The very nature of fantasy hockey dictates that we examine individual efforts far more frequently than collective/team ones. Every now and then, you have to acknowledge that when a squad does something special, though. It doesn’t hurt that there are at least some practical applications for fantasy purposes, too.
The Detroit Red Wings took the last two steps to tie the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL’s all-time record for consecutive home wins with 20 over the weekend. They did so with win No. 19 on Friday (a narrow shootout victory against the Anaheim Ducks) and No. 20 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday (a 4-3 win in regulation). Detroit won’t need to wait long to see if they can stand alone at 21 as the Red Wings will face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. (They’ll also get a chance to really fatten their all-time lead if they prevail with two consecutive home games after the Dallas match, four of five and six of eight at Joe Louis Arena going forward.)
The Red Wings have scored 83 goals while allowing just 30 in that 20-game span. That translates to an average of 2.77 goals for and 1.5 goals allowed per game.
OK, so it’s obvious that the Red Wings are hot at home right now – and obviously have been stout all season long, with an incredible 23-2-1 record at Joe Louis Arena and the definition of an average road mark at 15-15-1.
The first takeaway is fairly simple: if you’re having doubts about starting a Red Wings player vs. a random generally equal guy, it would be wise to take a look at where a given game is taking place. Naturally every player isn’t going to see a dynamic change from venue to venue, but some obviously enjoy a noticeable jump from away to home. Perhaps it’s a matter of Mike Babcock finding beneficial matchups or maybe it’s all about the benefits of having family around and/or their familiar routines at their fingertips. (Then again, it could be all about a given player’s inner showman.) Either way, you might be best to lean toward a Red Wing at home if all things are equal and then perhaps angle a bit toward the other side on the road.
(To get a more exact view of how each player fares, look up his “split stats.")
The second interesting thing about the Red Wings continuing their home run is that they’re doing it mostly with “No. 3” goalie Joey MacDonald rather than should-be backup Ty Conklin in light of Jimmy Howard’s injury situation.
There was some talk that Howard might be back over the weekend, but to little surprise, that didn’t work out. The latest update is that Howard is shooting for a Friday return while Dan Cleary should know more about his situation in the near future.
In the mean time, it wouldn’t be shocking if Babcock sides with MacDonald. I don’t know if I’d say he’s playing the hot hand – maybe a warm one, as the team has done more work that the borderline NHL goalie – but the bottom line is that he’s winning right now. The Red Wings are building a nice cushion for themselves as their division rivals seem to be going in different directions …
While the hockey world was raving about Steve Mason’s rookie run with Columbus, I couldn’t help but be skeptical about his long-term capabilities because of one far-too-easily (even then) forgotten name: Pascal Leclaire.
For parts of three seasons, Leclaire ranged from dreadful to passable. Then the 2007-08 campaign came along and he rocked a ridiculous nine shutouts. After that he floundered in Columbus before Mason took over in 08-09 (and topped him with 10 goose eggs) before being traded to the Ottawa Senators where he proved to be a sub-NHL goalie.
Call it the Ken Hitchcock Effect, then. Halak is exhibiting it in a Masonian way as he now has an absurd five of six shutouts since the New Year rolled around. His latest one came against the great San Jose Sharks offense, which couldn’t beat him on any of their 25 shots. (25 shots isn't the best San Jose can do, but that's clear evidence that the Blues defense is doing its part, which is obviously part of the plan for Hitch.)
The obvious worry is that Halak might turn into a statistical pumpkin like Mason and Leclaire did, but that’s really just something to consider for keeper league owners and people drafting next season.
CENTRAL GOING SOUTH
While the Blues are staying within a stride or two of the Red Wings for the No. 1 spot in the Central, the other contenders are hitting mid-season crises. The Nashville Predators’ three-game streak is nowhere near as worrisome as the eight-game swan dive by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The reason is pretty clear (to me, at least): the Hawks are walking a very different tight rope from St. Louis and Nashville in that they usually just out-score opponents. That’s great, but now the formula is going in the wrong direction as their offense if falling a bit short while their defense is just falling apart.
Keep an eye on GM Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks; they might just pull the trigger on a deal before the deadline is upon us. It's hard not to at least imagine what Evgeni Nabokov would look like in Chicago; in a way he'd remind many of former Blackhawks netminder Nikolai Khabibulin.
Zach Parise wants to wait until the off-season for contract talks, which isn’t exactly ideal for a Devils front office still unsure about its medium and long-term outlooks … To the chagrin of the Rangers, Dominic Moore only received a fine for his hit on Ruslan Fedotenko … Ryan Callahan has five goals in his last three games, including a hat trick against the Flyers … Getting Mikko Koivu back hasn’t really done enough for the woeful Minnesota Wild, who keep sliding even when they face the lowly Blue Jackets … Sergei Bobrovsky didn't exactly run with his opportunity to take more starts away from Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been ill lately … Kimmo Timonen blasted Bryzgalov and then criticized his teammates as a whole. He better be careful or Paul Holmgren might give him the Michael Cammalleri treatment … Apparently the Blue Jackets might want a breakup more than Jeff Carter … Meanwhile, Teemu Selanne seems to want to stay in Anaheim … There’s chatter that GMs might want the equivalent of the NBA’s amnesty clause in the next CBA. I can just picture Scott Gomez imagining a Shawshank Redemption-style exodus from Montreal as I type this … Corey Perry has two hat tricks against the Blue Jackets this season. What a bully.
Simon Gagne skated for the first time since the day after Christmas. He’s dealing with a concussion, so there’s often a long process from “skating” to “playing,” though … Jakub Voracek is the latest banged-up Flyers forward … Andy McDonald played 16 minutes and generated a power-play assist in his first game back from a troubling concussion … Matt Duchene is getting better but isn’t quite “there” yet … James Wisniewski scored two points (one goal and one assist) in his game back from a significant ankle issue. He also played a little more than 21 minutes. He's worth a look if the polarizing blueliner is on the market because - let's face it - Columbus doesn't have much to choose from (especially among its defensemen) ... Useful but unspectacular centers Jason Arnott and Jarret Stoll were placed on their teams’ respective injured reserve lists on Friday. (Click here for the full injury list.)