As much as the condensed bye week setup was supposed to spare teams from having to go against active opponents coming off their bye we saw five games pitting rusty teams against active teams. Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Buffalo, Washington and Columbus all came off their bye last night and faced teams that had their bye last week. Unsurprisingly, those teams went 1-4 with only Columbus prevailing in overtime.
It’s for this reason that I’m not too hung up on Andrei Vasilevskiy giving up four goals for the fourth straight game. I’m not happy about the trend, but at least in this case I saw the implosion coming.
Vegas, by the way, is fortunate to have their cross-country road trip yield Nashville, Tampa Bay and tonight at Florida against teams coming off the bye. So far, they are 1-1 having conceded just two goals. Hmmm. Indeed, I do like their chances against the Panthers tonight. Other teams coming off the bye against active opponents: Carolina @ Detroit on Saturday, Chicago vs. the Islanders on Saturday, and Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay on Saturday. I’d bet against all the teams coming off the bye.
Tampa Bay’s new look power play clicked for one goal three opportunities. The new top unit looked as follows:
Outside of Palat, that group is near universal ownership. Some gain here for Palat.
Obviously, Vladislav Namestnikov takes another hit now having been dumped off the top line AND the top PP unit. However, lines get juggled often. I’ve no doubt Namestnikov will jump back onto the top line and top PP unit at some point.
The Lightning’s second unit is much less dynamic with Point and Sergachev on the top unit. Sergachev’s promotion was demanded by the Victor Hedman injury. I’m not sure about Point jumping up, but the latter move is not something I’d expect to be permanent.
We might see Anton Stralman gain a little more relevance with some secondary PP time.
Shea Theodore ended a five-game scoreless drought. He has been better since his lineup slot became permanent, but we’re talking roughly a 0.5-point-per-game pace. That’s good for a defenseman, but is right on the borderline where you might not want to own him outside of hot streaks. He remains widely available so if you could sell high on a guy like Nick Leddy, Charlie McAvoy or Will Butcher (to name a few), you’d have a replacement who would offer the same production, or close to it.
I have been clamoring for Pavel Buchnevich to get put back onto the Rangers’ top line and last night it happened. The result, a three-point night including finishing off this beauty:
Nash-Zibanejad-Buchnevich a tour de force. pic.twitter.com/6mwgwYBgO0— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) January 19, 2018
Rick Nash also had a three-point night skating on that top line. Nash now has four goals in the past two games, which might be enough to convince you to give him a spin. It would depend on the size of your league. I have been using him in one league where I need his consistent shot volume. I don’t love that they have a four-game Western road swing ahead of the All-Star break.
Kevin Shattenkirk is mired in an awfully cold run with only one point in the last 13 games, however all the reasons to like him are still there. He offers good shot volume and PIM, and is consistently their lone defenseman on the top PP unit. That PP has gone sideways after a hot start, but should still provide him enough points to score 45+ on the season. Defensemen are simply more difficult to own because the margin for error is much thinner.
Kyle Okposo continues to trend upward. He has seven points in the last three games and 11 points in nine games since Christmas. Five of those 11 points have come on the power play where the Sabres have gone 6/30 (20%) since Christmas. Obviously, Okposo isn’t going to be a point-per-game guy the rest of the way, but if the power play gets rolling again he could score 30 in the final 37, which would have relevance in every league. No guarantees on that front, but they should be better than they were in the first half.
Okposo isn’t the only one riding high. Both Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly have scored seven points in the last nine games. Ristolainen should be targeted for a strong second half run at a position of scarcity.
Evander Kane has not been propped up by this recent run as he has lost his top PP privileges. For whatever reason the Sabres aren’t showcasing him for a trade despite the astronomical price tag they’ve put on him.
I don’t mind that the Sabres are asking the moon for Kane. They need to get a win in return for one of their few appealing assets. The problem is that these trades can take a long time to piece together. The Matt Duchene trade took a year and three teams to finally make it work. The clock is ticking much faster for the Sabres. Worse, as we saw with Duchene, players don’t always fit in with their new squads immediately, which should put some imperative on teams to get their rentals done early, but that doesn’t seem to be how most teams want to operate. They want their rentals cheap, even if it means waiting so long you cost yourself the time required to build chemistry. It’s almost a lose/lose for those renting.
The only resolution to that conundrum might be a team being able to workout an extension with Kane prior to a deal being consummated. Is their any willingness on the player’s part to do that? Is their any willingness from a franchise to commit to Kane long-term before seeing how he fits into their locker room? Ultimately, Kane’s going to go for something similar to the Shattenkirk return from last year’s deadline. At which point we spin the wheel as to whether or not he’ll click in a small sample of games.
Kane still has plenty of value in multi-category leagues, but his scoring is trending the wrong way, and we are already seeing what it looks like when he is not longer getting top unit PP time. Not that his PP numbers were off the charts, but it could cost him five points the rest of the way. And I could definitely see Kane being on the outside looking in for PP time if (when) moved to a contender.
Carter Hutton made his second straight start coming out of the bye week, and his sixth start in the past eight games. It’s pretty clear that he is clawing away the starting gig from an inconsistent Jake Allen. I was able to snag Hutton in most of my leagues and don’t plan on dumping him until there is indication that he is getting less than a 50% share in St. Louis. He has been too good to ignore.
That said, there is still reason for skepticism. Not skepticism in terms of “don’t pick him up”, but rather skepticism in terms of “don’t expect 30 starts the rest of the way”. I have referenced Hutton’s poor career numbers heading into the season on many occasions. His career save percentage is now at a slightly-below-average .915. Now that he is getting a starter’s workload he’ll be under higher scrutiny, expectations, wear and tear. We’ll see how he handles all of that.
Any slippage is going to offer an opportunity for Allen to jump back into the driver’s seat. He carried St. Louis on a strong second half run when Mike Yeo took over last season. Plus, Allen has the big contract, which is always good for earning a few more chances.
This likely ends with Hutton’s save percentage slipping closer to league average and Allen’s climbing up towards league average and something closer to a 50/50 split, albeit with each goalie going on extended runs as the starter. Right now, it’s Hutton in the driver’s seat and the Blues don’t have a back-to-back until February 8-9. There’s no way they allow Allen to go an entire month without playing, but his appearances could be low.
Jonathan Bernier and the Colorado Avalanche continue to ride hot. Their winning streak is up to eight games. More interesting to me is what happens after their streak is broken. We’ve seen some teams go into tailspins after a long winning streak is busted.
Nathan MacKinnon is currently running at a top-five clip, while Mikko Rantanen looks like he could score 70 points. Is any of that harmony disrupted once their losing streak ends? I’m less comfortable spelling gloom and doom for those two. Their chemistry runs back to the final few weeks of last season when Rantanen scored nine in his last 10 and MacKinnon scored eight in his last 11. Meanwhile, their hot streak this season, kicked off at the start of November when Gabriel Landeskog joined their line. Use these two with extreme confidence! It’s the rest of the roster I am skeptical of.
Jake Muzzin returned from injury to skate some big minutes and notched an assist. He is near universal ownership so make sure you activate him off your IR.
We have seen an early surge from Richard Panik in Arizona. He has played 16 minutes per game with some secondary PP time skating on a line with Derek Stepan and Brendan Perlini. He has three assists in four games. Still not enough to get me excited, but I’m not sure what would on this Arizona roster.
Carl Hagelin is enjoying his latest stint alongside Evgeni Malkin. He has six points on a five-game scoring streak. He should be damn near universally available after a miserable start, but you may not find the room to use him given the Penguins’ Saturday/Tuesday/Thursday schedule heading into All-Star weekend.
Be on alert for news on Morgan Rielly:
Morgan Rielly will be re-evaluated tomorrow. He hurt his left arm at the end of the second period, and Mike Babcock said he was limited late in the third.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 19, 2018
If Nikita Zaitsev were healthy, I’d suggest he could step into a bigger role, but since he’s not maybe it’s Connor Carrick who’d grab some scraps of PP time? Jake Gardiner would likely take the top PP minutes, but ultimately there may be no real winners if Rielly misses time, he has been spectacular this season.
An update on Roberto Luongo:
Boughner said he believes Luongo has “turned a corner” in his recovery. Still on track for an early-February return, but could return to practice sooner rather than later.— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) January 18, 2018
James Reimer has been an adequate replacement, but you’ll obviously need to be on the lookout for other options if Reimer has been a mainstay for you. And don’t think for a second you are convincing anyone to buy high on Reimer.
Bo Horvat has been cleared to travel and practice, which should mean a return to the lineup will come shortly. This should help Brock Boeser who has slowed with two points in his last seven games, but really, it’s more likely that Boeser is going to help Horvat transition more smoothly back into the lineup.
This could also spell the end of the marriage between Boeser and the Sedins who had gone on a hot run over the past month or so. Add the return of Horvat to the back spasms that cost Daniel Sedin the game before Vancouver’s bye week and perhaps you have the narrative required to bail on the Sedins entirely.
For our Fantasy Hockey Geek users:
The Midseason projections are now uploaded into the @FantasyHockeyGk tools!— Dobber (@DobberHockey) January 19, 2018
Also, if you haven’t yet picked up the Mid-Season Guide, please do so. It’s only $10 and helps support the site. Plus, you get updated projections that will help you to close out a win this season.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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