With Kyle Okposo basically out for the rest of the season big questions about what will happen in the Isles’ top six loom large. In the past no one would have cared at all beyond when Okie was getting back into the lineup, but 2015 is a new year and the Isles offense is one of the best in the league posting a heady 3.2 goals per game, good for second in the NHL. So now that question of who replaces Okie on the Isles’ top line along side superstar pivot John Tavares, C (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) is pretty intriguing and Mikhail Grabovski, C (1 G, 4 SOG, +1) wasted no time answering it by putting the biscuit in the basket on a feed from Josh Bailey, RW (1 A, 2 SOG, +1) after JT started the whole dance with a nice feed of his own. The trio looked like they had some solid chemistry and word has it that Grabby is going to be replacing Okie in role and position moving forward. He absolutely has the ability to finish, so I’d go ahead and add him where you can as he could be in line for a strong second half push. That being said, he has a history of being streaky and if he goes cold, Ryan Strome, C (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) could step in and fill the gap without missing a beat.
You should definitely add Grabby if you can, but keep an eye on Strome as he continues to excel and could easily get a promotion should Grabby stumble. Strome stretched his point streak to four games with this tally and has four points (2 G, 2 A) over that span stretching back before the All-Star Break. He should continue to get time in the Isles top six and on one of their power play units, so start him with confidence as he pushes towards a 60-point rookie season. If he ends up getting promoted to the top line, he’s going to see a bump in production for sure.
On the other side, Josh Bailey looks to remain on the top line and complete a trio that could go either way, but with JT playing pivot they should continue to produce at a respectable rate moving forward. Bailey stretched his point streak to four games with a helper last night and has seven points (2 G, 5 A) over that span. It’s not certain that he’ll stick there, but given how well he’s playing they have no reason to move him now. One thing is for certain, though; Brock Nelson won’t be moving back up to the top six. Isles Coach Jack Capuano has clearly stated that Nelson needs to stay at center, and with the top two line pivot posts filled, Nelson is relegated to top nine, third line duties moving forward. His value takes a hit accordingly.
The Isles remain one of the best offenses in hockey and despite the loss of Okie they were able to put up four goals against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers, so it appears that things on Long Island, they gon’ be a-okay without Okie, but your fantasy team won’t, so don’t miss the boat on Grabby while he’s hot, and try and target Strome in trades if you can. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
Jaroslav Halak, G (W, 40 SV, 1 GA, .976%) – The Halakness Monster owns the Rangers this year and was just a few minutes away from posting his second straight shutout against them before Carl Hagelin, RW (1 G, 2 SOG) found the back of the net late in the third. Jaro pushed away 40 of 41 Rangers shots for the outstanding victory and though his .913 save percentage isn’t as sexy as it was earlier in the year when it hovered in the low .920s, he’s still going to give you another 10-15 wins and generally solid peripherals moving forward.
Henrik Lundqvist, G (L, 34 SV, 4 GA, .895%) – Often goalies come back from the ASB and they have a bit of rust to shake off, so we’ll chock this performance up to that. Hank should be fine.
Steve Mason, G (W, 22 SV, 1 GA, .957%) – Mason didn’t start this one but he finished it after the woeful Ray Emery, G (4 SV, 2 GA, .500%) coughed up two goals on six shots in the first five minutes of the game. That’s probably the last time Emery will sniff the crease for a while, and he might even lose his back up job to Robb Zepp if he keeps this up. I still don’t like Mason, Emery or Zepp, and if Mason can stay healthy he’ll dominate the starts moving forward, so avoid this situation if you can.
Wayne Simmonds, RW (1 G, 4 SOG) – After eight long games Simmonds finally snapped his scoreless streak with a goal last night. That’s not the extent of his cold streak, though, he’s scored just four goals in his last 20 games and for the first time this season is on pace to score fewer than 30 goals by the end of the year. I think he’ll have a few two-goal games moving forward and end up with 30, but he’ll likely come up shy of 60 points. Dem penalty minutes are lacking, too, with just 44 so far.
Steve Smith, G (L, 9 SV, 3 GA, .929%) – Man, the Coyotes made a great call sticking with Smith!
Thomas Greiss, G (W, 19 SV, 3 GA, .864%) – Greasy didn’t look great in this one, coughing up three goals on just 22 shots, but he was going up against the hapless Ondrej Pavelec, G (L, 25 SV, 4 GA, .862%) who gave up four of his own goals to gift Greasy the W. Expect Marc-Andre Fleury to be back in net for the Pens in their next tilt. As for Pavs, ugh. I said I thought he’d remain the starter for the rest of the season due to the Jets wanting to handle Michael Hutchinson’s development properly and not just throw the kid in the deep end because their starter is hot garbage. They’ve done that, though I’m not happy about it, and show no signs of changing the course despite how poorly Pavs plays. I’ve never been so bummed to get a prediction right (so far).
Kris Letang, D (5 A, 3 SOG, +2, 2 PIM) – Well! I’d say Tanger is healthy again, eh?
Jacob Trouba, D (1 G, 4 SOG, +1) – In two games since returning from his UBI Tuba has points in both games (1 G, 1 A), a plus-2 rating, two PIM and five shots on goal. The upside here is huge and the Jets are rolling offensively, so there’s no reason to be shy about playing the Tuba. If some frustrated owner let him go while he was out, snatch him up now and enjoy having a beast for your third defenseman. As for keeper leagues, he’s worth considering as a keeper for sure.
Evander Kane, RW (3 A, 2 SOG, +2) – I know it’s tough to accept that Kane is a solid guy to own down the stretch, but he absolutely is. He’s going to remain in the suddenly offensively capable Jets’ top six and on their power play. He’s healthy, finally, and if he stays that way he could be one of the most valuable skaters down the stretch. Target him in trades if you can.
Patric Hornqvist, RW (1 G, 3 SOG) – Tuba wasn’t the only skater coming back strong from an injury, Horny returned to action last night after missing a month and wasted no time putting the biscuit in the basket for his 14th goal of the season. What’s truly encouraging here is that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both out of the lineup nursing minor injuries and the Pens still found a way to score five goals. Granted, they were against Pavelec, but still. Horny should be good to go moving forward and you can expect him to produce at the same level (30 points in 34 games) that he did before going down with an injury moving forward.
Steve Downie, RW (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) – It will be interesting to see where Downie fits in the top six now that Hornqvist and David Perron are back in the lineup. He has a chance to stick on the second lind, but really, he belongs on the third line and that’s his likely destination when the big guns get back in the lineup for the Pens. That could happen as soon as their next game, so expect a slight downtick in the limited offensive production that Downie provides with the shift. The PIM and Hits should keep flowing, though.
David Perron, LW (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – I have to give Pens GM Jim Rutherford some props, he did a great job providing depth while not selling the farm bringing in guys like Perron and Hornqvist, and it’s paying off in games like this. Perron was on the top line again and he’ll stay there when Crosby gets back, so expect a solid to awesome stretch run from him.
Curtis McElhinney, G (W, 25 SV, 3 GA, .893%) – The Jets didn’t go with Anton Forsberg but they might want to after McSieve gave up three goals on 28 shots last night. He was only saved by a strong offensive effort by the Jackets and it should only be a matter of time before Forsberg gets a few starts. If he does well, I see no reason why the Jackets won’t ride him and shift McSieve to riding the pine.
Braden Holtby, G (L, 26 SV, 4 GA, .867%) – Last night marks the third straight game that Holtby has given up four goals. He coughed up four to the Preds, then the il and now the Jackets in three straight losses. Despite the tough stretch his season line remains a sparkling 22-10-8/2.31/.920 in 40 starts and he should get back on track any game now. No worries, y’all!
Andre Burakovsky, LW (1 G, 3 SOG, -1) – I expected a bit more out of Burakovsky this year, but that doesn’t mean the kid isn’t the real deal, because he most definitely is. He’s streaking lately with points in three straight and four points (2 G, 2 A) over that span. He’s on pace for less than 40 points in around 70 games, so it’s not a great season, but at just 19-years-old there are many more years to come for this phenomenal young talent, so don’t sleep. He’ll be a beast in a few short years.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG) – Even though Kooze is the guy that received more hype than Burakovsky, I’m more of a kovsky fan than a kooze fan. Still, he’s a talented young pivot and he’s going to be solid to great in the coming years, but it just isn’t there this year. Where Burakovsky has the chance to provide some solid production down the stretch, I’m skeptical that Kooze can provide consistent scoring at all this year. He should stay on your keeper radar, but that’s aboot it.
Carey Price, G (W, 40 SV, 2 GA, .952%) – With Pekka Rinne down for the next month or longer the new Vezina leader has to be Price and his sick season line of 25-10-2/2.15/.929. I can’t think of a goalie that has better numbers for a worse team. That’s not to say the Habs are bad, but without Price in net they’d be in a ton of trouble. He should continue to be one of the best net minders in the league down the stretch.
Kari Lehtonen, G (L, 23 SV, 3 GA, .885%) – Speaking of one of the best net minders in the league down the stretch, the Stars should totally trade for one before the deadline. Speaking of dead, that’s what you are to me, Kari.
Alex Galchenyuk, LW (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) – Gally continues to teeter on the edge of baller, but falls back to being somewhat meh most months posting seven or eight points per month. I’d say that’s what you can expect moving forward, but he does have the ability to get hot and put up good numbers for a stretch, in fact, he’s in the midst of a three game streak! He has a goal in each game over that span and five points (3 G, 2 A) in his last five. He has a chance to finish this season with around 60 points, which is double what he’s put up in either of his first two seasons on big ice. Draft this kid next year; he’s ready to break out.
Petr Mrazek, G (W, 37 SV, 4 GA, .902%) – Oi, it hasn’t been pretty but Pety was able to hold on for another victory but coughed up four goals on 41 shots doing it. To be fair, three of the four goals he allowed were on the power play and we’re seeing now why Jonas Gustavsson is Jimmy Howard’s backup, not Pety, who doesn’t appear to be ready to handle this kind of work. I figured the goalie friendly system in Detroit would help hide some of Mrazek’s flaws (due to youth) and allow his natural talent to handle the rest for a solid showing in the month that Howie was out, but with the looming return of The Monster, Pete might be out of a job before Howie finds his way back to the lineup.
Riley Sheahan, C (2 A, 3 SOG, +2) – He has five points (5 A) in his last five games, but the Wings reshuffled their lines and he’s found himself out of the their top six again, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into his recent semi-surge.
Roberto Luongo, G (L, 12 SV, 5 GA, .706%) – Remember when I said sometimes goalies come back from the ASB with a bit of rust to shake off? Yeah, here you go.
Nick Bjugstad, C (1 G, 1 A, 8 SOG) – Jugs keeps doing what Jugs does best, and that’s scoring dem goals. Both his points last night game with the man advantage and he has four points (1 G, 3 A) over his last five games. He’s on pace to finish with 30-goals, a mark I’m sure he can meet, and around 55 points. That’s a stellar sophomore campaign and you’ll want to target Jugs in next year’s drafts, he’s going to be a goal-scoring machine.
Aleksander Barkov, C (1 G, 2 A, 3 SOG) – If Jugs is key to the Cats’ success moving forward, Barkov is central to it. Central, get it? Har! I digress, he’s on fire lately with six points (2 G, 4 A) over his last five games with two of his three points last night coming on the man advantage. He’s been dealing with various injuries and development woes, but there’s a ton of talent here and now that he’s healthy, he’s scoring. I’d pick him up where you can and ride the hot hand.
Anton Khudobin, G (W, 28 SV, 2 GA, .933%) – Don’t look now, but after what seems like an eternity with Cam Ward as the starter, Dobby has taken control and put up another solid game last night allowing just two goals on 30 shots. Dobby has started four of the Canes’ last five games and won each of those contests. Ward lost his only start over that span 3-0 to the Canucks allowing three goals on 13 shots before getting yanked after two in favor of our boy Anton. There’s no reason to think the Canes will move away from Dobby now that he’s hot, but the Canes are a few shades of awful, so start him with caution for now.
Eric Staal, C (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG) – Staal the Greater continues to produce since getting healthy and posted his second straight two point game last night. He’s on pace for just 60 points, but he’s looking at 30 goals despite the rough first half. He remains a great play down the stretch and you can expect solid production from him for the rest of the season.
Justin Faulk, D (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG, +1) – You don’t hear much about Faulk because he sports a minus-13 (and going the wrong way) rating on an awful team, but if you’re in a league that doesn’t count plus/minus, he’s absolute gold with 28 points in 47 games so far and six points (2 G, 4 A) in his last five games. He’s on pace for a 50-point season and will continue to put up those kinds of numbers for years to come. If the Canes can get their act together, he will become one of the most valuable fantasy defenseman there is.
Ben Bishop, G (L, 18 SV, 4 GA, .818%) – Goalies. All-Star Break. Rust. Please be rust.
Carter Hutton, G (W, 21 SV, 3 GA, .875%) – In four game since Rinne went down the Preds have gone with Hutton in all four with mixed results. Literally. They’re 2-2-0 over that span and Hutton waffles from meh to oh god why. If you’re a Rinne owner (I am, sadface) just try your best to endure until he gets back next month. If you are in a roto league, don’t just roll Hutton out there because he’s filling in for Rinne, you’ll kill your ratios.
Semyon Varlamov, G (L, 35 SV, 4 GA, .897%) – For a solid stretch after Varly returned from his 76th groin injury this season, he was looking very good. I don’t expect that to continue and last night we saw a bit of what I was waiting to see. It’s not that I’m hoping he’ll fail, but he does play for the Avs, so there’s that. The big difference during his stretch of solid play is that he wasn’t getting peppered for nearly 40 shots a night, which is a typical night for the Avs porous defense. Varly faced 39 shots last night and not surprisingly, suffered the loss as result. Are you sensing a trend? I am, and it’s not a good one for Varly or his owners.
Roman Josi, D (1 G, 3 SOG, +2) – At the start of the season a lot of folks were acting like Josi wasn’t the beast that he is, but he most definitely is. With another goal last night he pushes his season line to a sexy 8/21/29/+13 in 46 games so far this season. That puts him on pace for 15 goals and 55ish points this year and that’s Shea Weber, D (2 A, 6 SOG, +2) territory right there. Are there any more doubts about Yoshi? There shouldn’t be.
Colin Wilson, C (1 G, 2 SOG) – The hot streak that Wilson has been riding is likely over. He has two points (1 G, 1 A) over his last four games after an insane run that saw him put up 11 points in just eight games. That’s clearly not sustainable, but Wilson will remain a guy well worth owning down the stretch.
Mike Ribeiro, C (3 A, 3 SOG, +2) – A commenter asked me recently if he should drop Ribs to make a quick grab/IR stash for Okie and then re-add Ribs after the fact. This is why I warned against doing it.
Jonas Hiller, G (W, 17 SV, 1 GA, .944%) – So the Flames made their call and sent Joni Ortio back to the AHL and will try like hell to make the playoffs on the backs of Hiller and Karri Ramo. It’s possible, anyway.
Johnny Gaudreau, LW (2 G, 2 SOG, +1) – Johnny Hockey is at it again with a two-goal game extending his point streak to four games. He has six points over that span (2 G, 4 A) and is looking at finishing his rookie season with around 25 goals, 65 points and a Calder bid. It goes without saying, though I’ll say it, that he is a no-brainer keeper for next season.
Chris Stewart, RW (1 G, 4 SOG) – There are a lot of trade rumors swirling around Stewart, but who cares? He’s been garbage save that one year he scored 40 goals for the Avs, otherwise? Bupkiss! Granted, he does play for the Sabres, but really that’s where he belongs. He has four points (2 G, 2 A) over his last three games, but again, I just can’t get excited about this guy. Half the time it doesn’t even look like he cares out there, so why should we?
Devan Dubnyk, G (W, 23 SV, 1 GA, .958%) – Ah yes, the chance to stick it to your old team is always sweet and Dubs did not waste his opportunity pushing away 23 of 24 shots to down the Oil 3-1. I like Dubs as the starter in goalie friendy Minnesota, and while he won’t become a top 5 or top 10 goalie down the stretch, he’s going to provide more than enough value to his owners to be worth owning down the stretch. He also makes for very solid trade bait as we move towards the deadline and goalies drop like flies to injury.
Nino Niederreiter, RW (1 G, 4 SOG, +2) – I predicted that Nino would pot 30 goals and he remains on pace for exactly that, but he’s provided almost no value outside of the goal scoring. His minus-12 rating is brutal, his seven assists in 47 games are even worse. The rating could improve now that the Wild have shored up their goaltending a bit, so if you need goals Nino can provide, but anything else is a bonus.
Matt Beleskey, LW (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) – Hey look, it’s Niederreiter with a positive rating!