Knights One Win From Final, Caps/Bolts, Faulk/Skinner, plus more…
Hey, it’s Ian, filling in for the hard-working Cam Robinson who is finally enjoying some R&R at the cabin. So you’ll have to put up with me for two days in a row on your May long weekend. But I’ll try to make it worth your while.
We’re getting to the point where someday, someone somewhere is going to make a movie about the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights.
The most successful first-year expansion team in pro sports history* is now just one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup, thanks to a 3-2 win over Winnipeg in Game 4 on Friday. This result occurred in spite of the Jets outshooting the Golden Knights 37-29 in this game.
*I haven’t confirmed this, but I’ve never seen a first-year expansion team in any pro sport with even close to this level of success.
Just like Game 3, the Golden Knights took an early lead. William Karlsson continued his scoring ways with his sixth goal of the playoffs, giving him 13 goals in 14 games. As the games become more important, Gerard Gallant has been leaning more heavily on, giving him over 20 minutes of icetime in each of the last three games. The fact that his breakout season has been extended well into the playoffs bodes well for his fantasy prospects next season, as mentioned in a Geek of the Week from earlier this month.
The Jets tied the game in the second period on a Patrik Laine one-timer power-play goal. There was no shortage of try on Laine’s part, as he led all Jets’ shooters with seven shots on goal and led all Jets’ forwards with five hits.
But also similar to Game 3, Vegas was able to recapture its lead within a minute of the Jets’ first goal. Tomas Nosek scored his first goal of the playoffs just 43 seconds after Laine’s goal. Nosek has been a mainstay on the Knights’ fourth line all season, but the goal was his first point since an assist he collected during the first game of the playoffs.
The Jets tied the game again in the third period on a Tyler Myers goal that didn’t appear to be a goal at first. Yet the puck made it past the five hole for a timely Jets’ goal. Here is that goal:
Vegas put the game away for good later in the third period. After Dustin Byfuglien fanned on a point shot, Reilly Smith took the puck all the way down the ice and shot one past Connor Hellebuyck. Even though Smith has been a point-per-game player throughout the playoffs, this goal is surprisingly just his second goal of the playoffs. See the goal below (the Karlsson goal precedes the Smith goal in this clip).
Should the Golden Knights win one more in this series, Marc-Andre Fleury has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. His 1.72 GAA and .945 SV% are the kind of numbers that a goalie needs to be successful in the playoffs, while some of his saves have been outstanding. Fleury has won three consecutive games in spite of the Golden Knights being outshot in each of those wins. Simply put, Fleury has been a joy to watch during these playoffs, even if you believe that first-year expansion teams need to pay their dues like everyone else before they go on deep playoff runs.
Looking ahead to next season, is Fleury a top-5 goalie in fantasy drafts? For goalies that played at least half of their team’s games (41 games), Fleury posted the best goals-against average (2.24 GAA) and the second-best save percentage (.927 SV%). The fact that he was sidelined for two months pushed his overall season’s fantasy value slightly below the Vezina Trophy finalists because of a win total that ended up outside of the top 10. So assuming the Golden Knights don’t make any moves to disrupt the core of their team, I think I’d include Fleury in my top 5 goalies for next season’s drafts.
Although Vegas has lost three games in a row three times during the regular season, the Jets have a very tall order ahead if they are to knock out this resilient Golden Knights team. Plus the Jets don’t exactly have history on their side.
The 2000 Devils are the only team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit in a Conference Final.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 19, 2018
The Capitals probably deserved a better fate in Game 4 after outshooting the Lightning 38-20. Then again, who said playoff hockey was fair?
Two keys for the Lightning in Game 4 were Andrei Vasilevskiy standing tall in net and the killer power play. Steven Stamkos has now scored a power-play goal in four consecutive games. Although the Bolts went 1-for-2 on the power play in Game 4, Alex Killorn scored the eventual game-winner seconds after the other power play expired. Compare that to the Capitals’ 0-4 power play and this is why playoff games can sometimes be about making good on opportunities instead of which team carries the play.
I can remember discussing last summer the effect that a Steven Stamkos return from his near season-long injury might have on Nikita Kucherov’s point totals, particularly his power-play point totals. Now that the season is over, we can find out what really happened. Stamkos led the Bolts with 15 power-play goals (tied for third in the NHL), while Kucherov dropped from 17 power-play goals in 2016-17 to “just” 8 in 2017-18.
But that’s where the decline ended. Of course, Kucherov’s overall point total continued to rise (85 points in 2016-17 to 100 in 2017-18), which more than offset Stamkos cannibalizing the PPGs. And if your league just counts PPP and doesn’t separate into PPG and PPA, Kucherov’s overall power-play points increased from 32 in 2016-17 to 36 in 2017-18.
With the Bolts’ power-play percentage improving a single percentage point (22.8% to 23.9%), there was more than enough power-play wealth to go around for both snipers. If you’ve witnessed their power play, you’ll know that there’s no reason to believe it will slow down next season, barring an injury to one or both.
Can the Capitals win this series? They are at least proving to be a more resilient bunch than the Ovechkin-led squads of years past. But you have to wonder how much letting Game 4 slip through their fingers will affect their mindset in Game 5. I’ll cover that game and more in tomorrow’s Ramblings.
One team of interest this offseason will be the Carolina Hurricanes, who over the last few months have now picked up a new owner, general manager, and head coach. Further changes should be coming in the player personnel department, with word from Bob McKenzie that the Canes would consider trading anyone except for Sebastian Aho.
Two names in particular that will be of interest to fantasy owners are Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner. Even though both players’ point totals slipped from 2016-17 to 2017-18, the Hurricanes should scoop a decent return should they decide to deal one or both. Skinner has just one year remaining on his contract, so a team acquiring him would have to be fairly confident that they could sign him.
One question I was asked during the past season was whether it was time to drop Faulk. I’m assuming this individual played in a shallower league than the one I owned Faulk in, which is a 12-team league that has six defense slots. So 72 defense slots total in this league. In this particular league format (G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG, HIT, BLK), Faulk was the 55th-ranked blueliner, which still made him employable in my league.
In a standard-size Yahoo league with 12 teams and four defense slots, however, a solid argument could have been made about moving on from Faulk. If you play in a pure points league, Faulk’s value (31 points) was about in line with what his ranking was in the above league. Normally a peripherals beast, Faulk’s multicategory value was driven down by a minus-26 ranking (bottom 10 among blueliners). What saved Faulk from being a total bust was the fact that 19 of his points came on the power play (top 20 among blueliners).
Would a change of scenery help Faulk? It could no doubt raise that plus-minus anchor, unless he lands on a team worse than Carolina. But the offsetting danger is that he would lose some of those power-play minutes that are so crucial to his scoring. Faulk averaged nearly three minutes of power-play time last season, which was over a minute higher than the next-highest Canes’ defenseman (Noah Hanifin). No other Canes’ blueliner averaged more than 40 seconds per game with the man advantage.
What about Skinner, you ask? His fantasy value kind of mirrored Faulk’s, except you’d swap shots on goal for power-play points. In spite of finishing just outside of the top 100 in points, Skinner finished 11th with 277 shots on goal. That’s the good. The bad, like Faulk, is the plus-minus. Skinner’s minus-27 was in the bottom 10 among forwards.
Skinner might benefit from better linemates on another team, but the fact of the matter is that fewer pucks went in (37 in 2016-17 to 24 in 2017-18) because his shooting percentage declined from 13.2% in 2016-17 to 8.7% in 2017-18. With better luck, Skinner might be in line for 30 goals again. Even though it may seem like he’s been in the league awhile, Skinner is only 26, which should make that a reasonable target.
Lastly, we need to give the Memorial Cup its due. I’m not a big fan of the host team automatically coasting into a matchup of three league champions. But this was a great moment for the home fans in Regina in the home opener. If you follow prospects, Anaheim’s top-rated prospect Sam Steel scored a goal and an assist for the Pats, while Blues’ prospect Robert Thomas scored for Hamilton.
Nick Henry scores the winner with 32.6 seconds left!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 19, 2018
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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