Ramblings: Jets Soar; Islanders Make History; Barzal’s Season – February 17

by Michael Clifford on February 17, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Jets Soar; Islanders Make History; Barzal’s Season – February 17

Someone is going to stop Eeli Tolvanen eventually, right?

The 18-year old first-round pick for Nashville has been a force for Jokerit this year even if his scoring slowed down after a scorching start. His first game at the Winter Olympics saw a four-point effort (one goals and three assists) against Germany. He followed that up with two goals against Norway. The second one being a slick backhand/five-hole deke:

I think he’ll be just fine at the next level.

You can read his Dobber Prospects profile here.

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Though the Denver Post was reporting that Nathan MacKinnon would be out again for Friday night’s game, he is on the verge of returning. Full marks to the Avs here as they managed to go .500 with their MVP out of the lineup, keeping them in the playoff hunt.

For those with MacKinnon on IR, it’s time to make your moves. I suspect it’s Tyson Jost that is removed from the top power-play unit and not JT Compher as the latter was on the top PP before the MacKinnon injury while the former was not.

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Mikael Backlund signed a six-year extension with Calgary on Friday night for a total of $32.1-million. It will carry him through his age-34 season.

I know it’s commonly accepted that signing players into their mid-30s isn’t the way of the NHL now, but he’s still producing elite two-way results for the Flames, as he has for years. As long as he can do it for a few more seasons, he’ll be there with the rest of the core as Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau are all signed through at least 2020-2021, and I suspect Matthew Tkachuk will join that list when his time comes. Having a core like that locked up for at least three more years should keep the Flames in the running for deep playoff runs for years to come. Should Backlund decline in 3-4 years, at least the AAV isn’t a cap-killer. If he doesn’t decline to a significant degree, this is a steal for duration of the contract.

Cap league owners will have a decision to make though. Rostering a centre for over $5M a season when you’re hoping for 20 goals and 50 points doesn’t seem like a great allocation of resources. Unless your league counts face-off wins, he’s probably not worth it.

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Justin Schultz looks to be in line for a huge fantasy value boost.

While he had been syphoning top power-play minutes away from Kris Letang for over a while now, it seems like this may be a more permanent state of affairs. Dan Kingerski wrote about how Mike Sullivan wants Letang on the second unit because he’ll feel less obligated to distribute and focus more on getting the puck to the net.  Given the talent on the top PP unit, that makes sense.

If Schultz is indeed locked into the prime power-play minutes, he should be able to greatly improve his PP production and thus his overall production. Again, great news for Schultz owners, bad news for Letang owners.

Letang has been healthy, which has been a very welcome sign from him, and something I did not expect. But some extremely handsome Dobber writer wrote back in July why drafting either of these guys was a headache waiting to happen.

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At the risk of gushing too much over Mathew Barzal, please allow a bit more gushing.

With 59 points in 59 games, he’s on pace to become the 28th player in NHL history to be a point-per-game as a rookie. He would be just the fourth in the last 25 years (Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby), and the first in a decade. I used 70 games as the cut-off so please don’t scream at me, Oilers fans.

Whenever a performance like this comes around it’s always worthwhile to check under the hood. I’m very well aware how good he is on the ice; his skating, edgework, and vision are all world-class. But is he overheating thanks to percentages? Well:

  • 12.7 percent individual shooting, which is outside the top-50 in the league among forwards. He was never a goal scorer in the WHL, but even non-goal scorers like Joe Thornton and Nicklas Backstrom can maintain high conversion rates.
  • 10.1 percent on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five. Again, likely a bit high, but he’s 40th among forwards league-wide this year. From 2014-17, that would rank near the top of regular forwards. For reference, in that stretch, Mark Scheifele was 10.2 percent with Nikita Kucherov at 10 percent. Not impossible to reach, but maybe a bit high.
  • Given the quality of talent and shooting rates of the top PP, it’s little surprise they’ve had so much success.

Maybe the percentages are a bit high, but maybe they’re not?

Here is a comparison for Barzal and John Tavares from CJ Turtoro’s 3-zones comparison tool. It is not comprehensive; they have 20 games tracked and measured for both players. It measures things like zone entries with possession, zone exits with possession, shot-assist rates (you can read up on shot-assists here), among other things. In this data set, though, it’s easy to see why the percentages are as high as they are. This is the comparison between the two top Islanders centres:

So, yeah.

Not only does Barzal look elite on the ice – that’s obvious – he looks elite under the hood as well. When the scouting matches up with the numbers, we know we’re likely in for something special. There are few players I would trade away Barzal one-for-one in dynasty leagues and this is definitely not a “sell high” situation. Enjoy the ride, everyone. If Tavares sticks around as a free agent, the Islanders will be one of the most entertaining shows on ice for years to come.   

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Going into Friday night’s games, Cam Atkinson had three goals and three assists in nine contests. In those nine contests, he has 40 shots on goal. I know it’s kind of been beaten to no end, but Atkinson is a favourite ‘round these parts. I know everyone’s disappointed in his production this year, especially the goals. But is there really a reason for disappointment?

His goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five this year is 0.99. Over the previous four seasons it was 0.87 per 60 minutes and he was between 0.9 and 1.0 in three of those four campaigns. The problem, then is on the power play.

That should come as no surprise given the quality, or lack thereof, emanating from Columbus this year. He has yet to score a power play goal and his expected goals on special teams is a five-year low (by far). Once (if?) the power play comes around, he’ll be fine. It doesn’t look like it’ll be this year, though, which will inevitably make him a good value in drafts for next season.

As a side note, at this rate, if he can’t score on the power play this year, he could be the fifth player since the 2013 lockout season to manage zero goals on 150-plus minutes of power-play time, joining Henrik Sedin (this season if he doesn’t get one), Jonathan Huberdeau (2014-15), Mats Zuccarello (2014-15), and Nick Bjugstad (2013-14). History!

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As has been the norm of late, Columbus played a great game against Philadelphia… and lost. Over the last seven games, they’ve outshot the opponent a combined 319-198 – that’s an average of roughly 46-28 per game – and is 2-4-1 in that stretch, including this 2-1 overtime loss to the Flyers.

Wayne Simmonds scored Philly’s first goal and Sean Couturier had the overtime marker.

Oliver Bjorkstrand had a career-high eight shots on goal in this one and had his second-most ice time in any game this year at 18:41. I would like to say the coach is trusting him more, but it’s Tortorella. Who knows.

After a very tough stretch in December, Sergei Bobrovsky has a .926 save percentage since the calendar turned to 2018. Thanks to the team's inability to score, he has six wins in those 15 games.

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A night after a 50-save shutout from Jaroslav Halak, the Islanders got a 45-save shutout from Thomas Greiss.

Seriously.

After going the entire season without a shutout, Halak and Greiss posted back-to-back blank sheets on 95 combined shots. I mean. What?

Johnny Boychuk, Anthony Beauvillier, and John Tavares were the goal scorers for the Islanders, the latter an automatic goal being hauled down on a breakaway with an empty net.

Carolina had 14 different players register at least two shots on goal.

More history:

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Colorado needs Nathan MacKinnon back in the worst way. Their underlying results were fine for most of the year but they’ve been getting crushed since his injury and that trend continued Friday as they lost 6-1 to Winnipeg. Again, it's good they went .500 with him out of the lineup as far as playoff hopes are concerned, but they need him. 

The new Jets top line, which is just the old top line, had a monster night as Blake Wheeler had two goals and an assist, Mark Scheifele had three assists, while Kyle Connor chipped in a goal. Patrik Laine scored his 26th of the year which was also his 15th on the power play. He added an assist for good measure.

Dustin Byfuglien had a drool-worthy roto performance with two assists (one on the man advantage), a plus-2 rating, three shots, one block, and 17 penalty minutes thanks a 2+5+10 he took at the end of the second period in a fight with AJ Greer. Since Jacob Trouba’s injury, Big Buff has eight points in eight games. Getting on track for the stretch run would be huge for his fantasy owners.

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Lost in the resurgence of the Avalanche this year among the many stories of the team – MacKinnon’s Hart-worthy campaign pre-injury, Alex Kerfoot’s rookie year, and Mikko Rantanen’s continued growth as a producer – is the resurgence of Gabriel Landeskog.

It’s easy to forget that from 2011-2016, he was one of three players in the league to manage 20 goals, 30 assists, 50 penalty minutes, and average two shots on goal per game in each 82-game season. The other two were Jamie Benn and Evgeni Malkin. That’s really good roto consistency and if you play in leagues with hits, he was even more of a stud.

Like most Avs players, everything fell apart in 2016-17 when he posted a career-low 18 goals and a career-low 15 assists (again, counting only 82-game campaigns). He’s on pace to crack 20 goals, 30 assists, and average two shots on goal per game again. He probably won’t crack 50 PIMs unless he can take a 10-minute misconduct here at some point, but he’s still on pace for somewhere around 35 with roughly 130 hits to boot. He’s back to being who he was and that’s a consistent stat-stuffer.

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I didn’t catch most of the Stars/Blues game (only so many TVs when the games overlap) but it seemed like a rather dull affair. Dallas skated away with the win but the teams combined for as many shots (45) as the Hurricanes had by themselves.

Mattias Janmark scored a power-play goal in the second period and Stephen Johns tallied in the third, a goal that would stand as the game-winner thanks to Brayden Schenn’s late-game power-play marker. 

 

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