If you are among the many owners who benched Semyon Varlamov, G (W, 54 SV, 0 GA, 1.000%, SHO) and David Backes, C (4 G, 6 SOG, +2) take some solace in the fact that it was the right call. It might sting, but don’t second-guess yourself here. Before either guy found some semblance of their 2014 selves on Wednesday night they were hot garbage with a side of crusty old gym socks so there was no reason to put either of them in your lineups. Generally the rule of thumb is to always, always start your big names. You drafted them, you can’t trade them and if there’s nothing better on the wire, you just slot them in and live or die with your decisions. Both Varly and Backes have been so bad this year that you almost had no choice but to bench them. With performances this good it begs the question whether or not either of them has found their stride for a big second half, but I’m sorry to say that neither is poised for a big run and neither of them has earned the right to be regularly inserted into your lineups moving forward, either.
The inevitable question after Varly posted his ridiculous 54 save shutout of the oh so offensively potent Chicago Blackhawks is “Does this mean he’ll have a huge second half?!” and the answer is a short, but not curt, no. One game does not a season make and the problems with Varly start and end with the team as a whole. Varlamov is not a bad goalie, but he isn’t great, either. Last season he played way above his head in general and this year he’s come back down to earth, unfortch for him when he landed he landed on the Colorado Avalanche who have tons of defensive holes, offensive woes and puck possession problems. I think Varly’s second half will be better than his first, but not by a ton. Given the reaction, you might want to try and sell high on just this game.
As for Backes, there is no sell high for him so I hope I’m wrong and you actually did start him because you won’t get a better game from him for the rest of the season, maybe ever. Before this explosion Backes had just 19 points in 38 games and there are no indicators in his deeper numbers that say this is the start of anything. He’s within a point of his career shooting percentage and he’s getting good TOI with solid line mates, he just isn’t producing. In terms of putting him back into your lineups regularly; in H2H leagues he should be started all the time anyway because it costs you nothing unless you sit someone else who is producing in favor of Backes, don’t do that. In roto leagues, however, every game counts and you can’t waste them on Backes. Keep an eye on him for a short burst of offense in the immediate future, but don’t blindly burn those valuable games played on him for the rest of the season, either. Like Varly I don’t think this game signals anything more than a good game, but hey, hope springs eternal, right? Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
Darcy Kuemper is out for a week or so with an LBI. Nik Backstrom gets the start tonight and he’ll be in net for the foreseeable future while Kuemps heals up from whatever the hell is wrong with him.
Joe Thornton remains out with a UBI, he remains day-to-day but shouldn’t miss a ton of a time.
Karri Ramo was quickly placed on IR with an undisclosed injury after colliding with a teammate last night. Joni Ortio was called up to replace him
Paul Stastny, C (1 G, 1 A, 7 SOG, +1) – On the other hand, Stastny almost has to get better in the second half and the seven points in his last five games helps to make that case. Even better, he has eight points (1 G, 7 A) over his last eight games, but he’s still out of the top six for now. On the upside he’s getting time on the top power play, but otherwise, he’s on his way to a bust season one way or the other.
Jordan Eberle, RW (2 G, 4 SOG, +1, 2 PIM) – Unlike Jason Spezza, C (4 SOG) and Matt Duchene, C (2 SOG) Eberle seems determined to not be a total bust this season and to that end has put up five points (4 G, 1 A) over his last five games. He’s on pace to hit 50 points by the end of the year, but that’s a far cry from the 70 I predicted he’d reach. Like Stas, there’s virtually no possibility he isn’t a bust this season, but he could have a solid second half.
Borna Rendulic, RW (Zip, Zilch, Nada) – You might want to keep an eye on Rendulic, who is playing on Duchene’s line, but really does that mean much this season? No, no it doesn’t. The big Croatian winger is getting a chance on big ice and has one goal over his first seven games with a minus-two rating. That’s bleh. I think the Avs are just looking to get him some reps and hoping maybe they can find a spark offensively. You should be aware of him, but he isn’t a must add, in fact, he probably won’t be worth owning for a few more years.
Petr Mrazek, G (W, 28 SV, 2 GA, .933%) – In limited work Mrazek has been largely fantastic this season posting a line of 5-2-1/2.31/.919% in eight starts while he fills in for the injured Jonas Gustavsson as Jimmy Howard’s backup. Honestly, Gustavsson’s numbers weren’t that great in the three starts before he went down with a shoulder injury and I doubt over the course of 20 or so starts behind Howie that he’d be much better than Mrazek has been. I don’t think it will be The Monster who ends up in the AHL after he heals up, but you never know. In either case Gustavsson is still two to three weeks away from getting back on the ice and he’ll need a conditioning assignment that may be somewhat lengthy anyway, so Mrazek will remain one of the more valuable backups to own for at least another month.
Jonas Hiller, G (L, 7 SV, 2 GA, .778%) – For the second straight game Karri Ramo, G (L, 12 SV, 1 GA, .923%) was only able to last about halfway through the tilt before Hiller had to come in and bail him out. Ramo was injured in a collision with teammate Raphael Diaz, D (1 SOG, -1) but before getting pulled he was solid allowing a one goal on 13 shots. There’s no word on how badly or how long Ramo is hurt, but it didn’t look good and he needed to be helped off the ice. Hiller was starting to pull away in the race for the starting gig in Calgary, so I would imagine we would see a healthy dose of him in goal in the immediate future one way or the other.
Justin Abdelkader, LW (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) – Abs has been one of the more underrated but valuable forwards this year and he should continue to generate more worth in the second half as he’s clearly solidified a spot in the Detroit top six. Skating with Gustav Nyquist, RW () and Henrik Zetterberg, LW (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG) he’s posted five points (2 G, 3 A) in his last two games and six points in his last five. He’s on pace for 50 points and 25 goals, but I’m dubious on his chances to get to 25 goals. He’s rocking a seriously inflated shooting percentage with a heady 15.5% mark, which is more than double his career average of 7.5%.
Mason Raymond, LW (1 G, 3 SOG) – Wow, Raymond has been a huge disappointment so far this season, but that’s mostly due to injury. It’s not that anyone expected much from him, but I thought he’d be good for more than six bloody goals as we entered the second half of the season. What’s worse he scored three of those six goals in the second game of the season back on October 9th and hadn’t potted another since October 19th. That’s bad, but it gets worse! In 10 games in December he scored exactly zero points. None, zip, zilch, nada. Gross.
Riley Sheahan, C (1 G, 1 SOG) – I added Riley in a deep league hoping he’d give me a few points and he gave me squat. So I dropped him and on the same day I dropped him he scores a goal. Super. There isn’t much here despite playing on a fairly potent Wings offense. He remains a third line center without much offensive jump.
Henrik Lundqvist, G (W, 24 SV, 1 GA, .960%) – Hank was stellar again last night and pushed away 24 of 25 Ducks shots for a 4-1 victory at the pond last night. His season line now improves to a stellar 19-8-3/2.30/.916% and he should only get better in the second half. Cam Talbot, who has been stellar this season in limited work behind Hank, is slated to start tonight in the second game of a back-to-back set for the Rangers and he’s worth a spot start if you own him.
Ilya Bryzgalov, G (L, 26 SV, 3 GA, .897%) – Oof, it ain’t easy bein’ Breezy. In just his third game and second start since signing with the Ducks Breezy did not look good and took the loss allowing three goals on 29 shots pushing his horrible season line to 0-2-0/4.91/.836%. I know the sample size is small, but if he keeps playing this badly he’s going to get cut and John Gibson will find himself back on big ice sooner than later once he’s healthy.
Rick Nash, LW (1 G, 4 SOG, +2) – The Rangers are third in goals per game with 3.1 per this year and that’s in large part due to Nashty’s 25 goals in 37 games so far. He’s on pace for 55 right now but he’s also shooting at a 18.7% clip, which is far, far above his 12.7% career average, so I suspect he’ll end up very close to 50 but may come in a bit shy. Still, he’s on pace for a career year and he should end the season with very healthy marks in every offensive category.
Derick Brassard, C (1 G, 3 SOG, +3) – When the Rangers signed Brass to a deal worth 5 million per year a lot of people scratched their heads and wondered what Rangers GM Glen Sather was thinking. To be fair, Slats gives out tons of awful deals, so a lot of peeps chocked this up to his usual M.O. and kept on with their lives. Turns out Slats and his people knew what they were doing after all as Brass is just a few points shy of a point-per-game. He has goals in three straight and 31 points in 35 games so far. I see no reason why he won’t have a strong second half and prove to be an integral part of the Rangers success this season and for years to come. Don’t sleep on him in fantasy, either; he’s got mad skills y’all!
Mats Zuccarello, RW (1 G, 3 SOG, +3) – Last season Zucc started pretty slow much to the chagrin of Rangers faithful and fantasy owners alike with just 2 points in his first 11 games. It didn’t take long for him to get back on track and he went on to post double-digit point totals every month save one for the rest of the year. This season he’s started slow and he’s stayed slow, though he’s slowly improving. Notice a theme here? Slow! That’s not what you want in hockey, man. Either way, he’s been solid for the past month or so and I can see him having a decent second half, but nothing amazing.
Tuukka Rask, G (W, 37 SV, 2 GA, .949%) – When the season started Tuukka was a near unanimous choice for best goalie in the league for fantasy or otherwise, but he has been far from it so far and I doubt he’ll regain that crown this season. He seems to be alternating good and bad so far, posting a 2.82/.899% in October, 1.90/.935% in November and 2.98/.896% in December. So far in three starts this month he’s at 1.91/.941% so hopefully his owners get a solid month from him with a fully healthy Zdeno Chara, D (1 G, 3 SOG, -1) anchoring the B’s D in the second half. I think he’ll be serviceable, but not incredible.
Beau Bennett, RW (1 G, 3 SOG) – If he can stay healthy, Bennett is worth owning in deeper leagues, he just never stays healthy. In fact, he’s injured so much that after his most recent injury he said he was embarrassed. Fair enough. Well, he’s healthy now and he’s skating in the Pens top six with Evgeni Malkin, C (1 G, 1 A, 6 SOG). He has four points (1 G, 3 A) over his last four games on that line and should remain there until some of the many injured Pens return to action. While he’s there, he’s worth owning.
Milan Lucic, LW (2 A, 2 SOG, +3) – A lot of people are asking whether they should drop Lucic, and let me tell you now, no. That’s madness. Yeah, he’s slow on the points this year and at his current pace he’ll finish with just 40, but I expect a solid second half from him and he should finish with north of 50 by season’s end. In the meantime he’s back to giving you copious amounts of PIM with 69, hits with 122, his plus minus is in the green at plus-5 and he’s shooting at about 5 points below his career mark, so expect an uptick in both goals and points in the second half.
Patrice Bergeron, C (2 G, 5 SOG, +2) – Berg tickled the twine twice last night and has four goals over his last five games now. He’s currently on pace for 20 goals and 60 points, but I could see him picking it up in the second half and finishing with 25 and closer to 70 points if the B’s get their shiz together.
Steve Downie, RW (3 SOG, -1) – Not that you need more reasons to own the league’s leader in PIM who can also give you around 50 points while spending so much time in the box, but he’s playing on the top line with Sidney Crosby, C (3 SOG, -2) for now, so add him if you can and don’t bench him if you already own him.
Braden Holtby, G (W, 31 SV, 2 GA, .939%) – I’ve always been a big fan of Holtby’s but last season really tried my patience. I wasn’t convinced he was as bad as his season line (23-15-4/2.85/.915%) and this year he’s proving me right, finally, and after last night’s solid performance his new, shiny season line sits at 19-8-6/2.29/.921% and I’d expect exactly that from him in the second half. Maybe fewer wins, but otherwise stellar peripherals.
Jonathan Bernier, G (L, 20 SV, 5 GA, .800%) – Clearly firing Randy Carlyle did the trick!
Eric Fehr, RW (2 G, 1 A, 4 SOG) – Fehr is absolutely on fire with eight points (6 G, 2 A) over his last five games with a plus-seven rating over that span to boot! That being said, this is just a flash in an otherwise often cold pan and he’ll return to that coldness sooner than later. Ride him while he’s hot, drop him when he’s not. No regrets.
Marcus Johansson, LW (2 G, 3 SOG, +2) – There’s little doubt that Johansson is going to set career marks for goals scored and points, but I doubt he’ll hit the 25 goals or 50 points he’s on pace for at the moment. Still, he’s scoring now with four goals in his last five games, so treat him like a cheap whore and ride him while he’s hot and then drop him and get checked for STDs.
Alex Ovechkin, RW (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) – There isn’t much to say about Ovie, he’s doing his thing, but I noticed he’s on pace for 400 shots on goal this season for the first time since ’08-’09 when he fired an insane 528 shots on goal in 79 games. Does anyone else on the Caps even bother to shoot the puck or what?
John Carlson, D (2 A, 2 SOG, +3) – It took a few years but Carlson is finally living up to the hype and with two helpers last night he’s now fourth among defensemen in scoring with 30 points in 39 games. He’s ahead of both Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban who have 27 points each. I didn’t see that coming, but I’ll take it from a guy I expected to be a third defenseman. I see no reason why he can’t continue to score at pace for the rest of the season and finish in the 50-point range.
Troy Brouwer, RW (2 A, 1 SOG, +1) – Bowser is on pace to score 23 goals by the end of the season and I think he’ll get there, believe it or not. He won’t do much else for you other than that, but he does rack up the hits and has 94 so far.