Last season, the Nashville Predators won a playoff series for the first time since 2012 beating the division champion Ducks before losing to the Sharks in 7 games. The first blockbuster trade for Ryan Johansen gave the Preds a bonafide #1 center while still maintaining a strong defensive core. Then in the offseason, David Piole pulled off one of the most lopsided trades ever acquiring P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. Now, the Predators are absolutely loaded and if Pekka Rinne has one of his good years, they're among the favorites to win the Cup. Let's take a look at what Peter Laviolette has to work with:
As a Sabres fan, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. After two years of tanking, they ended up with Sam Reinhart
and more importantly, Jack Eichel.
In the Sabres first preseason game, Eichel showed why he was worth tanking for scoring a shorthanded goal and adding an assist. Sabres coach Dan Blysma has Eichel currently slated to be the second line center with multiple 30 goal scorer Matt Moulson
and burgeoning power forward Zemgus Girgensons
. It's a great situation for Eichel to thrive, even as an 18 year old. I currently have Eichel at 51st overall (rankings here
) and I feel great about having him ranked higher than anywhere else. The combination of speed and power that he has at such a young age is incredibly rare. In dynasty leagues, I'd have him ranked after the big 7 and McDavid. Bottom line is:
Teams usually play half of their starting roster in one preseason game and the other half in the next so it's tough to come away with major takeaways from preseason. That said, it could be very telling as to who will play on what line which has a major impact on players' value. Let's take a look at who had a big impact over the first three days of preseason:
Every year Henrik Lundqvist, G (L, 15 SV, 5 GA, .750%) looks sluggish to start the season and every year he finishes as one of the league’s top netminders. Last season there were myriad problems that lead to a mediocre start for both Hank and the Rangers; a nine game road trip to open the season, a new coach and system to adapt to and a training camp plagued by contract issues with various key players. Combine those factors with Hank’s typical modus operandi and it was explainable at least, you could kind of understand how the god of goalies would show chinks in his armor early on. Normally he works those chinks out early on, but so far this season there are some worrisome trends in his game.
So far Hank sports a very mediocre 9-7-3/2.70/.905% season line after allowing 11 goals in his past three games. This bad stretch comes after after blanking the Habs last Sunday and a very strong November. If you look at his lines by month you'll see an encouraging trend; he finished October with a line of 5-3-0/3.25/.891% and followed up in November with a much more Hank-like 4-3-3/2.05/.927%, so everything is green, right? Not so fast. Soft goals are a big problem for Hank this year, goals that he would have stopped in year’s past. Last night’s game winner was one of those and there's no real solution to the problem other than Hank stepping up his game and not letting the softies in. They aren’t all his fault, though, as the Rangers’ defense is looking lost more often than not and a few of the tallies from last night were as result of guys getting left on the ice for over two minutes, not clearing the puck when getting the chance (Dom Moore) and errant passes that become turnovers that become goals (Ryan McDonagh). He’s clearly struggling to pick up the puck through screens, too, something he’s noted himself in a recent post game interview. It used to be the only real way to beat Hank was on a deflection, now he's looking a lot more pedestrian.
So what’s the deal? Has Hank lost it? I seriously doubt it, but I also seriously doubt a return to the elite status he has enjoyed since entering the league nine years ago. For the first time in his career Hank can’t stand on his head and carry the team like he has in the past and that’s shaken the Rangers, who already look shaken enough as it is. I hate to say it, but for Lundqvist owners this season is going to be a bit of a roller coaster. He’s going to go on some ridiculous streaks and some bleh streaks and in the end he may very well finish with the worst numbers of his career. For a netminder like Lundqvist that means a 2.45 GAA and .910 SV%, so it’s not going to kill you, but that’s just not good enough to justify his ADP. Huh, that seems to be a theme with some goalies this year. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Back in April 2013 the Washington Capitals were interested in adding some veteran help for a playoff push. The Nashville Predators had some help in the form of Martin Erat and so they struck a deal. Erat went to the Caps and Filip Forsberg (1 G, 2 A, 5 SOG) came over to the Preds in a package deal. At the time no one really batted an eye, but now all eyes are wide open watching “Fil the Thrill” roll through opponents night after night on his way to one of the best starts a rookie forward has had in years. I honestly didn’t see this coming, but after he posted just 34 points in 47 games in the AHL last year, honestly, who did? His preseason was stellar, but preseason means squat and I figured he was just playing hard against weak competition to earn himself a roster spot like any respectable rookie. The last I saw of Fil he was easy to knock of the puck, undersized, lacking strength and looking overwhelmed playing North American hockey, but clearly he had some skill. Oh my how things have changed. With a deceptively awkward but quick wrister at his disposal Fil stretched his point steak to seven games with the three-point effort last night. What’s more, he has a six game goal-scoring streak mixed in and 12 points (7 G, 5 A) over that span. He’s currently on the top line with James Neal (1 A, 2 SOG, +2) and Mike Ribeiro (1 SOG, +2) and that’s a good place to be. He hasn’t just been good, he’s been dominant and his line has outscored opponents 13-1 at even strength so far. The downside here, yes there’s a downside, is that there’s really no chance he can keep this scoring pace up. You know that. You don’t want to admit it, but he will. The upside there is that he’ll fall from dominant to thrilling, retaining tons of value all season long. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
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:
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped all 19 Phoenix shots to pick up his second straight shutout as the Predators knocked off the Coyotes 3-0 Thursday night. Rinne had to be at his best as the game was scoreless heading into the the third period. Please, blog, may I have some more?
The Detroit Red Wings got a goal from Johnathan Ericsson with five seconds left to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 Sunday afternoon. Henrik Zetterberg also had a pair of assists in the win that improved the Wings to 7-4-1 this season and seemingly broke the Kings. Please, blog, may I have some more?
Patrick Kane’s consecutive goals proved to be the difference-makers as Chicago broke a 3-3 tie and downed San Jose 5-3 last night in the game of the night. Each team scored three times in a wild first period but the defenses restored order after that and Kane was the only player to score in the final 40 minutes of the game. Please, blog, may I have some more?
The Edmonton Oilers found themselves on the short end of a killer first period by the San Jose Sharks in one of the nine games played Tuesday night. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was shelled by the Sharks to the tune of 17 shots and six goals against in the first 20 minutes. Please, blog, may I have some more?
I wrote this about J-Quick back on November 16: “And oh yeah, J-Quick is the most underrated Goalie in the NHL right now.” I for one second that notion. In fact I third, fourth, and fifth it. Please, blog, may I have some more?