Nearly a month ago I looked into the league-wide scoring bump, and where that scoring was coming from. At that point (November 17), the league average for goals per game was at 5.99. Heading into last night’s action, it had slipped to 5.88. That’s still a big bump over last season’s 5.45 goals per game, but we are trending downward. Over the last month goals per game have been at 5.80.
Last time we checked in, about two-thirds of the scoring bump had come from power plays, mostly the result of an increase in power play opportunities, up to 7.02 power plays per game from last season’s average of 5.98. Over the past month power plays have fallen back to 5.94 per game. Players are adapting to how the game is being called and fewer penalties have resulted. I also think that we’re starting to see a little less obstruction getting called although this is impossible to measure without manually tracking each game.
I’d bet that we see roughly six power plays per game and that slowly over the season, fewer of the slashes get called. The game will still be cleaner, but with playoff races ramping up the nightly intensity of games a little more will fly. Scoring will drop appropriately.
I wonder if the reduction in penalties has something to do with how teams have been breaking up their loaded top lines. It makes sense that when there were more penalties being called coaches could load up top lines since there were less 5-on-5 minutes to be played, thus less chance for their lower lines to inflict damage. Now that there is more 5-on-5 time being played there is increased value in having star talent on multiple lines. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a bunch of top lines broken up including explosive groups in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Edmonton, Florida and Dallas.
The fallout is going to be less scoring concentrated in these stars. The best of the best will still produce at elite levels, almost regardless of who they play with. There will be fewer goals where it’s clockwork the top three scorers on the team because these players are getting less power play chances, but also because these players won’t all be playing together for all of their shifts. That means weaker players are going to get in on the action. The Stars are a perfect example of this.
#1 20.9% BENN,JAMIE - FAKSA,RADEK - PITLICK,TYLER
#2 16.5% JANMARK,MATTIAS - RADULOV,ALEXANDER - SPEZZA,JASON
#3 15.7% HANZAL,MARTIN - RITCHIE,BRETT - SMITH,GEMEL
#4 14.3% ELIE,REMI - SEGUIN,TYLER - SHORE,DEVIN
They scored five goals last night with Benn leading the way with three points, but they had 10 different players hit the scoresheet including a pair of goals from Tyler Pitlick. A month ago, four of those five goals would have been concentrated all to their top line, with maybe an odd assist sprinkled to the defense and perhaps one goal from the bottom line. Instead, the Stars had three different lines pick up goals.
Of course, coaches are always going to tinker. And we will certainly see big lines put back together in times of need. We have already seen Nikita Kucherov reunited with Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov, but the Lightning are a special case, with depth scoring on three lines. That’s not a luxury every team has. Many teams can benefit getting a star onto their third line and take advantage of favourable matchups, or they can until other teams switch up to match them. Which line goes off may come down to how the coaches approach matchups under these scenarios.
With these big trios being split, power plays going down and scoring in general slipping we may be in for more stretches like the one Seguin is going through with just one point in the last five games.
I hope you don’t make this out like the sky is falling. All of these differences will be subtle. With teams clicking on roughly 20% of their power plays, a loss of one power play per game means roughly one less goal every five games. Assuming an even split between teams that’ll mean one less goal for each team every 10 games. There are roughly 50 games left for each team so we’re talking about a loss of five goals and 15 potential points per team from the pace they put up over those first six weeks.
Add in the impact of mixing up the lines and maybe players see roughly a 10-point drop in their pace. Guys scoring at a point-per-game rate drop into the 35-45 -point ballpark over the final 50 games. But some of the depth guys will maybe pick up a few more.
Of course, the impact won’t be uniform across the board. Some teams will still draw more penalties than others gaining more chances to load up points for their top scorers, especially teams that also boast an efficient power play. The Lightning’s line combos matter less for their star players because the second line with Brayden Point seems similarly capable of carrying offense. Other teams don’t have quite the superstar talent to split up.
One example is the Islanders. Their lines, particularly their top two, should be locked in. Their two best offense drivers are Mathew Barzal and John Tavares. They have never used those two together at even strength, so they are already optimally dispersing the talent in their lineup. We have seen an experimentation phase with the Jordan Eberle/Tavares combo failing early. They have made out better with Tavares lifting complementary guys in Josh Bailey and Anders Lee. Lee and Bailey would likely crash and burn away from Tavares so there is little to gain from breaking that line up.
Each situation is going to be different, but it will be interesting to see how teams adjust to the reduction in power play opportunities. As always, continue to use the Frozen Pool tools to monitor line combinations.
The Stars entered really special territory as they also mixed up their power play combinations last night, going with the following two units:
Will these PP combos stick? I doubt it. Spezza seeing more ice time, and more exposure to Dallas’ better forwards is awfully interesting. I also am intrigued by Esa Lindell who could probably score at a 40-point pace with more exposure to Dallas’ best. No chance he unseats Klingberg as the #1 guy though.
Radulov left last night’s game with a lower-body injury. Ken Hitchcock indicated that he was held out for precautionary reasons. Keep your ear to the ground for updates on his status throughout the day.
Kari Lehtonen has now spun together four straight quality starts, winning three of them. Last night was his second straight start, and fourth start in the past six games. As I indicated on Tuesday, we aren’t yet in goalie controversy range, but only because we should have little faith in Lehtonen’s ability to go on an extended run. I don’t know that Ben Bishop is too good to be usurped by Lehtonen, but I do know that Lehtonen is bad enough that he could quickly cough it back up.
Marchand has been electric with four goals and 10 points in six games since returning from injury, including this beauty for the overtime win:
Pastrnak has been similarly productive extending his scoring streak to nine games.
Tuukka Rask has won five straight starts since Marchand returned to the lineup. A healthy Bruins squad should be competitive, which would help Rask’s fantasy stock build back up after a brutal start.
The Nashville Predators got both Ryan Johansen and Scott Hartnell back in the lineup. Now we wait for Ryan Ellis to get healthy and their battle station will be fully operational. Check out the lines with the forwards back:
#1 24.1% ABERG,PONTUS - FORSBERG,FILIP - JARNKROK,CALLE
#2 23.3% FIALA,KEVIN - SMITH,CRAIG - TURRIS,KYLE
#3 17.3% HARTNELL,SCOTT - SISSONS,COLTON - WATSON,AUSTIN
#4 12% ARVIDSSON,VIKTOR - BONINO,NICK - JOHANSEN,RYAN
That second line with Kyle Turris, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala has been amazing since Turris was acquired. In 15 games both Turris and Fiala have 14 points, while Smith has 15. A point-per-game run from the entirety of your second line? This line has to be considered on par with what the Lightning have with Point, Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde (or Tyler Johnson of late). That’s probably why these two teams sit atop the standings! The Predators have run teams over since the Turris acquisition:
#Preds are now averaging 3.93 goals per game in the 15 games since Kyle Turris entered the lineup.— Ryan Porth (@PorthGame) December 14, 2017
Hartnell was iced out of PP time in his return, skating just 8:23, but he did rack up a 10-minute misconduct. Not sure Hartnell is of much interest any formats now that the Predators have enough talent to avoid using him as a PP specialist.
Anders Nilsson has had better nights:
Dan Cloutier has been reborn pic.twitter.com/jC3euwYQek— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) December 14, 2017
That was the second muffin he allowed to PK Subban last night.
I rarely reference plus/minus, but Derrick Pouliot went a cringe-worthy minus-five last night. Watch him and Michael Del Zotto get roasted by Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson for a 2-on-0 shorthanded break:
Zuccarello, it should be mentioned, has been on a sizzling run with 14 points in his last 14 games. That’s some effective selling high, though Zuccarello should finish in the 60-point range.
Reminder, Dylan Larkin is awesome:
DYLAN LARKIN SHORTY AND THE RED WINGS LEAD! pic.twitter.com/Fb0bcRfOLa— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 14, 2017
There isn’t much else to get excited about in Detroit, losers of 10 of their last 11.
Henrik Zetterberg has points in back-to-back games since I recommended dropping him, but the process behind dropping him remains the same. He is on his way out in terms of usage, and doesn’t see enough time with Larkin or Anthony Mantha to warrant regular use in most leagues.
Taylor Hall is not travelling with the team to Montreal for tonight’s game. He is day-to-day with a knee contusion. Doesn’t sound serious, but could cost him the next couple of games as they go back-to-back, tonight and tomorrow, before taking the weekend off.
Brandon Dubinsky will miss 6-8 weeks with a broken orbital bone. Dubinsky hasn’t been particularly relevant for fantasy owners. He has been skating 17 minutes a night predominantly at even strength and on the penalty kill. Someone will step up into those minutes. Perhaps Tyler Motte or Sonny Milano will see a bit more time at even strength.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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