October 18 2015

by Ian Gooding on October 18, 2015

Backstrom and Halak return; Barrie suspended three games, Kessel faces Leafs, plus more…

Nicklas Backstrom made quite the splash in his season debut on Saturday, scoring a goal and adding two assists in just over 15 minutes of icetime. What was interesting about this game is that Backstrom was not reunited with longtime triggerman Alex Ovechkin. Instead, Backstrom played on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, while Evgeny Kuznetsov remained as the center on the first line with Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. Backstrom did assume his normal place on the first-unit power play, though, with his two assists coming with the man advantage.

It will be interesting to see if Barry Trotz keeps his lines this way. The positive side to this arrangement is that it gives the Capitals two solid scoring lines, and Kuznetsov’s fantasy value won’t decrease with Backstrom’s return. However, do we downgrade Backstrom a little because of this? The lines seemed to work this way anyway, at least on Saturday.

*

Jaroslav Halak also played his first game of the season on Saturday, stopping 22 of 25 shots in the Islanders’ 6-3 win over San Jose.

In that game, Kyle Okposo scored a goal and added two assists playing on a second line with Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey. I know a Dobber writer or two who had his doubts about Okposo because of an eye injury he suffered last season. But it’s worth mentioning that Okposo has scored six points already this season, all in his last three games.

Here are the recent Islander top-9 line combinations, which seemed to be evident in the film I watched in this game.

#1           24.4%    LEE,ANDERS – STROME,RYAN – TAVARES,JOHN

#2           18.9%    BAILEY,JOSH – NIELSEN,FRANS – OKPOSO,KYLE

#3           17.2%    GRABOVSKI,MIKHAIL – KULEMIN,NIKOLAY – NELSON,BROCK

*

I’ll expand on a point that Steve made in his Ramblings yesterday. Since I watch the Canucks more than any other team, I’ll affirm that Radim Vrbata’s early-season slump (no points) has a lot to do with the fact that he has not established chemistry on the second line. In particular, Vrbata and Sven Baertschi have not been able to click, which is a reason that Baertschi was a healthy scratch on Friday.

So who was bumped up to the second line on Friday? Word was that it was going to be Brandon Prust, but instead it was fellow grinder Derek Dorsett. Willie Desjardins is clearly rewarding veterans for solid play by moving them up a line or two. At the same time, he has been hesitant to play his youngsters.

This was the first game that both Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen played in the same game. But that probably won’t happen on Sunday against Edmonton, as McCann is doubtful for that game after being injured on Friday. I have a feeling that with Willie D’s reluctance to use the youngsters, at least one of them will be returned to junior.

#1           16.4%    DORSETT,DEREK – HORVAT,BO – VRBATA,RADIM

#2           15.3%    CRACKNELL,ADAM – PRUST,BRANDON – VIRTANEN,JAKE

#3           13%       SEDIN,DANIEL – SEDIN,HENRIK – SUTTER,BRANDON

#4           13%       BURROWS,ALEXANDRE – HANSEN,JANNIK – MCCANN,JARED

*

An update on another point from yesterday’s Ramblings: Paul Stastny will miss the remainder of the Blues’ current road trip (NHL.com), which amounts to at least Sunday’s game against Winnipeg and Tuesday’s game against Montreal. Steve explained how that could affect the Blues’ lines, including how David Backes moved up to the top line and how he may have a hard time securing top-6 minutes once everyone is healthy.

*

Breaking news as I type the Ramblings: Tyson Barrie has been suspended for three games for his hit on Simon Despres on Friday. Expect Despres to be sidelined for the foreseeable future with what appears to be a concussion. The suspension seems fair to me, as the hit was both late and targeted the head. In the video, watch the 5’10” Barrie leap up to nail the noggin of the 6’4” Despres.

With Barrie out for Sunday’s game and the Avalanche’s two games next week, Erik Johnson (two power-play goals this season) seems like the logical choice to take over on the point of the Avalanche’s first-unit power play. But Francois Beauchemin’s hot start (five assists in three games) could mean that he could also factor into the equation during Barrie’s league-mandated absence.

POWER PLAY

#1           47.1%    BARRIE,TYSON

#2           29.4%    BEAUCHEMIN,FRANCOIS – JOHNSON,ERIK

#3           11.8%    GUENIN,NATE – HOLDEN,NICK

*

On a non-hockey note: I’m still choked about that Blue Jays loss today, but I won’t take up too much more space about it here because this isn’t a baseball rambling. But many of you who live north of the border have a favorite baseball team that is now in another 0-2 hole. Poor David Price doesn’t seem to be a big-game pitcher, but we won’t be feeling too sorry for him in the offseason when he cashes in, probably with another team.

*

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other big story in the Toronto sports scene today: Phil Kessel’s first game against the Leafs since the offseason trade. Kessel was held without a point, but he had the last laugh with his new team in a 2-1 victory.

Looking at the boxscore, the following Penguins earned points: Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Sergei Plotnikov, Rob Scuderi… but no Sidney Crosby. So yeah, that’s still no goals and no assists for Sid the Kid. But at least you received one shot on goal tonight to pad that season total to… eight. I’m currently joking with the Crosby owner in one league about trading him to me. I wonder if I should inquire in case she’s not kidding.

*

A nice multiple-point night for Tyler Seguin (two goals, two assists) and Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist) against the Panthers on Saturday. The lucky winner of the third spot on this line is Patrick Sharp, who recorded two assists in this game.

I was expecting a bit of a bounce-back for Sharp this season, but those two assists were actually just his first two points of the season. But he should be fine if he manages to stay on that line. For their part, Benn has scored points in all five of his games this season, while Seguin has scored points in four of five games.

*

Another game, another loss for the Blue Jackets. But at least Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t in net. Curtis McElhinney stopped 26 of 29 shots in the loss. I think we’d see McElhinney a little more often than just back-to-backs if Bobrovsky continues to struggle. But not much more.

*

The Senators’ top line continues to roll. Mike Hoffman scored two goals and added an assist, while linemates Mark Stone and Kyle Turris recorded two points each. This is a very under-the-radar top line, as Stone and Turris are currently tied for second in league scoring (with a bunch of other players) with eight points. The league leader? Henrik Zetterberg with nine points.

*

Turning to the late games, Brad Marchand returned to the Bruins’ lineup on Saturday, scoring a goal in the Bruins’ 5-3 win over Arizona.

More importantly for Tuukka Rask owners, he earned his first win of the season. The .870 save percentage in this game (stopped 20 of 23 shots) isn’t that impressive, but a win’s a win. But any doubts about Rask will continue to linger.

Offensively for the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron scored two power-play goals, while David Krejci scored a power-play goal and added two assists. Krejci should be considered as a very early favorite of the comeback player of the year, as he is already up to nine points (4g-5a) in just five games. He has also scored points in all five of those games.

*

Connor McDavid had recorded just one point (a goal) in his first four games, but he exploded for two goals and an assist in the Oilers’ 5-2 win over Calgary, which was the Oilers’ first win of the season. Taylor Hall scored a goal and added two assists in the win. This game should reassure McDavid owners of any fear that their top prospect is not yet ready for the NHL.

I had assumed before the season that McDavid and Hall would be linemates for the Oil, but this is how the Oilers’ top two lines have been shaping up recently (sans Jordan Eberle):

#1           27.3%    HALL,TAYLOR – HENDRICKS,MATT – NUGENT-HOPKINS,RYAN

#2           17.3%    MCDAVID,CONNOR – POULIOT,BENOIT – YAKUPOV,NAIL

McDavid and Hall reconvene on the power play, however. If McDavid is the focal point on one line and Hall the other, the Oilers’ lengthy rebuilding process could finally be looking up. Now they just need to work on the defense.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your Sunday.