December 31, 2015

by steve laidlaw on December 31, 2015

Couture, Streit and Drouin make their returns, buying Palmieri, Dan Boyle on fire and more.

5-2 win for Braden Holtby and the Caps, who keep rolling along. This is the most complete team in the league right now. They have the top goaltender, an elite scorer, supplementary stars, depth scoring, good puck-movers on the back end. They are running into some injury woes but it didn’t really slow them last night.

Nicklas Backstrom was limited to 14:35 as he left with an upper-body injury. He will travel and may play against Carolina tonight. Some speculation that this was just a migraine, which Backstrom has dealt with in the past but I’m not sure it’s positive if this keeps popping up.

In any case, this meant reuniting Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the third period. The result: two goals for Ovechkin, two assists for Kuznetsov and a merry evening for their fantasy owners. They also combined for 16 SOG, with 10 coming from Ovechkin. This guy never ceases to amaze.

The Capitals’ center depth could really be tested if Backstrom misses time as Jay Beagle left the game with an upper-body injury. It will require surgery so he will misses an extended period. No specifics but this is a tough loss all the same. Beagle has been an excellent faceoff man and penalty killer all season. There’s no immediate replacement for that.

To further add to the troubles, John Carlson missed his second straight contest and the word now is that he will be out for a while. Initially he was listed as questionable for the past two games but he had an MRI yesterday and apparently the results weren’t good. Again, no specifics.

Matt Niskanen steps into a bigger role with Carlson out. This is a rare opportunity given Carlson’s iron man streak that just ended. Niskanen skated over 25 minutes in the last two contests. Expect that to continue. He notched an assist last night and has the ability to approximate Carlson’s value over this stretch.

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Speaking of injuries, it looks like Tyler Ennis is back on the shelf. He took a huge hit from Ovechkin and had to leave the game. No official word other than that he suffered an upper-body injury. Didn’t look like any head trauma on first viewing but I haven’t seen a good angle.

Ennis has had some injury woes in the past but isn’t necessarily on the Board of Governors of the Band-Aid Boy Hall of Fame. Maybe time to re-think that given what’s happened this season.

New line combos for the Sabres last night though we may see these thrown into flux with Ennis hurt once again. Check ‘em out:

21.03%

EV

MCGINN,JAMIE – O'REILLY,RYAN – REINHART,SAM

14.39%

EV

EICHEL,JACK – GIONTA,BRIAN – GIRGENSONS,ZEMGUS

8.12%

EV

ENNIS,TYLER – KANE,EVANDER – LARSSON,JOHAN

6.27%

EV

FOLIGNO,MARCUS – KANE,EVANDER – LARSSON,JOHAN

4.06%

EV

DESLAURIERS,NICOLAS – FOLIGNO,MARCUS – LEGWAND,DAVID

 

Interesting combo for Jack Eichel. He never seems able to escape from Brian Gionta for very long. He did get two assists on goals from Gionta and Zemgus Girgensons and has eight points in the last five games. Half of those points came in one game though so I am skeptical that this is a turning point.

I do like this spot for Girgensons who also had a two-point night. He has not been productive after all the upgrades the Sabres made for this season. Last year he was the Sabres’ #1 centerman but has toiled on the third line for much of this season. I still think Girgensons has the potential to be a Ryan Kesler-type force but maybe he’s turning into more of a Tommy Wingels.

How streaky has Ryan O’Reilly been? Check out his monthly splits:

October – 13 points in 11 games

November – six points in 13 games

December – 13 points in 13 games

I am afraid to ask what January holds.

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James Reimer was slated to play last night but felt some tightness when he awoke yesterday so the Leafs shut him down. Jonathan Bernier went back out there and stopped 39 of 41 shots for a shootout win. Not bad. I still don’t trust him at all. Bernier has had far more stinkers than strong performances since his return.

Vintage Dion Phaneuf last night with one goal on six shots, plus four PIM, five hits and a blocked shot. Still a stat stuffer.

Has Nazem Kadri turned a corner? His shot rate has come way down, even after six SOG last night but he has eight points in his last seven games, which is a start. He still shooting just 4.9% despite being an 11.1% career shooter so there is room for growth.

I am a little bit skeptical of Kadri. I was on the bandwagon hard but Tyler Bozak has once again usurped him and is combining with James van Riemsdyk to make magic. Now Kadri is skating with Leo Komarov, who may have stolen Kadri’s puck luck with how well he has been shooting, and Michael Grabner. I’m not in love with this situation.

I was able to acquire Morgan Rielly in my salary cap keeper league in exchange for Christian Dvorak. There’s that World Junior effect I was talking about. Now, the manager I got Rielly off of is a seasoned vet and really doesn’t like defensemen in this league because of the cap impact of them having more real life value than fantasy value but I think Rielly has potential to be worth his deal even if he gets $5 million this summer.

I don’t know when it’s going to happen but Rielly is going to get onto the power play full time and when he does, here come the fireworks. That Rielly is on pace for 40 points despite a lack of power-play time indicates just how much potential he has. You have to get in on this type of talent early because once they break out there are no bargains.

By the way, I’ll probably do a deep dive on the World Juniors at some point in the New Year as there is enough NHL action to keep us preoccupied right now.

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Kris Letang got back into the lineup for the Penguins. No points for him despite over five minutes of power-play time. There’s no understating how important Letang is to the Penguins’ offense so while they were stymied by Bernier last night, I believe there is some hope if he can stay healthy, which is never something to be counted on.

Sidney Crosby had two points in this one and has 17 points in his last 17 games.

Matt Murray, who continues to start, took the loss but had a strong performance. Sounds like Marc-Andre Fleury may be back soon as he has resumed skating so the Murray run should come to an end soon.

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The Devils’ lines are in flux. Check out the latest:

15.97%

EV

CAMMALLERI,MIKE – PALMIERI,KYLE – ZAJAC,TRAVIS

11.34%

EV

HENRIQUE,ADAM – STEMPNIAK,LEE – TLUSTY,JIRI

11.34%

EV

FARNHAM,BOBBY – GIONTA,STEPHEN – TOOTOO,JORDIN

10.5%

EV

KALININ,SERGEY – MATTEAU,STEFAN – SISLO,MIKE

 

This is great news for Kyle Palmieri who was held scoreless but had three SOG. I would like this line a little more if it was Adam Henrique up the middle but skating with Cammalleri should be productive for Palmieri. I was skeptical about his ability to sustain his 60-point pace while playing on the second line. This promotion looms large, so long as he stays healthy.

Travis Zajac might benefit most of all with two strong goal scorers flanking him. Mind you, this isn’t quite like getting flanked by Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner, who helped Zajac to his only two 60-point seasons but maybe they can help him to his first 50-point season in some time. I had been meaning to dump Zajac in one of my leagues but injuries necessitated my keeping him. Now, maybe I hang on.

Oh yeah, 36-save shutout for Cory Schneider. Not sure what you do with that information though. He’s a stud and we all know it.

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That was just the second time the Senators have been shutout in 2015. Third, if you count playoffs. What’s crazy is that the Senators weren’t shutout once during last year’s regular season, nor were they ever shutout in the entire 2014 calendar year. The Dallas Stars are awesome but the Senators might be fantasy hockey’s favourite team.

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Rob Vollman with 15 stats that helped define 2015:

5 — The League-leading number of Ottawa Senators with at least 60 regular-season points in the 2015 calendar year: defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan. The Senators also were the only team to employ fewer than 10 defensemen and 20 forwards in 2015.

Again, the Senators are awesome for fantasy hockey, last night notwithstanding.

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A couple of empty-netters made this one look worse than it was for the Lightning as they battled the Rangers to a tie heading into the third period, however a Dominic Moore goal gave the Rangers an edge they wouldn’t relinquish. Another hard fought loss for the Lightning.

The silver lining is that Tampa Bay is getting healthier.

Tyler Johnson has been back for a couple of games now. He hasn’t skated much in the way of minutes with just 14:40 last night but presumably that will start to pick up soon. He also said that his wrist, broken during the Stanley Cup Final, feels “100 times better” than it did at the start of the season, which is a good indication he is ready to start producing.

It would be nice if the Lightning would send some power-play time Johnson’s way but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now. Instead they are utilizing Jonathan Marchessault as a power-play specialist, giving him fourth line minutes but top unit power-play time. Marchessault scored giving him eight points in the last eight games.

I had jumped off the Marchessault bandwagon once Johnson returned and indeed he was held off the board for one game but this goal probably reinvigorates your desire to keep Marchessault around. I’m staying off the bandwagon for now.

Jonathan Drouin made his return to the lineup but was also on the fourth line and saw no power-play time. I have to keep reminding myself that Drouin is only 20 years old. In this world of seeming instant results for youngsters we have to remember that some of these guys need time to develop. Drouin does have 40 points in 89 games in the NHL so it’s not like he has been irrelevant.

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Keith Yandle continues to be just about the only Rangers defenseman driving possession forward and creating scoring chances but he somehow only skates 13:44 last night. On a team not content to go into a shell any time it gets a lead Yandle would be skating big minutes and would probably be on pace for another 50-point season. Instead, Yandle is averaging just 19:10 per game and is on pace for 43 points.

Yandle could goose his numbers with a little more puck luck as he has just one goal on 78 shots despite being a career 4.8% shooter. Were he scoring at his career rate he’d have an extra three goals, which would be enough to push his scoring pace to 49 points but alas that’s not how this stuff works.

Just keep in mind how Yandle has been deployed should the Rangers fall out of the race and he winds up elsewhere or if he signs with another team in the summer. Yandle is better than this.

Meanwhile, Dan Boyle has found the fountain of youth, or maybe it’s the fountain of puck luck. He has nine points in his last 10 games (five of which were goals). The Rangers have been happy to feature Boyle as their power-play quarterback, giving him more minutes than Yandle and have received good results.

Sure Boyle’s shooting percentage is a ridiculous 11.9% after this goal flurry but I’m not fighting it. I’ve been on Boyle in daily fantasy and in one of my leagues for the past month. Paying dividends.

Kevin Hayes found himself a healthy scratch after scoring just two points in 12 games this month. He and Oscar Lindberg have seen their bubble burst in a big way. Waiver fodder, the both of them.

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Logan Couture made his return to the Sharks lineup and had an instant impact with assists on a pair of power-play goals. I’d caution that he looked a little bit slow, which isn’t entirely surprising coming off a couple of leg injuries. He was used in his usual role as second line center and on the top power-play unit so he may produce even without the smoothest skating.

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After clearing waivers Sam Gagner was sent to the AHL. Remember when he scored eight points in one game? Only 12 other players have done that in an NHL game, ever. That was nearly four years ago now. How did Gagner never become something? Here’s where you derisively joke that the Oilers ruined him and maybe so.  

Gagner is in his ninth NHL season but is still only 26. Still time to reinvent himself if he really cares about continuing on, or maybe he fades into the background and quietly signs overseas this summer. Right now, Gagner’s career looks like what might have happened for Robbie Schremp if some team just irrationally kept plugging him into the lineup.

By the way, Schremp is currently back in North America scoring some decent numbers for the Portland Pirates in the AHL. This after playing in virtually every pro league in Europe the past four seasons. Don’t knock the man’s hustle!

Mark Streit returned for the Flyers but I didn’t see him out there. Shayne Gostisbehere retained his spot on the top power-play unit, which is huge if it continues. I kind of expect Streit to be moved at the trade deadline anyhow so it looks like Gostisbehere is a safe option for the rest of the year.

Not particularly fantasy relevant but Chris Vandevelde was lost to injury after a shot to the head from Brent Burns. Pretty evident a concussion took place. Maybe some discipline headed Burns’ way. No call was made on the play. Not that I think there was intent, but this is where the sport is headed, whether you like it or not.

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Oh baby! Sergei Bobrovsky is back. Do keep in mind that this is a groin injury he is coming back from. Those groin injuries have a nasty habit of lingering.

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Brad Marchand has been suspended three games for clipping Mark Borowiecki the other night. Just a senseless act. The guy didn’t even have the puck. Not the first time he has done this either. Last time he got five games but that was also because he broke Sami Salo and Borowiecki was fine here. Like it or not, outcome does affect punishment.

Marchand has been having such a tremendous season, his best yet, but this is always a worry. Will he do something stupid that costs you games? Imagine he pulls this in your H2H playoffs.

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Jonathan Willis is taking on a fun project breaking down the top 10 players at each position. Some questionable stuff in his centerman rankings:

9. Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche (32GP, 16G-12A-28PTS)

After scoring just a single goal in his first 11 games, Duchene has 15 markers in his last 21 and currently sits one behind Seguin for the goal-scoring lead among centres. When he’s on the ice at even-strength, the Avs out-shoot the opposition by a 32-29 margin; when he’s off the ice they get out-shot 31-25.

A couple of things. First, Duchene has spent half the season on the wing. His time on the wing also couples as his most effective time. If Duchene had stuck at center all season he probably doesn’t appear on this list. Love his talent but I have to argue the semantics here.

There’s also the issue of the absence of Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. Acknowledging that these guys are all struggling, I still don’t see forcing Duchene in over these guys.

My guy over Duchene would be Kopitar who has 14 points in 13 December games. He is only one point back and has been playing center all season. He’ll also probably finish with more points than Duchene.

I had a question the other day about whether or not it was time to snag Kopitar off waivers. My jaw hit the floor. Kopitar on waivers? How do I get into one of these leagues? The time to snag Kopitar was two months ago. STUD.

Willis also has top 10 rankings for the left wing and right wing position. Lots of fun to be had with these.

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More goodies in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:

15. Dan Hamhuis’s injury doesn’t make it easier.

Having your jaw wired shut destroys conditioning, since you can’t eat properly. Won’t be an easy timeline for Hamhuis or the Canucks to figure, because once he’s okay to workout, how long will it take to regain that strength? And, if a trade is end result, how much time will other clubs get to look at him?

I didn’t even consider the strength loss issue. Feels like it’s going to be a rough go for anyone counting on Canuck goaltending as Hamhuis may not get back to full strength this season.

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My latest Waiver Wednesday column has six players worth picking up who are widely available in fantasy leagues.

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For more help in your fantasy hockey pool in the second half of the season pick up the Dobber Hockey Mid-Season Guide for $9.99. The Mid-Season Guide will be out January 8th.

You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.