The Tampa Bay Lightning were in search of a steady hand to back up their new star netminder Ben Bishop and when they signed Evgeni Nabokov to handle the duties it seemed like a good call at a bargain basement price. Really, what could go wrong? Nabby could go wrong and man alive did he go wrong. In 11 games and nine starts this season he posted a record of 3-6-2 to go with a 3.14 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. Ugh, gross. I think I should shower now. Anyway, in a move that was only surprising because it took so long, the Bolts sent Nabby packing and recalled stud prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy from the Syracuse Crunch. Despite the promotion Big Ben retains full control of the Tampa crease moving forward, but he has been shaky at times this season and could definitely benefit from some rest moving forward. Enter Vas, who now becomes one of the more valuable backups in fantasy hockey for the remainder of the season.
Regardless of where he’s played this season, Vas has shined. In 24 games in the AHL Vas has posted a line of 14-5-5-2/2.38/.919 for the Crunch. In four games on big ice this season he posted a record of 3-1-0 paired with a 1.76 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage. The time in the NHL is a small sample size, but there are some indicators that he’ll continue to be successful, namely the quality of competition he faced during his last stint on big ice. He beat the Pens and Flyers and shined stopping 45 shots in a loss to the potent Isles in December. Yeah, he had an easy 5-1 win against the Sabres before being sent back down, but he faced some top offenses and stood tall. There are a lot of reasons to expect some strong play from him now that he’s Bishop’s backup, but temper your expectations a bit because he’s only 20 and those are obviously unsustainable numbers unless you’re talking about Brian Elliott. Vas will have a few bad games, but given how comfortable he looked earlier this season I would bet good money that the bad games will be few and far between.
What’s clear is Vas is going to put up some solid numbers behind Bishop, but he needs TOI to do it. Yzerman didn’t call the kid up so Bolts Head Coach Jon Cooper could pull an Adam Oates and run Bishop out there for 30 straight games, so I’d expect he would see around 10 or so starts for the remainder of the season and he could put up some ridiculous numbers if he gets sheltered minutes against weaker opponents. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. As we get down the stretch the points become more and more important to the Bolts and they’ll want their starter in for the bigger games. Still, in deeper, goalie deprived leagues Vas is a must add. In redraft leagues he’s worth a look if you need help in the crease, but he isn’t going to solve your missing Pekka Rinne problem. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
Ben Bishop, G (W, 34 SV, 1 GA, .971%) – Speaking of Big Ben, he put up his second stellar start in a row pushing away 34 of 35 shots for a 3-1 win over the Jackets on Saturday night. Hopefully he’s back on track and set for a strong stretch run. There’s no reason to think he isn’t. Right? Right.
Curtis McElhinney, G (L, 31 SV, 3 GA, .912%) – See what I’m saying about this bum? What a bum.
Valtteri Filppula, LW (1 G, 1 SOG, +1) – I expected Flip to play a central role on the top line of the NHL’s best offense this season. I have been sorely disappointed by that expectation because baby, that shiz didn’t come true at all. Instead Val has flipped from line-to-line all season and has generally been bleh. Yeah, he has four points (2 G, 2 A) in his last five, but he really needs to stick on that top line with Steven Stamkos, C (1 SOG, +1) to have any real worth outside of the deepest leagues.
Alex Galchenyuk, C (2 G, 3 SOG, +2) – Gally blew up in the first period potting two pretty goals in an unfortunate 3-2 loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes yesterday. He’s been showing signs of life for a bit now, but his 15.5% shooting percentage is a bit inflated at the moment so he’s probably not going to give you 15 more goals moving forward, but he could.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (1 G, 5 SOG, +1) – For the second time in three games OEL potted another goal pushing his season total to 14 in 50 games so far this season. He’s almost guaranteed to reach the 20-goal mark by the end of the season and is likely to flirt with 25 at his current pace. He’s also on pace to put around 275 shots on goal, too. About the only areas he’s deficient this season are helpers, he’s on pace to finish just 16, and plus/minus where he’s sporting a minus-12 and counting the wrong way. Both of those indicators speak more to his team’s deficiencies than his own and if you tossed out the minus-14 over the first two months he’d be a plus-3 right now. OEL remains one of the most valuable rearguards in fantasy hockey despite playing for a woeful squad.
Dustin Tokarski, G (L, 29 SV, 3 GA, .906%) – Toker was victimized by a couple of funky bounces in this one, so his stat line looks worse than he actually performed. OEL’s goal went off his butt and deflected in before he even knew the shot had been taken and the other was deflected in by Lori Korpikoski , LW (2 G, 3 SOG, -1) on a borderline high stick. You can expect Toker to end up with nine or ten more starts moving forward and decent numbers along the way.
Brian Elliott, G (W, 33 SV, 3 GA, .917%) – Elliott would be in the Vezina race if he had more than 24 starts at this point. Still, what he’s done with those 24 starts has been flat out amazing. He has a 15-5-2 record to go along with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. He could conceivably finish the season with a sub-2.00 GAA. That’s beast.
Alexander Steen, C (2 G, 1 A, 6 SOG) –Steen has fully recovered from an abysmal first half and is now on pace for a 75 point season. He’s posted 21 points (9 G, 11 A) in his last 12 games. Prior to his recent 12 game onslaught he posted just 17 points in his previous 26 contests, so this is no small reversal of fortunes and the rich keep getting richer as Steen pours on more points night after night. I didn’t expect him to figure his shiz out like this, but he’s clearly back to last season’s form and one of the most valuable skaters to have down the stretch in 2015.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW (1 G, 1 A, 6 SOG) – Steen isn’t the only Blue who remains white hot, the Tarasenko Express kept chugging through a breakout season with another two points last night. He now has 50 points in 49 games with 25 goals so far and could conceivably pot 40 in just his second season in the NHL. The sky is the limit with him and if you were lucky, smart and quick enough to claim or draft him this season enjoy the ride; he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
T.J. Oshie, RW (3 A, 3 SOG, +2, 2 PIM) – I don’t think I’ll be able to write against any Blues ever again. Oshie continues to be part of the point parade in St. Louis and extended his point streak to five games with three helpers last night. After scoring just 15 points in the first three months of the season, he’s put up 18 points over the last month and is now on pace for a 60 point, 25-goal season. I can’t say I’m among them, but for those of you who waited Oshie’s horrid, injury riddled first half out, enjoy the ride!
Paul Stastny, C (1 A, 5 SOG, +1) – Meanwhile, here’s Stastny with just three points (3 A) over his last five games. Oi, what a bust.
Carter Hutton, G (W, 21 SV, 1.000%, SHO) – Yeah, you still shouldn’t pick him up though.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G (L, 20 SV, 4 GA, .833%) – Flower looked a bit lost in this one, but the offense hanged him out to dry on a few of these goals and one in particular he had absolutely no chance on. The puck was deep in the Pens offensive zone and an errant pass ended going right to Gabriel Bourque, LW (1 G, 1 SOG, +1) and he fired it home from the slot. It was a brutal night for the Pens and Fleury a like, but they’ll both bounce back sooner than later.
Roman Josi, D (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG) – Yoshi continued his hot streak with another two-point effort last night. He now has five points (2 G, 3 A) over his last five games and 33 points in 49 games this season. That puts him on pace for around 55 points and I could see him hitting that and marching towards 60 while he’s at it. After he broke out with 40 points in 72 games last year it appears Yoshi is taking another step forward, into the fantasy elite. Honestly, at this point, I don’t know whether I want to keep him or Victor Hedman for next season. Fo’ reals.
Thomas Vanek, LW (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) – I think Vanek is a pretty good buy low candidate at this point. He has four points (2 G, 2 A) over his last five games and has generally started to look better and better lately. He’s averaging 16:37 TOI per game and skated on the top line with Zach Parise, LW (1 G, 1 SOG, +2) and Mikael Granlund, C (2 A, 2 PTS, +2) recently. He’s also getting time on the team’s top power play, too. If he can find even half of his old scoring touch, he could score some key goals for fantasy owners when they need them the most.
Devan Dubnyk, G (W, 35 SV, 2 GA, .946%) – With each passing game Doobie further entrenches himself as the Wild’s starter and he continues to look very good doing it. I’ve mentioned him frequently in the last few weeks because peeps still seem somewhat reluctant to get on board. The numbers don’t like, Doobie is a starter in a goalie friendly system and yeah, it’s okay to admit it, he’s good and should be owned everywhere.
Petr Mrazek, G (W, 22 SV, 1 GA, .957%) – Again, if the Wings defense does its job and holds their opponent to fewer than 30 shots, Pete fairs well. When they allow him to get peppered with 35+, he falls apart late in the game. This is a problem for seasoned vets like Semyon Varlamov in Colorado, so it’s not exactly a huge knock against the kid. His time as the Wings’ starter is coming to a close soon with the impending return of Jonas Gustavsson, but he will retain some value in deeper leagues until Jimmy Howard is back, at which time Mrazek will likely be sent back down to the AHL again.
Mika Zibanejad, C (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG) – You’ll want to target Zibachmadinejad as part of a package in trades, he’s a solid buy-low candidate despite the bleh team. I’ve mentioned him recently and each time I do, he scores, so I figure I’ll keep doing it until he stops. Two more points on Saturday night stretch his point streak to four games and his goal streak to three games and while he can’t keep that up for long, he should be a solid contributor down the stretch and could give you another 12-15 goals and 20-25 points over the last few months of the season.
Bobby Ryan, RW (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – Ryan’s re-emergence is one of the factors fueling Zibanejad’s recent streak and value bump. Zibby has the talent, so does Ryan, and they’re finally developing some solid chemistry and feeding off of each other and the points continue to flow.
Michael Del Zotto, D (1 G, 5 SOG, +1) – Has Del Zotto found his scoring touch again? I don’t know for sure, but it sure seems like it lately. He stretched his point streak to six games with another goal on Saturday night and now has nine points (3 G, 6 A) over that span. Considering he’s probably available on the wire, if you need help on the blue line, you could take a flyer on him and hope for the best. I did.
John Klingberg, D (2 G, 2 A, 2 SOG) – A monster four-point game from Klingy gives him six points (3 G, 3 A) over his last two games and eight points (3 G, 5 A) over his last five games. He’s now on pace for a 45-ish point season and while I doubt he’ll get there, 40 points is definitely doable. In keeper leagues he’s a no-brainer and could be a monster producer as soon as next season.
Jordan Eberle, RW (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – Eebs is determined to prove that someone still cares enough to play good hockey in Edmonton. Keep on keepin’ on, Eebs! Much respect.
Antti Niemi, G (W, 31 SV, 1.000%, SHO) – Ugh. Come on with this crap. He has a 2.51 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage after the 31 save shutout, and its games like this that keep him in the starter’s seat. The Sharks can’t possibly want to re-sign him and put me through another season like this, could they? Please say it ain’t so.
Cam Ward, G (L, 33 SV, 4 GA, .892%) – So he shuts down the high octane Blues for a 29 save shutout which, of course, earns him the next start and what does he do with it? Coughed up four goals on 37 shots to the Rangers. To be fair, that’s a lot of shots. And the Rangers offense is pretty solid this year, but it might be enough to maintain the timeshare with Anton Khudobin after Dobby’s recent streak of stellar play. Still, like last season, I hate this situation and I wouldn’t bother unless you have to. If Dobby could hold down the starter’s gig for a while, I’d buy in on him, though.
Tyler Seguin, RW (3 A, 9 SOG) – That should be three goals, right? Huh.
Robin Lehner, G (W, 35 SV, 2 GA, .946%) – Must. Resist. Urge. To. Tell. You. To. Pick. Him. Up.