November 8, 2014

by steve laidlaw

Ward is on a hot streak but it's not for real, the Devils are overusing Schneider and more...




Well, well, well. Cam Ward is doing his best to prove that you can in fact unscramble the eggs. He has now won four in a row and has not allowed more than two goals in that stretch. It’s somewhat telling that even as he brings his record back to .500 his numbers are still dreadful. He’s sitting on an 0.894 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA through eight starts. The smart money is on Ward still being fried.


After all, his little winning streak hasn’t exactly come against the best opposition, having beaten the struggling Coyotes, a Kings team playing its third game in four nights on a winless Eastern road trip and now both ends of this back-to-back against a Blue Jackets team so banged up they’ve had to call in a MASH unit.


But this is a nice reminder of the parity that exists in the NHL. Even the worst teams win 20 or more games so there are going to be stretches where you get good play from starters you wouldn’t want to own for a full season.


It should be mentioned that Ward is a notorious slow starter. Here are his career save percentages month-by-month:


October – 0.908

November – 0.900

December – 0.900

January – 0.914

February – 0.907

March – 0.922

April – 0.916


And you can factor in his always impressive playoff numbers if you’d like even if he hasn’t played in the playoffs in over five years.


Either way, when Ward’s numbers are still awful come New Year’s and the Hurricanes are 15 points out of a playoff spot, maybe give him some consideration for a meaningless second half run. That assumes they don’t sell off Andrej Sekera and Eric Staal, or course.


Let’s not forget about Anton Khudobin, mind you. He was supposed to steal the starter’s job from Ward but fell victim to the Hurricanes’ horrid start. He hasn’t gotten a chance in goal since Staal returned to the lineup so it’s hard to totally hold his early performance against him. The problem is that if you write off the early games for Khudobin, you have to do it for Ward as well and I’m pretty sure we just agreed not to do that.


I think it’s a long year for Hurricane starters no matter who gets the job but it should be noted I’d rather go with Khudobin over Ward as I think he’s a better goalie at this point. That’s relative of course, as I’d really prefer to own either in a fantasy league. If you recall, I named Khudobin a Decepticon in my annual grading of the goalies that pop up seemingly from nowhere to gain fantasy prominence. And I’m batting pretty well as far as those columns go.


I’ll be curious to see who the Hurricanes trot out there tonight against the Capitals. You figure it’ll be Ward, what with the winning streak and all but this being a back-to-back they really ought to give Khudobin a shot.


Were you aware that Staal had a point in all but one game so far this season? He’s only made seven appearances for a seemingly lowly six points but he’s flashing some of that consistency that he’s famous for. See if you can’t catch his owner napping with a nice offer.


Elias Lindholm scored the overtime game-winner last night to give him four goals and six points in the last four games. I don’t love his situation skating on the second line with Riley Nash and Nathan Gerbe but he’s showing results and has upped his shot rate to up over two per game this season. Things are pointing in the right direction, even if his breakout is still a year or two away.


Justin Faulk is riding a top-power-play-unit binge to some exquisite fantasy numbers this week. In the past four games he’s fired 19 SOG and has three points to show for it. I think we’ve deduced that he isn’t creative enough to ever bust out as a big-time fantasy defenseman so he’ll only ever show flashes like this but I don’t want to judge him too quickly. He’s still only 22. While I wouldn’t necessarily want Faulk in a one-year league, he still has plenty of upside in a keeper. He wouldn’t be the first defenseman to take his time before finally “getting it.”




Boone Jenner is back in the Jackets lineup. With all the injuries they’ve got him skating as the second line center. He’ll eventually move over to the wing (perhaps on the top line) when Brandon Dubinsky returns, which should be in the next couple of weeks. But until then the second line appears promising. Or at least it was last night.

Jenner drew the primary assist on both Jackets goals, which were scored by linemate Scott Hartnell. These two sure could be a handful if kept together. They combined for 11 SOG last night. You could make it 15, if you added in the four from linemate Cam Atkinson.


The Jackets got James Wisniewski back in the lineup, which is some good news. I had him pegged for regression after his 50-point season last year mostly because of those injuries. This guy has never put together an 80-game season and it’s no surprise that his two career 50-point years came when he managed 75 games. Excellent talent, just cannot stay healthy.


Wisniewski is looking for some points with just three through 10 games. He has been shooting the puck like crazy though. With five SOG last night he’s up to 33 on the season. He’s on pace for his first 200 SOG season.




Is it just me or is there something about Ted-Nolan-coached teams and conceding 50+ shots on goal?


I kid, of course, but you’ve got to feel for Nolan and his goalies. There are going to be a lot more nights like last night for them. Michal Neuvirth has faced more rubber this week than the Michelin Man stopping 116 of 122 shots. Not bad. You have to figure they go back to Jonas Enroth tonight though given the back-to-back situation. And Neuvirth could probably use a reprieve after this onslaught.




On the flip side, what is this universe where a Taylor-Hall-less Oilers team fires 52 SOG in one game?


Iiro Pakarinen had six SOG all to himself in just 7:40 of ice time as he scored his first NHL goal. Who is Iiro Pakarinen you ask? Good question, I had to do some digging myself.


He’s a Finnish-born former seventh-round draft choice of the Florida Panthers who made the leap to North America this season. He has had quite the impact so far having scored five goals and eight points in seven AHL contests before getting called up.


I’m not buying what he’s selling however tasty it might seem. This is like the ultimate of small-sample-size performances for a player who has never scored much at any level. His career high back in Finland came last season when he scored 20 goals and 30 points in 60 games. Acknowledging that the SM Liiga is a low-scoring league that’s still not impressive. (Okay, the 20 goals are a little intriguing.)


Consider Mikael Granlund, the young Wild star who is still trying to breakout. His last season in Finland before making the leap saw him score 51 points in 44 games for the same club as Pakarinen. That’s the kind of scoring that makes you think fantasy asset.


Somewhat more intriguing or the Oilers is Mark Arcobello, the diminutive center who continues to get minutes on the second line. He fired seven shots last night and has goals in back-to-back games now. I could see him posting a nice run here as he and linemates Nail Yakupov and David Perron start to receive more and more ice time.


The Benoit Pouliot top line experiment has been a flop so far as he’s yet to score since Hall went down. Actually, the whole Benoit Pouliot $4 million a year thing hasn’t been going all that well either. Who saw that coming, right?


I actually didn’t hate the signing at the time because he was what the team had been missing: quality professionals. Still, they overpaid for a journeyman whose biggest value was that he had come cheap at every stop in his career. Every stop until now that is.


But no one was expecting fantasy production from Pouliot anyhow. I only bring him up because he has been skating on the top line of late and that’s a pretty juicy spot. I wonder if they give someone else a shot there.




This Devils team that we all kind of liked before the season started sure isn’t performing up to snuff. To be fair, they are pretty banged up with Mike Cammalleri, Ryane Clowe, Adam Henrique and Martin Havlat all on the shelf. But who would have predicted any of those injuries? If you couldn’t tell, I’m being facetious.


Cory Schneider is suffering the brunt of this middling play. He was a favourite sleeper coming into the season based on his excellent numbers splitting time with Martin Brodeur last season. Actually, he’s posted excellent numbers each year of his career as he’s split time as the starter across four seasons.


Now as the full-time starter, he’s drowning. And all these minutes might be a part of the problem. While he was splitting time, there were rarely stretches where he was the full-time starter. Schneider wasn’t being asked to start five, seven, nine games in a row. He was starting both ends of back-to-backs or all three in a three-games-in-four-nights situation like these past three games (all losses) this week were.


Schneider has started all 14 games for the Devils this season (only two back-to-backs so far though) and it wouldn’t shock if all this action is messing with his consistency.


It would also help if the Devils were playing the same possession style they were last year and have for basically the last 20 years a few blips notwithstanding. The Devils were 20th in shot differential before last night’s 31-17 (shot totals) drubbing by the Red Wings.


Add all that up and it’s no wonder Schneider got yanked early on both ends of this week’s back-to-back. It’s high time they gave Keith Kinkaid a start. I don’t know that he’s a solution but starting Schneider every night hasn’t been working out great either. I mean, shots like this aren’t supposed to go in.



Shit happens of course. Schneider will probably be fine. His numbers (0.906 save percentage, 2.91 GAA) aren’t irredeemable. I have my concerns if the Devils plan on starting him 70+ times though. The days of riding a starter that hard are over.




Pavel Datsyuk was a late scratch for the Red Wings due to a groin injury. No word on when he’ll return.


With Datsyuk out they loaded up the top line with Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen. That’s not necessarily notable since the Wings will often use that line even with Datsyuk in the lineup but I figured I’d point it out as we’ve seen Gustav Nyquist go scoreless in four straight. It’s not for lack of opportunity. Nyquist is likely just experiencing some regression as his shooting percentage even after going 0/5 last night is still way too high at 21.2%.




The Capitals ended their five-game losing skid last night against the Blackhawks. They had been getting dominated pretty thoroughly until a five-minute stretch to close the second period rocketed them from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead. Toss on some stout goaltending from Braden Holtby and that’s all she wrote.


I am still a big believer in Holtby and this Caps team in general. I think that with the talent they have, sprinkle in some good coaching and they’ll be in the hunt for a playoff spot come next spring. I also really just believe Holtby is a talented goalie. I’d try to buy low while you can.


Just when you thought the Andre Burakovsky dream was dead he ends a three-game drought with a two-point night. He’s ultimately going to stumble as the season wears on and he’ll probably finish shy of 50 points but you have to believe in his talents. He’s a keeper.


Regression Alert: Joel Ward has goals in three straight games and seven goals on just 22 shots this season. You better believe he’s got a slump coming. At least as far as goal-scoring goes.


Evgeny Kuznetsov was a healthy scratch last night. Hard to see it as a positive for him that the team won while he was scratched. This happens enough the coaches might notice a pattern.


Kuznetsov had actually been producing fairly well with a three-point scoring streak before being held off the board in his most recent game against the Flames. He had some lackadaisical play in that game that surely led to this scratching.


I know some people will look at Barry Trotz’s track record in Nashville with Alexander Radulov and the Kostitsyn brothers and ask if this is really a good situation for Kuznetsov. I am not going to go that route. You think Kuznetsov is the first rookie to get benched for missing some defensive assignments? This is part of getting better as a pro. Maybe Kuznetsov doesn’t produce big numbers right away but it’s going to take a while before I give up on him. It wasn’t that long ago he was carrying the Russians to the gold medal at the World Juniors. He’s a game-breaker. Give him some time.




You’ve got to love some of the random line combinations that pop up throughout an 82-game season. For instance, last night the Blackhawks had Ben Smith skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. I get that Patrick Sharp is injured and Bryan Bickell has been a bust but really, Ben Smith? Really?


To be fair, Smith was a top scorer at Boston College and scored damn near a point per game across two half-seasons in the AHL before making the permanent leap to the NHL last season. Maybe he has some untapped potential we aren’t aware of.


But here’s my issue. They’ve got Teuvo Teravainen sitting in the minors and they call up Peter Regin who is on his 47th chance. I think we’ve figured out Regin isn’t an NHL talent. So Regin takes Smith’s spot on the fourth line and Smith moves up to the top line. How about Teravainen gets a shot?


That’s not exactly how these things work. If Teravainen was going to get his NHL shot he’d have earned it in training camp. Obviously he hasn’t done enough to earn “first call-up” status.


So, fine, you aren’t going to give Teravainen a shot unless he forces your hand, well how about Kris Versteeg then? He’s a proven commodity who can skate in the top six in a pinch. They rolled him out there with the net empty in crunch time needing a goal to tie the game. Why not also roll him out there for the other shifts with the top line?


I’m clearly just frustrated that Kane, my “sleeper” pick for the Art Ross has stumbled out of the gate with just nine points in 14 games. That entire rant can be chalked up to deflecting frustration about Kane struggling onto anyone but Kane. But I think I make some valid points.




Don Maloney talks about infusing more youth into the lineup. They have called up Tobias Rieder and Brandon Gormley but both will sit far enough down the depth chart that they won’t be all that relevant in fantasy leagues this season. Rieder did score a goal in his debut but has been held scoreless since.




Derek Stepan is a go tonight. He’ll skate between Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Derick Brassard owners rejoice as he’ll continue alongside Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis.




You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.


Comments are closed.