Ramblings: Injury Updates; Larkin; Doughty; Aho; Ekblad – April 19

by Michael Clifford on April 19, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Injury Updates; Larkin; Doughty; Aho; Ekblad – April 19

 

As when all teams get eliminated from playoffs, we find out about all the injuries players were going through. Pittsburgh’s locker clean out brought us that as Jared McCann told us he was playing through a separated shoulder. Also, Brian Dumoulin was playing through a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his knee.

When we have more information on the injuries, it will be passed along.

We also got more rumours that Evgeni Malkin will be traded, which seems to be almost a rite of passage whenever the Penguins don’t win the Cup. That always overlooks the fact that even if the Penguins wanted to trade Malkin, he has a no-move clause. Honestly, these types of rumours exhaust me because there is never is a kernel of truth and people are just looking for clicks. I guess that’s just the online world we live in now.

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Tampa Bay also told us that Victor Hedman was not medically cleared for Games 3 and 4 after being cleared earlier in the series. It’s pretty obvious Hedman was nowhere near himself for the playoff series. GM Julien Brisebois also said there will be changes, but as I stated in my Ramblings yesterday, it’s just a reality of their cap situation rather than blowing up the roster.

Again, this roster is loaded top to bottom. It seems Brisebois understands that making significant changes would not be in the team’s best interest. It’s nice to see him take a measured approach.

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Alex Killorn had a slight tear in his left knee’s MCL but will not require surgery.

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Andrei Svechnikov went through a one-hour skate on his own on Thursday, wearing a full cage while doing so. I always worry about players returning so quickly after an injury such as his but it still warms the heart to see him on the ice. He did not suit up for Thursday night’s game, obviously, but it doesn’t seem as if returning before the end of the series is completely out of the question.

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Boston’s bottom-6 has been getting throttled most of their series against Toronto but there may be reinforcements coming as Sean Kuraly is a game-time decision for Game 5. He’s been out with a broken hand for nearly a month now but he probably can’t do much worse than most of Boston’s bottom two lines have performed thus far these playoffs.

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Here are your 2019 Lady Byng finalists:

 

 

I have no particular feelings about this award in any sense.

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Carolina tied their series with Washington 2-2 thanks to a 2-1 win on Thursday night. Warren Foegele scored his third goal in two games just seconds into the game, with Teuvo Teravainen and Alex Ovechkin trading goals in the second period.

Petr Mrazek saved 30 of 31 shots in an excellent effort in net.

The story coming out of the contest was a hit by Foegele on TJ Oshie late in the third period that resulted in an injury to Oshie and penalty to Foegele. This was the play:

 

I’m wondering if Foegele doesn’t hear from the Department of Player Safety on that one. It’s a pretty dangerous hit. Todd Reirden doesn't think Oshie will be back anytime soon. 

Jordan Staal’s line did a pretty good job at limiting Ovechkin at five-on-five, holding the winger to one shot. Ovechkin’s goal was a power play tally from his usual spot.

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St. Louis snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, taking a 3-2 regulation win from Winnipeg despite trailing 2-0 entering the third period and 2-1 with seven minutes left. Jaden Schwartz scored the game-winning goal with 15 seconds left in the third period to seal it.

Winnipeg had played a very good game and probably deserved the win, but as we’ve seen so far in the playoffs, deserve does not have anything to do with it.

Brayden Schenn had a solid game with a goal and an assist after the lines were switched around in the second period. We’ll see if they continue with those same lines in Game 6 on Saturday.

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Tomas Hertl… Hertl-powered… the Sharks to a 5-2 win over Vegas on Thursday night. He opened the scoring less than 90 seconds into the game and then added a power play goal with about five minutes left in the contest to add the insurance. He was a beast pretty much the whole game as he had five shots, two blocks, and two hits on top of the pair of tallies. He played over 21 minutes and was on the ice for eight scoring chances for the Sharks as opposed to four against. He’s just continued the scoring from his great regular season with five points now in five playoff games.

Joe Thornton had an assist and a pair of shots in his first game back from suspension, while Martin Jones was very solid in net, saving 30 of 32 shots faced.

Game 6 goes Sunday.

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Those who read my Ramblings know I focus as much of my work producing evidence-based analysis as I possibly can. That evidence informs my opinions, and like everyone, these opinions can often be wrong. Such is the nature of predicting the future.

But with better tools, we can hopefully make better decisions and more informed opinions.

There was a website re-launched recently called Puck IQ and without diving into everything the site offers – just go visit and fidget around, it’s the best way to learn – one interesting aspect is that it has the ability to break down ice time by quality of competition (you can read the methodology for breaking down competition here). Now, I firmly believe that a player’s line mates are more important than who a player faces, but it’s also interesting to see which players are most often tasked with the best of the opposition.

One name that stood out: Dylan Larkin. Among all forwards in the NHL, he faced the opponent’s top competition more often than all but four forwards: Aleksander Barkov, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Sean Couturier. As a percentage of ice time, he was just outside the top-10. Larkin faced elite competition in over 575 minutes of his even strength ice time  while no other Detroit forward cracked 440 minutes. Larkin, as many would have assumed, was quite often tasked with shutting down the top competition from their opponent.

The importance of this isn’t that Larkin faced elite competition so often; we kind of figured that. It’s that he absolutely crushed that role: by general shot share, Larkin’s percentage was situated between Brad Marchand and Sean Couturier. By shot share relative to his teammates when they faced elite competition, Larkin was second in the league behind only Ryan Johansen. That may speak more to the quality (or lack thereof) of Detroit’s depth, but the fact that his raw shot share was still close to someone like Marchand, who plays for a team that doesn’t have the same lack of depth, speaks to just how good of a season Larkin had.

With Detroit’s rebuild starting to come into focus, the team is starting to build itself up around Larkin. In the fantasy game, Larkin’s across-the-board production is proving very valuable and that should only improve as the team keeps improving. All the same, Larkin had a spectacular year and defensive improvements were a big part. That aspect of his game will only get better, and we are watching a player develop into a superstar in real time. It’s fun to watch.

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Just as a small side: Sebastian Aho absolutely crushed his minutes against elite competition in 2018-19. My assumption before the season was that Jordan Staal would take all those minutes but because of significant time missed due to injury, that often fell on Aho’s shoulders and he was fantastic. That should allay any concerns the coaching staff or fans had about Aho and how he’d fare in a role where he was counted on to be The Guy. He’s another superstar in the making.

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When looking at the defencemen on Puck IQ sorted by top competition, I couldn’t help but see that it was Aaron Ekblad’s name at the top of the list for most ice time vs. elite opposition. Not only was it the most ice time overall, it was the highest share of ice time as well, just ahead of Zdeno Chara and Nate Schmidt. And not only was he most often used against the best the opponent had to offer, he crushed the role, as his shot share relative to his teammates was +3.7 percent. For a frame of reference, Hampus Lindholm, widely considered one of the best and most underappreciated defensive defencemen for years, was at +4 percent, while Kris Letang was a +3 percent. Now, Ekblad’s offensive generation suffered in this role but he was excellent defensively.

It makes me wonder about Ekblad’s future as a fantasy asset. He is undoubtedly going to be used in this role moving forward and at the least, that should lead to a lot of ice time. He reminds me of a young Drew Doughty in that sense (not their actual skill, just their age and role). But unlike Doughty, with Keith Yandle signed for four more years, does Ekblad ever take over the top power-play role? He’s averaged fewer than 10 PPPs over the last four seasons because of how much Yandle has cut into that production time. It’s very possible we see Ekblad put up very good multi-cat numbers because of his role and ice time, but he never puts up great point totals because of that same role.

At this point, Ekblad is established as a ~10-goal, ~40-point defenceman with solid peripherals. Maybe that’s the most we can expect from him for the next few years. That’s just fine, by the way, we just need to be honest about expectations.

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Speaking of Doughty, the metrics from Puck IQ don’t paint a very flattering picture of his 2018-19 season, and that’s just when compared to his teammates when they were put in similar roles. Was it his defence partner? That’s very possible, considering how much better Doughty has fared over the last two years when not playing with Derek Forbort. Was it the coaching staff and their systems? It may be, and we’ll have a better idea of this now that Todd McLellan is behind the bench. Was it just an off year? I don’t want to dismiss that, either.

I’m pretty comfortable saying that Doughty going from playing with Jake Muzzin to playing with Forbort had a massive impact on his performance. But does he have a better partner next year? We’ll see.