Ramblings: Playoff Recaps, Ellis, Saad, Ekblad (April 22)

by Michael Clifford on April 22, 2016

Playoff game recaps, the fantasy seasons of Ellis and Saad, concern for Ekblad.

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Rangers/Penguins

Pittsburgh is one game away from closing out the Rangers following a 5-0 thrashing of New York. Evgeni Malkin was a huge story in this game with two goals and two assists. I think he’s healthy.

This one was pretty much over before it started. Eric Fehr scored just over a minute into the game, and the Penguins would add two more over the course of the first period to take a 3-0 lead into the second. This isn’t to say this period was all about the offence, though, as Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray made a very good save to keep the Rangers off the board, and out of the game in the first:

The Pens would add another goal early in the second period with a Malkin power play tally, and Henrik Lundqvist was pulled shortly after. This game wasn’t on him, though. This was definitely a move to just keep him from injury and get a bit of rest before the elimination games come.

Matt Murray was another story in this game, and this is something to really keep an eye on for fantasy next year. This is a highly-regarded prospect and he has looked very good so far whether it be regular season or playoffs. Fleury still has three years left on his deal, so I don’t see Murray taking over in the near-future, but he probably should be rostered as a third (hopefully) fourth goalie in 12-teamers next year, as his 20-25 starts should be excellent (all this assuming he is the backup in 2016-2017).  

Red Wings/Lightning

The Lightning closed out the series with a 1-0 shutout of Detroit, with the game-winner coming in the waning minutes of the third period off the stick of Alex Killorn.

There was an injury scare for Tyler Johnson in the second period, as he missed a bit more than half the period, but he did return for the third. Playoff poolies can breathe a sigh of relief.

The story through the first forty minutes was Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. He stopped three breakaways in the second period alone, one each from Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm, and Dylan Larkin. Not long after Larkin’s breakaway, Pavel Datsyuk had a clean shot off of a three-on-two, and Bishop kicked that one out to keep it scoreless after two periods. Even Michael Grabner got in on the fun on Twitter:

Bishop would finish the game with 34 saves for the clean sheet, and was the difference in the clincher (and for most of the series, really).

If this is the end of Pavel Datsyuk’s career, as he is rumoured to be retiring, it was an absolute pleasure to watch him. Few players had the pure skill over his tenure in the NHL, and he made the most complex moves look effortless. Absolutely effortless with a difficulty degree of 10:

Nikita Kucherov was an absolute star in these five games. He is a familiar name to most, but he seems like an early pick to be the *big* breakout star of next year. I know he’s had back-to-back 60-plus point seasons, but I’m thinking close to 40 goals and 75 points. He is that good.

Predators/Ducks

This series looks destined for seven games. Game 4 was taken 4-1 by the Ducks, though this contest was a lot closer than the score would indicate. The series stands at 2-2, and is shifting back to Anaheim on Saturday.

The Ducks scored early, but in all, had a very slow start to the game. Nashville had a great second period, totalling 16 shots on net, and scoring their lone goal. There was also a gaggle of power plays in this game, with the Ducks having four, and the Predators six. Neither team converted a single one. Hockey’s weird.

Two evenly-matched teams are giving us a very good series.

I will eventually write about him at some length in a Ramblings (probably this summer), but Colton Parayko’s season is no fluke. This guy is a star in the making. He’s not just a big guy with a booming shot, he’s a very quality defenceman. He will find his way on a lot of my fantasy teams next year.

Blues/Blackhawks

Chicago stays alive with a thrilling double-overtime game (well, thrilling eventually). 

The start of this game was not terribly exciting. Like how the Lightning/Wings game was really exciting at 0-0 until the late goal? The first period of this game was the opposite. For an indication: the two teams combined for 10 shots, and two of Chicago’s four shots came in the final 10 seconds, one a sweep shot from the boards, the other a backhand from the high slot, both with no traffic in front. The following is a chart of the shots from the first period from Hockey Stats. That’s the Blackhawks going about 16 minutes without a shot:

Chicago got on the board thanks to a wicked wrist shot from Marian Hossa while short-handed. Jaden Schwartz replied for the Blues, but then Artem Anisimov responded in turn with about five minutes left in the second. Patrick Kane scored a back-breaking goal for Chicago with under a second left in the period, and Chicago carried a 3-1 lead going into the third.  

One of the highlights of the game was Pat Foley, a voice of the Blackhawks, railing about the late start times:

That was hilarious. 

The Blues stormed back with two goals in the third, both of the pretty variety. One was a great cut-back shot from the slot by Robby Fabbri, the other a high-slot tip by David Backes to sneak it inside the right post. With that, the two rivals were off to overtime. 

St. Louis was fairly unlucky to score early in overtime. Steen had a couple good chances, Tarasenko had a hard net drive that Crawford saved. Chicago was generating almost nothing, and it took them nearly eight minutes for their first shot on goal. 

Of course, when you have the skill up front the Blackhawks have, sometimes that is all the difference needed. Early in the second overtime, Patrick Kane slid a rebound into a yawning cage to keep the Blackhawks alive. 

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In these Ramblings, I’ve been reviewing a couple players’ fantasy season. Here are two more.

Ryan Ellis

It was a very productive season all-around for the fifth-year Nashville defenceman. I know, I had to double-check to see it was the fifth season Ellis has been in the NHL. It doesn’t seem like long ago we were watching him rip up the World Juniors. Well, next year is his Age 26 season. Father Time remains undefeated.

Ellis set career-highs in goals (10), assists (22), power play points (7), penalty minutes (35), and shots on goal (152). For the real-time stat fantasy owners out there, he also set career-highs in blocked shots (100) and hits (61). In other words, it was a good season.

Of course, a big reason for this was the jump in ice time. After having never cracked 19 minutes a game for a full season before, last year he was nearly at 21 minutes, finishing with a tidy 20:54. This number was nearly 22 minutes in the half-season following the trade of Seth Jones. Now that Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are the clear second pair for the Predators, it is much easier to anticipate their production.

The boost in ice time was necessary for Ellis because without it, this could have been a rough season for him offensively. His on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage was a three-year low (8.52-percent), his personal five-on-five shooting percentage was a three-year low (5.66-percent), and the rate at which he accumulated points as a ratio of all goals scored with him on the ice (Individual Points Percentage) was also a three-year low.  

Those lows, however, indicate to me that there should be a rebound for him next year. In conjunction with additional ice time, Ellis has a real shot at 40 points in the 2016-2017 season.

Brandon Saad

The Columbus Blue Jackets did not have a very good season, but Brandon Saad did. In his first year with the club following a trade from Chicago, Saad set career-highs in goals (31), points (53) and shots on goal (233). This is despite actually playing a tick less per game this year (17:13) than last year (17:15). I also remember John Tortorella taking him off the power play earlier in the year when, at the time, Saad was leading the Jackets in power play goals.

There was some concern as to how Saad would produce now that he was finally playing away from Jonathan Toews. Well, Saad have five fewer points than Toews did this year, and three more goals. I’d say he produced just fine.

In all, Saad’s points per 60 minutes at five-on-five last year (2.05) were right in line with the previous three years (2.04), his shots per 60 minutes were a career-high, and his five-on-five shooting percentage last year (10.98-percent) was identical to the year before. The man-child, it turns out, is just a darn good hockey player.

As always, players need ice time to produce elite numbers. Can Saad be a 35-goal, 65-point player? Absolutely. He won’t do it averaging less power play ice time per game than Alexander Wennberg, though. That’s not hyperbole, either; Saad had less ice time with the man advantage per game than Wennberg. I’m not an NHL coach, but that seems sub-optimal.

If Saad can get the ice time he deserves, I absolutely think he takes a step forward in production. The problem is we won’t know if he will get that ice time until he actually gets it. Does anyone trust John Tortorella to tell the world before the season that Saad will get 19 minutes a game including two and a half minutes of power play time? Until we see that actually happen, projecting for much beyond what he did last year is a bit too lofty.  

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To kind of piggyback on that point about Saad, something that’s not really talked about enough is the importance of power play points. Sure, they’re a category in most fantasy leagues, and owners know to look for guys at least getting power play time, preferably top power play unit time. They are crucial, though, when it comes to overall point totals, and a player’s ceiling. Think about these five-on-five numbers from last year:

Sure, there are other game states, like four-on-four and three-on-three. However, according to Corsica, only four players were on the ice for more than five three-on-three goals last year, and only 23 were on for more than three. That’s in the entire league. For those wondering about four-on-four, no player last year cracked the 50 minute barrier of four-on-four play, so it’s fairly irrelevant.  

That is one reason I dislike the notion of “well, he’s a 60-point player” as analysis. There were only 44 of those last year, and only one of those 44 players didn’t crack the double-digit power play point mark (Brad Marchand had 61 points, eight of which came with the man advantage). Of the 17 players who cracked 70 points, none had fewer than 17 power play points, and only four of them had fewer than 20.

Remember when trying to figure out the upside of a player: what do you expect his power play output to be? Because even an elite five-on-five producer will likely not be an elite fantasy option unless they get 20 power play points, and only 55 players (forwards and defencemen) did that last year.

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Saw this article on The Score, and I am so, so sorry, Vancouver fans. 

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In yesterday’s Ramblings, I brought up the point about Sean Monahan not having great numbers away from Johnny Gaudreau, and that being a bit of cause for concern (though he’s obviously still a young, developing player). Another young star that this concern is applicable to is Aaron Ekblad.

The caveat here is yes, of course Ekblad is going to be a 20-year old defenceman in the NHL next year, and typically the learning curve for defencemen is longer than forwards. There are two things to note here, however:

  1. Brian Campbell is a free agent this summer.
  2. Ekblad’s numbers in his young career when not paired with Campbell are abysmal.

It is not an exaggeration to say the numbers are abysmal either. They are really, really bad:

 

Ekblad with Campbell

(1718:59 TOI)

Ekblad without Campbell

(1001:18 TOI)

Team shot attempts for/60 minutes (5v5)

56.76

43.86

Team shot attempts against/60 minutes (5v5)

43.70

53.39

Team goals against/60 minutes (5v5)

1.71

2.22

Individual points/60 minutes (5v5)

1.05

0.84

Team CorsiFor% (possession at 5v5)

56.5%

45.1%

 

Those are not good numbers. Most of Ekblad’s time away from Campbell came with Dmitry Kulikov, too, and he’s no slouch as a d-man. It’s not like Ekblad was dragging Doug Murray around the ice.

Maybe Campbell re-signs and this is all moot. Also, as I mentioned, Ekblad is still developing as a defenceman. With that said, for those in roto leagues, Ekblad was a plus-18 this year. If he doesn’t take a big step forward in his development, that will certainly decline, and maybe a lot, next year. His point totals may stagnate as well. Buyer beware.

*Some stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, and Corsica. Cap information from Cap Friendly