The NHL season carries on and a number of noteworthy things have occurred over the past two weeks so let’s get right into the nuggets.
The biggest news in hockey at the moment is the head injury suffered by Evgeni Malkin, but rather than try my hand at predicting when the Penguins forward might return, I’ll evaluate what the team will do in his absence. Firstly, the versatile Brandon Sutter moves up to the team’s second line, placing him in a more offensive position. The former Hurricane has eight points and a plus-seven rating in 19 games this season, but my guess is he’ll pick up his offense now that his role expands. Secondly, James Neal moves alongside Sidney Crosby, which is a case of the rich getting richer. Provided he sticks on the top line with the captain, there’s no reason to think the league leader in power play goals will slow his roll.
The firing of Lindy Ruff last week was not altogether surprising, but as much as we might have speculated he might be relieved of his duties there’s really no way to know how a coaching change might impact the players on a team’s roster. My colleague James O’Brien did a good job last week of covering which players may benefit or suffer as a result of Ron Rolston taking over, but after two games with the former Rochester bench boss at the helm we have already seen the fortunes of certain players change.
Steve Ott – The ultimate agitator was a solid fantasy asset during his days in Dallas, as he was afforded enough power play time to provide an offensive spark to go along with his time in the penalty box, but Lindy Ruff chose to deploy the center differently, limiting him to under 17 minutes per game. Since Rolston has taken over Ott has played nearly 20 minutes per game and has found himself parked in front of the opponent’s goal when the Sabres have a man advantage. If that role persists, he’ll be a valuable contributor going forward.
Tyler Ennis – Credit Rolston with recognizing that Ennis should be a mainstay on the team’s top power-play unit, as Ruff was not using him in that fashion. The talented forward is instant offense – just add ice time. He’ll never rack up huge penalty minute totals but he’ll be an otherwise solid fantasy contributor for as long as he receives this amount of playing time.
Marcus Foligno – Simple math tells us that the extra ice time afforded to Ott and Ennis must be taken from somebody and so far the player on the wrong end of the equation has been Foligno, who Rolston coached during his time in Rochester. While Ruff liked to have Foligno stationed in front of the net during power plays, the interim coach has a different opinion and has reduced the youngster’s ice time, most recently placing him on the fourth line for under 10 minutes of action in a 4-0 loss to the Islanders Sunday.
It has become customary for me to point this out early in every season, but let’s once again highlight the folly in trying to predict plus/minus leaders prior to the season. If you had knowledge of the fact that Mark Fraser, Sheldon Souray, Francois Beauchemin and Sami Salo would all be in the top five in this category, I’d like to speak with you privately about some lottery numbers. The lesson to learn here is there are too many factors that contribute to a player’s plus/minus rating for the stat to have much predictive value.
I’m inclined to say it’s as good a time as any to sell on Jeff Carter. This may go against my theory that the Kings are primed to break out of their season-long funk, but Carter’s own indicators paint a bleak picture. He’s currently finding the back of the net on nearly 20 percent of his shots although he has never posted a rate of better than 13.5 percent in any prior season with a career rate of 11.2 percent. Additionally, he has registered a putrid two assists for the campaign, which is not a good omen for his future prospects.
The return of Scott Hartnell to the Flyers’ lineup for Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Jets demonstrated how explosive the team can be when it’s at full strength. It’s no exaggeration to think the top line of Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek could be one of the best in the league while there are few second lines that can boast the likes of Daniel Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Because of his recent injury, your league mates may have forgotten that Hartnell in particular might be one of the five most valuable commodities in rotisserie formats. Feel free to offer a recognizable name in a strong bid to acquire him – think Kovalchuk or Marleau – and reap the rewards later.
The window for buying Corey Perry has officially closed, angering all of those who sold off after he had amassed only six points in his first 12 games. Over his last four games the power forward rewarded those that kept the faith by racking up four goals, three assists, a plus-6 rating, six penalty minutes and 13 shots on goal in that span. Another reminder that tendencies built over more than 500 career games are far more predictive than an arbitrary dozen occurring at the start of a given season.
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