What's the worst spot for a goaltender to start right now?  Probably against Toronto on the road.  Well, Matt Murray had that exact spot on Thursday, and did the exact opposite of what most expected.  In a game where Toronto's expected goal total was pushing 4, Murray stopped all 38 shots he faced, shutting out the powerhouse Maple Leafs 3-0.  Murray's upside is undeniable; it's just a matter of keeping him on the ice and the defense in front of him not being a total mess.  For now, expect the Pens to give him the vast majority of the starts, meaning you can safely cut Casey DeSmith.  The Penguins schedule is fairly soft over the next couple of weeks, so feel safe rolling Murray.  Let's take a look at what else happened over the last two nights:
The trade deadline has come and gone in 2015 and we’re left with a flurry of moves that mostly didn’t matter. There were buyers, there were sellers and then there was the Buffalo Sabres who went into full tank mode and sold off every halfway decent asset they had on their roster in hopes to land Conner McDavid. Don’t believe me? They sent away Chris Stewart, Michal Neuvirth, Bryan Flynn, Jhonas Enroth, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Joel Armia in deals leading up to or at the deadline and they basically took a bunch of draft picks, injured players and a few cases of Molson in return. That’s an impressive fire sale, but I’ll laugh my pucks off if they don’t land McJesus. At any rate, almost nothing the Sabres did at the deadline mattered for fantasy owners, it’s all about quality not quantity folks, but there were a few deadline deals that will shake up the landscape of a few NHL teams and might just offer some key opportunities for the savvy fantasy owner to capitalize on:
Johan Franzen can’t go very long without getting hurt and he kept the streak alive last night after hitting the IR with what the Wings are calling an “upper-body issue.” An issue? Like he has emotional baggage from his childhood issue? It’s an injury, call it what it is. Does calling it an “issue” make it seem less severe? Even if it did, why bother? Franzen’s 22 points in 33 games aren’t exactly bringing the house down, eh? Anyway, the point of this anti-Franzen rant is that his absence frees up an opportunity for AHL goals leader Teemu Pulkkinen and his cannon of a shot to get a chance on big ice and it will be exciting to see what he can do.
Yesterday I brought big Anthony Mantha to your attention and said you should keep an eye on him as he’s on the rise. Well, there’s another kid you should get to know that’s already on big ice and lately his star is rising fast. Nick Bjugstad, C (2 G, 5 SOG, +1) is on a roll with seven points in his last three games including multiple two goal games giving him six goals in his last seven games. In fact, he has nine points in his last eight games and these totals aren’t unexpected. He started the season slowly, but at just 22 years of age and one full season under his belt that’s not surprising. It was only a matter of time before he started producing, and here it is. Can he keep it up? Absolutely. Just like Mantha he’s a big boy at 6’5”, 215lbs and he knows how to use his big frame to create space and opportunities for himself. Clearly he knows how to cash in on those opportunities as well bringing a heavy, accurate shot to the table in his big bag o’ tricks. He’s not just big; he’s strong too often winning battles along the boards. With exceptional on-ice awareness and vision he rarely finds himself out of position. Lately he’s playing with fellow prospect Jonathan Huberdeau (2 A, 4 SOG, +1) and veteran Brad Boyes (+1) so it’s a solid line for him to grow on. I don’t expect more than 50 points from Jugs, but he could beat that mark if he and Huber gel like the Cats hope they will. In any case, he should be added in all keeper leagues if he was on the wire and in deep re-drafts as well. It may not be long before he’s relevant in all leagues, so like I always say, get it while the gettins’ good, y’all! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
So for the past week your boy JD has been felled by some seriously ebola level flu and I apologize for the lapse in updates, but damnit I was nearly on my deathbed. Not really, but it sucked like Craig Anderson trying to tend net, so I demand your sympathy and understanding. Since I’m demanding it, I suppose I should offer some sympathy and understanding to Ben Bishop (W, 17 SV, 3 GA, .850%) but my patience is starting to run a bit thin. Yes, the clock struck three on Big Ben again and his numbers continue to slide ever so slowly towards the bleh end of the spectrum. After last night he's sitting at a mediocre 9-1-1 / 2.44 / .910%. That’s not terrible, yet, but it’s slowly getting there and despite the sparkling record Bishop has allowed three goals in six of his last eight starts. The other two games he allowed two goals a pop. That’s not what you expect from your number one goalie and a guy expected to be a top five option in the crease for fantasy owners this year. If there’s a positive spin to this it’s that he hasn’t allowed more than three goals all year, but that’s little solace at the moment for his owners in roto leagues who are watching their ratios get rocked slowly but surely. The Bolts allow just 27.4 shots per game, so this isn’t a defensive problem, it’s a Bishop problem and he needs to solve it soon. I haven’t seen any signs of his surgically repaired wrist being the issue here, so lets just think happy thoughts (serenity now!) and expect that there are better days ahead for the young tender. If nothing else, he has absolutely no risk of losing his starting job with the woeful Evgeni Nabokov backing him up. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey this weekend:
Often when a goalie makes 49 saves the focus is on how stellar the goalie performed and why not? Making that many saves in a single game is quite the feat. When I saw that Jonas Hiller (W, 49 SV, 1 GA, .980 SV%) accomplished that very feat last night my immediate reaction was not “Wow, killer game from Hiller!” it was “Jesus, the Flames gave up 50 shots on goal?” Make no mistake, Hiller was absolutely brilliant last night, but that does that make him a brilliant goaltender. So far the Flames are third overall in shots against. That’s not good. They’re offering up almost 37 shots a game. The only teams that are worse in this department are the Avs at 37.5 shots against per game and Buffalo at 39 against per game. Surprised to not see the Oil up there? Me too! In fact, Edmonton is tied for 11th overall allowing 31.3 shots per game despite already allowing 22 goals. Ouch. At any rate, the high shots against average is elevated a bit for the Flames due to the 50 they allowed last night, but the trend remains clear; the Flames defense is suspect and shows few signs of tightening up soon. I don’t believe either Calgary tender, Hiller or Karri Ramo, are good enough to handle the crazy shots load their defense is leaving them with. Hell, I doubt any goalie is. It might not be that bad if their shot differential wasn’t horrible, but it is and as it stands they offer up almost 13 more shots than they take. That’s a recipe for sadness and defeat. To make matters worse Hiller has shown himself to be streaky, injury prone and definitely doesn't perform well when he's fighting for time in net. Ramo was solid last year and he remains solid this year, in fact, he's looked better than Hiller until last night's game and last night's game does nothing to take the shine off of Ramo's work so far this season, it just gives Hiller a polish. If I was a Hiller owner I'd hope he can build off this start and string together a few more good ones. If he can, and the shots are still being poured on by the opposition, I’d try to sell high before it’s too late. I won't, though, because I wasn't foolish enough to draft Hiller anywhere. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Pekka Rinne is headed to the AHL for a rehab assignment and should be back in the crease for the Preds sometime over the next two weeks. That’s great news for fantasy owners and Preds fans alike, but what can Rinne give you when he returns? Frankly I’d expect every ounce of what he normally would give you if he hadn’t been hurt. When asked about how he was doing Rinne said “So far I feel really comfortable, I'm happy how things have gone in practice and how things have gone so far. I think I'm actually a little bit surprised it's been going so well. But like I said, it's still a process but for sure I feel like I'm really close to game shape and now it's just a final couple of games before I jump on the ice with the Nashville team." You have to love the sound of that if you’re a Rinne owner. With Devan Dubnyk keeping the bench warm for de facto starter Carter Hutton (2 GA, 14 SV, W) you’d think that Hutton would get the backup job once Rinne returned, but Hutton’s two-way deal and Dubnyk’s one way deal say otherwise, so expect Hutton to be sent back down to the AHL so Dubnyk can continue to collect a salary on the bench. While most Rinne owners held him, IR slot or not, he is only owned in 75% of ESPN leagues and 84% of Yahoo leagues, so there’s a slim chance he’s out there for you to grab, so go scope out your wire and if he is? Grab him now, now, yesterday! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday:
The Red Wings have been plagued by injury all season and when news that Henrik Zetterberg needed to have his herniated disc removed and was down for at least eight weeks, Wings fans and fantasy owners alike cried in their Molsons. You shouldn’t cry into your Molson though, no one likes watery beer; if we did we’d drink PBR or some shiz. Though Zetterberg is down his line mates remain good options for late season scoring boosts and if last night’s game was any indication, I’m not just blowing smoke here. Both Gustav Nyquist (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) and Johan Franzen (2 A, 3 SOG, +1) are skating on relatively fresh legs and though Z’s absence is a loss, it could open up more chances for both of them. Nyquist scored the game winner with OT winding down on a rebound when Peter Budaj kicked away a Franzen shot from the top of the circle and it was a nice display of soft hands by the young Swede. Though he’s returning from his own groin injury, Nyquist is immensely talented and he should sieze the opportunity to help drive the Wings’ offense in Z’s absence. He’ll need to put up more than two shots a game to do it, but he has the ability and could put up 20 more points down the stretch. As for Franzen, he isn’t without talent and opportunity either. He assisted on both goals for the Wings; first on a nice pass to Todd Bertuzzi and then on Nyquist’s game winner. The assist for the game winner was a bit fluky, but everyone knows that when in doubt put the puck on net and hope for the best, and here’s proof positive that’s a solid maxim to live by! The Mule has only played in 32 games so far due to injury but is 100% healthy now and has the potential to give you 20 or so more points before season’s end. He’s only owned in 61% of Yahoo leagues, and ~87% of ESPN leagues, so if you need a late season scoring boost, he’s among the better options available. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Normally I focus on one player that stands out to me as I write these rundowns, but tonight I have to switch it up because the Edmonton Oilers have come alive! Semyon Varlamov stayed in the entire game taking an 8-2 pounding from the league’s youngest team. It's pretty ironic that back in 1995 when Avs Head Coach Patrick Roy was left in for all 9 goals scored effectively ending his career with the Habs (and he nearly retired completely) and now he's gone and done the same thing to Varlamov, classy. I never liked Roy. Anyway, here’s the rundown for the Oil: Taylor Hall (3 G, 1 A, 7 SOG, + 1) is elite and should be the guy that leads this team back to greatness. He’s got all the skills and he put them all on display tonight. Jordan Eberle (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG, even) is the other half of the core of this offensive unit that could be one of the best in the league in the second half. David Perron (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG, +2) is having a career year and after not living up to expectations for years seems to have found a home in the Great White North. Ales Hemsky (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG, +1) is showing signs of life as well. He’s one of my second-half sleepers. Mark Acrobello (1 G, 1 A, 5 SOG, +1) remains a risky add at best. He’s tiny and inconsistent, but could live well off the table scraps of others if the Oil take off like I think they can. Sam Ganger (1 G, 2 SOG, even) should take this opportunity to step up and be a leader for this young bunch. He was once a highly touted prospect himself. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1 A, 2 SOG, +1) chipped in an assist, but should be right in the middle of all the scoring sooner than later. What would a mention of the Oilers’ potential be without the Nudge?! Nail Yakupov (1 SOG, -1) continues to be a huge bust and what a tickertease for his owners. I never buy in early on young Russians because so few of them pan out and Yakupov seems to be the same. On a team flush with young talent this kid is playing an embarassing season of hockey with a -17 rating and just 9 points in 28 games played so far. Nail, I think the KHL is calling. After a terrible start to the season it seems like this young team is getting its legs and finding their identity as a team. They’ve won four of their last five games and with performances like this there’s a possibility this team might, may be able to ull itself out of the basement and fight for a playoff spot. After adding Breezy to upgrade their goalie situation and a favorable schedule going up to the Olympic break facing the likes of the Flames, Jets, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Predators, things are looking up for the Edmonton faithful. Is the horrible start a thing of the past? Maybe, but you can’t deny tonight’s results, and this didn’t come against a bad team with lackluster goaltending either. Don’t miss out on this potential buffet o’ fantasy black gold, grab some Oil while you can get ‘em cheap! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey recently:
Evgeni Malkin (1 G, 3 A, 1 SOG, +3, 2 PIM) decided he wasn’t putting in enough effort lately and upped his game with 4 points against the toothless Panthers. He even chipped in 2 PIM for good measure! Geno is on pace for 103 points which wouldn’t in itself be historic, but being on pace for just 21 goals would make it a season for the history books, so expect that this torrid pace to slow a bit, and hitting the century mark? I don’t think he’ll get there. Lies! They say. Slander! They cry. Not so! Just 15 of the 270 (~5%) 100 point seasons by a player came with fewer than 30 goals:
Player Goals Assists Points Year
Bobby Clarke 27 89 116 ‘74-‘75
Paul Coffey 29 74 103 ‘89-‘90
Ron Francis 24 76 100 ‘92-‘93
Ron Francis 27 92 119 ‘95-‘96
Doug Gilmour 27 84 111 ‘93-‘94
Wayne Gretzky 23 79 102 ‘95-‘96
Joe Thornton 29 96 125 ‘05-‘06
Joe Thornton 22 92 114 ‘06-‘07
Henrik Sedin 29 83 112 ‘09-‘10
Adam Oates 23 79 102 ‘89-‘90
Adam Oates 25 90 115 ‘90-‘91
Bobby Orr 29 72 101 ‘72-‘73
Al MacInnis 28 75 103 ‘90-‘91
Brian Leetch 22 80 102 ‘91-‘92
Craig Janney 24 82 106 ‘92-‘93
I didn't even bother ordering those by year, or goals, or anything, why? Well, I entered it that way and editing a table is really annoying, seriously. My laziness aside, it doesn't matter because the point remains the same. Break it down even further and you'll see that less than half of those seasons came with fewer than 25 goals. Even Malkin's own 100 point campaigns were always supported by buckets o’ goals with 47, 35 and 50 goals scored respectively. Should he break the 100 point marker this year it would be a rare achievement amongst rare achievements, making it unlikely. When you rely on others to score goals for you to score points, the control that player has over his own destiny is largely in the hands of other men. Other men being the likes of Sidney Crosby and James Neal is nice, but what happens if Neal goes down again? I think Malkin is more likely to return to a point per game pace at some point and finish with 90ish points. Ho hum. Anyway, here's what else I saw in fantasy hockey recently: