Ramblings: Greatness of the Capitals, Yakupov Returns, and more (Jan. 15)

by steve laidlaw on January 15, 2016 | (3 Comments)
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Greatness of the Capitals, Yakupov Returns, and more (Jan. 15)

The greatness of the Capitals, Yakupov returns, Johansen getting comfortable and more.

How great are the Washington Capitals? They have it all. Braden Holtby is the best goaltender in fantasy hockey, Alexander Ovechkin is maybe the best goal scorer ever, Nicklas Backstrom should be in conversation with Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar among the best two-way centermen in the game, and depth scoring coming out the wazoo. People need to be making a bigger deal about this.

The Capitals are running away from the rest of the league with 69 points, putting them on pace for 132, which would tie the all-time best mark set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. Bark about the loser point if you will, the Capitals have only earned three of them. Dump those altogether and the Capitals are still on pace for 126 points, which would be the most in the era of the loser point.

They won’t come close to matching those same Canadiens’ goal differential record of plus-216 but at plus-52 so far the Capitals are nearly as good as the two next best teams this season. The goal differential of the second and third place teams (Stars and Blackhawks) is plus-57 combined.

In terms of fantasy value, the Capitals have seven guys on pace for 20 goals or more. SEVEN, including Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, TJ Oshie, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera.

It is so wonderful to see Ovechkin flip the narrative and be on a winning team again. Now folks are just celebrating what a truly exceptional talent he is. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the season where he tried to create the 50/minus-50 club as much as anyone but no one seems to care so much that he isn’t a complete player. They are just in awe of his longevity. How he has managed to remain such a visceral talent for so long. It is fantastic when a great but maligned player hangs on long enough to win everyone over.

Of course, this is also just the regular season. Come playoff time the doubters and nay-sayers will come crawling out of the woodwork. Ovechkin doesn’t need to win a Cup to be a Hall-of-Famer. He is already there. But part of his legacy will always be his inability to win the big one, unless he goes out and does it. How big Olympic hockey has become has not helped matters either but that’s probably a tale for another day.

The point is that we should enjoy this Capitals team for its sheer dominance. Whether or not they continue at this pace all season remains to be seen but in a league that prides itself on parity the Capitals are playing a different game than everyone else.

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Ryan Miller made his return from injury against that Capitals juggernaut. He wasn’t terrible, stopping 36 of 39 shots but taking the loss. I still think Jacob Markstrom has taken over the Canucks’ crease.

Bo Horvat has run his scoring streak to five games with a late power-play assist. The Canucks gave him some run on the top PP unit in Alex Burrows’ spot and were rewarded with a goal.

A lot of Horvat’s damage on this streak has been done centering the second PP unit. It would be intriguing if he stuck on that top unit but like wingers for the Sedins it seems that spot is a revolving door.

Horvat is also a crippling minus-22 on the year. I really don’t trust him yet in fantasy leagues but it is important to note that he is only 20 and in his second season. These little runs of production are good indications of a breakout sometime in the next couple of years.

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Corey Crawford put on a show in Montreal stopping 39 of 40 shots for the Blackhawks who otherwise got outplayed by the Canadiens. This is really surprising given how poorly Crawford has performed on the road this season:

 

Games

Wins

Losses

GAA

Save%

Shutouts

Road

14

8

6

3.13

0.897

0

Home

22

16

6

1.64

0.946

6

 

What’s crazy about those splits is that if you look at Crawford’s whole career he has basically been the same guy regardless of venue:

 

Games

Wins

Losses

GAA

Save%

Shutouts

Road

145

78

63

2.35

0.918

6

Home

159

93

62

2.3

0.918

12

 

That’s enough to make you think that what is going on with Crawford this season is just an aberration but it may just be evidence that goalies tend to take on the identity of their team. To wit, the Blackhawks have traditionally been a strong road team, one that really didn’t care where they played. It’s why they have seemed to kind of float through the regular season only to flip the switch come playoff time. Home ice advantage? What home ice advantage?

This season, however, the Blackhawks, thinner than ever with a ton of youngsters permeating the lineup, have not travelled very well. According to that narrative, Crawford likely continues to flash these stark splits.

Andrew Shaw has five points in the last three games and 14 in his last 19. This after starting the season with seven points in his first 27 games. With that kind of production he was on his way to Bickell-ing his way out of the league.

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No points for Brendan Gallagher in the past three games. I was hoping for a little more out of him, especially when he seemingly confirmed my suspicions of his importance with a goal in each of his first two games back from injury. Now nothing. Too small a sample to get worked up over but with a broken hand you are forced to wonder about lingering issues.

For what it’s worth, Gallagher’s linemates, Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec each have four points in five games since Gallagher’s return.

More concerning than the Gallagher mini-slump is Alex Galchenyuk who has nine points in 21 games since the start of December after opening the season with 18 in 23. Evgeny Kuznetsov is proof that you can breakout on the second line and second PP unit but that’s part of what makes the Capitals so damned good. If everyone could have breakouts without top minutes then Kuznetsov and the Capitals wouldn’t be special. We are probably waiting on Galchenyuk grabbing the mantle from Plekanec before his breakout comes.

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Another game, more questions for Pekka Rinne who stopped just 19 of 24 shots for the overtime loss last night. I keep preaching patience but I have to acknowledge that it would be much harder if I actually had him in a fantasy league.

I could no doubt trade for Rinne right now in my salary cap dynasty league. Marc-Andre Fleury for Rinne straight up. Hell, I could probably get a pick out of it. This being a salary cap league I haven’t given it more than a fleeting bit of consideration. In a one-year league with no salary, I think it would be worth the gamble. Remember, at about this time last season I was talking about considering a Holtby-Fleury swap (this was when Fleury was getting a shutout every third game or so) but ultimately I couldn’t bring myself to condone the swap. Holtby has been supernova ever since. I’m not sure if there is a lesson there or not since the situations aren’t precisely the same. I just know I haven’t given up on Rinne yet.

It is unfortunate that Rinne can’t get it together because the Predators have the makings of a genuine contender otherwise. They are second only to the Los Angeles Kings in terms of possession numbers and now with Ryan Johansen they have some real offensive punch.

A three-point effort for Johansen helped push the Predators to a comeback that fell short in overtime. Johansen now has six points in four games with Nashville.

The Predators’ lines continue to fluctuate as they attempt to establish chemistry. Check out last night’s lines:

22.46%

EV

FIALA,KEVIN - JOHANSEN,RYAN - NEAL,JAMES

12.98%

EV

FISHER,MIKE - NYSTROM,ERIC - SMITH,CRAIG

12.28%

EV

FORSBERG,FILIP - JARNKROK,CALLE - RIBEIRO,MIKE

9.47%

EV

BASS,CODY - GAUSTAD,PAUL - SALOMAKI,MIIKKA

 

Indeed that is Kevin Fiala on the top line with Johansen and James Neal. He even score his first career NHL goal on his first shift of the game. Not his first shift in the NHL, mind you, as he appeared in one contest last season but still a good story. He finished with five SOG for the game in over 17 minutes of action.

Fiala is filling in for the injured Colin Wilson but you do wonder that if the Johansen-Neal-Fiala line is producing three combined goals, six combined points and 13 combined SOG that this isn’t something worth keeping together even when Wilson returns. Wilson could easily slide to the third line pushing Eric Nystrom to the fourth.

I don’t want to get too excited about Fiala, however. He is only 19 so consistency will no doubt be an issue. I look at Fiala’s AHL numbers – 21 points in 34 games – as a reminder of how consistency is going to be an issue. Also, Predators GM David Poile called bringing Fiala up a desperation move. But desperation can lead to some great things. Right now the opportunity for Fiala is as good as it can get.

It’s also worth mentioning the Predators’ power-play arrangements. After dabbling with Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis as defenders on the Johansen PP unit, Roman Josi and Shea Weber have reaffirmed their dominance. The full top unit looks as such: Johansen-Mike Ribeiro-Neal-Josi-Weber. Great spot for Ribeiro who should have a nice second half.

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Nice run for Nikolaj Ehlers in 2016. Three goals and four points in seven games since the calendar flipped. Here’s another teenager dealing with consistency issues. Ehlers didn’t score a goal the whole month of December.

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The other night it was the Panthers laying down for the Flames, last night it was the Blues taking a deuce in front of Brian Elliott who got yanked mid-way through the third after giving up three goals on 24 shots. He played better than the numbers indicate however and had a little temper tantrum to voice his displeasure. See guys, we aren’t the only ones who hate Ken Hitchcock’s goalie shenanigans.

Interesting subplot to monitor: Despite being tied for fourth in the league in points, the Blues have sunk to a minus-one goal differential.

If Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t scoring for them, who is? Alexander Steen, for one, he is still a beauty but otherwise, it isn’t looking so good. Steen, by the way, went down after taking a stick to the face and did not return.

You have to think the Blues are feeling remorse about the TJ Oshie-Troy Brouwer swap. No wonder there are all these rumours buzzing about their interest in Jonathan Drouin. I am fully prepared to have to write a trade impact column any day now.

Panic is the wrong move for the Blues, however. I know the goal is to win the Cup but there is value in being good for a long time. They need to remember that despite the inconsistencies, they are still tied for fourth in the whole league (though they have played more games than anyone) and have been riddled with injuries.

Injuries are important because if things break right the Blues could conceivably win a Cup if the other contenders succumb to injuries at the wrong time. The point is to keep the window open. Trading for Drouin doesn’t necessarily narrow the window, mind you. He is only 20. I’m just not the believer I was two years ago having seen a decent amount of him at the NHL level. Nathan MacKinnon over Drouin? What was I smoking?

*

Going the other direction are the Hurricanes who climbed into a tie with the Bruins and Devils for the final playoff spot in the East.

Jeff Skinner led the way with a goal and an assist in just 13:30 of ice time. No PP time for Skinner last night. PP minutes continue to not come as abundantly as they should for such a lethal scorer. Between the limited PP time and his horrible start Skinner has basically no shot at hitting 60 points. He’d have to score at a point-per-game pace the rest of the way.

Eddie Lack didn’t have to do a whole lot for his first win of 2016. He has won five of his last eight games. He isn’t where he needs to be to be a fantasy relevant goalie but he is trending upward.

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Where exactly do we stand on shutting out the Devils when they don’t have Mike Cammalleri? Is it impressive? Notable? Should we admonish teams that fail to shut them out? Just curious because the Devils without Cammalleri appear to be attempting to reverse climate change and bring us back to the dark ages.

Anyways, shutout win for Calvin Pickard in a rare start. That’s his first career shutout so we will give him a thumbs up!

Also notable, the Avalanche are in a playoff spot! This is notable because the Avalanche were among the teams four points or more out of a playoff spot on after November 1st. This is Elliotte Friedman’s pet stat for showing how teams really cannot afford early slumps. Only five of 44 teams in the past 10 years have managed to make it to the post season after falling into that deep a hole.

Kudos to them for righting the ship. Moving Matt Duchene to the wing was a key a move. Duchene is up to 22 goals on the season just three back of the NHL leaders. Impressive stuff for a guy who scored just one goal in October and was once on the trading block.

Combining Duchene with Nathan MacKinnon was a stroke of genius, I don’t care how obvious it may have been. Those two make it look like a video game the way they gain the offensive blue line with such ease. You stop them from skating the puck in. They are irresistible.

*

Big comeback win for the Red Wings in Arizona. Detroit is one of those teams I assume is dead once they go down two goals because scoring has been so problematic for them. Not last night, however, as they scored three in the third period to complete the comeback, punctuated by a wonderful effort by Dylan Larkin to setup Danny DeKeyser’s game-winner.

Three points for Pavel Datsyuk brings him to 21 in 29 for the season but takeaway his slow start and he’s basically vintage Magic Man all over again. Just three points for Datsyuk in nine November games after returning from injury and 18 in 20 since. He might be the only Red Wing I really trust in fantasy right now. Well, Datsyuk and Petr Mrazek who has quietly been great for the Wings.

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Nail Yakupov returned to the Oiler lineup last night skating just 11:30 on the third line but scoring a goal. Here were the Oilers’ lines for the game:

19.92%

EV

HALL,TAYLOR - NUGENT-HOPKINS,RYAN - PAKARINEN,IIRO

16.33%

EV

KASSIAN,ZACK - LETESTU,MARK - PURCELL,EDWARD

14.34%

EV

DRAISAITL,LEON - EBERLE,JORDAN - POULIOT,BENOIT

5.98%

EV

KORPIKOSKI,LAURI - LANDER,ANTON - YAKUPOV,NAIL

3.98%

EV

KASSIAN,ZACK - LANDER,ANTON - YAKUPOV,NAIL

 

Yakupov doesn’t really become relevant until Connor McDavid returns after the All-Star break.

A bit of a stat-stuffing game for Zack Kassian in his Oiler debut. Two PIM, one SOG, four hits, and one blocked shot in 14:23 of action.

Justin Schultz has four points in the last four games and has 13 SOG in that span while averaging over 21 minutes per game. Perhaps he is turning the corner? Too bad, I dumped him about a month ago. He ran me out of patience.

The story for the Oilers might have been Cam Talbot who stopped 36 of 37 shots to earn them a point. Logan Couture was apparently playing his own personal game of “pin the rubber on the Talbot” landing 11 shots on-goal by himself. No goals for Couture but then again, scoring isn’t really the goal of “pin the rubber on the Talbot”.

*

Nick Bonino will miss the next month with a hand injury. Big loss for the Penguins as their third line center who also keyed on their second PP unit and on the penalty kill.

Bonino himself wasn’t particularly relevant unless you were in a deep league scoring faceoffs and blocked shots but the impact here will most likely be felt by Marc-Andre Fleury who loses an important penalty killer. The PK has been one of the strengths for the Penguins. Any drop off and Fleury might become tough to roster in fantasy leagues.

 

*

The Sabres have officially called up Robin Lehner and assigned Linus Ullmark to the AHL. I don’t see much difference between the upside of the two.

*

Shayne Gostisbehere has been confirmed to return on Saturday. Mark Streit had a point in each of the two games Gostisbehere missed but likely takes a step back with the youngster returning.

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As suspected, the arrival of Kevin Connauton meant another hurdle Stefan Elliott. Elliott was placed on waivers yesterday and is likely off to the AHL. That doesn’t mean that it is over but it’s another impediment for Elliott who was showing flashes of productivity.

*

The Capitals have continued to bolster their veteran depth as their AHL club has signed Scott Gomez to a tryout. Gomez has that alligator blood, you can’t get rid of him. How long before he usurps Mike Richards for the fourth line center spot?

*

The Leafs have called up Rich Clune. If he sees action he makes for a good spot start if you need PIM. Clune hasn’t played since Halloween but has been called up a few times since then so a recall doesn’t guarantee minutes. Mike Babcock is notably averse to rostering enforcers.

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Dobber looks at the stars and scrubs from the second quarter of the season.

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My latest Waiver Wednesday column has six players worth grabbing off the waiver wire.

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Down Goes Brown with a classic post comparing Iginla and Ovechkin.

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Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw. For more help in your fantasy league, pick up the Dobberhockey Mid-Season guide full with over 600 player projections for the second half of the season.

 

  • Hugo Twigg

    The difference between Galchenyuk and Kuznetsov is also the quality of teammates. Galchenyuk has been with Eller like 90% of the time. Eller is a very good third line center, but not a top6 winger. Galchenyuk has seen his 2nd winger change almost every game, from Semin to Carr to Andrighetto to Smith-Pelley.

    Kuznetsov has been with either Oshie-Ovechkin or Johansson-Williams. 

    This is not to say Galchenyuk has no blame in all that, I just think that the fact that they are playing 2nd line minutes isn't enough to really judge their productions.

  • Matt

    You mentioned that Datsyuk and Mrazek are the only Wings you trust in Fantasy; you're not on the Larkin hype-train yet? I can understand some hesitation in shallow points-only leagues, but in my H2H league, the only category in which he isn't excellent is PPP. 

    • steve laidlaw

      I am all over the Larkin machine. I’ve been hyping him since pre-season.¬†Just not to that extent in one-year formats. A lot of underlying stats pointing to some regression and the reality is he has only been so-so since the end of October.