October 24, 2015

by steve laidlaw on October 24, 2015

What to make of Kuznetsov, Markov, Giordano and Toffoli after big nights, and more.

Boy, did Evgeny Kuznetsov ever benefit from Nicklas Backstrom’s offseason surgery. It opened the window enough for Kuznetsov to get a crack with Alexander Ovechkin and he’s absolutely running with it, leaving Backstrom to fill the proverbial second line duties.

A five-point night for Kuznetsov pushes him into the team lead for points with 11. He also grabbed his first three goals of the season for the hat-trick including this beauty.

It’s worth mentioning that when I checked last night, Kuznetsov remained available in 43% of fantasy leagues. I’ll guess that inches closer to 75% by the time you are reading this. But if you are an early bird and you can somehow still jump on him, Kuznetsov is pretty obviously a great pick up.

Of course, after a game like this you have to accept that that game is in the past. Focusing on future production, this is probably the high point of value for Kuznetsov. Even if this is all part of a breakout, that breakout probably looks like 60-65 points, not the 75-80 that you want to think he can hit. There’s just only so much offense to go around.

The big reason I pump the brakes is because Kuznetsov is not skating on the top power play unit. So his opportunity for easy points alongside Ovechkin aren’t there as much as they could be.

The flip side to that is how impressive it is that Kuznetsov has managed 11 points in seven games, while scoring only two points on the power play. Even more impressive is that even with all the even-strength scoring, Kuznetsov’s on-ice save percentage at five-on-five is not exorbitantly high at 11.11%. Instead, this is just Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and TJ Oshie absolutely beating on opponents for both volume and high scoring chances.

It’s really easy to get caught up in the scoring for the Capitals right now. Their power play is clicking at 27.8%, good for a tie for third in the league and overall they are scoring 3.67 goals per game, again good for third. They’ve got Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and John Carlson all scoring more than a point per game, while Oshie sits at seven in seven and Justin Williams has six in seven. Just good times right now. Let’s see how they respond to some adversity.

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On the other side, Connor McDavid has a four-game point streak going and at eight points through eight games, is as advertised. Unlike the Capitals, the Oilers are scoring at a bottom-10 rate so the offense is really just McDavid.

It should be mentioned that Taylor Hall is generating chances like crazy, up to 37 SOG in those eight games, about 4.5 shots per game. His on-ice shooting percentage is at 5.08%. He’s leaving some points on the board. You have to figure that it won’t be long now. Also, the Oilers’ top goal scorer, Jordan Eberle, hasn’t played yet. You have to figure he’ll help get some of the other guys going.

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Another team that is just charmed right now is Montreal, now 8-0-0 after drubbing the Sabres.

Andrei Markov had a five-point night, which pushes him squarely into a sell-high position, with nine points on the season now. Markov’s 12.68% on-ice shooting percentage is far too high, particularly for a defenseman. Markov’s a 50-point defenseman so you need a really healthy return but there are some underwhelming guys to go after yet.

Another reason to sell high on Markov: he has just 10 SOG through eight games. At this rate, he’ll barely hit 100, which makes it extremely unlikely he’ll reach double-digits for goals for the second straight season.

Tomas Plekanec’s hot start is so for real. Getting to skate with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher full time is working wonders for him. His five goals on 24 shots (a 20.8% shooting percentage) would be more concerning if that line wasn’t producing so many scoring chances in general. Yes, the goals will dry up for Plekanec but he’ll replace them with assists, like he did notching three last night. Will he hit 80 points? No, but 70 looks inherently possible. It all depends on Pacioretty’s health.

They didn’t do so last night but the Canadiens are outshooting opponents by four shots per game, a great sign that it’s not just going to be Carey Price going full on Atlas. Mike Condon, put together a nice performance stopping 34 of 36 for his second win.

Looking like Condon might be this year’s elite backup. Make sure you check Goaliepost daily for updates on goalie starts. If you see Condon slated to go he should make for a great spot start in leagues with daily lineups and certainly makes for someone to slot into your daily fantasy lineup on the cheap.

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Sam Reinhart doesn’t look like he is going anywhere. I speculated that Brian Gionta’s return might push Reinhart down to the minors but Reinhart keeps sticking around, grabbing minutes in the top six. He has points in two out of the last three games, in all of which he’s seen his usage rise to about 15 minutes per.

Cody Franson notched a pair of assists but he’s off my list of interesting players. Rasmus Ristolainen is still grabbing more minutes overall and on the power play so he’s the only defenseman on the Sabres that I want at this point.

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The bizarro Bruins continue to be all offense, no defense. The average Bruins game has seen eight goals scored. Just a tremendous total. Great news if you own David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron. Not so much if you own Tuukka Rask, who didn’t even start last night.

Instead, it was Jonas Gustavsson in goal and he moved to 2-0 on the season. Goalie controversy? I’m kidding. But let’s say we reach the end of November and the Bruins still stink, Rask is still struggling and Gustavsson has a 5-1 record with his typically mediocre peripherals. Might Claude Julien start feeling the hot seat and grasp at something that looks like a lifeline out of desperation? Just remember, we’re another month away from hitting that.

The save percentage for goalies participating in Bruins games this season: 0.862.

The league average save percentage this season: 0.917.

Ryan Spooner has five points in the last four games after a pair last night. He skated just 10:24 but over three of those minutes were on the top power play unit. He makes for a nice waiver pickup if those top unit minutes keep coming. That’s especially true if the Bruins keep experimenting with bigger nets…

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The Cardiac Flames finally make an appearance this season, mounting a third-period comeback to defeat the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime. It’s little surprise that Mark Giordano led the way, with two goals and an assist. The Flames were really struggling with his slow start.

Somehow, Giordano still skated fewer minutes than either Kris Russell or Dennis Wideman, and he even skated fewer power play minutes than Dougie Hamilton. Giordano is still the number one guy though. But I guess the buy low window closes for a bit after this one.

I’m not buying Hamilton stock, by the way. He’s struggling too much and the Flames have too much depth to stand idly by and watch him work through it. More importantly, defensemen don’t score enough to be patiently waiting anyhow. Let’s say you sit on a defenseman through the highs and the lows and he hits 40 points. That might make him a top-40 defenseman in terms of scoring but you also sat through 40-50 scoreless nights. If you’ve got a defenseman tracking for that level, you might be better off playing the weekly waiver wire. Shoot for guys skating four or five games in the calendar week, with favourable schedules and maybe even happen to be on a hot streak. Especially great for those situations is if said waiver defenseman is filling in for an injury.

Obviously the number of moves your league allots factors into the feasibility of this strategy but in the majority of leagues you can make a couple of moves per week. Turning that last defenseman spot, especially if it’s filled by someone underperforming like Hamilton, into a rotating spot can be a great way to maximize production.

If you were to engage in this strategy starting today some good names to grab might be Jeff Petry, Andrej Sekera or Jared Spurgeon. I used, this week’s Looking Ahead column to develop that piece an absolutely invaluable resource if you are planning on engaging in this sort of roster maximization waiver pickup strategy.

Of course, if you read that column you’ll note that Calgary has five games in seven days starting Sunday, which makes Hamilton a decent option for roster maximization next week, even as he slumps heavily.

It also means we almost certainly see Joni Ortio’s debut next week, even after Jonas Hiller submitted a good start last night.

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Tyler Toffoli is smoking hot with five goals in the last four games. Milan Lucic is clicking with him and Jeff Carter as well. Give Lucic four points in those four games. I’m not sure this line will stick but someone has to lug Lucic around and Anze Kopitar’s hands are full with Dustin Brown’s cadaver.

Toffoli led the Kings in power-play ice time last night and scored a power-play goal but it doesn’t figure to last. The Kopitar group is still the top unit. I just don’t get why the Kings don’t use Toffoli with Kopitar on one loaded unit. It just seems obtuse to not use your top goal scorer with the rest of your top players, with the most minutes possible, especially as the team toils near the bottom of the league in power-play efficiency.

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It looks like Jaden Schwartz will miss tonight’s contest against the Islanders. Ty Rattie has been recalled and figures to see action, especially with Robbi Fabbri not due back until Tuesday. Kevin Shattenkirk is also slated to return for the Blues on Tuesday but that won’t help them against a high-powered Islander team. Maybe sit Brian Elliott tonight.

Rattie, it should be mentioned, has seven points in three games in the AHL thus far this season. He really has nothing else to prove at that level.

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Dobber answers your fantasy hockey questions, his latest Sportsnet column.

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Check out the latest DobberProspects ramblings.

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Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.