Ramblings: Howard returns, Zetterberg on fire and more.
Oh hey there Jimmy Howard, nice to have you back. Howard made his return after over two months away and took down the Blackhawks. It’s probably safe to say Howard is getting the bulk of the starts for Detroit the rest of the way. Neither Petr Mrazek, nor Jared Coreau has done enough to deny Howard the starting gig, even if these games are mostly meaningless.
Since Anthony Mantha was recalled, Henrik Zetterberg has scored 45 points in 51 games, good for a tie for 22nd in the NHL. Mantha was a healthy scratch last night but Zetterberg picked up a pair of assists alongside Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, the guys who were supposed to help Zetterberg age well.
Tatar and Nyquist haven’t brought the same consistency as Mantha has and it seems a little bit frustrating that Mantha is the one getting scratched when I have watched numerous games where the more senior players haven’t brought their ‘A’ game. The hope is that long-term this makes Mantha a better player – we shall see.
Back to Zetterberg. The veteran is cooking since the All-Star break, with 22 points in 17 games. He’s only been held off the board in three of those games. With that kind of production, you can understand why Jeff Blashill might still have delusions about making the playoffs.
Jonathan Toews has been held off the board in four of his last five games. I think that hot run is starting to wear off. Mind you, they are still using him on the top power play unit, which is a good cure for any potential slumps.
John Gibson did indeed start for the Ducks last night, despite indications to the contrary. He took a last-minute loss.
More line shuffling for the Ducks as Patrick Eaves has grabbed Rickard Rakell’s spot on the top PP unit in the past couple of games. That shift hasn’t borne fruit for Eaves just yet but it’s worth monitoring.
Rakell had been slumping out of the All-Star break with three points in 10 games but he’s scored six goals in the past seven games to bump his shooting percentage back above 20% on the year. Rakell was definitely teetering on the edge of getting dropped in a lot of formats but this rush is well-timed for fantasy owners.
Uh oh, Colton Parayko had to leave last night’s game due to injury. Here’s the vague update on his status:
Mike Yeo said Colton Parayko being taken out for the third period was precautionary and that he's questionable to play tomorrow. #stlblues— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 11, 2017
I, for one, am not ruling out the possibility that Parayko threw on Robert Bortuzzo’s jersey to setup the late winner:
So I called out the Wild for a lack of scoring in yesterday’s ramblings and they delivered seven goals, led by a three-point night from Eric Staal. Good show. Does anyone have any requests for my next team to call out?
I don’t normally reference plus/minus but Jonathan Marchessault managed to go minus-six last night. He has not fared so well on the third line alongside Nick Bjugstad. Toss in a pair of empty-netters and it’s easy to explain how his plus/minus got so out of hand. He did deliver his 20th goal of the season so it wasn’t all bad but we’ve reached a point where I wouldn’t be using Marchessault. He has only eight points in 16 games since the All-Star break.
I was hyping James Reimer as a potentially valuable option a couple of weeks back but the Panthers have since imploded losing seven of their last eight. Reimer was on the hook for six of those losses and while he wasn’t terrible in all of them, things are not trending in the right direction. They’ve got Toronto, Columbus, Pittsburgh and the Rangers looming on the schedule next week, four of the top six teams in scoring. Oh and they get to face Nikita Kucherov tonight. Good luck!
Marc-Andre Fleury with a rare start. He pitched a gem stopping 40 of 42 for a shootout win. Check out this desperation toe save:
I actually think that shot was going wide, but that play is impressive all the same. Also, the save and the potentially wide shot tell you all you need to know about how this season has gone for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
Evgeni Malkin is nipping at Connor McDavid’s heels having moved into a tie with Patrick Kane for second in league scoring. He leads the league in points per game, which is why you want to take chances on elite players even if they have injury issues. His goal last night was a bit of a fluke but he flashed some sweet moves on other plays:
Evgeni Malkin out here stealing souls. pic.twitter.com/EL89HdgXjP— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) March 11, 2017
Benoit Pouliot returned to the Oiler lineup. He’s not fantasy relevant, although he did help form an effective line with Zack Kassian and David Desharnais, the latter of whom scored his first goal as an Oiler. Where Pouliot has value is to Edmonton’s leaky penalty kill, which held Pittsburgh off the board on two chances last night. Pouliot should help Talbot’s numbers down the stretch.
The Oilers PK had killed just 21 of 32 chances since the All-Star break before last night.
Meanwhile, Tom Sestito was suspended four games for his hit on Enstrom but that hardly addresses the larger issue at hand, that Sestito was called up for the purposes of enacting physical vengeance and not play actual hockey. I really enjoyed this piece breaking down responsibility that the Penguins front office has for putting Sestito into the game.
No end of goodies in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:
12. Patrick Sharp may not be the only NHLer who gets shut down once his team is officially eliminated from the playoffs. Vancouver may have a couple of candidates, including Chris Tanev, who is playing through multiple injuries.
Something to be alert of with players on bad teams. For instance, I’m surprised that the Sabres haven’t outright shutdown Kyle Okposo for the year. I suppose they aren’t eliminated yet but I wouldn’t be shocked if he never returns from his rib injury.
Time for the weekly Q+A:
@SteveLaidlaw what to do with slumping players that have good playoff schedules?— Jenkem (@PatJenkem) March 10, 2017
ex. Coyle, Kopitar, Foligno
G P +/- PIM PPP SOG Hit Blk
Every league, player, team situation is different but my five-step guide for the fantasy playoffs is quite clear on this:
1. Patience is no longer a virtue
The time for patience has passed. There is no tomorrow. You need players who can produce for you in a seven-day stretch to help you advance to the next round. If they cannot, they should be jettisoned to the waiver wire. There is no room for sentimentality or bias. It doesn’t matter if you picked a certain player in the first round or in the final round, if he isn’t producing you can no longer afford to wait.
You could add to that the caveat that it doesn’t matter if a player has a lot of games on the schedule. Two games from someone producing is going to be as good or better than four from someone who isn’t. High-event categories like SOG, Hits and Blocks muddy the waters on this a bit as a four-game week from Nick Foligno is at the very least going to bring in some solid Hits and SOG totals.
While your trio above each play four games next week, their schedules aren’t necessarily “good”.
Minnesota, in particular, plays on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Are you even finding room for Charlie Coyle before Sunday? Not to mention, as we discussed yesterday, Coyle is going through a terrible cold streak, two points last night aside.
If you have suitable replacements on the wire, drop ‘em. Drop ‘em all.
Jake Guentzel is intriguing and all but he sticks out like a sore thumb relative to what Conor Sheary and Victor Arvidsson have proven in breaking out this season. Both are legit top line forwards, with tremendous potential. Whatever potential Guentzel has, these guys can match it but also come with the bonus of being proven.
@SteveLaidlaw h2h team Gs Henrik, Allen, Schneider, thoughts on dumping schneider for another skater? thanks Steve you're the man— mike r (@kweekes80) March 10, 2017
Henrik Lundqvist is currently banged up, although indications are that he will be back in the lineup this weekend. Even if Lundqvist is healthy this is a risky proposition, the Rangers’ next eight games all come in back-to-back situations, meaning we are seeing Antti Raanta in half of those games. Suddenly, you might only get three starts from Lundqvist in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Jake Allen and the Blues are headed on a California road swing next week. Maybe you brush that off since Allen and the Blues have been lights out since Mike Yeo took over:
The Blues had the worst save-percentage in the NHL (.887) when Yeo/Brodeur came in. Since then, it's No. 1 in the league (.951). #stlblues— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) March 9, 2017
Odds are, you are only going as far as Allen takes you and maybe that’s reason enough to eschew Cory Schneider as a backup option. Schneider has been excellent in the second half but he has also lost seven in a row. He is an option to help you reach your goalie start minimums without doing too much damage but he probably isn’t stealing you a win.
Depending on how many weekly moves you are allotted, you might get a similar impact out of spot-starting a backup as you would starting Schneider and you could wait on making that decision until after you’ve seen what Allen does for you early in the week. I like having three goalies but loading up on skaters makes a lot of sense.
The other factor to consider is who you would scoop up. If you don’t have skater openings then this sort of play becomes meaningless. For instance, getting two extra defenseman games may not make much of a difference so factor in what kind of bump you can get into your calculus in making this decision.
@SteveLaidlaw Consistency or the "hot hand"- which is best to go with come playoffs? Struggling between Ehlers or Sheary for my RW2 slot.— Gavin Bradley (@GCoop23) March 10, 2017
I am confused as to who is the “hot hand” and who is “consistency”. Both are coming in having scored multiple points in their past few games and both are scoring in the neighbourhood of 0.8 points per game on the season.
My gut says Sheary who has scored at a point-per-game pace since the start of December but this is a dart-throwing contest. Anything can happen in four games.
@SteveLaidlaw What's your thoughts on Kyle Conner for dynasty leagues?— [email protected] (@jaysay1977) March 9, 2017
I don’t think you can find a scout who doesn’t appreciate Connor’s game. He is as close to a slam dunk as you’ll find. He has torched every level that he has played at short of his 18-game NHL cameo earlier this season. He has 18 goals and 31 points in 39 games as a 20-year-old rookie in the AHL, showing all the signs of being a future stud. Not to mention he plays the type of speed game that is so successful in today’s NHL.
I am rarely this bullish on prospects but Connor is a gem. The only question is where he fits in a Jets lineup with a loaded top-six. Read more about Connor here.
@SteveLaidlaw What are your thoughts about Wennberg as a keeper for next year in a points only pool?— Sammycfd (@sammycfd) March 8, 2017
The Blue Jackets were the story of the first half, boasting a power play better than the sum of it’s parts. It worked beautifully, until teams caught on. Since New Year’s the Blue Jackets’ PP has been the third worst in the league scoring on just 13% of their attempts.
Let the Blue Jackets (and the Ducks) be a lesson to fantasy owners about getting excited about huge swings in PP performance. While guys like Wennberg, Ryan Kesler, Cam Fowler, Sam Gagner, etc. helped fantasy owners through the first half of the season, they were volatile commodities because of how much they relied on PP production.
There haven’t been too many teams where we can fully rely on their ability to produce consistently on the PP. The Capitals, Blues, Flyers, Sharks and Penguins are the league’s tentpoles, all ranking in the top five in PP% over the past five seasons. But even these teams are subject to hiccups, for instance, the Sharks currently rank in the bottom 10 of the league in PP efficiency.
The takeaway is that 5-on-5 scoring is a better predictor of future scoring. Wennberg, for all his talents, has not yet shown elite acuity for 5-on-5 scoring. He has averaged 1.58 points/60 at 5-on-5 this season, which falls in line with his 1.64 rate from last year. Is there a spike coming in the future? He turns 23 in September when he’ll be heading into his fourth NHL season, a big one for breakout performances. He is on the right side of the aging curve. We’d expect he will get better.
In a lot of ways, Wennberg fits the profile of a Nicklas Backstrom lite. He is a pass first, second, third type of player. A big reason that the Blue Jacket PP was so successful was because of Wennberg’s work from the half wall. You can imagine that they’ll be good again next season, but perhaps without the crazy split between first half and second half success rate.
Wennberg has steps to make if he’s going to get to Backstrom’s level. Having an Ovechkin-like option would certainly help but he needs to improve at 5-on-5 and add a little bit of goal scoring. We saw from Evgeny Kuznetsov early this season what happens when a players’ teammates can’t score. It wasn’t until Justin Williams finally showed up that Kuznetsov started producing like a star. Relying on assists means volatile production.
Wennberg is probably getting 60 points this season but for him to even match that total next year will require improvements. He’s worth betting on but I don’t know that he’s a slam dunk to improve.
Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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