Eastern Edge: Flying Penguins and thunder-less Lightning

by Brennan Des on December 10, 2019
  • Eastern Edge
  • Eastern Edge: Flying Penguins and thunder-less Lightning

 

In this week’s Eastern Edge, we finish up our analysis of fantasy hockey storylines with a review of the latest in Pittsburgh, Tampa, Toronto and Washington.

Last week, we talked about Adam Fox, Tony DeAngelo, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Carter Hart (among others) while analyzing storylines from New York, Ottawa and Philadelphia. The article came out later than usual so make sure to check it out over here if you haven’t already. If there’s anything you want me to discuss in future articles, feel free to DM me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza!

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Pittsburgh’s Injury Woahs

The Penguins have played 30 games this season. Justin Schultz was sidelined for seven of those games, Kris Letang was absent for eight, Patric Hornqivst missed 10, they’ve been without Evgeni Malkin for 11, and Sidney Crosby has been out for 13. The list goes on and on as Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin, Alex Galchenyuk and Bryan Rust have also been bitten by the injury bug this season. Yet by some miracle, Pittsburgh has managed to post a 17-9-4 record so far, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The Penguins are one of three teams that rank in the top-10 for both goal scoring (3.40 goals for per game) and goal prevention (2.70 goals against per game), with the other two teams being Boston and Colorado. It wouldn’t be fair to discuss the team’s success without highlighting a few outstanding individual performances.

Jake Guentzel is one of just six players on the roster who’ve appeared in all 30 of Pittsburgh’s games, he leads the team in scoring with 31 points. Phil Kessel’s departure left Guentzel as the team’s undisputed top winger, so it makes sense that his role has increased since last season. He’s seeing three minutes of power-play time per game, which is a significant jump from last year’s two-minute average.  Of the 76 points Guentzel tallied last year, only 11 of them came on the power play. He ranked 34th in league scoring last season but every single player ahead of him had more power-play points. In fact, everyone ahead of him except for John Tavares (19) and Artemi Panarin (18) had at least 20 power-play points. More opportunities on the power-play this year should help him boost his point totals. In addition, he’s playing for nearly 21 minutes a night and only 10 forwards in the league are currently averaging more ice-time per game (Report Generator Link).

 

Rank

Player

Team

Games Played

Ice-time

1

Leon Draisaitl

Edmonton

32

22:48

2

Connor McDavid

Edmonton

32

22:43

3

Mark Scheifele

Winnipeg

30

21:42

4

Jack Eichel

Buffalo

31

21:40

5

Patrick Kane

Chicago

30

21:26

6

Dylan Larkin

Detroit

31

21:10

7

Nathan MacKinnon

Colorado

30

21:03

8

Alex Ovechkin

Washington

32

20:52

9

Mika Zibanejad

New York

16

20:49

10

Anze Kopitar

Los Angeles

31

20:47

11

Jake Guentzel

Pittsburgh

30

20:43

 

Next, there’s Malkin, who sits second in team scoring with 26 points despite playing just 19 games. Now, my colleagues here at DobberHockey have done a fantastic job of highlighting Malkin’s recent success and the fact that he finds a different gear whenever Sidney Crosby is out of the lineup, so I’ll avoid getting too repetitive here. I’ll simply remind you that Malkin has 24 points in his last 15 games and is currently on pace for 112 points this season. As excellent as he’s been, if you own Malkin in one of your fantasy leagues, I think you’d be wise to hear offers for him. Don’t get me wrong, Geno is very much capable of breaking the 100-point barrier this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him maintain his current value. However, given his injury history, it would be prudent to exchange Malkin for a king’s ransom now instead of hoping he can maintain this pace once Crosby returns to the lineup. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pittsburgh’s goaltending situation and the outstanding play of Tristan Jarry. He’s appeared in 11 games and won seven of them, posting a 1.82 GAA and .943 SV% in the process. In contrast, Matt Murray has won 10 of his 21 games, with a 2.85 GAA and .897 SV%. A lot of people are jumping on the Tristan train with hope that Jarry has stolen the starting job from Murray, but I think of this more as an opportunity to buy low on Murray. Murray’s season numbers have been dragged down by his play in November – where he won just two of his 10 games and posted a .867 SV% and 3.53 GAA. That poor performance made us forget that he won seven of his 10 games in October and had an impressive .923 SV% and 2.20 GAA (via Hockey Reference). While monthly splits are far from a perfect way of analyzing a goaltender’s play, it’s worth mentioning that Murray also struggled last November with a .850 SV% and 4.52 GAA through five games. For the rest of the season, he went 25-9-5 while saving 93-percent of the shots he faced and allowing just 2.34 goals per game.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

 

Are the Lightning Less Frightening?

The Tampa Bay Lightning took the league by storm last year, winning 62 of their 82 regular season games. They boasted the league’s best offense and were strong defensively thanks in large part to the excellent play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. From October to March they consistently dominated their opponents, but all of that success essentially became meaningless after Tampa was swept by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. There was a great piece in the Athletic last month by Joe Smith, who spoke with the Patrick Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk – new members of the Lightning weren’t with the team during that disappointing playoff performance. Maroon and Shattenkirk noted that their new teammates were still haunted by that recent playoff heartbreak, even  as the 2019-2020 campaign began. I mean, can you blame them? I too would question the value of a strong regular season when it didn’t lead to playoff success last year. I imagine it’s much harder to give your all during a regular season game which doesn’t appear to have any relation to winning the Stanley Cup anymore. If anything, it seems more prudent to just play well enough to make the playoffs, so you have more gas in the tank for a strong postseason run. With that being said, it’s important to remember that time heals all wounds. As the season progresses, I think they’ll stop dwelling in their past failures and start working towards future successes. There’s definitely value in a strong regular season if you use at as preparation for the playoffs, rather than an indicator of how far you’ll make it.

It’s funny how I spent an entire paragraph talking about how the Lightning are underperforming, but that’s much less applicable in a fantasy hockey context with so many strong individual performances. Victor Hedman is on pace for a career-high 85 points after tallying an impressive 27 points in 26 games so far this year. Alex Killorn is on pace for a career-high 69 points as he’s posted 22 points in 26 games. Kevin Shattenkirk’s decline has been greatly exaggerated as he’s on pace for a career-high 64 points. With that being said, I can understand your disappointment if you selected one of the team’s star forwards early in your fantasy draft. Nikita Kucherov is on pace for 94 points, which is a downgrade from the 128 he tallied last year, but still quite impressive. I obviously don’t expect him to lead the league in scoring like he did last year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break the 100-point barrier for the third consecutive season. Steven Stamkos has 26 points in 25 games – again, not as good as last season but still very good. Brayden Point continues the theme of good, but not as good, with 21 points in 25 games. When it comes to Kucherov, Stamkos and Point, I wouldn’t use last season’s production as a measuring stick for this season’s offensive output. I know it’s hard since you probably used an early pick to obtain them but once you temper your expectations, you can more accurately assess their value and decide whether you want to trade them or make a move to acquire one of them. Speaking of fantasy hockey trades, I’d definitely make one for Andre Vasilevskiy whose value will increase as the season progresses.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

Turning Over a New Leaf with Keefe

Okay, I’m going to keep this one shorter than the rest because there are so many fantasy-relevant players in Toronto, so I’ll spend more time discussing them in future articles. The Leafs currently sit 21st in league standings and the only reason they aren’t ranked higher is because they haven’t found solid backup goaltending. All 14 of the team’s wins have come with Frederik Andersen in the net, as the they’ve lost all seven games in which he hasn’t appeared. But that information isn’t very useful for you in our fantasy hockey league, so let’s take a look at a few more relevant observations. Sheldon Keefe’s first game as head coach of the team was on November 21st against the Coyotes, since then…

Toronto has scored on nearly 42-percent of their power-play opportunities, tied with Vancouver for best power play in the league over the past few weeks (all teams have played eight to 10 games).

The Leafs have killed 90-percent of the penalties they’ve taken – the best percentage in the league over the past few weeks.

Auston Matthews has been averaging just over 20 minutes of ice-time a night.

Tyson Barie has seen an increased role on the power-play.

 

Washington Capitals

 

The Best Offense is a Good Defenseman

Only five players in the NHL have more points than John Carlson this season – all of them are forwards. Impressive isn’t a strong enough word to describe how well Carlson has been playing through these first 32 games, during which he’s put up 43 points. Again, only five players have more points – the dynamic duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, two-thirds of Boston’s Perfection Line in David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, and Nathan MacKinnon. I think it’s important to give you a little more perspective so you can really appreciate how amazing Carlson’s performance has been, considering he’s a defenseman. Dougie Hamilton sits second in scoring among defensemen and he has 28 points. Let that sink in for a second. Carlson has 15 more points than the next-highest scoring defenseman. 15! Most defenseman don’t even have 15 points this season! Over the past 30 years, the greatest offensive output we’ve seen from a defenseman is the 103-point season that Paul Coffey managed during the 1989-1990 campaign. John Carlson is currently on pace for 110 points. Sure, it’s unlikely that he actually finishes the year with 110 points, but we’re almost halfway through the season – this isn’t just some unsustainable hot streak. He’s currently scoring on 12-percent of his shots when his career shooting percentage is about half of that. While regression is the obvious conclusion, we have seen defensemen like Shea Weber, John Klingberg and Drew Doughty maintain double-digit shooting percentages over the course of the season – it’s rare but not unheard of. You can also point at his IPP as an indicator for regression, given that he’s currently registering a point on 67.2-percent of goals scored while he’s on the ice, when that number has been closer to 50-percent in recent years.

John Carlson is putting together a season for the record books and if he’s on my fantasy hockey roster, I’d rather hold onto him than trade him. Even with his outstanding performance this season, most managers in your league probably consider Carlson’s ceiling to be around 80 to 85 points. They’ll remind you that Brent Burns posted the best offensive season from a defenseman in recent memory and he put up 83 points last year. Fantasy managers trying to acquire Carlson from you won’t value him as a 90-100-point defenseman, but honestly – and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this – but I think he might turn out to be just that. Essentially, I’m saying that most attempts to sell-high on Carlson won’t return the value that they theoretically should, given his recent performance. So if that’s the case, why not sit back and enjoy the ride?