December 10, 2015

by steve laidlaw on December 10, 2015

Couture hurt again, Hamhuis breaks his jaw, Beau Bennett emerging alongside Crosby and more.

It’s nice to see that top lines are actually acting like top lines again. I don’t know what was going on last year but the scoring race was a total disappointment. This year, we’ve got three guys on pace for over 100 points and as many as a dozen other guys on a point-per-game pace or better. After a year off, the stars in the league are acting like it again.

I wonder if last year was just an aberration or if the response for teams who don’t have enough talent to roll three good scoring lines is to just load up one, play the crap out of them and hope for the best.

Last night was a great example with Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver all flashing some scary top lines and not much else beyond that. These are ostensibly bad teams but they are finding some success when getting production out of their top scorers.

I look at Pittsburgh struggling to score and I wonder if a solution for them might be a Crosby-Malkin super line reunion. I don’t think we have seen much of Mike Johnston experimenting with that. More on the Penguins later though.

This whole stars being stars thing goes one of two ways. Either they keep this up, in which case there are going to be some run-away fantasy winners or regression sets in and we start seeing guys come back to the field. Whether through injury, fatigue, or plain puck luck, the smart bet is on some regression but it is fun to see so many stars playing well a third of the way into the season.

*

Here is a random hot take: should secondary assists somehow count for less in fantasy?

I am not enamored with that one, just a thought.

One change I am adamant about is getting providers to add is penalties drawn as a stat. Also, penalties taken needs to become a negative.

*

We’ll start the game recaps in San Jose where Logan Couture’s return seems to have hit a snag. He left early in the first period and did not return. They are keeping it vague with Peter DeBoer calling it a lower-body injury and not saying much else. I am not optimistic. Time to get Joel Ward back in your life, if he ever left.

I might catch a little flak from a league-mate for that last line because I scoffed at the inclusion of Ward in a trade offer. The simple reality is that he wants me to give up Matthew Barzal for a small goalie upgrade and Ward. I don’t give up blue-chippers for modest upgrades. The reality is that all of Ward’s underlying stats don’t bode well for continued production at this level even though the opportunity opens up once again.

One last shot at Ward, he’s 35 and having a career season. Just doesn’t seem like a smart investment on my part in a keeper. I am not averse to rostering him in any setting, the price just has to be right. Basically, I only want Ward if he comes free off the waiver wire.

*

Jordan Eberle had a sweet goal and a couple of points as he starts to hit his stride after a long layoff to open the season.

Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall had a dominant game with a couple of points each, including combining for the overtime winner. They went quiet for a little while helping to get Draisaitl’s scoring closer to the realm of reasonability, still not there yet though so more regression is likely ahead.

Big win for Anders Nilsson and the Oilers. Nilsson is running away with the starting gig. TSN had a nice video profile on Nilsson’s road back to the NHL if you have a couple of minutes.

We shouldn’t get too excited about the Oilers’ recent three-game win streak. This latest win came against a Pacific Division opponent and this division is terrible. After the loss the Sharks now have a dead even goals-for/against ratio. The only team in the division on the positive side of the ledger is the Kings. Also, every other division’s sixth place team would be tied for second in the Pacific. Literally any team could make it to the dance out of the Pacific. No team would surprise me.

*

Bob McKenzie had a piece yesterday predicting changes for Pittsburgh. I am so glad that they found a way to win so that I didn’t have to write a eulogy piece for the Mike Johnston era. Not that Johnston does or doesn’t deserve to get fired. I just hate having to pile on after someone loses their job.

Sidney Crosby is getting things rolling in the right direction with 10 points in his last nine games. The real story last night was Beau Bennett who is clicking on that top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

Two goals for Bennett last night though he didn’t need to have scored to have been visibly impactful. Just making some great plays and flashing some semblance of chemistry with Crosby. Also, Kunitz doesn’t even look terrible on that line either. He has points in each of his last four games and is seeing time on the top power-play unit once again.

I scoffed at Kunitz’s run last week but that he has continued it into this week has me wondering.

Back to Bennett. I’d take a chance on him now if you have room because you won’t see him last on the waiver wire too much longer. The Penguins are too high profile and he has four points in the last four games. Of course, he probably gets hurt to scuttle this emergence but it’s better to take a shot and be wrong than to miss out. It is kind of funny that Bennett waited until everyone had given up hope to show this flash of brilliance. It would be great if he broke out.

The loser in all of this is Patric Hornqvist who has been relegated to the third line with second PP unit duties. I won’t be shocked if he climbs his way back into the top six at some point but right now he’s looking like waiver fodder.

*

No Gabriel Landeskog for the Avalanche as he sat out with a back injury. No word on the severity but considering this was a game-time decision it likely isn’t a big deal.

Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon were flanked by Mikhail Grigorenko and the trio combined for one goal, Duchene’s 15th of the year.

Great read on how Patrick Roy helped Duchene turn his season around:

"I think I was trying to be too perfect and was afraid to not make any mistakes but I was paralyzing myself by doing that," Duchene said. "That meeting with [Roy] made me realize it was OK to say 'just go play' and do what I do."

The move to the wing alongside Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon has also been huge.

"I'm not comparing these guys to them but just the situation," Roy said. "I wanted to see some speed and that's exactly what I have with [Landeskog-MacKinnon-Duchene]. I wanted to see [Duchene] around the net, and that's exactly what he's been doing. To me, it's a good fit for those three. I also wanted to see them getting a lot of minutes and they each play over 20 minutes a night."

The minutes boost is a huge thing. I alluded to this above but even though they are facing every team’s best shutdown group this is still a line that is generating chances almost every shift. Great to see these super lines coming through.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Duchene is currently playing on his off-wing as a lefty on the right side. We talked a while back about how that has really helped James Neal as a goal-scorer and I wouldn’t doubt that the change is helping Duchene with his goal-scoring binge right now.

*

Scary one in Vancouver with Dan Hamhuis blocking a shot with his face and being rushed to hospital. Word is that he broke his jaw. I am trying to remember the last time we saw a player break his jaw but I recall Ryan Getzlaf not missing any time a couple of years ago during the playoffs but that was the playoffs. Crosby broke his jaw the year prior and missed an entire month. I guess we will just have to wait and see on the severity.

This certainly won’t help matters for Ryan Miller who has won two in a row but has otherwise been in a tailspin. Miller did have a nice one last night with only Dan Boyle’s penalty shot beating him.

No surprises here but all of the scoring on the Canucks’ two goals came from the Sedin twins and Alex Edler.

*

The Rangers’ lines are getting super spotty with Derek Stepan out. Here’s what they went with last night:

18.57%

EV

BRASSARD,DERICK – HAYES,KEVIN – ZUCCARELLO,MATS

18.1%

EV

KREIDER,CHRIS – LINDBERG,OSCAR – NASH,RICK

11.9%

EV

FAST,JESPER – MILLER,J.T. – MOORE,DOMINIC

11.9%

EV

GLASS,TANNER – STALBERG,VIKTOR – STOLL,JARRET

 

I would love to say that looks good for Kevin Hayes but it doesn’t seem like the Rangers have much offense while down an important forward. Also, some regression is due to hit this team.

*

Tuukka Rask stood on his head long enough for Loui Eriksson’s short-handed goal to cue a third period comeback for the Bruins in a game that Montreal was dominating.

Zdeno Chara made a sweet play to spring Eriksson for the shortie, bringing Chara to five points in the past five games. I would have bet anything Chara would fail to hit 40 points this season. He still might falter but his pace suggests otherwise. Chara’s rebound is one of the biggest surprises of the season.

*

No points for Max Pacioretty in any of the past three games but not for lack of trying. He has fired 19 SOG over those three games.

*

Good look from Pierre LeBrun on Joe Thornton’s past and future:

"I think as long as you keep your body in great condition, avoid any major injuries and keep your mind clear, I think you can play as long as you want, and Jags is a great example of that," said Thornton. "Sure, I'd like to play until I'm 40 and even maybe a bit older. We'll have to wait and see."

The article mentions an interest from Thornton in playing in Switzerland again so it may be the case that he plays well into his middle-age but that he does so outside of the NHL.

*

The news on Sergei Bobrovsky is not great. He’ll miss the next three weeks with a lower-body injury. Joonas Korpisalo has been called up but for my money I am not looking to replace Bob with an internal option. Instead, I would snag the still widely available Connor Hellebuyck who should get a decent number of starts over the next three weeks.

*

Sounds like hit machine Cal Clutterbuck may miss some time. He is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

*

Alex Semin is on unconditional waivers with the likelihood that his contract will be terminated so he can play overseas. Not a Hall-of-Famer, but Semin had a nice, if not rocky NHL career.

*

I missed this in yesterday’s ramblings but Adam Henrique went down with a lower-body injury in Tuesday’s game in Toronto. No word on his condition yet but this could really drown the Devils’ top line.

Henrique isn’t necessarily a Band-Aid Boy but he has missed an average of about six games per season so it wouldn’t be shocking if he missed a game or two here.

Random thought: should we start referring to the New Jersey top line as the Devils’ three-way or is that too crude for some of you?

*

Remember Jake Allen getting yanked for a couple of minutes before returning to the game last week? Here’s the explanation. Basically, Hitchcock is pulling his goalies to get extra timeouts.

*

Bob McKenzie with the latest on the Eric Staal situation, which is to say, nothing new. A couple of important tidbits from that piece:

There will be considerable interest in how Carolina goes about its business with Eric Staal. Many believe he's precisely the type of big centre that could put a contending team, say Montreal, over the top this season. But some will be wary, too, viewing Staal as a high-priced but diminishing asset.

In yesterday’s ramblings I made allusions to Staal becoming the next Vinny Lecavalier and I am not backing off from that. When a big-time shooter/goal-scorer starts to lose legs then things really unravel. Playmaking types can hang on longer.

Staal’s shot rate has dropped precipitously to 2.39 SOG/game after averaging over 3.00 for the previous four seasons, to say nothing of the massive shot rate he was putting up at his absolute peak. Staal is on pace to finish with less than 200 SOG for the first time (in a full season) since his rookie year in 2003-04.

Would a trade really open things up for him again? It would have to be the perfect situation, where he has really solid playmaking wingers and a chance to play on a top PP unit that actually works. Nashville seems an obvious destination but other teams like Montreal would probably not even use Staal at center and would surely have him in more of a depth role. I’m not positive a trade really helps us get more out of Staal.

Staal has played better in some recent games since being shifted from wing back to centre. He sees himself as a centre and believes that's the position he's most likely to be effective.

This is definitely a situation to monitor. If Staal is simply more effective while playing center then maybe he can boost his value. I am skeptical but let’s keep an eye on this.

*

Some goodies in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:

14. As John Gibson grabs more of a hold on the Anaheim net, remember something: one of the Ducks’ only issues with him is his ability to stay healthy. The organization would love it if he ascended to the top spot, but will they risk trading either Fredrik Andersen or Anton Khudobin this season because of that worry?

If you deal one, and another gets hurt, you’re suddenly swearing at yourself in the mirror.

If Andersen wasn’t so talented I might consider Gibson more of a threat here but I think this runs to the off-season. Unless some team throws the kitchen sink at Anaheim for one of their goalies the best move to win now is hanging onto all three guys, which means Gibson goes back to the minors here soon.

*

Check out my latest Waiver Wednesday column for six players worth snagging off the waiver wire.

*

Sean McIndoe explains how this season is shaping up to demonstrate some of the flaws of the new playoff system.

*

The series finale of The League was last night and excellent show and one that has really helped to de-stigmatize fantasy sports and push them to where it is a billion dollar industry. If you are a fan of the show, here’s an oral history on the making of it that is absolutely worth your time.

*

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.