Ramblings: Varlamov Back In, Carter with Kopitar, OEL Hurt (Mar. 8)

by steve laidlaw on March 8, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Varlamov Back In, Carter with Kopitar, OEL Hurt (Mar. 8)

Ramblings: Varlamov Back In, Carter with Kopitar, OEL Gets Hurt and more.

Oh boy, the Wild Card race in both conferences is getting frisky. Out West the Avalanche had a strong showing to defeat the reeling Coyotes to pull into a tie with Minnesota for the last playoff spot.

Semyon Varlamov came to play after getting called out by Patrick Roy:

We knew he was going to play eventually," Roy said of Varlamov after Monday's morning skate. "I thought he had really good practices (while) Pick played really well in those games. Now it's time for Varly to step up.

Step up he did turning aside 37 of 38 shots that he faced. That’ll definitely earn him the next start and help push Calvin Pickard to the backburner for the time being. I named Pickard as a candidate for a pick up in my Fantasy Five segment this weekend but that doesn’t look quite so hot after this performance by Varlamov.

We are probably at the point where it’s win and you are in so Pickard is just one stinker from Varlamov away from getting back in.

Strong performance from the Matt Duchene line with Mikhail Grigorenko and Jarome Iginla as the latter two scored a goal and an assist, while Iginla continued his late-season charge with an assist.

With Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny both leaving in consecutive years the Avalanche really set themselves up with a situation where they almost had to use Duchene at center. I really liked when they moved him to the wing alongside MacKinnon. That line was irresistible and Duchene was a terror shooting from his off wing. Moving back to center he has managed to remain the Avalanche leading scorer this season. He probably has more value as a winger but he’s finding a way up the middle.

I should also mention that Grigorenko is up to eight points in 16 games since the All-Star break, a 40-point pace if stretched over a full season. Perhaps a glimpse of a breakout next year, which will be his fifth partial season in the NHL. Hard to believe he has seen action in parts of four seasons already but is just 21. I had a notion that he wasn’t going to be as good a fantasy asset as hyped and was somewhat vindicated when he was rushed along by the Sabres and looked like a flop. I was quick to toss the bust label out there. Kudos to Grigorenko for persevering.

The big thing that excites me about Grigorenko’s recent play is that he is shooting the puck more. He has barely a shot per game on the season but has 28 in 16 games since the All-Star break. Fitting in well with his current line.

Carl Soderberg has cooled since the All-Star break. He has the same total as Grigorenko, with eight points in 16 games. Interesting dichotomy. For one player that type of scoring represents promising signs, for another it is quite troublesome. Soderberg is running out of power-play chances, skating just 14 seconds with the man-advantage last night. That’s a big reason for the decline. He does have assists in back-to-back games though.

Eric Gelinas got into the lineup for the Avalanche skating alongside Erik Johnson on the second power-play unit. Gelinas saw just 14:59 overall but with the Avalanche splitting their power-play time evenly between the first and second units this is a good spot for Gelinas.

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As for the Coyotes, this is probably all that you need to know:

No update as of yet but this is pretty crushing. Not much offense to be had on this team without Oliver Ekman-Larsson pushing the play forward. Both Michael Stone and Connor Murphy saw big minutes in OEL’s stead but realistically there is only so much these guys can do to fill the void. It’s really a similar story to what we’ve seen in Carolina with Justin Faulk out. Guys are taking the minutes but they aren’t necessarily doing anything with them.

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Back to the playoff races, however. In the East, the Flyers are remaining quite relevant after a convincing win over the Lightning pulled them just two points back of Detroit for the final playoff spot. Pittsburgh is just one point up on Detroit making for quite the three-way race.

I have no concerns about the Penguins so long as they remain healthy. Detroit is vulnerable though. Petr Mrazek has done a great impersonation of Atlas this season but he seems to be wearing down. Some have argued that this is simply a matter of having faced a tough schedule. We shall see.

The Flyers absolutely peppered Andrei Vasilevskiy last night, winning the shot battle 40-18. Wowzers. Had they done more of this all season they might not have to be fighting for their playoff lives.

Brayden Schenn continued his dominance. He shook of a concussion/head injury scare over the weekend and has just kept on rolling. A goal and an assist pushes him into a tie for seventh in the league for most points since the All-Star break. We’d have to refer to this as a mini-breakout. Next season perhaps he pushes things to another level. The Flyers still have 17 games remaining, which is as many as any team in the league save for the Islanders who have 19 left. I’m only reinforcing how good Schenn has been because I keep getting questions about him. Find a way to get him into your lineup and keep him there.

Shayne Gostisbehere scored a couple of goals but you all have to know this guy is the cat’s ass by now. Instead, I’ll point out that Mark Streit continues to see top power-play time with Jakub Voracek out. Streit was held off the board in the previous two games but got back into the action with an assist last night.

Since returning from injury, Steve Mason has faced 37 shots across two games. If the Flyers can keep this up they won’t need him to be particularly sharp, which is good because this season has been a step down from last year’s excellence. And to be completely clear on this, Mason’s numbers this season are basically league average with a 0.916 save percentage that is just a hair below. He becomes intriguing if the Flyers continue their playoff push.

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The big news for the Lightning yesterday was the announcement that Jonathan Drouin has decided to return to play for their AHL club in Syracuse. I hypothesized last week that it wasn’t the worst thing if he sat out the rest of the season on the basis that promising prospects will often lose time to injury and ultimately not be affected severely by it. That said, you have to like that he is making his way back. You’d definitely rather that he was getting reps than not, especially if you buy the scouting reports that his game really needs to improve going north/south. There’s also this:

This isn’t making me flinch in one-year formats. He still needs to get to Syracuse, play well enough to earn this proposed call up, crack the Lightning lineup, work his way up to a scoring line and then actually produce. There are less than five weeks left in the season. Not enough sand in the hourglass if you ask me.

Vladislav Namestnikov scored a goal last night in just 11 minutes of action. He has points in back-to-back games but is an afterthought right now. Waiver fodder. Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan are getting the big minutes with Steven Stamkos right now, even if they haven’t been productive for a few days now.

Two assists for Tyler Johnson last night to extend his scoring streak to four games. He has 16 points in 17 games since the All-Star break. What really excites me is that Johnson saw 1:46 on the penalty kill last night, a hair more than Stamkos, which has been a rarity these days. PK time doesn’t generally correlate with scoring but given how good Johnson was on the PK last season I have been using his PK usage as a barometer of health. Trending upward.

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Lee Stempniak was not supposed to have a fantasy impact going from a hefty opportunity with the Devils to a reduced one in Boston. Someone forgot to send him the memo. It helps that he has clicked exceedingly well with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Bruins’ top line. Six points in four games since joining the Bruins even while he sees no power-play time. There are some hints of fool’s gold in this early rush of scoring but we are at a point in the season where you really don’t have much room for discrimination.

Also on a bit of a rush, John-Michael Liles with a couple of points in four games since joining the Bruins. I have no faith in much continued fantasy relevance.

Important line combination change for the Bruins:

16.95%

EV

BERGERON,PATRICE – MARCHAND,BRAD – STEMPNIAK,LEE

16.27%

EV

ERIKSSON,LOUI – HAYES,JIMMY – SPOONER,RYAN

16.27%

EV

BELESKEY,MATT – CONNOLLY,BRETT – KREJCI,DAVID

10.17%

EV

BELESKEY,MATT – KREJCI,DAVID – PASTRNAK,DAVID

5.08%

EV

ACCIARI,NOEL – CONNOLLY,BRETT – FERRARO,LANDON

 

Loui Eriksson getting bumped to the third line by Matt Beleskey is a big of a step down but Eriksson still sees top unit PP time and Ryan Spooner is a good centerman himself. Instead, I’m a bit concerned about David Krejci because of how streaky Beleskey is. Not overly concerned, mind you. Just a bit. Keep an eye out.

Tuukka Rask stopped 47 of 51 shots sent his way by the Panthers. I know this was an overtime game but, wow!

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I’ve given Mrazek some flack for dropping off of late but Roberto Luongo has been worse. His numbers pre- and post-All-Star:

 

Wins

Losses

GAA

Save%

SO

Pre-All-Star

22

17

2.08

0.930

4

Post-All-Star

5

5

2.92

0.903

0

 

That’s how you drown your fantasy owners at the worst possible time.

Jiri Hudler finally did some damage for the Panthers after getting his visa issues sorted out. Hudler scored two goals on six shots to lead the way for Florida. Interestingly, Hudler had been bounced to the third line and second power-play unit too:

24.75%

EV

JOKINEN,JUSSI – SMITH,REILLY – TROCHECK,VINCENT

16.27%

EV

BJUGSTAD,NICK – HUDLER,JIRI – RAU,KYLE

14.58%

EV

BARKOV,ALEKSANDER – HUBERDEAU,JONATHAN – JAGR,JAROMIR

7.8%

EV

HOWDEN,QUINTON – SHAW,LOGAN – THORNTON,SHAWN

3.05%

PP

BARKOV,ALEKSANDER – BJUGSTAD,NICK – HUBERDEAU,JONATHAN – JAGR,JAROMIR

 

Don’t necessarily count on Hudler for more given this breakdown.

Much more interesting is Jonathan Huberdeau reclaiming his spot in the lineup on the top line and top PP unit in his return from injury. Two assists from Huberdeau who should pick up where he left off and have a solid finish to the season.

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So that Nikita Soshnikov continues to be a thing, skating with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov on the Leafs’ top line. He has points in three out of five games since making the leap. What really makes him interesting is his hit production. Three more hits for the rookie last night. Watch out for Soshnikov in multi-category setups down the road.

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I didn’t think that they would do it but the Sabres have kept the line of Evander KaneJack EichelSam Reinhart together. Good call. They combined for two goals and five points last night. Eichel now has goals in three straight games.

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As impressive as Rask’s 47-save performance last night was, Martin Jones matched it, allowing just one goal on 48 shots for an overtime win. Vintage road performance for Jones. I probably haven’t given Jones nearly enough credit. He hasn’t been outstanding since the opening stretch of the season but he has been pretty consistently good. Hovering right around that top 10 fantasy goalie level.

The Sharks are always a fairly boring team to discuss. They know who their best players are and they give them the best opportunities. As such, there are really no surprises. Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are superstars, Joe Thornton remains an elite passer, Logan Couture is the exciting two-way guy who is used on the top power-play unit. Patrick Marleau continues to be relevant from a minutes standpoint but he has imploded on fantasy owners after a hot start to the season.

I was asked if Thornton had another big season or two left in him. Certainly possible although I do wonder if we aren’t seeing the absolute best that Pavelski and Burns have to offer and what impact that might have on Thornton if they were even 10% less effective next season. The decline for playmakers is always much slower but I wouldn’t view this huge second half as a sign of even more next season. Thornton is going to finish in the 60’s again this season and that’s what I’d look for next year.

As for Marleau, we might be headed towards a buyout this summer, or perhaps a deal where the Sharks retain half his salary. Another possibility would be Marleau deciding that next year is his last year and choosing to ride it out with the only franchise he has ever known. Wouldn’t be the worst thing even if he isn’t all that productive any longer. Just 11 points since January 1 for Marleau.

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Joe Colborne scored the lone goal for Calgary. He continues to see time with Johnny Gaudreau on the top power-play unit, making Colborne a fantasy asset to consider. Last night that meant over seven minutes of PP time!

Also on the top PP unit: Dougie Hamilton. No points for Hamilton but he did have eight SOG!

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The Kings smashed the Canucks last night 5-1. They paired up Jeff Carter with Anze Kopitar to thoroughly drop the hammer:

19.83%

EV

CARTER,JEFF – KOPITAR,ANZE – LUCIC,MILAN

19.42%

EV

LECAVALIER,VINCENT – PEARSON,TANNER – TOFFOLI,TYLER

16.12%

EV

CLIFFORD,KYLE – SHORE,NICK – VERSTEEG,KRIS

14.88%

EV

BROWN,DUSTIN – KING,DWIGHT – LEWIS,TREVOR

3.72%

SH

CARTER,JEFF – KOPITAR,ANZE

2.89%

PP

CARTER,JEFF – KOPITAR,ANZE – LUCIC,MILAN

 

Two goals on nine shots for Carter, while Kopitar had a goal and two assists. Milan Lucic had an assist rounding out the line.

Carter has discretely been quiet after a huge first couple of months. He scored 22 points in 23 games in October and November but has just 23 in 38 since. That’s still productive, mind you, but not nearly where he was at those first couple of months. It doesn’t seem like any line combination stays together for too long in Los Angeles but this seems a good way to kickstart Carter in time for playoffs.

Meanwhile, Tyler Toffoli is scoreless in five straight. Things are headed the wrong direction for him at the worst time for fantasy owners. The Kings still have 17 games remaining, which is favourable but if there is a really hot option you might considering bailing on Toffoli. This would have to be a really shallow one-year league but I’m not above anything once we get to H2H playoffs.

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I have been really leery of acquiring the Sedins despite their favourable closing schedule and persistent production. It just really doesn’t seem like a good situation in Vancouver. This is the type of spot where if Sedin’s injury is questionable, they probably just shut him down. Without Henrik, the Canuck power play gets even weaker.

The top unit last night was Daniel Sedin, Linden Vey, Radim Vrbata, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hutton. I just cannot get excited about any of those options.

For what it’s worth, Daniel did have an assist last night.

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Steve Laidlaw is the Managing Editor of Dobber Hockey. Follow him on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.