Man, what the hell happened with Kari Lehtonen, G (W, 33 SV, 1.000%, SHO) this season? I honestly have no idea. Yes, the Stars have dealt with injuries since before the start of the season and that’s definitely hurt team chemistry. Yes, their defense is more offensively minded than they should be and when you mix that with a handful of youth on the blue line and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Yes, he sports a 31-14-10 record which is pretty stellar, but when you pair it with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage through 59 starts this season you’ve got yourself a recipe for a lot of disgruntled owners. Despite all that, and despite everything I’ve been saying for most of the season, Kari is getting hot at the right time and you’d do well to pick him up for the playoffs.
I wish I could tell you it has been a tale of two seasons for Kari but until recently it’s been one big crap show. That being said, over his last eight starts he’s been absolutely lights out posting a line of 6-1-0-1/1.85/.930/1 in March, by far and away his best stretch of play on the season. It has been so good, in fact, that it makes his second half numbers look pretty solid overall at 12-4-3/2.51/.915/2 in 20 starts. Yes, those numbers are much more in line with his career numbers but don’t be fooled, he was only able to keep his goals against average under 3.00 in October and December before his recent stretch of play. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pick him up, likely I’ve been saying over the last week or so, it doesn’t matter what happened until now, it only matters what’s happening right now and right now Kari is taking down some of the league’s best teams. Over the last month he’s held the Blackhawks, Islanders, Penguins and Caps to two or fewer goals so it’s not like his solid play is coming against weak teams. No, he’s actually worth picking up if he was dropped by a disgruntled owner in your league. Don’t expect miracles, the wheels can come off at any time, but if you’re a Frederik Andersen owner who didn’t handcuff John Gibson to him in time or relied on rookie backstom Michael Hutchinson for just a bit too long, he’s absolutely worth the flyer for some insurance. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
Brandon Dubinsky remains out and won’t play in tomorrow’s tilt. He might play Friday, but there’s no word on the likelihood of that happening so if you own Dubs (I do, sadface) you’ll be without his multi-category contributing goodness for most of this week. Adjust your lineups accordingly.
Nick Bjugstad is doubtful for tomorrow’s game and remains day-to-day with “lower body soreness.” I have no idea what that means and I don’t want to know, just know that you’ll be without him for most of this week and if/when he does come back don’t hope for miracles. He’s a rookie at the end of a long, stellar season, there isn’t much left in the tank.
Pavel Datsyuk is practicing but his status remains unkown for tomorrow’s game or the rest of the week. Like Jugs and Dubs, you may be without him for most of if not all of this week; it does nothing good for the Wings to needlessly rush back one of their best skaters before the playoffs.
Pascal Dupuis is officially done for the season due to the blood clots issue he’s been dealing with. Kimmo Timonen came back from the same problem but it took him a while, but hopefully he’ll be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
Justin Abdelkader, RW (1 G, 1 A, 7 SOG) – Last week I pegged Abs as a guy to grab for some extra goal scoring and he didn’t disappoint with a two-point game on seven shots last night. There isn’t much left in the tank but now that the H2H playoffs have kicked off in all but the strangest of leagues if he’s on the wire he’s absolutely worth adding for your title run.
Erik Cole, LW (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) – I wasn’t exactly excited by the Cole to the Wings move and he hasn’t exactly been stellar in Detroit, but he’s definitely putting up decent secondary scoring with six points (3 G, 3 A) in 10 games since the trade. He’s skating on a line with Abs and Henrik Zetterberg, C (1 SOG, +1) so that bodes well for his continued somewhat yawnstipating production and at this point any top nine Wings forward is worth owning.
Jimmy Howard, G (W, 23 SV, 1 GA, .958%) – After the wheels really came off when he coughed up seven goals on 29 shots in Philly last Saturday Howie owners must have been freaking out a bit heading into the fantasy playoffs. Worry not, though, he shut down the high octane Bolts and Blues in two straight games since and seems to be back on track. That being said, he could see some rest after the Wings lock up their playoff spot, or even before that, so keep an eye on Petr Mrazek as he might steal some starts from Howie over the next few weeks.
Jake Allen, G (L, 23 SV, 2 GA, .920%) – Allen took the loss in this one but it wasn’t his fault as he steered away 23 of 25 shots holding the Wings to just one goal through regulation but coughed up the game winner in OT. This was Allen’s second game in as many days and it appears the Blues are trying to keep starter Brian Elliott as fresh for the playoffs as possible. That’s good news for Allen owners and bad news for Elliott owners, but if you drafted either you had to know this was a strong possibility by this point in the season. At least both of them are playing well lately.
Ben Bishop, G (W, 25 SV, 3 GA, .893%) – I watched this one and I was pretty pleased with what looked like another stellar start for Bish but he coughed up two goals in the third and his beautiful game went from beautiful to meh to gawddammit Bish! Eh, nobody is perfect. Still though, it always stings to watch your best goalie let a one goal game slip to a three goal game in the third damn period.
Tuukka Rask, G (L, 8 SV, 4 GA, .667%) – Rage Monster had plenty to be pissed about last night, he coughed up four goals on just 12 shots and gave way to stellar rookie backstop Niklas Svedberg, G (6 SV, 1 GA, .857%) who filled in admirably but gave up a goal of his own on just seven shots. It’s tough to say what will come of this, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Svedberg in the crease for the Bs’ next tilt.
Zdeno Chara, D (1 G, 5 SOG, -1) – Wow, Chara scored a goal! Aw, just like old times. Speaking of old, Chara is so past it. I had no idea he would be this ineffective this season, but it is what it is. Moving forward he tumbles down the defensive rankings and is a must avoid at the draft table next season.
Vladislav Namestnikov, C (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG) – Vladdy has some serious upside moving forward and lately he’s putting up some solid scoring with four points (2 G, 2 A) over his last five games, but that was while he skated with Tyler Johnson, C (1 A, 2 SOG, + 2, 2 PIM) and Nikita Kucherov, RW (1 A, +1) and if that was still his line I’d say go grab him. Sadly as of the last game he was bumped down to a line with Valtteri Filppula, C (1 A, -1) and Ryan Callahan, RW (1 A, 1 SOG, -1) to make room for the return of Ondrej Palat. That doesn’t bode well for his continued production. It’s not that either of those guys is bad, per se, but anytime a guy moves away from the Johnson/Kooch line it’s not going to be good.
Ondrej Palat, LW (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG) – Palat has wasted no time getting back in the groove after missing some time due to injury. In two games since he was activated he has four points (1 G, 3 A) and looks to be 100% ready to help you on your title run. He’s a set it and forget it kind of guy; if he’s healthy he’s a must start.
Cam Talbot, G (W, 36 SV, 2 GA, .947%) – With the pending return of Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers’ need to get him back up to speed for the playoffs you can expect that Talbot won’t see much action once Hank does return. There aren’t many games left and he’ll need the starts to shake the rust off before the first round. That said, you have to hold on to him because he continues to be one of the best goalies in the world in the second half. His tenure as starter started off shaky, but once he settled in there hasn’t been many better in the crease than Cam. He might be the best backup in the NHL today.
Keith Yandle, D (3 A, 4 SOG, +3) – With a triple helping o’ helpers last night Yandle tallies his first assists with his new club giving him four points (1 G, 3 A) in 10 games since the deal. We all expected a bit of an initial down tick in scoring given the depth of the Rangers defense but this has been a bit extreme. He was averaging around 24 minutes a game with the Coyotes but that’s dropped by nearly four minutes to around 19-20 minutes a game since the move. That’s not going to change, but with Kevin Klein out expect him to continue to see solid minutes moving forward and more offensive production as a result.
Kevin Hayes, RW (2 A, 2 SOG, +2) – Big Kevin Hayes added two helpers to help the Rangers rout the Ducks last night. He’s probably going to finish with just north of 40 points for the season and I expect him to take another step forward in 2015 so keep him on your radar moving forward.
Frederik Andersen, G (L, 4 SV, 3 GA, .571%) – Super rookie John Gibson, G (18 SV, 4 GA .818%) started four games in a row for the Ducks leading up to this start for Freddy and instead of making the most of it he was bombed for three goals in the first period and yanked for Gibson, who stayed in the rest of the game but coughed up four more goals to the high powered Rangers himself. Given how much work Bruce Boudreau has given Gibson over the last week or so he might turn back to Freddy in their next tilt, but after both goalies bombed it’s anyone’s guess who gets the next start.
Corey Perry, RW (2 G, 8 SOG, +1) – Perry did his thing and potted two goals in this one giving him three goals in his last two games. He would have had a hatty if it wasn’t for the stellar work in net from Cam Talbot, but generally he looked ready to help you roll through your fantasy playoff competition with goal after goal, which is what you drafted him for of course.
Derek Stepan, C (2 G, 1 A, 5 SOG) – The only thing Stepan owners can be unhappy about after Step blew up and snapped his long 13 game scoreless drought is the fact that it happened one day before the H2H playoffs started. He was too good to avoid the score sheet for much longer and despite not putting up stats over the last month he was playing well, so it was only a matter of time. Sadly, fantasy hockey doesn’t have a category for team play but damnit, they should! The fire is relit with Step and he should be good to go, make sure he’s in your starting lineups again if you benched him during his skid.
Jacob Markstrom, G (W, 26 SV, 1 GA, .963%) – Marks stood tall in this one shrugging off 26 of 27 shots to down the lowly Coyotes 3-1 last night. This was a spot start to give Eddie Lack a break after so many starts in a row, so expect to see Lack back between the pipes for the Canucks in their next game.
Mike Smith, G (L, 41 SV, 2 GA, .953%) – After a stretch of solid play Smith is actually going to finish the season with a save percentage over .900 with a robust .902% with just a handful of games left to go in the season. Amazing! His record is 11-37-5. Heh, Mike Smith.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (1 G, 4 SOG, +1) –I don’t know what to make of OEL in 2015. On the one hand, no one on defense scores more goals than the elegant Swedish rearguard. On the other hand, he plays for the Arizona Coyotoes and his plus/minus is going to be in the basement for a few more years. He’s still at top 15 fantasy defenseman due to his scoring ability, but damned if it doesn’t come with a heavy price tag. I’m avoiding him next year despite the offensive upside.
Chris Stewart, RW (1 G, 4 SOG, +1) – When Stewie was moved from the woeful Sabres to the streaking Wild at the deadline there was no doubt that he would see a uptick in offensive production, but predictably it hasn’t been dramatic. In 61 games with the Sabres he put up 25 points (11 G, 14 A) to go with a minus-30 rating. Yeah, you read that right. Minus-30. Since the deal he has six points (3 G, 3 A) in 10 games with a plus-six rating. That definitely moved him up from completely forgettable wire fodder to worth a flyer in deep leagues, but nothing more.
Sean Monahan, C (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG) – One more to go and Money will finish with that coveted 30-goal rookie season. I was all about him this year and I’m all about him next year. Don’t expect a sophomore slump, the goal scoring juice is oh-so-real.
Roberto Luongo, G (W, 26 SV, 1 GA, .963%) – In two games since returning from a shoulder injury Lu has posted identical lines in back-to-back wins over the Red Wings and Bruins. Expect the Cats to ride him hard as they push for a playoff spot, even in back-to-back games.
Andrew Hammond, G (W, 22 SV, 3 GA, .880%) – The streak had to end at some point. Like I said in the past, there’s a reason he didn’t make it to big ice before his late twenties and it wasn’t because he was busy finding himself hiking through Europe. The Sens are playing solid hockey right now and there’s no one else for them to turn to in net so the Hamburgler is going to keep getting starts but don’t expect him to carry you through the playoffs. He carried you to the playoffs, but now you’ll need a deeper team to make it to the title.
Kyle Okposo, RW (1 G, 5 SOG, +1) – Saturday’s goal marks the first point Okie has tallied since returning after missing nearly two months with a broken eyeball. After missing all that time he was bound to have some rust, so hopefully this is the start of a mini-streak as we close out the season, but there’s no telling if that will be the case here. His injury is so fluky and strange he could quickly return to the Okie of old or never be the same, it’s anyone’s guess at this point but I’ll lean on hope and say he just needs a bit more time to get back in the groove. I hope. Please.
Ryan Strome, C (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – Amidst the rookie hype for, well, so many other stellar rookies this season Strome has been lost in the mix. Technically he’s not a rookie, but he’s one of the best young skaters in the game and he isn’t getting much love in the press for it. Well, he gets love here. He’s put up a line of 15/30/45/+20 in 72 games this season and he’s only going to get better. If you own him, hold on tight for next season.
Sidney Crosby, C (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – I know I shouldn’t be cranky with 74 points in 67 games from Crosby this season, but I still can’t help but feel let down by the effort. The mumps was the big problem with Crosby’s season and he’d likely have been just fine if he didn’t catch it. He’s still the best player in fantasy hockey and real hockey for that matter.
Jason Spezza, C (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG) – Yeah, he scored a goal here but it was just his 16th of the season and, by and large, this was a lost season for the aging veteran pivot. I expected a lot more from him on what was supposed to be a high-octane offense in Dallas, but alas, it didn’t pan out. I didn’t really want to draft him this year but ended up pulling the trigger and paid for it. Don’t make the same mistake I made this year, when his name pops up during your draft next season think again before you draft him.