The NFL just showcased its pre-Super Bowl weekend, but the NHL’s pre-All-Star Game weekend wasn’t too shabby, either. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting bits from a jam-packed three days.
CLOSER TO THE HARTNELL
It’s not exactly as if Scott Hartnell lacked any fantasy value before this season. Going into 2011-12, it seemed like his owners could count on 40-50 points (maybe 60 if he had some extra focus or luck) and somewhere around 150 penalty minutes. Those aren’t numbers to sneeze at, particularly in a league with very few guys who can combine respectable scoring stats with ample penalty box visits. That being said, this season’s combination of friendly bounces, hard work and fantastic linemates has allowed Hartnell to put up Todd Bertuzzi-before-he-did-that-awful-thing-to-Steve-Moore numbers.
Hartnell already has 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points in 47 games. That’s one more goal and six fewer assists than he had in a full 82-game 2010-11 campaign. He’s also pretty close to his PIM numbers with 71 so far this season. Those numbers essentially indicate that he does something of fantasy value almost (if not) every night.
Considering the rarity of PIM’s for high-level players (which only makes sense since, naturally, their teams want them on the ice more often than not), it makes you wonder where Hartnell ranks in fantasy this season. There are some fairly robust penalty minute numbers for some of the top 10 goal scorers in the NHL this season,* but Hartnell stands far above them all with those 71 minutes.
So can he keep it up? His 19.6 shooting percentage is a little high, so if you’re dreaming of a near-50 goal season, you might be asking a bit much. Still, he’s firing shots on goal at a promising pace (126 SOG) and is absolutely red-hot right now, with a ridiculous five goals over the weekend. Just enjoy the ride, whether it slows down a bit, hits a wall or two or improbably continues on.
* - Steven Stamkos (first place, 32 goals) as 44 PIM; third place James Neal has 26 goals and 56 PIM.
Fantasy football fans used to dream of creating a Frankenstein monster of Denver Broncos running backs because Mike Shanahan broke some many hearts by rarely committing to one completely. Fantasy hockey owners might have a similar dream for Jonas Hiller, only with a twist. Imagine fusing the Hiller from before the 2011 All-Star Game last season with the one who is developing into an all-world goalie again right as the 2012 All-Star weekend is coming up - you'd get a truly elite goalie. (Of course, if you did the reverse ... you'd have Steve Mason.)
The Ducks have won five consecutive games and are an astounding 8-1-1 in the month vof January, making one wonder what kind of New Year’s resolutions they made. It seems like their top scorers are waking up too, but it all seems to revolve around Hiller’s resurgence.
Sunday’s game was a great example of how much of a difference Hiller makes – and how the team often leans on the Swiss goalie. The Ducks were out-shot 15-2 in the first period yet left it with a 1-0 lead. Anaheim finished all three periods with serious shot disadvantages yet came out on top 3-2. As much as that had to do with timely scoring from Ryan Getzlaf (one goal, one assist) and Bobby Ryan (two goals), Hiller’s the main reason they were in the game to begin with.
One way or another, we’ll know how legitimate the Ducks are by the trade deadline. Anaheim faces a grueling eight-game road trip that could derail any pipe dream of a playoff run or legitimize the Ducks in the process. It could benefit owners of Anaheim players either way, as a better team usually equals better results while trades could generate new opportunities for those who were swapped.
MALKIN MAKES A MARK
It’s pretty tough to argue against Evgeni Malkin being the best player in the NHL right now. Geno had a great weekend. He scored two goals on Thursday (not technically the weekend, but close), one goal against Montreal on Friday and three points (one goal, two assists) including the game-winner against Washington on Sunday. He comfortably holds the league lead in scoring with 58 points and seems to just get more productive as games go along.
In fact, he’s putting together work that can compete with (though maybe not overwhelm) his world-beating Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Stanley Cup-winning season in 2008-09.
Don’t look now but Evgeni Nabokov is on a four-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just four goals. Considering the lengthy mess in net on Long Island, he could get a long look for the top spot. Is he likely to keep up the great work? Probably not, but if you need a netminder, you could make more reckless gambles. (The fact that he's in a contract year is a serious plus, even if his name doesn't carry the same weight it did even two seasons ago.) … It seems like it’s always one step forward and at least one step back for Ilya Bryzgalov. He held the New Jersey Devils to one goal in a win on Saturday and then allowed five goals and gave up a rough shootout loss against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. Paycheck politics will keep him above or at least equal to Sergei Bobrovsky going forward, though.
Alex Ovechkin could face a suspension on Monday for a hit on Zbynek Michalek, who could face punishment of his own for a questionable check on Matt Hendricks … Andrew Ference will sit three games for his hit on Ryan McDonagh … Jonathan Toews might sit out Tuesday’s game and the All-Star break because of what appears to be a hand injury … Curtis Glencross is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with his MCL issues … Jamie Benn was placed on the IR, but that might not mean he’ll be on the shelf very long … Flyers Daniel Briere and James van Riemsdyk are out indefinitely with their concussions while Jaromir Jagr remains day-to-day with his lower-body injury … Evander Kane has a concussion of his own (dizzying, I know). (Click here for the full injury list.)