Happy Boxing Day! I hope everyone had a great Christmas and was able to spend time with their family and friends during the holiday season. I am lucky to be visiting my family in Edmonton and my wonderful niece and nephew treated me to the Oilers versus Habs game on 23 December. It was my first time at Roger’s Place in downtown Edmonton. To get to the upper tier, you have to take what must be the world’s longest escalator. The ride is so long that they could have people selling drinks and food during the journey. Once we found our seats, the sightlines were pretty good, no complaints there. The only issue I had was that in the upper tier, there were only two bathrooms. Two. The line-ups were eye-wateringly long.
There were tons of Montreal jerseys in attendance, which made for some fun chants; “Let’s Go Oilers”, followed immediately by “Go Habs Go”. The 50/50 prize was nearly $90,000.00. I’m always amazed at how much higher the payout is outside of Ottawa. In case anyone was wondering, I did not win the 50/50.
As for the game, it was just okay as far as entertainment value goes. Cam Talbot was very solid, while Antti Niemi was not Carey Price for the Habs. I kept telling the Habs fans seated near me that I really wanted to see Price in the game. I figured that it would take four or five goals, but Niemi wasn’t as bad as I had hoped.
All in all, it was great to see Edmonton head into the holiday break on a four-game winning streak. The season isn’t yet halfway in the books, but the Oilers playoff prospects are in serious doubt unless they can reel off a few longish winning streaks. They are only four points out of a wildcard spot, but they would have to pass five teams for that last wildcard place. Edmonton is six points away from third in the Pacific division, but would have to jump three teams. Not an impossible task, but it will be a very difficult path to the playoffs for the Oilers.
Enough about the Oilers, this column is supposed to focus on all things Eastern Conference. Did anyone think that the New Jersey Devils would be leading the Metropolitan division at this point in the season? The Devils are one point ahead of both Washington and Columbus with two games at hand. The Rangers and Islanders currently hold down the two wildcard spots in the East with Pittsburgh only three points back. The Pens are seven points behind third in their division.
The New Jersey Devils are a surprising ninth in the NHL with 3.14 goals scored per game, ahead of even the highly touted Washington Capitals offense (3.03). The Devils have the 10th ranked power play and fifth ranked penalty kill in the league.
Checking in on the top scorers over the past two weeks, we find John Tavares with 15 points in seven games and Josh Bailey’s 14 points are head and shoulders ahead of the next group. Claude Giroux and Nikita Kucherov clock in with 10 points in seven and six games respectively. Of the five players tied with nine points, three are not all that surprising, Brad Marchand, Jack Eichel and Ryan Getzlaf. I was surprised to see Henrik Sedin and especially Brian Boyle in this group.
Boyle has four goals and eight points over the last four games, but did not finish the last game before the Christmas break. As per NHL standard operating procedures, there is no update on player injuries. Boyle is one of a dozen Devils who are averaging more than two minutes per game with the man advantage. Five of his 16 points have come via the power play. His career highs are 21 goals and 35 points, set way back in 2010-11. Boyle is in line to set new personal bests, but he’s currently sporting a 23.8 per cent shooting percentage, well above his career average of 9.1 per cent. Ride the hot streak, then put him to the curb when the run is over.
There is no more important player on the Devils squad than goaltender Cory Schneider. He is 7-1-1 in his last nine games and has allowed three goals or less in 12 of his last 13 contests. His 0.922 save percentage is tied for 10th best in the NHL, which is exactly what his career average save percentage sits at. Last season’s 0.908, combined with what many thought would be a bad New Jersey team, may have given some people reason to doubt Schneider’s ability to rebound to career norms. His 2.54 goals-against average is miles better than last year’s 2.82, but well off his 2.30 career average.
Outside of the surprising Boyle, who has nine points over his last six games, there are 10 other Devils who have at least three points. While there is no doubt that Taylor Hall is the offensive lynchpin, the team is getting offensive contributions up and down the line-up.
Stefan Noesen has nine points in his last nine contests. He has played with a myriad of linemates, but is still producing.
One player that should have some upside left in him for the second half of the season is Marcus Johansson. He has run into some injury trouble and has played only 17 games this year, recording seven points. He receives top power play minutes and is playing primarily with Travis Zajac and either Brian Gibbons or Jesper Bratt. In his last season as a Capital, Johansson notched a career best 58 points. Prior to last year, he had campaigns of 46, 47 and 44 points. If he is available for cheap in your league, you might find yourself with a second half bargain.
May the new year bring you continued success, especially in your fantasy leagues! Thanks for reading.
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