 campaign. It's amazing what recency bias can do! As a result of his poor regular season, I think Gourde's fantasy value will be lower than it should be when it comes time to draft in your fantasy hockey league. I think you'd be wise to take a chance on him in the later rounds of your draft!
While the Barzal line might be considered the Islanders' top forward unit, you'll notice that three of the team's top-four playoff scorers can be found on this particular trio. Josh Bailey leads the team in scoring with 20 points through 20 games. Brock Nelson sits second with 18 points in 20 games and Anthony Beauvillier sits fourth with 14 points in the same span. Nelson's strong playoff performance hasn't come out of nowhere as he managed 54 points in 68 games during the regular season – a 65-point pace! He's even more valuable in fantasy leagues that count faceoff wins due to his center/left-wing eligibility. I can't stress enough how valuable it is to have winger-eligible players winning faceoffs for your fantasy team. Even when my team isn't putting up points, I can confidently dominate the face-off category!
Despite their individual success and impressive observable play, the BNB line doesn't have the best possession numbers. Through roughly 215 minutes of action during this year's playoffs, they've been outshot – controlling less than 48-percent of the shot-share – and out-chanced – controlling fewer than 47-percent of high-danger chances created while they're on the ice. Despite that, they've managed to outscore opponents 11-8 (stats via NaturalStatTrick). It is worth mentioning that they start only 51-percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. As I alluded to earlier, it's much harder to outshoot your opponent when so many of your shifts start with the opposition in a prime position to score. So, it's not fair to compare the advanced stats for this line to the aforementioned Tampa lines, because all three see different deployment.
In any case, the takeaway fantasy message should be that despite the team's famous defensive structure, the Islanders have a number of offensive threats that can put up points and provide value in your fantasy hockey leagues.
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