Thursday had a lot going on, but arguably the two greatest performances of March 8 shared a thematic trait: fantastic outputs by rich Russian dudes named Ilya.
BREEZY’S NOT AS EASY TO BEAT
Let’s start off with the most intriguing situation; dare I say it: Ilya Bryzgalov might just get his act together yet. The amusing part of the scenario is that the reasonable media angle is that Breezy is heating up for the real-life playoffs, but fantasy owners must be salivating at the concept of him suddenly transforming into the elite netminder people were hoping for when they rolled the dice with him in their fantasy drafts.
It’s far too early to say that Bryzgalov has made a humongous turnaround or if this is just a short-term fix, but it’s been a pretty lucrative span for those who decided to rough it with the disappointing Russian goalie. The Philadelphia Flyers stopper has won four games a row, with two of the victories being shutouts.
Yes, it’s a small sample, but the larger trend has been promising for Bryzgalov, too. The Flyers goalie is 7-2-0 with a non-decision in his last 10 games, so things are looking up for his playoff hopes – both in real life and in fantasy. (Of course, actually delivering on that optimism is still a big question.)
HOT AND KOVALCHUK
The name “Ilya” might as well mean hot-and-cold because the other guy with a long-term contract and plenty of negative press clippings hasn't exactly been predictable from a goal-scoring perspective. Just take a look at how feast or famine it’s been for Ilya Kovalchuk when it comes to goal scoring lately:
Last night: hat trick
Tuesday: one goal
Nine games before that: zero goals
Feb. 14: hat trick
Looking at those numbers, you might feel the urge to bury Kovalchuk with claims that he’s lazy/overpaid/some other sign that he’s not up to snuff. The thing is, that last bit of information shows off one of my media pet peeves: being selective with stats. (Example: mentioning the fact that "Player X only has [blank] goals" while making no reference to other numbers, such as assists.)
Sure, Kovalchuk didn’t score goals consistently in that goal-less span, but he’s been chipping in assists at an admirable rate. In the 12-game span that began on Feb. 14, Kovalchuk had those seven goals plus eight assists. He failed to score a single point in just three games.
Really, he’s been one of the NHL’s stronger performers after fighting through two relatively slow months to start the season. Kovalchuk had 16 points in 14 December games, 11 points in 12 January contests and 19 in 13 February contests. March is looking quite strong, too, with seven points in five contests so far.
(Now if you want to beat up on a slumping player, turn to a guy who had some rather odd comments about Bryzgalov: Danny Briere. The small forward hasn’t scored a goal in 21 consecutive contests and has just eight assists to salvage his rotisserie dignity.)
Overall, things are looking up for both Ilyas, yet particularly in the case of Bryzgalov, there’s no promise that trend will continue, so savor it while you can.
Max Pacioretty now has eight points in his last four contests – including his 30th goal of the season … Jack Johnson gained a measure of revenge against the Los Angeles Kings by scoring in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win. By the way, Columbus has spoiled things quite a bit lately vua its four-game winning streak, with a win against Colorado, Los Angeles and two victories against the Phoenix Coyotes … Speaking of the Pacific Division, the Dallas Stars strengthened their hold over the top spot by winning a shootout against the Sharks along with seeing the Ducks and Kings lose in regulation and the Coyotes fall in overtime … Alex Ovechkin’s last two points have been overtime game-winners … The Blues stand alone atop the NHL’s standings for now. Perhaps most impressively, Alex Pietrangelo has 30 points in his last 30 games … There are some rumors that Alex Radulov might return to the NHL soon – perhaps in time for the playoffs. Even considering his absence, Radulov could very much be a forward worth eye-balling as a depth option in the future. Radulov scored 26 goals as a 21 year old and continues to play well at the KHL level, so it could be a rather interesting thing to watch … Jamie McGinn had another two-point output on Thursday. Like I said earlier this week, he might just be on a hot streak, but why not give him a shot? He’s skating with Paul Stastny at the moment, after all … Jaroslav Halak is currently on a seven-game winning streak … The Sharks lost last night, but at least the team’s stars broke slumps. Joe Thornton collected three assists while Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau scored one goal each … Ben Bishop is undefeated in his two games as a goalie with the Ottawa Senators.
It sounds like Matt Duchene will miss between three and four weeks with his right ankle issue … As it turns out, Brandon Dubinsky might just be dealing with a sinus issue instead of a hand problem … Thomas Vanek is dealing with an upper-body injury … The Minnesota Wild’s goalie situation got a bit more ridiculous last night as Josh Harding went down with a lower-body injury … Mike Green might be in line for a suspension after a highly questionable hit … Pavel Datsyuk is apparently skating again. So is Jonathan Toews, but we’ll see how much of a difference it can make … Blue Jackets injuries: Fedor Tyutin might not play against this season while Steve Mason is banged up again … Sheldon Souray and Steve Ott missed the Stars game on Thursday … Jaromir Jagr played on Thursday, scoring a goal in limited ice time. (Click here for the full injury list.)