This week we take a look at how some top lines have been performing in their past ten games: breaking down the victories in Vegas, high-flying Flyers, and star-studded Stars.
The Vegas Golden Knights have a 31-11-4 record. They’re first in the league. They’re scoring the third-most goals per game, and allowing the sixth-fewest. I’ve been waiting for the wheels to fall off since the beginning of the season, but 46 games in and I’m finally starting to take them seriously. While James Neal was expected to lead the team in scoring, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith are all on pace for more points than Neal. The trio has spent 448:51 together this season, which makes their 57.08 CF% even more impressive, because it doesn’t stem from a small sample size. Oh, and their 31 goals as a line is best in the league, but that’s no big deal.
Jonathan Marchessault showed the league what he was capable of last season, breaking out with 51 points in 75 games. 43 games into this season and he already has 43 points. While a new team has given him a new opportunity, his role hasn’t really changed. While he is averaging 30 more seconds of ice time compared to last season (17:12 up from 16:43), his power-play time remains the same (2:41). One important difference between this season and the last is how much Marchessault is shooting. He totalled 191 shots last season, but is currently on pace for a whopping 285 this year. Of all the Golden Knights, I’d be most excited for Marchessault’s production from now until the end of the season.
This will be William Karlsson’s third full season in the NHL, with last season’s 25 points being the height of his offensive output. It’s amazing what an increase in ice-time and introduction to power-play minutes can do for a skater! He’s seeing 2:35 on the power-play, and 18:20 overall (almost five more minutes than last season). While it’s fair to say his 25.8% shooting percentage will see some regression, here’s an interesting note on the type of shots Karlsson has been taking.
Reilly Smith is on pace for 66 points. While Marchessault’s shot totals and Karlsson’s ice-time were vastly different from previous seasons, none of Smith’s stats stand out in the same way. He has been given similar opportunities in the past but hasn’t really produced until this year (aside from a couple of 50-point seasons). Line mate William Karlsson refers to Smith as “a guy that creates space and time for others. He’s really good at forechecking and is just a really good all-around player. He can defend, he can score and he can set someone up. He’s the whole package.”
Remember when the Flyers were on a 10-game losing streak? Well they’re 15-5-1 since then, and they’re top players have been producing.
After a disappointing 58 points in 82 games last season, Claude Giroux fell in most fantasy hockey drafts, with an average draft position of 69 in Yahoo! Leagues. He has handsomely rewarded those who took a chance on him, as he sits fourth in league scoring with 55 points in 47 games. Now that Sean Couturier has emerged as a great two-way center, Giroux has been moved to the wing, a position that comes with much less defensive responsibility. Despite the move, he’s still winning as many face-offs as the league’s top centers, another bonus for leagues that count FOW as a stat! While Giroux is proving last year was an anomaly, don’t expect him to maintain this torrid pace for the entire season. 20 of his 41 assists are secondary helpers, which doesn’t usually foreshadow sustainability.
As I alluded to earlier, Sean Couturier has been receiving a lot of attention as a potential Selke nominee. While he was always known for his defensive abilities, being thrust into this new offensive role has come with new opportunities and less pressure. Couturier himself said, “Going into games you know you’re going to get five or six chances a night compared to before, when you were playing against top lines but more in the defensive shutdown role, where you were getting maybe one or two opportunities a night. That’s tough mentally. You feel the pressure that you need to capitalize every chance you get or you feel you’re not doing anything offensively. Being a little looser out there helps.”
The 25-year old has 26 goals so far this season. That’s the same as John Tavares. That’s one less than Nikita Kucherov. That’s three less than league-leading Alex Ovechkin. While his 18.4% shooting percentage is a bit high, don’t compare it to those of past seasons that saw him play in a different role.
Travis Konecny was drafted 24th overall in 2015, and the 20-year old forward is starting to live up to his potential. While his season totals aren’t impressive, he has 10 points since being promoted to the top line 12 games ago. Coach Dave Hakstol said, “he's more visible when he gets the puck, when he's hitting those holes and getting into space. I think Couturier and Giroux do a good job at that and having the opportunity to play with two good veterans has been good for TK in both directions". In today’s NHL, we’re so used to young players entering the league and immediately achieving superstar status. But the reality is, not everyone is Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, most players need time to develop and make mistakes to become better hockey players. That’s sort of where Konecny is at right now, building confidence to improve for the future.
At the beginning of this season, I was a bitter Montreal Canadiens’ fan who wanted to believe Alex Radulov couldn’t replicate the success he had as a Hab. Boy was I delusional, but I guess that’s a quality of all Habs’ fans. This offseason saw the dynamic duo in Dallas turn into the terrific trio in Texas. While the trio has been separated in the past, they’ve recently been reunited and continue to produce results. 72 high-danger scoring chances for versus 49 against, not too bad.
Last season was a disappointing one for Jamie Benn, and he was still on pace for 73 points. The biggest difference between 2016-2017 and previous seasons was Benn’s shot totals. After putting up 279, 253, and 247 shots in previous years, he took a small step back with only 200 last year. Fortunately, he has rebounded nicely and is on pace for 248 in 2017-2018.
Tyler Seguin is on pace for 70 points this season, which is nothing to scoff at, but we know he’s capable of much more offensively. While Benn has seven points in his last five games and Radulov has six in the same span, Seguin has only managed one point in his last five outings. He remains a high-volume shooter, currently on pace for a career-high 326 shots on goal. While coach Ken Hitchcock is turning Seguin into a more defensively responsible two-way center, expect solid offensive numbers from Seguin in the second half of the season.
I’ve already mentioned how wrong I was about Alex Radulov, and man do I miss how he drove offense in Montreal. 44 points in 48 games as a Star. 15 points in his last nine. His ice-time has increased by just over a minute from last season, and he’s now part of one of the league’s most dangerous power play units. He’s on pace for just under 200 shots, which would also be an improvement from 2016-2017 in which he totalled 147.
Follow me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza for the latest injury updates and line changes!
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