October 15, 2015

by steve laidlaw on October 15, 2015

Is Neuvirth for real? Will Bobrovsky ever stop a puck? Hanzal so hot right now and more…

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Nights like last night are why I drafted Erik Karlsson third overall in the Dobber Experts League. There’s such a disparity between Karlsson and the rest of the guys at his position that he’s almost unfair. He has points in just two of four games this season but because those two games were so outrageously productive he’s now tied for the league lead in scoring.

Four assists for Karlsson last night, in case you aren’t aware exactly what I’m referring to.

He’s only 25, by the way. If defensemen don’t hit their peak until their late 20’s well then look out.

Of course, Karlsson won’t maintain his current pace. Teams will change up tactics, pucks will bounce the wrong way (all four of last night’s assists were of the secondary variety), teammates will get injured, maybe even Karlsson himself (*breaks hand knocking on wood so hard) and it will all add up to a reduced pace. But barring any bad juju Karlsson is leading the league in defenseman scoring once again and the question is whether he does it with 65 or 75 points. I’m beginning to lean towards the latter given this nice jump out of the gate.

What’s got to be exciting for Sens fans is the depth scoring. Getting goals out of the top line is expected at this point. Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone are too talent to stay quiet for too long. Bare minimum those are all 50-point players if they stick together, if not a lot more. I’m getting Ladd-Little-Wheeler vibes here, for those of you familiar with the Jets’ top line.

Milan Michalek and Jean-Gabriel Pageau scoring from the third line in the same game is more of a pleasant surprise.

It should be mentioned that Michalek’s strike was of the power-play variety, his second such goal of the season. He’s been getting some top unit power play time so he’s one to toss on a watch list. He’s too streaky to go all in on right now but if you are hurting maybe he fits the bill.

One unfortunate loss for the Senators’ was that of Clarke MacArthur who banged his head off the ice. No word on the severity of the injury but obviously when the head is involved all bets are off. Look for Shane Prince to jump into the lineup for the next contest at least.

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The Blue Jackets getting slammed 7-3 to fall to 0-4-0 on the season is not how anyone envision things going. They were a TRENDY pick to make the leap after some solid off-season additions, on top of getting Sergei Bobrovsky back healthy to start the season. Now they are “off the rails” to quote Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekelainen.

Did I mention that quote came from before last night’s game? Oh brother. If they were derailed prior to that effort do they still remain derailed? Are they more derailed? Completely derailed? I feel like we need a derailment scale. And at what point does this become a train wreck?

I’m only kidding. Maybe the Jackets aren’t the sure playoff team we all thought they were but they’ve got a ton of talent so the wins will start to come.

I also know a lot of Bobrovsky owners out there are starting to panic. This is when you pounce! Bob is a classic second half guy. He crushes during the months of March and April, which if you league is head-to-head, means winning time. Obviously you’d like some good goaltending out of him before you hit head-to-head playoffs, because you actually have to qualify to reap the rewards but suffice to say I don’t think you’ll be on the hook for too many six-goal nights.

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Steve Mason isn’t at risk of losing his starting gig just yet but Michal Neuvirth is planting some seeds should Mason struggle upon his return to the team. That’s back-to-back shutouts for Neuvirth who always had potential skating behind the dubious Mason.

One thing in Neuvirth’s favour, Dave Hakstol wasn’t around when Mason signed his contract or established himself as the Flyers’ number one. Hakstol is only bound to one thing, winning. If Neuvirth is the better goalie then we could see this flip. Neuvirth needs to make a much longer run of success and Mason needs to return before we can call this a controversy though.

Also, the schedule gods really aren’t on Neuvirth’s side. The Flyers don’t play again until next Tuesday, which may be enough time for Mason to return and likely enough time for Neuvirth to cool off. It’s always something for Neuvirth, usually injuries. I’d like to see him catch a break.

Sam Gagner has two points in two games after scoring a power-play goal last night. He was practically a DH skating over a third of his 9:51 last night on the power play. Part of this was a function of how many power play chances the Blackhawks gave Philadelphia but I wonder if there’s a future in this for Gagner. Not buying yet.

Radko Gudas owners have to be happy to see wins for the Flyers both times he’s been in the lineup. I’m still not certain Gudas is a positive influence given he’s contributed eight penalty minutes to the opposition over those two games but that’s money for fantasy owners.

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Everyone wants to know if they should pounce all over Artemi Panarin. I’m a fan but I’m not a fantasy buyer. Everything looks good given his deployment, skating alongside Patrick Kane and even receiving top unit power play time last night, over five minutes’ worth! He has yet to score a power-play point, which if it doesn’t come soon, will leave him on the outside looking in.

I’m more intrigued by Marian Hossa snagging some top unit power play time last night. Obviously the Blackhawks were seeking a spark for both Hossa and their struggling power play. No dice so far but remember, Hossa has scored at a 30-goal/60-point rate the past three seasons. I’m taking that money to the bank.

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Some wicked breakout performances for the Bruins last night led by Jimmy Hayes’ four-point effort. Hayes and the rest of the third line (Ryan Spooner and Chris Kelly) combined for three of the Bruins’ six goals and seven points altogether. Some intriguing pieces on that line if they weren’t limited to third line duties.

A big welcome back for Zdeno Chara, with two assists! I realize this was his second game back but I missed the first so congrats, Big Z! He skated a team high 24:12 and helped lessen the burden for Torey Krug who nevertheless skated over 20 minutes of action. Looking good for Krug owners, even after the diminutive defenseman was held off the board in this one.

Tuukka Rask is still seeking his first win as it was Jonas Gustavsson getting the start and win for Boston.

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Dobber with an intriguing tidbit on Matt Duchene who has yet to see his team score at five-on-five while he’s been on the ice. Definitely due for some puck luck. He’s also being asked to carry around the lumbering sack that is Blake Comeau. Comeau is the prince of the empty SOG so don’t be surprised if Duchene’s on-ice shooting percentage is low all season.

Duchene’s other winger? Jarome Iginla.

The 38-year-old, Iginla, has yet to land a shot on-goal at even strength this season. His only two shots have come on the power play and both have been goals. Interesting contrast of round numbers and situational feast vs. famine for those two.

Feels like another long year for the Avalanche and Duchene owners.

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Neither Martin Hanzal nor Anthony Duclair made my Waiver Wednesday article that I’ve linked to below but they easily could have. You’ll find both available in the majority of leagues. Unfortunately, too few got in on last night’s scoring binge.

I really like Duclair and skating alongside Hanzal and Tobias Rieder is a good situation for him, especially if he’s getting big minutes. My only concern is if Hanzal can hold up. Hanzal has proven capable of 55-point upside if he could ever skate a full 82-game slate. If he’s locked in for his usual 60 then that’s 22 games of subpar centering that Duclair and Rieder are receiving.

In case you’ve forgotten, Hanzal is also a rotisserie gem, capable of filling categories top to bottom.

Ultimately, this hot start from the Coyotes seems like a house of cards. I just can’t picture Duclair or Hanzal or Max Domi scoring more than even 50 points this season. Just not enough juice there in the desert, especially knowing Hanzal’s health history.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson skated 10:01 on the power play last night. I knew the Coyotes were bound and determined to give him all of the minutes but holy crap! I wish I knew how many other times a player has hit double-digit power-play minutes in one game because this feels like some kind of a record.

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On the flip side of bizarro world, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are all still looking for their first points of the season. Just as surely as you can expect the Coyotes’ luck to turn, so to can you expect the same for these Ducks. How confident are you in making a strong buy-low pitch after down seasons for this trio last year on top of this cool start?

Would you offer Henrik Zetterberg for Getzlaf? Would you offer Blake Wheeler for Perry? A used dish towel for Kesler? I’d risk it all but the dish towel.

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I completed my last hockey draft last night. I know we are getting going a week late but it could be worse, I got caught out on a fire a couple of weeks ago and had to miss one of my drafts. I ended up bowing out of the league entirely. No point in competing if I can’t even pick my own team. I pride myself on my ability to manoeuver at the draft table.

Last night went swimmingly. I had the eighth pick out of 10 and targeted Claude Giroux as my #1 pick because of his winger eligibility and his faceoff prowess. We score 15 different categories, with only four being goalie categories so I prioritized skaters, in particular those who chew up the faceoff dot.

I nailed Giroux at number eight even with Carey Price on the board because again, punting goalies. Well, not entirely, I grabbed Freddie Andersen in the fifth round (48th overall), Jaroslav Halak in the ninth (88th), and Craig Anderson in the 16th (153rd). Three fairly undervalued goalies. And we do need goalies to some extent with three starts minimum required. It’ll be interesting to see how I do with three goalies that I don’t actually have a ton of confidence in even though they were all what I think were great “value” picks.

For the record, if Price makes it to me in the second round at 13th overall I don’t “stick to my guns” and punt goalies. Price at that low makes for incredible value even with only four of 15 categories counting for goalies. Price went 10th, however, so I opted for the best defenseman available to me: PK Subban.

We score shot blocks in this league and roster five defensemen daily. I’m sure there’s a strategy where you punt on blocks altogether and opt for defensemen who score a ton but don’t do anything else. I’m not ready to dive into that strategy out of the gate so I’ll grab one of the guys who does a bit of everything.

We do have four moves each week in this pool so an even craftier strategy might be to rotate in a defenseman or two with heavy schedules on a weekly basis in order to help maximize those “pile on” stats. Right now, Matt Dumba is nominally my sixth defenseman but it’s a guarantee he doesn’t stick in that spot barring some paradigm shifting performance this weekend.

The other defensemen I have rounding out my group: Shea Weber (sixth round), John Carlson (eighth), John Klingberg (15th) and Jack Johnson (19th).  I really enjoy putting together a murder’s row on defense in fantasy leagues. I’m not sure which is more impressive though, the one from this league or from the Experts league where I have Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Mike Green, Erik Johnson, Justin Schultz and Alec Martinez as my six regulars.

You’re right, the former is more impressive. Even when considering the Experts league has three extra teams I still crushed it with these defensemen. That comes at a cost, of course, and you saw it in goal.

I rounded out my roster with a buttload of centermen, some with wing eligibility, and some without. I’m winning that faceoff category every week, you can count on that. We also have a utility slot in this pool on top of starting three at each forward position nightly so there is room for loading up on centermen. All told, I’ve got Giroux, Ryan Johansen, Nicklas Backstrom, Jack Eichel, Brandon Dubinsky, Derick Brassard, Sean Monahan, Mika Zibanejad and David Krejci all set to win me some faceoffs. Overkill? Probably. We’ll see what shakes out.

For those who recall, I also grabbed Johansen and Eichel in the Experts league. I damn near double-dipped with Tomas Plekanec as well but he was snagged one pick before I was ready to make the plunge. Brassard became my next best thing. I really like these guys in leagues scoring shots because they bring a lot to the table even when they aren’t scoring but obviously I’m bullish that all three will outperform expectations. Or at least I’m willing to make the gamble. Seems unlikely you’ll find any of these guys undervalued at this point though.

One last thing, I totally used the Fantasy Hockey Geek draft tools for last night’s draft because it would be foolish not to, when it’s so damned helpful and easy to use.

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I’m beginning to notice a trend; each Wednesday I prepare a bunch of quick hits on injury news only to notice Ajay has already briefed you with his diligent IR Report column. Make sure you check out this week’s.

One thing Ajay didn’t boast enough about is that it looks like Nicklas Backstrom could be back as early as this weekend, which is excellent news. The big question is whether or not he will be hindered at all.

This notion has been bandied about a ton over the years but I still don’t think that it is mainstream – Backstrom is the straw that stirs the Caps’ drink. They obviously need Ovechkin’s goals, but Backstrom helps to setup a ton of those. The guy had 50 freaking assists last season, while playing some excellent two-way puck. Great player. We need more of them upright and playing.

Braden Holtby owners will be happy to see Backstrom back sooner than later as well.

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Another injury to keep you up-to-date on: Kevin Shattenkirk is unlikely to play tonight against the Oilers.

I’m starting to grumble about Shattenkirk’s injury woes. Not that there’s much to grumble about. He’s only missed two games over three seasons prior to last but now he’s already dealing with issues this season. These past two years were the ones where he was supposed to push Karlsson for the defenseman scoring title. Can’t do that from the press box.

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Check out my latest for Sportsnet looking at some valuable players still on the waiver wire in most pools. You can expect to see this Waiver Wednesday column weekly.

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While you are at it, make sure you read Brendan Ross’ latest prospect ramblings, absolutely loaded with content.

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Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.