Weber and Boeser Return, Kovalchuk Fading Away
The question of the day in hockey is, are the Buffalo Sabres for real? Well, you be the judge. But you can’t deny that they are red hot, having now won ten games in a row.
A big part of the reason that the Sabres are a surprise is that Jeff Skinner is a surprise. Skinner scored the OT winner on Tuesday, so he’s now tied for the league lead in goals. Maybe a regression is coming, but it still hasn’t happened. Also just a friendly reminder that he’s a UFA this offseason. With the Sabres’ sudden ascension to the top of the standings, it’s looking unlikely that the Sabres will use him as trade bait.
The Sabres’ win streak means that offseason acquisition Carter Hutton is on a win streak of his own. He’s now won eight games in a row. Turning 33 next month, Hutton might be the goalie of right now more than he’s the goalie of the future, but he’s provided better value than expected from owners who took a chance on him in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Shea Weber made his long-awaited season debut (and first game in nearly a calendar year) on Tuesday, recording an assist with three shots on goal in 25 minutes of icetime. For his even-strength minutes, Weber was paired with David Schlemko, a defenseman that he spent very little time with last season. Weber would have been stashed on IR in the majority of leagues, but he deserves an immediate pickup if he’s somehow still available in yours.
Weber and the Habs were outmatched by Curtis McElhinney on Tuesday. The veteran backup stopped 48 of 49 shots in a 2-1 victory for the Hurricanes. In general, the Canes’ goaltending situation is one to stay well away from, since it involves a three-headed monster of McElhinney, Scott Darling, and the recently activated Petr Mrazek. But if you need to pick up a Canes’ goalie, then McElhinney should be your guy. Brought in off waivers as a short-term injury replacement, McElhinney has done everything possible to stick around. He’s won six of his eight games for the Canes and boasts far superior ratios to the other two goalies. He’s also started four of the Canes’ last five games, so he’s been more than just a streaming option recently.
Brady Tkachuk scored two goals and added an assist on six shots on goal in the Senators’ 4-3 win over the Flyers. Like his older brother Matthew, Brady is proving to be a quick study to the NHL game. Much has been made about Elias Pettersson’s impressive rookie season, but Tkachuk is also putting together a solid rookie campaign. Tkachuk already has nine goals in 14 games and is also scoring at over a point-per-game pace (16 points). He’s also recorded six points (3g-3a) over his last three games. He’ll most likely hit the rookie wall at some point (20 percent accuracy), but he’s got a long NHL career ahead.
With two assists on Tuesday, Mikko Rantanen becomes the first player to hit the 40-point mark this season. Right on his tail in the scoring race is Nathan MacKinnon, who scored both goals that Rantanen assisted. MacKinnon now has 37 points to give the Avs a true 1-2 punch.
The debuts from the players involved in the Blackhawks/Coyotes trade on Sunday night, which I covered here:
Nick Schmaltz was held without a point, but he exploded for three shots on goal while receiving first-unit power-play time in 18:38 total. In case you haven’t followed Schmaltz that closely, that’s a high shot total for him. The Coyotes appear to have big plans for Schmaltz, as you can see by the lines below.
#1 20.5% GALCHENYUK,ALEX – KELLER,CLAYTON – SCHMALTZ,NICK
#2 20.5% ARCHIBALD,JOSH – COUSINS,NICK – CROUSE,LAWSON
#3 20% FISCHER,CHRISTIAN – GRABNER,MICHAEL – RICHARDSON,BRAD
#4 14.6% HINOSTROZA,VINNIE – PANIK,RICHARD – STEPAN,DEREK
Although Josh Archibald is on what appears to be the fourth line, he was the Yotes’ scoring star, scoring two goals and adding an assist with a plus-3. He was making his return from a two-game suspension.
Meanwhile, Dylan Strome scored a goal and added an assist in his Blackhawks debut, which wasn’t a great one for his team (8-3 loss to Vegas). Strome was a plus-1 with three shots on goal in 15 minutes of icetime.
Brendan Perlini’s debut wasn’t as impressive, as he was held without a point with a minus-2 and a shot on goal in 12 minutes of icetime.
Blackhawks’ lines on Tuesday:
#1 29.3% DEBRINCAT,ALEX – KANE,PATRICK – STROME,DYLAN
#2 23.4% HAYDEN,JOHN – SAAD,BRANDON – TOEWS,JONATHAN
#3 14.9% ANISIMOV,ARTEM – KAHUN,DOMINIK – KAMPF,DAVID
#4 9.9% FORTIN,ALEXANDRE – KRUGER,MARCUS – PERLINI,BRENDAN
Oh look, Strome lined up with former junior teammate Alex DeBrincat! So it wasn’t just hot stove talk – it might be an actual thing going forward. Also take a look at the other guy on that line, who could really help the two former Erie Otters. So the new coach has decided to separate Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews after placing them together. This also appears to be a move to get John Hayden going. The big winger has just a single goal in 17 games, but could be worth watching if this line sticks.
Brock Boeser returned to the Canucks’ lineup on Tuesday from a groin injury that has kept him out of the lineup since early November. Although he was held without a point, he took three shots on goal and was placed on what appears to be the Canucks’ top line along with Elias Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin. Although Boeser is still a tantalizing player to own because of his natural goal-scoring ability, he’s inching his way toward certified Band-Aid Boy status (32 games missed because of injury over the past two seasons).
By the way, I’m getting a few questions about Goldobin and whether I think you should add him to your fantasy team. Owned in just 7 percent of Yahoo leagues, Goldy entered this game with 12 points in his last 12 games. Although the returns of Boeser and Sam Gagner will decrease Goldobin’s power-play minutes, he appears to be a fixture on that top line. He and Pettersson have developed a great connection both on and off the ice, so he could be worth taking a flier on depending on who else is available. He’s currently on pace for 50 points, although I see 40 as a safe target at this point.
If you’ve been staying up late to watch the Kings play, you’ve seen (or based on icetime, haven’t seen) the fall of Ilya Kovalchuk. If you own Kovy, unfortunately I don’t have good news to report. He was held without a point for the tenth consecutive game on Tuesday while playing just nine minutes. He is clearly not a favorite of new coach Willie Desjardins, but I’ve also heard speculation that his benching has the blessing of Kings’ management. Otherwise, this would be by far the most ballsy move that Willie D has made as an NHL coach.
I don’t want to say “I told you so” with Kovalchuk, but I’ll reiterate something that I mentioned during the summer. Kovalchuk entered the NHL in the early 00’s as a top prospect along with the likes of Dany Heatley and Rick Nash. Heatley is no longer in the league. Nash was just a shell of his former self last season. So you were basically getting a 35 year old who had aged five years since he last played in the NHL and whose peers were no longer NHL stars. I knew about the strong KHL numbers, so I wasn’t willing to write him off completely. But I was more willing to let someone else take a chance on him and didn’t draft him in any of my leagues.
I’m sure by now the Kings would like to trade him to a contender with considerable cap space. Good luck with that, because he’s got two more years on his contract after this one at $6.25 million per season. Yikes! But before I speculate any further on what happens to him, I will simply tell you to go ahead and shop him around, in case someone out there is willing to pay for the brand name. Someone in my last Ramblings asked if Kovalchuk could be traded away for Alex Tuch. Yes, I would make that trade in a heartbeat if you haven’t already. In fact, if there’s an option on the waiver wire that you’ve got your eye on, you could probably part ways with Kovalchuk.
In my last Ramblings, I also mentioned a red-hot new line in Vegas, and they were at it again on Tuesday. Cody Eakin scored two goals and added an assist with a plus-4, while linemates Alex Tuch and Max Pacioretty each chipped in two points. Tuch has been a point-per-game player and Patches is rebounding nicely after an awful start in Vegas, and I mentioned them a few days ago. So I’ll focus on Eakin today.
You may have written Eakin off as a fantasy option several seasons ago, but it’s worth mentioning that over the past three weeks he has seven goals and 12 points over 12 games. Sure, he plays at a deep center position, but he has the linemates and the “what have you done for me lately” taken care of. So at this point he’s worth a flier in deep leagues at least. Just keep in mind that he may get bumped off this line when Paul Stastny returns. Or maybe not, which would give Vegas some very deep scoring. They’ve exploded for 14 goals over their last two games.
Anton Khudobin and Mikko Koskinen each played 60 minutes without allowing a goal. But in overtime, it was Koskinen who held on for the shutout (not a great night for him to be on my bench, but we’ve all been there). Koskinen has played in five of the Oilers’ last seven games, and he appears to have the faith of the very defensive-minded Ken Hitchcock. So Cam Talbot owners are facing a dilemma of whether to drop him. Talbot hasn’t done himself any favors, allowing at least three goals in each of his last six games, which isn’t going to cut it with coach Hitch. It probably depends on your team’s circumstances since goalie management is becoming harder and harder, but at the very least Talbot should be on your bench.
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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