December 28, 2015

by steve laidlaw on December 28, 2015

Hellebuyck's first shutout, the importance of Letang, dropping Stastny, Boedker still under the radar and more.

Connor Hellebuyck with his first career shutout. Stick tap to Tyler Myers for a couple of huge blocks let in the game while Hellebuyck was down and out that helped to secure the win. Hellebuyck’s record climbs to 6-3-0. If this was purely about merit, Hellebuyck would be the Jets’ #1 the rest of the year but that’s not how this works.

Ondrej Pavelec continues to loom over this whole situation. Also looming, the reality that the Jets just aren’t good enough this season. We aren’t close to these guys throwing in the towel but by February, if they are still this far out we could see some big changes.

It seems inevitable that Dustin Byfuglien is on his way out. No sense in keeping him if he remains unsigned and the team isn’t competing. Andrew Ladd is also an unrestricted free agent this summer though it seems more likely that he will sign an extension because his demands are smaller and there is no clear replacement for him on the roster.

Any such moves could leave the Jets in a weaker state than they are already in. Not necessarily a winning environment. It could be best if Hellebuyck is sent down, thus avoiding exposure to this situation. Or maybe he plays well enough to convince the Jets’ brass to go for it again. After all, if not for Hellebuyck’s recent run the Jets could be favourites for Austin Matthews.

So as much as I am all about punching that one way ticket to Hellebuyck, understand that this could get ugly.

No Mark Scheifele for the Jets. He was out with a confirmed concussion. No timeline for his return.

Check out the Jets’ lines without Scheifele:

25.42%

EV

LITTLE,BRYAN – STAFFORD,DREW – WHEELER,BLAKE

18.22%

EV

BURMISTROV,ALEXANDER – LADD,ANDREW – LOWRY,ADAM

16.1%

EV

EHLERS,NIKOLAJ – PERREAULT,MATHIEU – THORBURN,CHRIS

7.63%

EV

ARMIA,JOEL – COPP,ANDREW – HALISCHUK,MATT

 

Not a whole lot there. Note Andrew Ladd bumped down to the second/third line. He did skate on the top power-play unit though so I wouldn’t be concerned. Instead, give Drew Stafford a look in the short term or in daily fantasy. He is one of the streakiest players in the game but this could be a hot run.

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The Penguins shutout after showing flashes against the Wild on Saturday night. They were without Kris Letang once again. He was held out for precautionary reasons as he wasn’t feeling well yesterday morning after getting hit hard by Jarret Stoll the night before.

Letang is so important to the Penguins. Almost every team suffers when they lose a puck mover of that calibre but without much depth on defense it totally neuters the Penguins.

The Penguins have scored 2.46 goals per game with Letang in the lineup this season and just 1.67 goals per game without him. That’s the difference between being the Blues or being worse than the Ducks.

Jeff Zatkoff was in net for the Penguins but took the loss. He played well but Matt Murray continues to be the guy with Marc-Andre Fleury out. By the way, the latest word on Fleury is that he is progressing but that there is no timetable.

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Holy crap, is that the Panthers in first place of the Atlantic Division?

I don’t know that it’s quite time to take these guys seriously. Last night was an exception but they have frequently found themselves outshot, and out-possessed in their games. This isn’t a score effect thing either as they lag in the bottom 10 in score close possession metrics as well.

What the Panthers have done well is getting supremely good goaltending out of Roberto Luongo and even Al Montoya, while finding enough offense to win games.

It is entirely possible for Luongo to continue at this MVP level. He has been a stud since returning to Florida. More likely, however, is that Luongo slips enough that the Panthers start losing more than they are winning. Luongo just got his won/loss record for the season above .500 but there is a decent chance it slips back below .500.

I would normally recommend a sell high maneuver but it doesn’t seem like too many folks are buying Luongo stock just yet so the best bet is to enjoy his excellence even if the numbers slide a little bit in the second half.

Also helping the Panthers is the Aleksander Barkov breakout we are experiencing. The 10 games he missed has helped to keep Barkov under the radar but he is scoring a point in three out of four games, a 60-point pace in a full 82-game season. Barkov hasn’t yet been able to avoid the injury bug so his pace slides to 55 points for this season but that would still stand as a huge step towards becoming a star.

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Curtis McElhinney in net for the Blue Jackets is like Tortorella’s version of waving the white flag. It felt like they had lost this game before it even started.

The lone bright spot was Brandon Saad continuing his hot run with a pair of points. He is up to seven points in the last five games.

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Jonathan Bernier didn’t have to do a ton against the Islanders last night and did receive some help from his posts but he did enough to hold off the slumping Islanders for his third win in the past four games.

Tyler Bozak is looking legitimately dangerous as he added another goal to his total. On pace for 60 points, Bozak probably slows down but he is inching closer to his first ever 50-point season. I figured he was going to come in closer to 40 so this is still requiring some recalibration.

Nazem Kadri is also finding points having scored in five straight contests. With the way he was playing at the start of the season I figured it would be Kadri threatening for 60 points but the puck luck just wasn’t there. Now he has dug a deep enough hole that he probably doesn’t make it. Bozak is proof of what a hot streak can do though. If nothing else, a 60-point pace for the rest of the season gets Kadri about 35 more from here on out. That would put him among the top 50 or so for the rest of the season.

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The Islanders got Kyle Okposo back from injury. Their lines were in disarray with the scoring woes. There isn’t really one set of combos that you even definitely want to see. Brock Nelson had been hot skating with John Tavares for a bit but that seems long gone.

Anders Lee started out on the third line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin and fired off five SOG but was shuffled up the lineup by the end of the match. He has struggled something awful with no goals and just three points in 11 December games. Lee is due for some puck luck though as he is scoring on just 5.0% of his shots this season, less than half his career average. Were he scoring at his career average rate of 11.2%, Lee would have nine goals and 20 points and basically be on pace to duplicate last season’s performance.

You do wonder with all these offensive struggles if the Islanders go shopping for forwards. They have wisely resisted the urge to bite on any of the rumoured Travis Hamonic for such and such forward offers. Can they continue to hold out? These guys had one of the most entertaining offenses in the league a year ago, now they have slipped to 13th.

A panic trade seems unlikely. The Islanders remain firmly in a playoff spot and have been playing excellent team defense. That should keep them in the hunt long enough to make a deadline acquisition more likely though that would throw quite the wrench into the plans of owners of Nelson, Lee and Ryan Strome.

Tomas Greiss got the start with Jaroslav Halak placed on injured reserved retroactive to December 21 so he may not actually miss much time. That said, it’s listed as an upper-body injury with no timetable for return.

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Wow! Eddie Lack stops 35 of 36 shots to beat the Blackhawks? That is an impressive performance from a goalie who has been eating shit all year. I don’t think that this is a sign of a hot run or anything but Lack does have wins in three of his last four starts.

Jeff Skinner is getting assists now too! A pair of apples halts Skinner’s scoreless slide at four games, which is good because this probably isn’t a guy who should be going too long without scoring. His confidence is still teetering on the edge after what’s been a couple of rough years.

I really like what the Hurricanes have in Skinner, Victor Rask and Phillipe Di Giuseppe. That is a legitimate second line. If only they could get their top line with Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg and Elias Lindholm going. That seems unlikely, however.

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Marian Hossa returned to the Blackhawks lineup skating 17:21. No points.

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Wicked performance from Anders Lindback stopping 38 of 39 shots against the Avalanche. That’s not enough to make me consider him though.

More interesting to me is Mikkel Boedker continuing to produce, now up to 28 points on the year, tying him with Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Matt Duchene, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter and Kyle Palmieri in the scoring race. Ho hum, still available in 77% of Yahoo! leagues because people like losing, apparently. He is going to score 60 points or close to it.

Also interesting is Antoine Vermette who has 12 points in his last 16 games. Vermette is more of a short term guy but he gets top power-play time whenever Martin Hanzal is out, which seems to be a lot lately as well as historically.

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The Avalanche split up their big three last night:

21.46%

EV

IGINLA,JAROME – MACKINNON,NATHAN – TANGUAY,ALEX

16.48%

EV

COMEAU,BLAKE – MARTINSEN,ANDREAS – SODERBERG,CARL

16.48%

EV

DUCHENE,MATT – LANDESKOG,GABRIEL – MITCHELL,JOHN

9.58%

EV

GRIGORENKO,MIKHAIL – MCLEOD,CODY – SKILLE,JACK

 

If you consider process over results firing off 39 SOG is a success for this lineup. Not sure if the coaching staff cares about that though.

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The Bruins were short a couple of puck-movers against the Senators but still managed to pepper Craig Anderson with 39 shots. Excellent performance from the Ottawa netminder.

The Bruins were without Colin Miller (scratched) and Torey Krug (day-to-day). Krug did not make the trip to Ottawa and is day-to-day though the Bruins aren’t releasing many details.

The Bruins also lost David Krejci to an upper-body injury and he did not return. No details though it doesn’t appear to be a concussion.

Losing Krejci and Krug is certainly one way to tank the Bruins’ unreal power play.

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Brian Elliott, in a rare appearance was really good in a losing effort. Check out this wicked stop on Ales Hemsky. In all, Elliott saved 35 of 37 shots thrown his way but the Stars were just the far better team last night. He had no chance.

I might be finished with Paul Stastny. He was supposed to be great again after getting promoted to the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen. He started hot with five points in five games to open the season but an injury derailed that.

It’s been over a month since Stastny returned from injury and he has just eight points in 17 games in that span. That’s waiver fodder production.

It hasn’t helped that Magnus Paajarvi (not even playing that poorly) has been bumped onto that top line in lieu of Steen in order to shuffle Steen to line two and help balance the lineup. But Tarasenko has been hot and Stastny hasn’t gotten more than a sniff of the action.

Stastny’s shooting percentage is down a little but all of his other metrics are where they should be. This guy just isn’t scoring. Maybe he is still having lingering injury issues. Or maybe he really is missing Steen on that top line. We will find out if that’s the case whenever Jaden Schwartz returns but that is not imminent.

For now, Stastny is worthy of dumping on the waiver wire if there is a hotter option available.

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First shutout of the season for Kari Lehtonen. Even while playing as poorly as he did last year Lehtonen still managed five shutouts. However, given how Lehtonen is splitting starts having to wait so long for the first shutout isn’t entirely out of line.

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No one needed a win more than the Anaheim Ducks and they got it last night. Finally, their big guns came out to play with Ryan Getzlaf scoring his first goal of the season against a real live goalie (his previous goal was an empty-net effort), while Corey Perry chipped in a pair.

I didn’t watch the game but they didn’t seem to change anything with regard to lineups. The big dogs just made sure they ate. That bodes well for Rickard Rakell who surpassed all expectations by remaining on the top line beyond Christmas. No points for Rakell, mind you but it was only one night.

It was really important that a couple of the Ducks’ goals came on the power play. More success with the man-advantage will help keep Sami Vatanen productive.

Is it telling that John Gibson got the start over Freddie Andersen coming out of the holiday break? Not necessarily but it does shake my confidence in Andersen winning back his crease to a certain extent. Still waiting on the Gibson injury that has plagued him in the past.

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No Michael Del Zotto for the Flyers last night. He is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

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Anders Nilsson took a dump in the Oilers-Flames game last night and was yanked after two periods. Nilsson had help as Justin Schultz was a tire fire of turnovers and other blunders. Good grief, he needs to be purged from that lineup.

Cam Talbot allowed an insurance goal in the third but this is his crease now that Nilsson has lost three straight and allowed three goals or more in five straight.

Some interesting numbers on the Oilers’ home/road splits. In the last 10 home games Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl combined for 35 points. In the last 10 road games Hall/Draisaitl combined for six points.

Make that eight points in the last 11 road games for Hall/Draisaitl after they notched the assists on Teddy Purcell’s goal last night.

I’m not sure how meaningful these splits are. It fits the narrative that opponents are loading up with their best defensive guys against Hall/Draisaitl whenever they get the chance and having second change certainly helps that. If you buy in, the good news is that the Oilers start a six-game homestand this week. They also play 25 of their last 45 at home.

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Speaking of splits, Johnny Gaudreau, who scored another couple of goals last night has some huge home/road splits. He has been otherworldly on home ice with 29 goals and 64 points in 58 career games. Gaudreau on the road, meanwhile, has 13 goals and 40 points in 58 career games. Those splits have been even more drastic if you break it down to just this season.

I’m not sure that there is much to be done with this info beyond the daily fantasy crowd because some stark home/road splits aren’t going to stop you from deploying Gaudreau on any given night.

Check the Flames’ lines from last night:

21.48%

EV

BENNETT,SAM – GRANLUND,MARKUS – RAYMOND,MASON

19.92%

EV

BACKLUND,MIKAEL – COLBORNE,JOE – FERLAND,MICHEAL

19.53%

EV

GAUDREAU,JOHNNY – HUDLER,JIRI – MONAHAN,SEAN

16.41%

EV

BOUMA,LANCE – JONES,DAVID – STAJAN,MATTHEW

 

Jiri Hudler back on the top line! He even got an assist!

Good gravy Mark Giordano is back. He is so back and the lid is now shut on acquiring his services for anything less than market value. Two goals last night gives him seven points in the last four games and 13 in the past 13.

It should be mentioned that it’s TJ Brodie and Dennis Wideman on the top PP unit. Brodie has a pair of assists to give him five in the past three games. I wonder how long he stays on the top unit.

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It sounds like the Rangers will get Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein back from injury, which should help them get back on track even as the gods of puck luck have dragged them back down to earth.

By the way, from the above link, Girardi’s injury is a crack in his kneecap that apparently can’t get worse, which is why he will play. I can’t imagine how a crack couldn’t get worse let alone playing with a cracked kneecap.

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Good news out of San Jose: Joel Ward will return tonight and Logan Couture is skating again. Still no exact return date for Couture.

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An update on Jeff Carter: he is only day-to-day and the Kings hope to get him back on their road trip.

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There was some alarm with Zach Parise and Devan Dubnyk leaving practice yesterday but the word is both will be able to play today.

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There is speculation that Evander Kane is the subject of a sexual assault investigation in Buffalo, which is all too reminiscent of what went down with Patrick Kane during the pre-season. There is no way this doesn’t become a distraction. Not enough information to comment further.

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No World Junior thoughts from me today but you can count on some later in the week.

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