Ramblings: Vegas Does It Again; Plekanec Makes History; Brent Burns Is Rolling – February 5

by Michael Clifford on February 5, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Vegas Does It Again; Plekanec Makes History; Brent Burns Is Rolling – February 5

With the Super Bowl last night, we had a fairly light day for hockey with just three very early Sunday afternoon games. Here’s what went down.

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Due to injuries and general under-performance across the roster, Montreal tried something a little different with their lineup on Sunday: a second line of Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, and Brendan Gallagher. A goal scorer, a play-maker, and a solid two-way winger on the same line. Maybe we could have something here!

And then:

What is even the point anymore.

There’s the potential that those three constitute Montreal’s top line next year and the team isn’t going to the postseason this year. Why not see what you have? But I digress.

Maybe it was all for the best, though, as Artturi Lehkonen scored a pair of goals in the second period, one of them assisted by Gallagher. Those were Lehkonen’s first goals since October. Seriously.

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Tomas Plekanec also assisted on Lehkonen’s even-strength goal, giving him 600 points for his career (he later added a goal). He’ll never be considered among Montreal’s great players considering the storied history of the franchise, but if he stays healthy this year, and they don’t trade him, he’ll be one of six players to play 1000 games with the team. He’s also the 13th player in franchise history to get to 600 points in the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge. No, he won’t be considered one of the greats, but he’s been an important part of the roster for much of this century.

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Jeff Petry capped off a pretty good weekend as he scored in the 4-1 win for the Habs. That's three goals this weekend, and tying his career-high of eight. 

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Ottawa looked mostly lifeless in this one, as they have so many games before, but Mike Hoffman is still Mike Hoffman, and shots like this is what should make him highly-coveted if (when) the Sens put him on the trade block:

Carey Price never stood a chance.

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It has been a completely miserable, utterly disastrous season for the Canadiens and comments from Marc Bergevin make it seem like the team will be trending towards youth. This coming less than a year after giving a 29-year old fringe NHL defenceman $23-million. Superb work all around.

One of the very few bright spots has been Brendan Gallagher. He has 18 goals, six off his career-high, and eight goals clear of last year’s mark. The assists totals are a problem, sure, having just nine (10 after Sunday). But he’s never been an assist guy, and Tomas Plekanec, Artturi Lehkonen, and Charles Hudon – three of his four most-common line mates – where shooting a combined 4.2 percent going into Sunday’s matinée. If his line mates can’t score, he can’t rack assists. If they could score, he’d be having a much better fantasy season.

The question now, is, what do we make of him next year?

It’s no secret that Montreal’s pipeline is mostly empty. Outside of Ryan Poehling, how many forward prospects look to even possess the potential of a future fantasy contributor? Not (m)any. So if Max Pacioretty is traded (that seems likely, whether at the deadline or in the summer), who’s left to put the puck in the next? Alex Galchenyuk, if he’s not traded himself. Jonathan Drouin? Maybe Lehkonen if he finds some consistency? It’s not pretty.

It’s a shame, too. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Gallagher has the same goals/60 minutes rate at five-on-five (0.84) as Jaden Schwartz and Matt Duchene, and slightly higher than TJ Oshie (0.83). He’s been a first-line goal scorer for a while now, but injuries and lack of ice time have limited his upside in fantasy. I can’t imagine it gets better as this franchise continues its trajectory toward a full-fledged rebuild. He had a predictable bounce-back year, which is nice and should give us hope moving forward. But if the team is going to tear down around him, his bounce-back personally is mostly meaningless for fantasy.

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Jeff Skinner has been mired in a little slump, heading into Sunday with one goal in eight games and just three goals since Christmas, a span of 17 contests. Has anything changed?

Since the holiday break, Skinner is second on his team in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes at 17.34. Not bad, right? It’s actually a huge drop-off from what he did at the start of the year; from game 1 through Christmas Eve, Skinner led the team in this regard at 22.78. Losing nearly one-quarter of your shot attempts will definitely supress offence, which is why his goals per 60 minutes have fallen off the map (0.74 since Christmas compared to 1.02 before) despite nearly identical shooting percentages (7.92 percent since Christmas compared to 7.69 before).

So, Skinner is shooting less. Why is he shooting less? Well, he was dropped of Justin Williams’ line, which has been a big reason. When they skated together earlier in the year (before Christmas), the ‘Canes generated 81.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five, and that is a colossal number. He didn’t spend the majority of his time there – about 36 percent of Skinner’s ice time was on Williams’ opposite wing – but when he did, they scored 2.84 goals per 60, a very good number. Since Christmas, Skinner has played roughly 20 percent of his ice time with the veteran on his right wing, and without him since Christmas, the team is generating just 60 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five, scoring 1.87 goals per 60.

That is a lot of numbers to throw at you in two paragraphs, so let’s summarize:

Without Williams and Skinner together, the Hurricanes are generating about 25 percent fewer shots since the holiday break with Skinner on the ice, and that has led to a drop in goals of about 34 percent. The result has been Skinner’s production decline.

Line combinations change all the time, and there’s no guarantee even if the two wingers are reunited that they’ll produce like they did earlier in the year. But there has been legitimate reason why Skinner hasn’t been scoring like he used to, and it’s not hand-waving at “unlucky.” He just needs line mates that can help him generate that offence. If you wanted to buy low on him, now would be the time in case there’s a shake-up with the forwards.  

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By the way, there was a small shake-up with the forwards in Carolina’s Sunday afternoon game against San Jose, but for Skinner it only meant Lee Stempniak being replaced by Elias Lindholm. Maybe it helps; it didn’t in this one as Skinner managed just two shots and, of course, zero goals.

There will be more of this to come, however:

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Brent Burns led the way for the Sharks in their 3-1 win over Carolina, assisting on Timo Meier’s first-period tally and scoring himself in the second. After a somewhat slow start to the year, Burns now has 33 points in 29 games dating back to the start of December, averaging nearly 4.5 shots on goal per game in that span. It’s good to see the big man doing his thing again.

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Speaking of Meier, that’s seven goals in 18 games since Christmas. On the season, after Sunday afternoon’s game, he’s up to 1.12 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five this year. To put that into perspective, that’s the same rate as Mark Stone, just below Vladimir Tarasenko (1.16), and just above Patrick Kane (1.08).

Since being a top-10 pick in 2015, Sharks fans have been waiting for the kid to become one of their premier goal scorers. He’s not shooting a crazy-high percentage, either. He’s doing this through sheer shot generation. In other words, he’s scoring like a goal scorer, not like a luckbox. This is good news for San Jose’s faithful, and great news for Meier’s dynasty owners. All that’s missing now is top power-play minutes.

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Sebastian Aho got the lone goal for Carolina in this one. Man, if Skinner isn’t scoring, Aho is really the only other threat here, huh.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Vegas fell behind in a road game and then thanks to their first line, made a comeback to sneak away with a win. Just wild, right?

Chandler Stephenson made it 1-0, and then Ryan Carpenter tied it. Matt Niskanen made it 2-1, and then Reilly Smith tied it. Nicklas Backstrom made it 3-2, and then Smith tied it again. Alex Tuch scored the game-winner with about five minutes left in the third to seal the road victory at 4-3.

Smith had two goals, giving him 16 on the year. Four more for him and two more for Marchessault would give each member of the top line 20 tallies on the year. Pretty good.

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My ever-evolving obsession with Jakub Vrana continues. He dressed again in this one but played the least of any Caps forward.

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Matt Niskanen is quietly putting together another solid season playing behind John Carlson. His 82-game paces after his one-goal, one-assist performance Sunday works out to nine goals and 26 assists, more or less the player he’s been the majority of his career. Despite his earlier injury issues, Niskanen has been as expected. That speaks volumes to the quality of the player.

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Speaking of brutal splits, TJ Oshie has one power-play goal in his last 24 games. One! In 24 games!

What has changed there?

If you want to split Oshie’s season in half, we’d have to go back to November 22nd. Up to that point, Oshie was taking 17 shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five; since that point, that has fallen to 14.22. That of course doesn’t explain his goals drop, it’s the fact that between those two points, his shooting percentage fell from over 46 percent (!) to an even 10 percent.

Oshie is shooting a little less with the man advantage, but it’s obviously the conversion rate that is truly sinking him, unlike Jeff Skinner at five-on-five. Owners can not do much but wait it out.

It should be noted that he’s scoring basically at the same rate he always had in St. Louis, but is shooting a lot less at five-on-five. He was never a volume shooter, but he’s shooting less than Riley Sheahan and Troy Brouwer this year. If that power-play percentage doesn’t start climbing, and that shot rate at five-on-five doesn’t improve, it’s hard to see how he breaks out of this funk to become a consistent scorer.

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I do wonder what the Golden Knights do with David Perron. He’s never produced at this rate in his career (at least assists-wise) so he’s probably carrying more value than he would have even four months ago. But how can they justify someone producing so well for a team that, apparently, is a Cup contender? Interesting times ahead.

I suppose the same could apply for James Neal. But there’s no way they trade them, right? 

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Filip Forsberg earned himself a three-game suspension for his interference hit on Jmmy Vesey on Saturday night: 

This is pretty bad news for fantasy owners as it'd only been a couple games since returning from injury. Added to that is that their next three games were against the Leafs, Islanders, and Senators. Those are juicy offensive matchups. 

When Forsberg was out, Pontus Aberg got some minutes on the top line, though we'll probably have to wait until game-day skate to see who actually takes his spot this week. 

 

3 responses to “Ramblings: Vegas Does It Again; Plekanec Makes History; Brent Burns Is Rolling – February 5”

  1. Striker says:

    Fringe DMan? I assume your talking about Alzner who came from playing on Was #1 pairing with Carlsson for years. A fringe Dman is a guy that can barely crack an NHL roster. These are fringe Dman. Alphabetically by team, Holzer, Connauton, Postma, Falk, Dahlbeck, etc. Dman who’s job it is to primarily sit & only dress at the last minute due to illness coaches decission or last minute injury. If worse another Dman is called up from the minors.

    Alzner has been a disaster this season especially when paired with Petry, togther they have been been brutal but this wasn’t shocking at least not to me.

    Now that said I don’t know how Beregevin still has a job I had him fired by Christmas. Mon is a mess. The prospect cupboard is virtually bare & they roster isn’t structured to start a rebuild & if your going to I’m not handing that task to Bergevin.

    • Nathan says:

      Not to pick a fight or anything because you’re mostly on point and this is kind of just a semantics argument, but just because Alzner was playing next to Carlson, does not make him not a fringe NHL d-man. His true talent level is that of a 6/7 fringe dman and it looks pretty obvious when he’s not playing with a truly elite talent. Andrew MacDonald has played next to Provorov on the flyers top pairing for a year and a half, until a month ago, and that guy is a fringe NHLer. Just cause a coach or GM mis-evaluates a players talent level doesn’t change their actual talent level- look at Orpik in WAS, Polak in TOR or for a reverse story how Chicago handled Franson (who very much is not a fringe NHL defensemen talent wise.)

      But your take on Bergevin is absolutely correct. How he has a job still is anyone’s guess. And boy oh boy does that look like a rebuild that’s going to take 3-5 years to turn around with not prospects and with all the untradeable veteran trash on bad contracts (see Alzner) and sell-low talent on that roster (they basically have cut Galchenyuk’s value in half by their refusal to let him learn at the NHL level)- I certainly wouldn’t want the guy who caused that managing it either.

      • Striker says:

        By no means trying to cause an argument or dispute I started listing Dman by teams that I feel are fringe to provide a reference for my perception of such. The Webster dictionary meaning in this reference for me would be #3.

        “a : something that is marginal, additional, or secondary to some activity, process, or subject a fringe sport”

        Not even MacDonald is a fringe Dman. I fully agree that just because a Dman plays on a teams 1st pairing doesn’t make him a #1 or a #2 but nor are Alzner or MacDonald fringe Dman. Fringe Dman don’t take regular shifts game in & game out in the NHL. fringe Dman do they play spairingly & when they do generally very limited & sheltered minutes.