Pens down Sens, Ryan Johansen's injury, power-play units, and more.
It was a much better start to the game for the Penguins as they managed to not go down 4-0 after the first 13 minutes of the contest. In fact, they took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a goal from Olli Maatta as he caught Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson cheating a on a three-on-two.
The visiting team extended their lead to 2-0 on a power-play goal from Sidney Crosby. It’s a minor detail, but something coaches harp on all the time: sticks in lanes. Cody Ceci took his out of the passing lane to Jake Guentzel down low in order to point out coverage to Malkin, Kessel it it to Guentzel, Guentzel got it to Crosby, and it was in the net in short order:
Small thing on PIT's PP goal: Ceci had the passing lane covered until he used his stick to direct coverage to 71. Goal four seconds later pic.twitter.com/IdY6y0Co0v
— Michael Clifford (@SlimCliffy) May 20, 2017
After exchanging goals, Pittsburgh took a 3-1 lead into the third period and held on for the 3-2 win. Matt Murray did his job all game long, particularly weathering an early storm, as the Pens evened the series.
There was a good article a week ago by Jake Guentzel at The Players' Tribune discussing his journey to the NHL and tying it in with Kessel. What was telling for me from that article was talking about how Guentzel quickly abandoned the "I gotta get the puck to Crosby" mentality, and is instead focusing on finding soft spots in the defence for Crosby to get the puck to him. He did that in the first period, twice, which led to good scoring chances. He really has seemed to mesh well with 87, which hasn't always been easy for wingers playing on his line. It remains to be seen if he'll get top power-play minutes when everyone is healthy, but if he can get that coveted ice time, 30 goals is realistic next season.
It’s a shame about the injury to Ryan Johansen which will keep him out the rest of the playoffs. He had been playing wonderful hockey between Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. The Predators have their work cut out for them.
I do wonder about his fantasy value next year. Does he get over-drafted because of his playoff performance? It’s worth noting that since leaving Columbus, he has just 22 goals in 124 regular season games, with 251 shots on goal. At an 82-game rate, that’s 15 goals and 166 shots on target. Those aren’t great numbers. The assists are nice, and he can chip in some penalty minutes, I just have a concern that he’ll be drafted like he can go 25-45 or something in that realm. That line is possible – he did do it in Columbus – but it seems he’s more of a distributor on that top line than the trigger man. That’s important to recognize for fantasy owners. We’ll see where his ADP falls come September.
Tyler Dellow has been writing about, at some length now, the differences between running power-play units of four forwards and one defenceman against three forwards and two defencemen. For those that have subscribed to The Athletic, he discusses it at some length with regard to the Leafs. He also has been tweeting about it for a few months:
Teams that are sub-50% in using a 4F1D. Note that a bunch of them have bad power plays. pic.twitter.com/Aq0Jd3DaSq
— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) February 16, 2017
Nine teams in the NHL ran 4F1D less than 50% of the time this year. None of them were in the top nine in GF/60.
— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) April 12, 2017
This kind of work is no only fascinating because it’s something that gets little discussion anywhere, but is important to the success of an aspect of the game that gets a lot of discussion everywhere. It is also work that has obvious applications to fantasy hockey.
Often in the fantasy game – and I’m guilty as this of well – blanket statements are made as if all things are equal. This goes for daily fantasy as well as season-long. One of these blanket statements is, “He’s getting power-play minutes.” While some is better than none, all minutes are not created equal within a team, let alone across the league.
This is more about in-season management than preseason drafting. While there are some teams we can safely assume will run a four-forward PP unit like Pittsburgh and Washington, others are less certain like Montréal or Los Angeles. It’s just something to keep in mind when looking to add or drop players due to injuries through the fantasy hockey campaign.
Staying on the topic of power plays, there are always guys that under-perform with the man advantage every season. Such is the nature of an aspect of a sport with a lot of variance that contains a lot of variance itself. Some also under-perform compared to career expectations, but it is a new norm rather than a deviation.
I will exclude the Flyers from this discussion – Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek now have back-to-back seasons of poor results. Their average shot distance, per Corsica, is consistently over 36-38 feet away at five-on-four. It’s bad news for them, but great for Wayne Simmonds, I suppose. They both generated fewer scoring chances per minute (that’s a rate, not a total number) at five-on-four than Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Jeff Skinner did at five-on-five this past season. They’ll still get their PP assists because of the net-front guys like Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, but fantasy owners in leagues that count PP goals and assists in separate categories should take note. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.
There are players that could rebound in power-play goal scoring next year based on two factors: low shooting percentage with the man advantage, and shots generated. Others may not. Here are some examples of both.
The soon-to-be 35-year old winger scored one goal on the power play last year in 61 games. That represents a career-low. Just two years ago, he scored nine goals in 68 games. That is despite being second among Devils forwards in shots per minute with the man advantage, and finishing in the top-25 in the league in that regard.
One thing did change in his shot location, however, between 2014-15 and 2016-17: he was shooting more often from a bit higher up in the faceoff circle. The below visualizations are Cammalleri’s shot locations at five-on-four from those two seasons, taken from Micah Blake McCurdy’s site HockeyViz:
This bears out in average shot distance, as it has gone from 28.2 feet two years ago to 34.4 feet this past season. This gives us a pretty good indication that he’s not suffering from bad luck but, rather, a change in shot location has led to poorer results.
Things can change, but they’ve been trending in the wrong direction for a couple years now. If things do change, we won’t know until a month or two into the season, which means banking on a Cammalleri bounce-back (injuries aside) in deeper fantasy leagues is misguided.
Forsberg had nine power-play points this past season, three of them being goals. That is poor production for a team with so much top-end offensive talent. In fact, out of 199 forwards with at least 100 minutes of five-on-four time, Forsberg finished 183rd in points per minute. Two things changed in Forsberg’s usage from 2015-16 to 2016-17: he started shooting more from his strong side, and when he was shooting from his weak side (in a one-timer position), he was shooting from further away (much like Cammalleri):
Anyone watching these playoffs has seen Nashville’s power play struggle, which seems to be systemic more than talent-related, but I digress.
Power plays can be re-worked, which gives hope here. There are a lot of highly-skilled players both up front and on the blue line for these problems to persist. That should give up to fantasy owners that Forsberg has not yet reached his upside offensively. There is nothing wrong with shooting from the strong side with the man advantage, or from both sides – Jason Spezza has done that for years with a shooting percentage over 13 percent. However, unless Forsberg starts finding areas in better shooting spots, racking up the power play goals will be difficult.
The rebuild is on in Vancouver. That youth movement started last year with Bo Horvat emerging as an offensive threat, and with Baertschi having his best season offensively with 18 goals and 35 points. That might not seem like a great number, but it was in just 68 games, and he led the team in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five. He also played nearly 16 minutes a game, which was, by far, a career-high.
Next year should be much of the same. I do worry that Baertschi will not be on the top power-play unit, and the Sedin unit has always been the one with the heavier usage. There is hope that in the power-play minutes he does get, he will be more productive. He was the leader in shot attempts while at five-on-four in Vancouver, and it wasn’t even close. He shot just 6.9 percent in those situations though, but there is hope for a turnaround; his average shot distance, per Corsica, dropped at five-on-four by about a foot from 2015-16 to 2016-17, yet he also saw a drop in shooting percentage. Small samples are wonky, but if he keeps shooting, and keeps improving his shooting situation, there should be an uptick in goals scored.
To be sure, Baertschi is likely only an option in deep one-year leagues, or dynasties. Those playing in those formats should consider him, however. He should be playing a similar, or larger, role this year, and if he can ever crack that top power-play unit, he can start producing power-play points at a higher rate.
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