Ramblings: McElhinney Shines; Staal Paces Wild; Tarasenko Does Tarasenko Things – December 11

by Michael Clifford on December 11, 2017
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: McElhinney Shines; Staal Paces Wild; Tarasenko Does Tarasenko Things – December 11

The big news from Sunday night was that Auston Matthews would miss Toronto’s home game against Edmonton with an “upper-body injury.” He took some friendly fire on Saturday night, colliding hard with Morgan Rielly, leading to some speculation that was when the injury occurred. What the injury actually is I doubt will be revealed by the team, so Matthews owners will just have to kind of play it day by day.

No major lineup moves were made with Matthews out, as Josh Leivo drew into the fourth line and William Nylander was moved up to centre Zach Hyman and Connor Brown. Leivo, by the way, took AM34’s spot on the power play. If there is any significant time missed, he could be a beneficiary, but if he’s locked into a fourth-line role, it’ll be hard to trust him.

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Curtis McElhinney stopped all 41 shots he faced to help Toronto blank the Oilers 1-0 in their Hometown Hockey matchup. Goalies don’t get 40-plus save shutouts without a bit of luck – Edmonton hit a few posts – but made a few big saves, especially on a full two-minute five-on-three and a Connor McDavid breakaway. He earned this shutout every minute of the game.

The lone goal was a deflection from Zach Hyman 34 seconds into the game.

After the game, Mike Babcock didn’t go further into Matthews’ injury, only saying he hoped he could play Tuesday. Time to play the waiting game. 

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Most of the talk around the Oilers this year has been the complete mismanagement of the roster and disastrous results this has entailed. All that is fair. However, a shout out to a breakout year (so far) to Darnell Nurse.

Going into Sunday night’s action, Nurse was one of four d-men with at least 10 points, 2.6 shots per game, and 20 penalty minutes (he has 32). For those in leagues with extra peripheral stats, he’s a plus-9 with 100 combined hits and blocked shots. He could be an absolute stats monster even if he only puts up around 25 points this year.

His real-life results are pretty stellar, too. He leads Edmonton blue liners in on-ice five-on-five adjusted shot-share  and expected goals percentage. He’s maintained these results despite seeing a bigger role as the season has worn on; he played 19:32 per game through October but 23:03 since. It’s truly been a remarkable start.

This is great news for the Oilers as they need both Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi to be come stars. It’s also great news for dynasty owners as Nurse seemed to struggle a bit through his first couple of seasons but has really started to live up to expectations. Now, with Oscar Klefbom eating top PP minutes, and Andrej Sekera on his way back, Nurse could be hard-pressed to really be a big points producer in the near-term, but in roto leagues, he’ll carry good value as long as he keeps playing the way he has.

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You’ll never believe this - I know I wouldn’t have unless I watched parts of the game myself - but the Sabres got manhandled again. Shots after the first period were 17-6 St. Louis (16-12 shot attempts at five-on-five, score adjusted), the score was 1-0, and Robin Lehner had to make a couple spectacular saves to keep it close. Shots after the second period were 25-14 St. Louis (29-20 shot attempts at five-on-five, score adjusted), the score was 2-0, and Robin Lehner had to make a couple spectacular saves to keep it close. Shots after the third period were 41-23 St. Louis (52-30 shot attempts at five-on-five, score adjusted), the score was 2-2, and Robin Lehner had to make a couple spectacular saves to keep it close.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored the overtime winner, and while it was a great attack by him, it was also blown coverage by the Sabres:

Kane was supposed to keep backing up, allowing Eichel to pass off Tarasenko and cut off a curl or drop-pass. Kane did not do that.

That was Tarasenko’s second point of the game, while both Paul Stastny (1-1) and Joel Edmundson (0-2) also had multi-point games. Stastny had seven shots on goal, the most for him in a single game since January of 2015.

Evan Rodrigues scored both of Buffalo’s goals, the second one coming with an empty net and under 90 seconds left. He played 16:29 total, the second-highest mark of his career. It’ll be interesting to follow his usage because this team cannot possibly get worse. He was moved to a line with Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane for the third period. Let’s see if they leave him there.

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After reuniting Rasmus Ristolainen with the top power-play unit at the end of their last game, Phil Housley decided to keep Ristolainen on the top PP unit this game. Needless to say, he needs this, as he had just seven points (two with the man advantage) in his first 20 games of the season. The peripherals have been solid, but the production has been abysmal. Remember: he has never been a solid point-producer at five-on-five. He needs that power play boost. Hopefully it works out for him.

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I suppose we’re to the point of the season where we can start eating some crow on preseason predictions. I did not think Brayden Schenn would have anywhere near as good a season as he’s having, thinking his preseason ADP (which was anywhere from 75-90, if I recall correctly) was too high in non-real-time stats leagues. I was worried his power-play production wouldn’t translate to the Blues. Well, the PP goals haven’t yet, but he’s on pace for career-highs in even-strength goals and PP assists, so it doesn’t really matter? By the way, he only needs three more ES goals to tie his career-high of 16 in 2013-14. He might do that by Christmas.

Anyway, he has benefitted from playing with some top players that he wasn’t often in Philadelphia, but there’s no denying his chemistry with those players. We have seen others like Stastny and Berglund struggle at times to play with Schwartz and Tarasenko, but Schenn has fit like a glove.

Even with some regression, he’ll smash his previous career-best marks in goals, assists, and shots. For everyone that believed in him, good on you. You guys are reaping the rewards, and deservedly so.  

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St. Louis was without Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz for Sunday night’s game. Pietrangelo may not be out for very long, though:

Schwartz, on the other hand, looks to be out until the end of January after blocking a shot with his foot in Saturday’s afternoon matchup with the Red Wings. He was on pace for 39 goals and 96 points this year, both would have been career highs by a wide margin. Unfortunately, for the fifth straight year, he’ll fail to reach 80 games played.

Ivan Barbashev was the guy called from the AHL.

Dmitrij Jaskin drew into the top-six, skating with Alex Steen and Brayden Schenn, but I suspect this will be a rotating situation, with no single player lining up in Schwartz’s spot for more than a few games at a time (he was even replaced for a couple shifts in this one). Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, and Jaskin are all in the mix, but I think the best way to approach it is to see who is in the top-six on a given day and pick up a player for that day, rather than rostering one guy for weeks.

As for an outlook, this hurts everyone fantasy-wise. Obviously, Schwartz owners are up a creek without a paddle. But he wasn’t a passenger putting up surreal numbers for one year, he had been one of the top producing players for years: from 2013-2017, he had a similar primary points/60 minutes rate at five on five (1.64) to Filip Forsberg (1.67), Brandon Saad (1.64), Taylor Hall (1.63), and Johnny Gaudreau (1.62). He did play a fair amount with Vladimir Tarasenko, but it worked out to a bit over 1700 minutes of five-on-five time, less than half of his total five-on-five ice time in that span (over 3600). It wasn’t all Tarasenko’s doing:

You don’t just replace that by moving a guy up the lineup. Tarasenko and Schenn will probably be fine, but this is bad news for everyone else on the roster fantasy-wise. There really isn’t much for scoring among their left-wing depth unless Alex Steen finds his scoring touch from a few years ago.

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Chicago scored three third-period goals to take a 3-1 win at home against Arizona. Tommy Wingels got the scoring going before Artem Anisimov and Nick Schmaltz scored about 100 seconds apart late in the frame.

Anthony Duclair tallied the lone marker for Arizona.

This was the second consecutive game that Alex DeBrincat spent on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. He’s still on the “second” power-play unit, but time is still being split between the two, so it’s not a bad thing.

Vinnie Hinostroza had five shots on goal in this one, playing on the third line with Richard Panik and Patrick Sharp. Hinostroza has nine shots in two games playing about 12 minutes a contest. Hopefully he sees a bigger role; he was doing very well in the AHL this year with 22 points in 23 games. He probably doesn’t get a regular top-six feature, but maybe some power-play time is in his future?  

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There wasn’t much (read: no) scoring in the ‘Hawks/Coyotes game as the third period got underway, but it looked like Chicago would finally get on the board. Scott Wedgewood had other ideas:

That was a heckuva save with 15 minutes left to keep the score tied.

Arizona has goal-scoring problems, but hopefully their goaltending woes are behind them. That was what largely sunk their season through the first month or so, but has very much steadied itself since; up until Halloween, their team five-on-five save percentage was .899, and has been .920 since (about the middle of the league).

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Eric Staal had a huge game for the Wild, scoring twice and assisting once to help this team earn a 3-0 lead late in the second period before Brent Burns scored on the power play.

Burns added another PP goal early in the third, making it four goals in nine games, averaging over a point-per-game over that span. That’s the Brent Burns fantasy owners were hoping for.

The Sharks really poured it on in the third period before Hertl tied things up with about five minutes left. 

Nino Niederreiter scored in overtime to give the Wild the win. Tough luck as Dylan DeMelo passed it right on Nino's stick in the slot. I thought DeMelo had a decent game to that point. 

Burns had eight shots on goal while Staal had six. 

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Scoring has been an issue for the Sharks most of the season, but not necessarily for the second-line duo of Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Hertl, specifically, is having a solid season; as of Sunday afternoon, Hertl was on pace for a career-best 47 points and 208 shots on goal. His biggest impact may yet to be seen, though.

San Jose’s power play has not been as stout as it has been in recent seasons, ranking outside the top-10 in shots generated and goals per minute.  This is what’s kind of amazing: their top guys have been particularly bad. For instance, with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture on the ice without Hertl on the PP, they generate a little over 92.7 shots per 60 minutes. That mark would rank them 26th in the NHL as a team, below Colorado and Arizona. That’s how bad the top guys have been.

Hertl has been added to the top PP of late and it’s looked a lot better (if only the Sharks coaching staff would read my Ramblings in the offseason). Keep in mind, it’s still a tiny sample, so there’s nothing to really glean other than Hertl is being given PP time. But if that power play can right itself, and the winger’s shooting percentage starts climbing, Hertl could be in line for a very solid final 50 games or so. 

 

  • UKflames

    Is Nurse having a good season really a good thing for the Oilers? He needs a new contract after this season and will want paying if he keeps on this road but the Oilers have those two big contracts starting next year and not a lot of change to play with to fill out the roster.

    • Striker

      Draisaitl’s contract started this season, McDavid’s starts next.

      • Michael Clifford

        I would say for a team that keeps shipping out good players in favour of worse ones, they need top-end homegrown talent, regardless of contract situation, unless they want to suck for another decade.