Ramblings: Backs to the Wall Blackhawks (Apr 16)

by Ian Gooding on April 16, 2017

Backs to the wall Blackhawks, Pietrangelo, Kassian, plus more

As a hockey fan with no specific rooting interest in these playoffs, here are the three series than I was the most interested in to start the playoffs:

Columbus/Pittsburgh: Can the Pens get past the Jackets, let alone repeat as Stanley Cup champions? It’s unfair to both of these teams (second and fourth overall, respectively) that they have to face each other in the first round.

Edmonton/San Jose: Are these Oilers for real? Will the veterans on the Sharks be able to stop Connor McDavid?

Toronto/Washington: On paper, a short series for the Leafs against the President’s Trophy winners. But hey, it’s the Leafs, and they have those exciting young players.

This was nothing against any of the other series, which are providing some great hockey. But I guess I was just a little more curious about these ones. But as all these series evolve, there are some interesting twists and turns. Let’s start with what should be the biggest surprise of the playoffs so far, which is not one of the three I listed above.

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If you loaded up on Blackhawks in your playoff pool or picked them as your Cup winner, these playoffs haven’t gone according to plan for you (at least so far). Two games, no goals. And from what I have watched of this series, it doesn’t seem as though the Hawks are being outplayed by a wide margin. They just ran into a hot goalie in Pekka Rinne, who stole Game 1, then didn’t make any mistakes in Game 2 either.

Although the Blackhawks should be concerned heading into Game 3 in Nashville, they shouldn’t panic either. Remember that this core group of players nearly came back from a 3-0 deficit against Vancouver in 2011. After Game 3 in that series, Jonathan Toews said something to the effect of, “We have to expose them for who they are.” This is a team that has three Stanley Cups in its trophy case, so they can be as mentally tough as any team. I think the Hawks come back and win Game 3 and possibly even Game 4.

But let’s give the Preds credit where credit is due for a total team effort. If you include Rinne’s two assists (a nice bonus in a fantasy league or two), 12 Predators had at least a point in this game. Rinne of course has a two-game shutout streak. Ryan Johansen now has four points in two playoff games. If you believe in the Predators in playoff pools, Johansen is a solid sleeper with 18 points in 22 games.

One red flag of the “boiling the frog slowly” variety for the Blackhawks might be in net. This would also be something for you to remember in fantasy leagues. Crawford’s goals-against average has increased for the fourth consecutive season (from 1.94 in 2013-14 to 2.55 in 2016-17). In other words, the 32-year-old is not a goalie you should be reaching for in drafts next season. Late in the season, I was offered a package deal that involved his Crawford for my Frederik Andersen. This owner must have understood that these two goalies are trending in opposite directions. No, I didn’t make the deal.

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Torey Krug and Colin Miller were out for Game 2, and Adam McQuaid left the game in the first period. So prospect Charlie McAvoy is being thrown into the heat of the action with 24 minutes in Game 1 and nearly 28 minutes in Game 2. With Krug out, McAvoy has even been handed the keys to the first-unit power play, although he has been held without a point. With Krug’s status for the series unknown, we are receiving a sneak peek of what to expect from McAvoy. Should he make the team next season, he should receive at least second-unit minutes with Krug the only legitimate power play threat on the Bruins’ blueline.

With David Krejci out, Ryan Spooner has broken into the top-6, centering David Backes and Drew Stafford on the second line.

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This could have been the series right here for the Senators. The normally calm Erik Karlsson was poppin’ mad after this goal, apparently at Derick Brassard, who didn’t get back to the play quickly enough.

But then look at Brassard redeem himself on this goal, set up by none other than Karlsson. Does Karlsson really look that injured to you?

In case your playoff pool is banking on the Senators making it out of the Atlantic Division, Mark Stone has not scored a goal in 17 games (regular season and playoffs).

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If Game 2 was any indication, the Leafs may not be finished off by the Capitals as quickly as we would assume. Is young Kasperi Kapanen not the definition of clutch for the Leafs? A game-tying goal in the second period, followed by the winner in double overtime. These goals a week after he scored the tying goal in the playoff-clinching game. I wrote about Kapanen’s potential as a prospect in the Ramblings a week ago. His value has increased since being involved in the Phil Kessel trade.

Here’s his double OT winner, which you won’t get enough of if you’re a Leafs’ fan. The Kapanen – Brian BoyleMatt Martin line comes through again.

With no Nikita Zaitsev again for Game 2 and Roman Polak injured in Game 2 and now expected to miss the rest of the playoffs, Jake Gardiner has stepped up. In a game that had a period and a half of overtime, Gardiner played 40 minutes, including first-unit power-play time. He’s recorded a point in each of his two games. He will need to maintain that level of performance if the Leafs have any shot of winning this series.

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That’s 29 games and counting for the Flames’ winless streak in Anaheim. The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since the 2006 playoffs. You could say they just simply don’t get the bounces there, like what happened on the game-winning goal.

Stating the obvious, I know, but the playoffs are full of clichés: the Flames will need to find a way to win in Anaheim in order to win their series.

If you were ready to assume Ryan Getzlaf is on the decline, perhaps his play in the series might lead you to think otherwise. Getzlaf has two goals and two assists in the two games so far. Getzlaf turns 32 next month, yet he still managed a ten-point increase in 2016-17. Assume that he’ll be light on the goal total, as he didn’t take a ton of shots (138) in 2016-17. But another 50-assist season should make him a top-50 fantasy option again.

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I’ve watched limited installments of the St. Louis/Minnesota series. But one player that has stood out for me on a St. Louis side that is up 2-0 is Alex Pietrangelo. He really looks like the engine that drives that Blues squad. So as a Pietrangelo owner, I couldn’t help looking up his split stats before and after the Kevin Shattenkirk trade at the end of February.

October – February: 61 GP, 31 pts

March – April (including playoffs): 21 GP, 18 pts

Everyone seemed to be all over Colton Parayko as the biggest beneficiary of the Shattenkirk trade, and I won’t discount that happening long-term. But Pietrangelo seemed to be ignored by many who were discussing the impact of this deal. Here’s Parayko’s splits, as a comparison.

October – February: 62 GP, 28 pts

March – April (including playoffs): 21 GP, 7 pts

Pietrangelo’s deployment has changed during that time. A glance at Pietrangelo’s power-play minutes shows that he averaged around 40-45 percent of the Blues’ power-play minutes during the first half of the season. But in the fourth quarter that number jumped to 75 percent. At the same time, his overall icetime hasn’t changed, as he continues to average around 40-45 percent of his team’s overall icetime.

Pietrangelo may not be known for his offense or power-play time. But his fantasy value has skyrocketed since the Shattenkirk trade. Again, when we break down the fantasy impacts of these deals, we are looking for changes like these.  So in 2017-18 drafts, Pietrangelo might be a better fantasy asset than you think.

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If you didn’t watch the Edmonton/San Jose game on Friday night, Zack Kassian had quite the game. Kassian scored a shorthanded goal and was all over the ice, delivering six hits. It’s easy to dismiss Kassian because of his past. After all, the Canucks wanted to get rid of him so badly, they sent a fifth-round pick with him to Montreal for nothing more than Brandon Prust.

But remember that Kassian was a former first-round pick with size, speed, and skilled hands. Because he’s on a deep Oilers’ squad and is killing penalties with limited icetime, I can’t help but wonder if Edmonton is the best place to utilize his talents and thus his fantasy value. After all, Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon are the power forwards receiving the important minutes. If Kassian can exceed 30 points and his 100 PIM/200 hits remains consistent, then we might have a player who is owned in a lot more leagues.

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My fantasy hockey award winners for Sportsnet: Part 1 (which resemble the real awards) and Part 2 (a bunch of made-up fantasy awards). 

Happy Easter! For more fantasy hockey information, follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.