A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Ben Scrivens should be a reliable fantasy netminder during the entire length of Jonathan Quick’s absence and maybe even longer, but it turns out I was wrong. Not that Scrivens has struggled at all, but he has recently been usurped by Martin Jones, who is unbeaten in four excellent starts. In total, Jones and Scrivens have combined to go 10-1-3 with Quick in sick bay, and have compiled an astonishing 1.26 GAA and a .955 save percentage. I really don’t know what this means for the Kings goaltending situation over the long term, but if nothing else, the success of their backups proves what the advanced stats at www.extraskater.com have been saying for some time about the strength of the Los Angeles roster. Also, I think we can all agree that Ryan Miller goes to bed every night wishing he could be traded to Los Angeles.
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If the relative ease with which the Los Angeles goaltenders have earned victories hasn’t been enough to send Miller into a rage, I’m willing to bet the offensive support received by Antti Raanta is driving him absolutely crazy. With Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin on the shelf, Raanta has strung together three straight victories and holds a 5-0-1 record for the season. What’s more, the Blackhawks have averaged 6.33 goals per game during that three-game streak. Let’s compare this against the Sabres’ recent run of play, a span over which they have totaled only five goals in four contests. The situation in Chicago is a carbon copy of what’s been happening in Los Angeles. When a team, in this case, the Blackhawks, is this dominant in terms of puck possession, it becomes easy for goaltenders to play behind them. It should come as no surprise that the most popular metric used by www.extraskater.com to evaluate team performance places the Hawks and Kings first and third, respectively, in the NHL. Spoiler alert: the Sabres are dead last.
While Buffalo’s ranking in the advanced metrics isn’t at all surprising given their overall record, you may not have guessed the next worst team by this measure is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Surely, if you have watched a Toronto game this season, you’ve been able to determine they get outplayed quite a bit, but you probably didn’t think the situation was quite so dire. I put a lot of trust in these advanced numbers and if you haven’t already done so, I think it’s time to cut bait on some Maple Leafs before their schedule gets even tougher. After playing the Blues on Thursday night, Toronto will face off against Chicago Saturday and Pittsburgh Monday, a virtual gauntlet of tough competition. Even if it’s only for a short period, my advice would be to bench any Toronto players who are typically on the border of making your active lineup. You’ll thank me in a week for the help I have provided in preserving your plus/minus rating.
For those of you wondering, yes I’m aware Mikhail Grabovski has recorded four points in as many games since I told you his pace was unsustainable last week. I’m also aware that his shooting percentage remains above 21 percent, which still leads me to the conclusion that he and his fantasy owners are playing with house money. Sell high, please. You’ll thank me later.
Blake Wheeler has long been a favorite of this author, but I haven’t mentioned him in a while so it’s about time I tout him as an underrated commodity once again. Although his scoring pace is down from the production he generated last season, Wheeler has a number of factors working in his favor. Not only has the Winnipeg forward seen his overall deployment skew towards more offensive situations than in previous years, but he has also increased his shot rate from 2.7 per game to an even 3.0 this season. Only an unlucky shooting percentage of 7.3 percent (he entered the season with a career rate above 11 percent) has managed to hold him back. Until the peripheral stats suggest that he’s slowing down in some way, I’ll continue to talk up this undervalued contributor.
Speaking of undervalued, Andrew Shaw routinely gets lost in the shuffle when discussing Blackhawks forwards since he’s hidden by the long shadows cast by players such as Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and the Patricks – Sharp and Kane. Despite having to live without top billing in the Second City, Shaw has very quietly put together a terrific fantasy campaign. The third-year pro has amassed 20 points in 32 games this year while posting an impressive plus-11 rating, 25 penalty minutes, seven power play points and has tossed in 81 hits for good measure. What goes unnoticed about Shaw – and what makes his production appear sustainable - is the fact he has been on the ice for better than 50 percent of the minutes the team has played with the man advantage. Sure, his shooting percentage may seem high at 16.4 percent, but given how many of his scoring opportunities occur within a few feet of the crease and the fact he has consistently posted rates in this range, I think this is one scenario where the player could actually keep it up.
Bargain Bin Finds
J.R. Ewing would be proud of this week’s all-Dallas edition of the Bargain Bin. As usual, these players are owned in fewer than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Brenden Dillon (19 percent) – Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but the Dallas blue line has been decimated by injuries of late, with both Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley nursing ailments. This has opened up ice time for Dillon, who can be a useful add to your roster if you are in need of hits and penalty minutes.
Valeri Nichushkin (11 percent) – If you stopped paying attention to the rookie winger after he started off the season on shaky ground, you’ve been missing a lot. Nichushkin has picked up seven points in five December games and is currently playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, both of whom are, um, really good.
Antoine Roussel (7 percent) – What in the world is going on here? I have to assume many Yahoo leagues have no use for penalty minutes because there is no other good reason Roussel should be out there in 93 percent (!) of leagues. His numbers are superior to those of Steve Downie, who has been great this year and is owned in 44 percent of leagues. If you can’t use a player who is likely to rack up 150-200 PIM and could also score 15-20 goals, I’m not sure what to tell you.