November 3, 2015

by steve laidlaw on November 3, 2015

Does the NHL have a scoring problem? Kopitar’s buy low status, Marchand’s hot start and more…

Very interesting piece from Adam Gretz on how the Penguins’ and Ducks’ scoring struggles are symptoms of a league-wide lack of scoring:

Consider this from the 2014-15 season: 29 of the NHL's 30 teams had at least one 10-game stretch — and just about every team had more than one — at some point during the season where they scored 20 goals or fewer. That's an average of two goals per game, which is the same rate the absolute worst offensive teams in the league score at (Buffalo was the NHL's worst goal-scoring team last season at 1.87 goals per game. Only one other team — the Arizona Coyotes — was below 2.15).

That’s a very important note for anyone dealing with slumping stars off of one of these teams. If everyone has a bad stretch, you know that this is something that they can snap out of. It’s also important for anyone with players off a team running rampant on the league: there will come a time when this team hits a slump.

This isn’t necessarily the point of Gretz’s column but you do get the sense he feels as though scoring should be higher, which is a notion I don’t necessarily agree with. I love the idea of higher scoring from a fantasy perspective but not at the cost of the on-ice product and right now the league is as competitive and entertaining as I’ve ever seen it. The league is teeming with young, fast, skilled players. They make amazing plays look routine. That those plays don’t always end in goals isn’t necessarily a negative, it’s merely the consequence of brilliant goaltenders, who also make amazing plays look routine.

The league average save percentage this season is 0.914 and it has hovered around that level for five or so years now. If you really want to increase scoring, you’ve got to find a way to get it past goalies at a higher rate, because the number of shots teams have been getting really hasn’t changed much since the ’05 lockout, having bounced between 29 and 30 shots per team, per game for the past decade.

Coaches may be coaching to stifle scoring and keep games at more manageable scores in order to increase variance and thus decrease their chance for failure but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual product is bad. Many conventional ideas for how to increase scoring don’t necessarily result in a better product. Calling more penalties means turning hockey less free-flowing, and more like a basketball game with fixed half-ice possessions. Increasing net sizes or decreasing goalie equipment size might just mean more bad goals.  

I don’t have a solution because I don’t think we have a problem. We all love a good barn burner. The type of game where teams trade brilliant scoring chances back and forth. And guess what, we still have those. What we ultimately love are competitive games, ones that come down to the final moments. If you open things up and increase scoring, you don’t necessarily increase entertainment value. You probably just create a greater disparity between the haves and have-nots, resulting in more dominance from elite teams and more blowouts.

Maybe we’ve swung too far towards parity, to the point where we didn’t even have a 90-point scorer last season, let alone a 100-point scorer but I don’t know that we have. While Crosby and Getzlaf and a few other established superstars are struggling, the next wave is kicking ass. Jamie Benn (our defending scoring champion) and Tyler Seguin are on pace for 123 and 116 respectively. They’ll no doubt hit their own 10-game run of slow play, especially when you consider that Benn won’t keep scoring on a third of his shots, but they are still getting it done so far.

For more on the Stars, check out Pierre LeBrun’s recent profile.

"It would erode their confidence a little bit," Stars broadcaster Daryl Reaugh said Monday. "They still give up a lot of Grade A opportunities with the way they play, but Kari (Lehtonen) a little bit and Antti Niemi a lot, have given them just that clutch save at the right time that allows them to survive a major brain fart; and then it goes the other way. Because you know they're going to score."

In a lot of ways, the Stars right now are what the Colorado Avalanche aspire to be: a team that not only can win games but also do so in a vastly entertaining fashion.

The Stars definitely play one of the more wide-open brands of hockey in the league. It shows up in the average goal total for their games. If you want to see more goal scoring, you should be rooting for them to win. We’ve had lots of teams like the Leafs, Avalanche and Flames in recent years that have played a wide-open style and won a little but ultimately faltered in the playoffs and it petered out when they didn’t get the timely goaltending. If you build a winner like this, however, it becomes a more acceptable strategy.

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Of course, after all the love the Stars got over the weekend, they lost to the Leafs 4-1 in a game where they controlled damn near two thirds of the shot attempts.

The final shot tally was 44-26 for Dallas meaning James Reimer turned aside 43 of those. I’d wager that Reimer wasn’t started in a single fantasy league. His ownership figures are already low and who in their right mind would start him against the league’s second best offense, especially to kick off their week? Kudos to you if you made the gamble, you’ve got larger stones than I do.

You can bet this earns Reimer the next start, which comes against the Jets on Wednesday night. I still don’t like his chances…

Joffrey Lupul landed a pair of goals and three points total. That gives him a respectable seven points in 11 games, which puts him on pace for about 50 points. He could probably get there too but you know he’ll miss 10 games or so, which will drive down his final total. Still, a moderately productive guy while healthy and don’t rule out his potential if traded to the right team.

Morgan Rielly chipped in with a three-point night of his own, including a power-play goal. That PPG might be a little deceiving though since it came in the dying minutes of the game when the Stars were threatening to pull their goalie in an effort to tie things up. They didn’t but the point is Rielly probably doesn’t get those power-play minutes were it not for the opposing threat. Still an impressive showing and hopefully it means more minutes for the Leafs’ most talented defenseman.

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The trio of Benn, Seguin and Patrick Sharp combined for 20 of the Stars’ 44 SOG and got all three points on their lone goal.

Valeri Nichushkin looked really strong in his 11 minutes of action, even earning a penalty shot that he’d ultimately fail to score on. Yet another player with the talent but not the opportunity to be a big fantasy asset.

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Bryan Bickell has been sent to the minors with Marko Dano getting called up. Dano skated 11:11 last night with no power play time.

Dano couldn’t even get into the top six with Marian Hossa and Viktor Tikhonov out. Tikhonov was a healthy scratch while Hossa was out with a lower-body injury. They are hopeful Hossa will return Wednesday.

Here’s how the lines shook out for Chicago:

25.1%

EV

GARBUTT,RYAN – PANARIN,ARTEMI – TOEWS,JONATHAN

18.15%

EV

DESJARDINS,ANDREW – KRUGER,MARCUS – SHAW,ANDREW

17.37%

EV

DANO,MARKO – HARTMAN,RYAN – KERO,TANNER

16.6%

EV

ANISIMOV,ARTEM – KANE,PATRICK – TERAVAINEN,TEUVO

 

Winners here are Ryan Garbutt and Teuvo Teravainen. Each man paid off the opportunity with a point too, which might embolden the Blackhawks to stick with these lines a little while longer.

This might be counter-intuitive but I think it’ll be Teravainen who gets shuffled down, not Garbutt, when Hossa gets back into the lineup. This assumes Tikhonov isn’t given back his spot alongside Toews right away. Ultimately, neither Garbutt, nor Teravainen looks to be a permanent part of the Blackhawks’ top six.

Artemi Panarin found an assist skating alongside Jonathan Toews instead of his usual Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov. If you haven’t seen Panarin in action yet, you are missing out. He’s like a right-handed Patty Kane. He’ll find a way to produce with just about anyone.

Brent Seabrook also found an assist. He isn’t scoring on every Blackhawks goal any more but he’s still producing quite a bit. Just a reminder, his production drops off when Duncan Keith returns. The time to shop him, is now. Tic toc.

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It didn’t take him long but Jake Muzzin has gone from fantasy pariah to fantasy stud in the matter of a week. In that week he has scored all six of his points this season, in just four games played. Nice work. It’s amazing how quickly poolies turned on him too. After being the 36th defenseman off the board on average, and taken in 100% of Yahoo! leagues his ownership was at 58% last night. I can’t imagine where his ownership was at before this four-game streak but I can all but guarantee it was below 50%.

I don’t necessarily blame fantasy owners who bailed out early. Depending on your league size, 40-point defensemen are right around that borderline where it’s more valuable to grab guys off the waiver wire with a heavy four-game schedule and possibly a hot streak going than to simply stick with that 40-point guy for the whole year even if it means dropping that guy and letting him sit on someone else’s roster the rest of the season.

Muzzin is a 40-point defenseman, just in case you didn’t pick up on that.

Another defenseman to talk about is Alec Martinez. I was hopeful that after scoring at a 33-point pace in a limited role that Martinez might have a breakout season having signed a fat new contract. His minutes are up to 21:28 per game from 19:56 last season but his role on the power play hasn’t changed a ton. His power play minutes are up to 2:24 from 1:57 but he’s still mostly seeing time on the second unit.

It’s conceivable that Martinez makes his way into 40-point territory as well, especially since he’s skating most of his minutes alongside Muzzin but he’s dug himself a fairly sizable hole with just two points so far. Muzzin showed us how quickly that hole can get filled in but it looks like Martinez is fated for closer to 30 points. It’s worth mentioning that even 30 would be a career high for Martinez so don’t scoff if he makes it there.

Can we please find Anze Kopitar some linemates who can score? Could we stick Tyler Toffoli on his wing for just one game? Could they even get a chance on the power play together? I don’t think it’s much to ask.

Kopitar’s fantasy owners are dying a slow death watching him skate alongside Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik who look like they have been moonlighting as extras on The Walking Dead.

We made a huge point about this above, slumping stars will eventually right the ship. Kopitar began last season with just 10 points in 21 games over the first two months and then went nutty with 54 in his last 58. Buy low my friends.

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Mark Stone has been suspended two games for a check to the head of Landon Ferraro. Hopefully you were able to pull him from your weekly lineup in time.

It will be interesting to see how the lines shake out with both Curtis Lazar and Mike Hoffman due back for the Senators tonight. Perhaps Bobby Ryan gets some run on the top line with a chance to extend his four-game scoring streak.

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Good read on how emotion has fueled Brad Marchand’s strong start to the season:

Yeah, for sure. I always feel my best when I’m mentally and emotionally engaged,” he said. “My head’s into the game and I’m getting into the corners and the battles. That’s where a lot of this game is won, in the battles. You have to be emotionally engaged to win those. You’ve got to get yourself in the right mindset, and when you do you usually play well. I do feel I have lot of weight to pull this year. Playing the minutes I am, I do need to step up and be a leader on the ice. I think we’re all embracing our roles right now and it’s showing on the ice. Everybody is playing really good.

A few underlying stats:

Marchand has been firing off 3.9 shots per game, a huge spike for a guy who would normally shoot about two per game. If he can keep this up then he’ll surely remain a quality fantasy asset.

Marchand’s minutes per game are up to 18:32, the most he has seen in five years. His power play time is up to 1:38 per game, which is huge considering he was basically off the power play entirely the past couple of years. It should come as little surprise that a third of his points have come with the man advantage.

A little bit of cold water now: Marchand’s individual point percentage (IPP) sits at 90% so he’s racked up points on all but one goal the Bruins have scored while he’s been on the ice. That won’t continue even if he remains an offensive catalyst.

All these factors added together give Marchand a shot at 60 points but after last season’s disappointing 42 I think Marchand owners would be happy with a return to the 50-point mark.

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Some injury updates:

Vladimir Tarasenko will be in the lineup tonight for the Blues, however Kevin Shattenkirk will not.

The Oilers have activated Griffin Reinhart from the injured reserve.

Jaromir Jagr is expected to play on Wednesday against the Ducks.

The Devils haven’t written off Patrik Elias just yet but don’t expect him back right away.

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For those of you in a keeper leagues, here’s a name to watch for: Jake Walman. I’ve never seen him play but what I see is that he’s in US College Hockey’s top five for D-1 scoring as a 19-year-old sophomore with seven goals and 12 points through seven games. He looks like he’ll have a chance to star for the US at the World Juniors in December so you want to grab him now before the hype gets hot.

Walman is a Blues prospect. Read more on him here.

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Ian Gooding lets you know which goalies to start and sit this week.

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Sean McIndoe says farewell to Grantland and shares some of his favourite pieces from his time there.

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Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski did a Reddit AMA that’s worth your time.

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Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.