Ramblings: Point’s spectacular return; Neal and Mantha rolling; giving thanks – October 11

by Michael Clifford on October 11, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Point’s spectacular return; Neal and Mantha rolling; giving thanks – October 11

 

Tampa Bay looked… ok?… through their first few games. And then Brayden Point returned, slotting on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. I think most people would expect Point to have at least a little bit of rust to his game, not being sure how he and the line would fare in his return. This was the damage in their win over Toronto:

Anthony Cirelli had three assists of his own. It’s almost as if having a top pair of Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, and playing them exclusively against a line of Stamkos-Point-Kucherov, is a bad idea. Who knew?

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Well, James Neal scored his seventh goal of the season last night, matching his total from last year. Like, the whole year.

It was obviously a horrific trade when it happened – who trades for Milan Lucic at $6M a season? – but there’s no way anyone saw this coming. Neal has already scored more goals than Lucic will probably get this season and the only thing the Flames can hang their hat on is Lucic got in a fight in a game they lost.

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Speaking of guys who just cannot be stopped right now, Anthony Mantha scored again on Wednesday night, giving him six goals on the season. The shooting percentage will obviously decline but he has 21 shots in four games. That kind of shot volume is going to lead to a good season if he can maintain anywhere close to that rate. 

Going back to the All-Star break last year, Mantha is averaging 3.5 shots per game over 35 games. In 2018-19, six guys played 80 games and shot 3.5 per game (per Hockey Reference). Those six guys averaged 40.5 goals, and no one had fewer than 33. So, if Mantha can mantain the pace that he has for nearly half a season (he has 21 in four games this year), there are your expectations. Whew. 

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Jordan Martinook will be out for 6-8 weeks with core surgery.

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Ottawa called up and inserted Vitaly Abramov in the starting lineup on Thursday night. He paid immediate dividends, scoring the first goal of his career in the first period:

 

 

The third-round pick from 2016 figures to be in the Ottawa immediate future if only because anyone with a pulse and a hockey stick is a contender for a roster spot. All the same, finally getting an NHL goal is a special moment. Good for the kid.

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Yesterday, I said I wasn’t sure about the fantasy value for Kevin Shattenkirk because of an uncertain role. Last night, Shattenkirk did this:

 

 

If you pause it at the right moment, you can see Morgan Rielly’s soul just peace out for the afterlife. Toronto might want to do something about that defence because it’s… not great! Or at least try Muzzin-Barrie as the hard-match against top lines. 

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Just as a small note: Karson Kuhlman started the game on Boston’s second line again. Brett Ritchie has been there at times, going back to training camp, but it does really seem like it’s Kuhlman’s spot now. Things can change in a hurry but I’m sure Bruce Cassidy would like some stability on that line and if Kuhlman can hang on to it, that could mean some marginal fantasy value in deeper formats.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov was back on the second line for the game on Thursday night. That blip of having him play on the third line was seemingly an attempt to get him acclimated to the NHL following his suspension.

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Patrik Laine picked up a pair of goals and assists in Winnipeg’s 5-2 win over Minnesota on Thursday night. He now has three goals and seven assists in five games this season. It’s amazing what happens when you give an elite scoring forward a good centre to play with.

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Patrick Marleau made an impact in his return to the Sharks, scoring a pair of goals (one on the power play) in San Jose’s 5-4 win over Chicago. Meanwhile, Timo Meier is up to 15 shots without a goal on the season.

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Darcy Kuemper had a wonderful performance in his 37-save, one-goal win at home over Vegas.

This is going to be a legitimately frustrating situation for fantasy owners all year. Kuemper is playing well and played well last year while Antti Raanta is presumably the starting goaltender. It does feel they’re going to ride the hot-hand this year which could leave fantasy owners with a dead roster spot at time this season if they’re rostering both guys.

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I’m going to let the tweet speak for itself:

 

 

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While you’re here, why not go check out our new Frozen Tools? One cool new feature that was added was shooting percentage by shot type. It could help give some insight into a player if he gets a new role on the power play as different areas will entail different kinds of shots. There’s a lot of cool stuff our development team is coming up with to make the user experience here at Dobber just a little bit better every day. Hats off to them and go peruse their work!

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Well it’s Thanksgiving weekend up here in Canada. It’s a weekend for (hopefully) decent weather, some good food and drink, and definitely some hockey. Seeing as there’s still not really enough data to do anything this season, maybe it’s time to put down the research goggles and throw on some reflective shades. Here are some things I’m thankful for around the NHL.

 

Bad General Managers

I look at sports through an analytical lens, or at least try to, which is why I’m extremely thankful for bad general managers, or general managers continuing to make horrific decisions, at a minimum. I mean, could you imagine how boring the league would be if all teams were striving for efficiency and optimization? We need guys to go out and give Brandon Tanev six years for some reason. We need guys to go out and earnestly trade for Milan Lucic. We need guys to protect Alex Petrovic over Jonathan Marchessault in expansion drafts. We need guys to sign goalies to multi-year, multi-million-dollar deals after 30 games. What I’m saying is that as much as I love baseball, it’s a game that has gotten efficient in most front offices over the last decade, and that’s boring as hell. I want guys doing the dumbest stuff imaginable so that I can make fun of them, and that trade deadlines/free agencies stay entertaining in some fashion. It’s not a lot to ask, really.

 

Getting Smarter

On the flipside of bad general managers is that teams, players and coaches in general are all getting smarter about that game. What the Russians knew in the 1970s took more than 40 years to get a foothold in the NHL, but the NHL is better now than it’s ever been. I know some people miss the over-the-top physicality, and yes, I do miss things like goalies skating full tilt to centre ice for a good little scrap once a year. But watch the product now – say, Tampa Bay-Toronto from Thursday night – and go watch some clips from even 20 years ago. There are some of the same tactics, but the speed and quickness with which everything is executed is something truly to behold. There’s also a lot less dump-and-chase hockey, which is another good thing.

Teams, players, and coaches getting smarter over the last decade has completely changed the game, and I believe it’s easily for the better. More goals, more speed, more highlight reel plays. I think that’s something with which most people can get on board.

 

New Era Defencemen

This hit me as I was watching the Jaccob Slavin video posted above. I know everyone has their own weird things they enjoy while taking in a hockey game – some people it’s skating styles, others it’s shooting, some it’s goalie equipment – but watching this generation of undervalued defencemen is my jam. Watching Deryk Engelland bang the puck off the glass 20 times a game is boring; watching Vince Dunn fake a pass in the defensive zone only to transition up the ice on his own for a controlled zone entry? That’s the good stuff. Watching a player control the game from the blue line without directly contributing to the scoresheet is incredibly my jam.

 

Gritty

Every Christmas, I go through my favourite tweets of the year to re-post them in kind of a year-in-review style. Last year, by far the biggest single category were Gritty tweets. I don’t see that changing this year. Gord bless you, Gritty.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

I get that not everyone likes everything this team does, but it’s really hard not to be impressed with them at almost every level. This is a team that has developed a very smart front office, and what’s more, they listen to the people providing them with their data. (What a novel concept.) On top of that, the Storm Surge (again, not for everyone) is the NHL slowly – very, very slowly – breaking out of its 200 Hockey Men mould. Let’s face it: the game itself is great but everything around the game is boring. Boring quotes, boring personalities, boring presentations. Some fans will say that’s what they like about hockey, but that’s also what keeps hockey in the 1980s, and also keeps potential fans from discovering how great it is. That will only stunt the NHL’s growth. Carolina is doing a lot of things right, and that makes them easy to root for.

 

Dustin Byfuglien

I know he’s technically not playing right now but I am very thankful to have watched Byfuglien for his career, particularly once he transitioned to the blue line.

There are certain players that when they get in a certain mood, there’s no one who can stop them. Evgeni Malkin is like that. Alex Ovechkin is like that. John Tavares is like that, in his own way. Dustin Byfuglien is also like that, but his way is more like Ovechkin’s: let him go for a scoring chance or try to stop him and get absolutely trucked. Not only that, but Byfuglien was effective at both ends of the ice and blossomed into a true number-1 defenceman. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers him rag-dolling two people at the same time on more than one occasion.

Byfuglien has certainly earned the right to take a leave and try to figure out what he wants to do both in the short- and long-term. Selfishly, I want to see him back on an NHL ice surface as soon as possible, but it’s understandable why we may not see him again. All the same, it was awesome to watch him play and I’m thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving to the readers and their families.