December 9, 2015

by steve laidlaw on December 9, 2015

Couture returns, Faulk's power play prowess, 

Laidlaw here filling in for Dobber today. Sorry for your luck but it looks like you are getting a bunch of me in a row. I'll do my best to fill in for the big man.

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Let’s start with the wild one in Dallas where the Stars jumped all over the Hurricanes 4-0 chasing Cam Ward after one period but then allowed the Hurricanes to outshoot them 30-20 for the game giving up four third period goals for a 5-5 tie. That got Kari Lehtonen yanked with just over six minutes left in the game. Antti Niemi checked in and faced zero shots as the Stars got a late power-play goal from Patrick Sharp to pull out the win.

Man, I wish I had been home to watch that one.

Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg all got theirs. Valeri Nichushkin scored a goal and two assists to continue a run of productivity on the top line that gives him seven points in the last four games. Nichushkin is only 23% owned in Yahoo! leagues but could surely help teams in a greater percentage than that.

I wish I could tell you what will happen on the goaltending side of things but both Lehtonen and Niemi are too tough to predict. It’s like they are both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the same time. Just baffling. The only hope is to own both and check in with Goalie Post every Dallas game day.

Sean McIndoe tells some cautionary tales of offense-first teams to help prepare us for the “inevitable” collapse. I’ll be honest, I don’t really buy the narrative. If you run it back, every team to win the Cup since the ’05 Lockout has had a top-10 offense except for three of the last four winners. The only real “defense first” teams to win it all were the Kings twice, and the Blackhawks of last season who really didn’t have much of an offense when Patrick Kane went down.

And for the record, the Hurricanes’ won the Cup in ’06 with the league’s third best offense and 19th worst defense allowing over three goals per game. Did anyone try to follow that model? Of course. Plenty of teams try to load up on an excellent blend of veteran talent with quality youth, while bringing in a few key veterans at the trade deadline and hopefully getting otherworldly goaltending.

The whole notion of this being “copy-cat league” and that all we need to see is a run-and-gun team win it all for more teams to open it up is nonsense. If more teams had themselves a John Klingberg to go with a Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin then maybe they would open it up way more. I maintain that there is not actually a scoring problem. The games are as fast and entertaining as ever.

Just in case this gets misconstrued. I'm also not saying that the Stars can't win the Cup playing as they are but they won't do it unless one of their goalies plays well this spring.

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Can we talk for a minute about Justin Faulk? He has 11 goals on the year and they are all power-play goals. How insane is that? He accounts for every PPG the Hurricanes have save for three. He has more PPGs than the Flames as an entire team.

I remember before Faulk even cracked the NHL that I was making Dan Boyle comparisons. This is something else entirely. Could you imagine if the Hurricanes had talent around Faulk?

Now, we’ll cool our jets for a second as Faulk is shooting 12.4%, which is nearly double his career average but if we assume that while the goals dry up a few more assists will be found Faulk still looks like a decent bet to surpass 50 points for the first time in his career. His plus/minus will hurt you but Faulk is a must-play anyhow.

What’s crazy is that Faulk might not be a top-10 fantasy defenseman, even while he paces for 30 goals and 60 points. He is tied for eighth in defenseman scoring with John Carlson but you can make an argument to have guys like Carlson, Byfuglien, Keith, Ekman-Larsson, Shattenkirk, Letang, Hedman, Weber and a few others ahead of him come season’s end. You could also argue to have him above Seabrook and Suter who sit ahead of him in the defenseman scoring standings but the point is that this position is deep. It truly is the age of the puck-moving defenseman. Enjoy it!

For the record: I like all of the names I listed to score more than Faulk from now to the end of the season. Though a few will be so close as to split hairs.

Noah Hanifin showed up with a pair of assists teaming with Faulk on the power play. I need to see a lot more of this before I buy in one-year formats.

Victor Rask, the #1 centerman that no one wants registered three assists as he continues his run towards 50 points.

Eric Staal even found an assist to give him three points in the last two games. It is going to have to take more than that for me to get excited. Of course, I have Staal in both of my keeper leagues as I got caught holding the bag too long. Better to get out too early than too late. Oh well.

Actually, it’s funny, I moved Staal my salary cap league last season to help get David Backes and some others but then Staal came available during the summer and I move a mediocre pick to get him. I may have still lost the deal as Staal’s salary is truly cumbersome and considering the hype it may only get worse. If it is purely based on merit, Staal won’t get more than $4 million annually in free agency. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Some poor NHL team is going to end up with the next Vinny Lecavalier.

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Poor Steve Mason got roasted for three goals on 10 shots to get himself yanked just after the first period. Michal Neuvirth who is officially the better goalie of the two came on in relief and stopped all 16 shots he faced to help the Flyers to the shootout.

I don’t totally blame Mason although he has not been as otherworldly as he was last season. That’s a tough act to follow. Instead, I am blaming the call-up of Andrew MacDonald who amazingly managed an even rating after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Claude Giroux synched up a rare short-handed 2-on-0 to pull him out of the minuses. I expect some minuses to pile up if MacDonald is going to keep playing. Those poor Flyers goalies.

On the other hand, the Flyers really did seem to take it to the Islanders only for Jaroslav Halak to stand on his head. In all, Halak stopped 43 of 46 shots to hang on for a shootout win.

Claude Giroux, 19 points in 18 games since the start of November. He’s back. The struggling Flyers power play turning a corner is a big reason.

Since Shayne Gostisbehere was called up on November 14 the Flyers have clicked for seven PPG, and are running at a solid 19.4%. Prior to that they were putting along at just 14.5%. It’s awfully hard to see Gostisbehere getting sent back down, even when Mark Streit returns but something will have to give because there is only room for one defenseman on that top PP unit. Advantage Streit but I am starting to think we see a trade.

Bob McKenzie has more on Gostisbehere. Somehow he remains just 33% owned in Yahoo! leagues.

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No one is benefitting from Ryan Strome’s failure to launch more than Frans Nielsen. Nielsen, a mainstay on the Islanders’ top PP unit the past few years found himself relegated to the second unit to begin the season. Then Strome flopped and Nielsen hasn’t looked back. He is on pace for 59 points, which would make for a career high.

He is shooting excessively high at 13.8% but he has done this before, a couple of years ago when he scored career highs with 25 goals and 58 points. More importantly, Nielsen is a really talented shooter with a career 10.4% shooting percentage.

What’s really intriguing is how Nielsen has ramped up his shot production to nearly three SOG per game. He has never average more than two in any season so Nielsen is on pace to shatter his career high for SOG with 226.

Maybe he slows down but dammit if he isn’t looking great so far. Some hidden value for those of you in leagues that score blocked shots, Nielsen is blocking more than one per game, a rare feat for a forward.

I recall at one point having trade discussions with Nielsen for Tyson Barrie in a league that counts blocks and faceoff wins and a whole score of other goodies. I wanted a pile more than just Barrie for Nielsen because Nielsen actually blocks more shots than Barrie. File that one under needing to understand your league scoring and settings.

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I had this great John Tortorella quote on handling Sergei Bobrovsky but then Bob went and got himself hurt against the Kings and had to leave the game. No word on the severity. This could sink the season for good as Curtis McElhinney just cannot be trusted as a starter. Anton Forsberg has been called up and done reasonably well in the past so if this is long-term he’s the guy to pick up.

I’ll share the quote from Tortorella anyhow:

The longest conversation between Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would hardly even qualify as a chat.

“How long did it last?” Tortorella said, echoing the question. “About 5 seconds. No. About 8 seconds. We had a miscommunication as far as when he comes out (late in games for an extra skater). That’s basically the only conversation I’ve had with him, other than good morning. And I always go to the goalie after we win.

“Other than that? We have not talked much at all. And I’m fine with that. I just want him to stop the d— puck.”

That’s funny stuff.

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Whale of a game for Alec Martinez scoring the overtime winner and adding an assist on top of seven SOG, four hits and four blocked shots. He can really stuff the stats sometimes if you are in a deeper rotisserie league.

Since the start of November, Martinez has four goals and eight points in 17 games, a near 40-point pace. That doesn’t eliminate his grotesque month of October but Martinez is starting to produce at a level that is relevant in plenty of fantasy leagues.

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The Washington Capitals are picking up a ton of steam as a trendy Stanley Cup pick. They are doing a good job with puck possession, have uniquely explosive offensive talents in Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin, solid depth scoring and a world-beater in goal in Braden Holtby.

My one concern, they have no cap room with which to make an addition at the deadline. You could argue that Brooks Orpik will make for their deadline acquisition whenever he returns from injury but I won’t go that far.

If this is the team they enter the playoffs with, it might be damn good but there’s room for some other teams to hit another level and jump ahead. Just a thought, although we’ve seen teams get plenty creative to find room come the trade deadline in the past.

Some of the depth scoring for Washington is coming from the re-emergence of Marcus Johansson. No longer is he getting those fat minutes alongside Ovechkin on the top line but he does still skate on the top PP unit. He has been banged up a bit lately but in the games he has played Johansson has seven points in his last seven games. Not a bad run.

Given his spot as a depth guy the scoring will come in fits and starts but Johansson might just finally climb the 50-point plateau.

All of this is made possible by Kuznetsov hitting another level. Now that the Capitals have two legitimate scoring lines they are definitely back in the Cup conversation.  

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I’ve said it before and I am saying it again, it doesn’t have to make sense but John Moore is the guy on defense for the Devils. Over five minutes of power-play time last night and a PP assist to his name. That’s six points in his last seven games. Maybe that’s cherry-picking on my part but I have had Moore since the middle of this run and have enjoyed the fruits so far.

In one-year formats you can just dump Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson. Moore is the only guy worth having right now.

Patrik Elias is flirting with relevance. He skates on the top PP unit and has five points in eight games. He also doesn’t look terrible out there showing off his tremendous vision on the PP. Unfortunately, Elias really isn’t shooting much with just nine SOG thus far. He needs to be shooting a little more for me to get really excited.

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Rumours of Dion Phaneuf’s demise are greatly exaggerated. The defenseman continues to have relevance, even in points-only formats. The minutes are there for Phaneuf as a member of the top PP unit and he isn’t being relied upon for the same type of penalty killing duties as in the past so his minutes are lighter.

He hasn’t shown much scoring touch but has managed to average an assist every other game, which is in itself good enough for a 40-point season, nevermind what goals he might add to the table. The assists may slow a bit but the goals should also perk up.

A friend of mine loves to refer to Phaneuf as “high and wide” in reference to his erratic shooting and indeed Phaneuf has struggled with that in recent years but he has pushed his shot rate above 2.0 for the first time in three years, which is a great sign for future production.

Assuming the Leafs don’t quit on their coach as they did last season, Phaneuf stands a good chance of reaching that 40-point plateau for the first time in what feels a bit like forever.

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Kyle Turris has been skipping out on practice following that ugly knee injury on Saturday night but he hasn’t actually missed any games. Tough cookie and it is paying dividends for fantasy owners.

All of the talk regarding the Senators has been about the legitimacy of Mike Hoffman and indeed he scored again. The book is closed on that. Hoffman is legit, with 40-goal/70-point upside.

With that settled, let’s turn to Mark Stone who piled on three assists to get back on a point-per-game pace. I am struggling a bit with viewing Stone as an 80-point guy. I think there is some slippage from this team offensively and that he will finish closer to 70. That said, Stone has scored at a point-per-game pace for all of 2015 dating back to January of last season. 80 is not out of the question.

With all the scoring the Senators are getting up front I am still waiting for one of Cody Ceci, Chris Wideman or Patrick Wiercioch to emerge as that second productive guy on defense. It doesn’t have to be huge production either. Just a 30-point pace. So far none of them want to. I suppose having Erik Karlsson score 90 points from the back end makes it palatable for the rest of the gang to stick in the single digits.

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No Martin Hanzal for the Coyotes. He is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Hopefully this doesn’t become a thing for him once again but odds are it will since the guy misses 15 games a season like clockwork.

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An assist for Magnus Paajarvi! Get out the party hats and bake me a cake because it’s time to celebrate.

Paajarvi took his turn on the Blues’ top line and even managed to stick the whole game there. Does this mean he gets another chance?

Not worth picking up yet but monitor the situation.

More intriguing is that Paajarvi on the top line means Alex Steen on line two with Troy Brouwer and David Backes. Steen’s presence gives that line a little kick, which Backes could certainly use if he is going to get another 50-point season. The 42-point pace just isn’t cutting it.

One thing we haven’t seen much of from Backes is power-play scoring. Despite continuing his presence as net-front guy on the top PP unit Backes really hasn’t done much on that front with just one goal and three points with the man-advantage. Remember, Backes had 10 PP goals and 16 PPP in each of the last two seasons. The potential is still there to kick back to that level.

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Logan Couture did indeed return for the Sharks. The lines worked out exactly as expected:

15.23%

EV

KARLSSON,MELKER – PAVELSKI,JOE – THORNTON,JOE

15.23%

EV

DONSKOI,JOONAS – TIERNEY,CHRIS – ZUBRUS,DAINIUS

13.67%

EV

HERTL,TOMAS – NIETO,MATTHEW – WINGELS,TOMMY

11.33%

EV

COUTURE,LOGAN – MARLEAU,PATRICK – WARD,JOEL

 

Couture also bumped Joel Ward off the top PP unit and wouldn’t you know it, the Sharks went one for three on the PP, with Couture finding a PP assist. Just 12:38 in total for Couture as he was eased back into things but the minutes will climb as he gets into game shape.

Joe Thornton even got on the board with a PP goal so it’s nice to see the Couture return is paying such immediate dividends.

Of course, the Sharks also lost with Martin Jones getting yanked after three goals on 14 shots early in the second period. I have no real concern there though. Jones is the guy for San Jose.

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It is probably time to start sniffing around the Flames’ defensemen again. They combined for six assists last night.

In particular, Mark Giordano had two assists, giving him five points in the last five games.

Dougie Hamilton has points in three straight now. The Kris Russell injury is helping him to climb out of the doghouse, although it’s been over three weeks since he skated fewer than 18 minutes in a game so he was working his way out of there anyhow. Hamilton is also starting to pile up the shot totals with 30 SOG in the last 10 games, not coincidentally starting with the last time he skated under 18 minutes.

It feels like a good time to buy on both of these guys.

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I am pretty certain someone will wine if I don't mention Patrick Kane extending his scoring streak to 23 games, which is pretty darn awesome. Hasn't he extended it with a couple of empty-net points though? You do what you gotta do but it feels like this one is coming to a close soon.

More intriguing to me is Teuvo Teravainen getting over 18 minutes of ice time on the top line and scoring a goal (a wicked goal) for the second straight game. Could be in for another short binge of scoring.

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In case you missed it, yesterday I broke down the fantasy impact of the Pascal Dupuis retirement.

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Brendan Ross checks in with the latest prospects ramblings, which you should definitely check out with the World Juniors coming up in a couple of weeks.

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