February’s an odd month.
On one hand, it’s pretty much the worst one of the year, unless you’re REALLY committed to pretending that you love cold weather. Thing just seem colder and more miserable, and any novelty from seeing snow/your breath in the air/etc. is long, long gone.
At the same time, there’s that sneaking bit of optimism in the back of your mind - or some minds - that the worst is just about over.
That doesn’t mean all that bad weather is gone, mind you. (I don’t want to tempt the clearly angry weather gods to send more snowy wrath.)
Anyway, the month isn’t quite over, but we’re getting close. The same can be said for trade speculation, or at least the stuff that doesn’t seem like stretching the boundaries of human patience by discussing the offseason.
We’re even at the end of the outdoor game phase, as Levi’s Stadium wraps that all up in denim on Saturday.
Speaking of wrapping things up, this is my last Dose until Monday, as Michael Finewax takes over on Saturday and Jimmy Hascup strolls in on Sunday. Let’s get to it.
ISLANDERS 5, PREDATORS 2
-- Earlier this week, I remarked about Nick Leddy being on an eight-game pointless streak and only collecting one assist in his past 12 games. (He's really been quiet in 2015, in general.)
Well, that was interesting timing, as Leddy was fantastic against Nashville, scoring a beauty of a goal and adding two assists.
While his offense comes and goes, he's now at 25 points so far in 2014-15, which I'd say is at or above expectations (unless you were overly excited after he was traded, I guess).
-- Seems like Michael Grabner is finding a solid groove with Frans Nielsen and Ryan Strome. He generated two assists last night and a goal in his previous game. The speedy winger can at least supplement those more relevant fantasy options ... it's interesting to note that Grabner was a key part of a once-dull Islanders attack when he scored 34 goals in 2010-11.
-- John Tavares now has 29 goals and 60 points on the season. He's currently ranked fifth overall in the NHL and is just three points behind the league lead.
-- Mike Ribeiro just keeps delivering, generating an assist and a whopping 20 PIM thanks to him being sort of a miscreant.
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CANUCKS 5, RANGERS 4 (SO)
-- Blah, what a shootout-filled night. I don't hate the "skills competition" as much as others - it's annoying, but I'm more annoyed that the NHL doesn't give teams more incentive to win games in regulation, like changing the standings setup - but that doesn't mean I prefer it to organic, real hockey.
(That said, sometimes the shootout provides the only excitement in a bland game. Hey, just saying ...)
-- Cam Talbot saw his four-game winning streak snapped in this one, as he's allowed nine goals in his last two appearances. The Rangers' schedule is fairly easy through the rest of February (before things get scary in a road-heavy, challenge-filled start to March); it will be interesting to see if Talbot gets back-to-back starts, as the Rangers visit the suddenly pesky Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
-- Is Martin St. Louis out of his funk? He had been on a four-game pointless streak and only had an assist in nine games from Jan. 27 through Feb. 12, but now he's on a three-game point streak in which he has two goals and three assists.
-- At 19, you have to wonder if Bo Horvat is really "getting it" now. His 17 points in 43 games is yawn-worthy, but he's been great lately, with a point in five straight games and nine in his last 11. He's really not getting great ice time, either, as he's only averaging 13:38 TOI per night in February (by far his best rate). That stat means a lot to me as it sounds like the odds are against him to keep this up at least at this point in his progression, but he's at least a guy to watch.
SABRES 3, FLYERS 2 (SO)
-- Can you really get all that mad at the Flyers for not decimating the Sabres when the most likely explanation is that they're just not very good? OK, maybe get a LITTLE mad at them.
Either way, I wouldn't worry all that much about Philly if I were Boston or Florida.
-- It says a lot about Jakub Voracek's season that his recent dry spell almost seemed like material to be steaming mad, when it really hasn't been that egregious. Yes, his goal was needed last night, but he's been plugging away with decent SOG for the most part and should get his numbers more often than not.
(Just probably not as often as he did before the All-Star break.)
-- Wayne Simmonds has really picked up the slack for the slumping top line. He's now on a six-game point streak and also has nine points in 10 games, and he's really generating nice SOG too. About the only complaint you can advance - and really just to troll in a pure, shameless way - is that he's too valuable to spend a ton of time in the penalty box any longer. That doesn't change the fact that he's absolutely one of the best fantasy power forwards around.
-- Michal Neuvirth finally received a reward for his strong recent work with his fourth win of the season. He seems well aware that this is a golden opportunity to bolster his career. While he's only 1-2-1 in February, he's sporting a .940 save percentage in this small sample, better than the .928 he manage in November.
It's a lot to ask him to maintain those numbers behind a ghastly Buffalo team, but showing flashes of that brilliance greatly increases his odds of at least getting backup work next season.
PANTHERS 3, CANADIENS 2 (SO)
-- Sean Bergenheim being a healthy scratch ostensibly to trade him is the hockey equivalent to keeping a mid-level car in your garage indefinitely because you're waiting to sell it.
Or maybe a comic book in protective plastic, even if it's a worthless edition of Spawn?
-- Alex Galchenyuk missed the game due to the flu, forcing Michel Therrien to do something smart in lining up a good player (Brendan Gallagher) with Max Pacioretty. Gallagher proceeded to score two goals. I admire Dale Weise's moxie in making the most of his chances with an elevated role, but I don't admire Therrien's old-school (aka mostly dumb) approach. I've said it before, but let me restate it: you never know how many cracks you get at a big run with a given core group. Why waste it with a coach who is seemingly solid at converting a bad team to a good one but maybe isn't progressive enough to take that next step?
-- Tomas Fleischmann is the latest example of the Panthers just sort of having a kitchen sink approach to scoring goals.
-- Roberto Luongo beats Carey Price in a matchup between two goalies whose teams basically beg them to steal points. Luongo's so good that he makes Florida a real threat to Boston, even if I'd say the Bruins will limp into the playoffs.
(The B's are likely to get pulverized this weekend, first, though.)
SHARKS 5, STARS 2
-- It looks like the latest Sharks alignment is Melker Karlsson - Joe Thornton - Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski. My initial impression is that Wingels is good enough to run with this assignment if he gets a decent look, so stay tuned there.
-- Gotta love the two empty-net goal finish ... unless your guys were on the ice for the other team, of course.
-- Erik Cole strikes me as an underachiever, even if it's just as plausible that he's made the most out of skills that were simply misjudged. Either way, I often find myself hesitating to recommend him, so be warned ... but with Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn playing so well so far, he's a worthy passenger for at least the short term.
BLUE JACKETS 2, PENGUINS 1
-- Yes, it's a bummer that Sidney Crosby hasn't been very productive lately, but I'm not burying him, Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang for this dry spell. Logical or not, I will continue to have a gut feeling that Crosby and the Penguins' other heavy lifters could probably use a break, though.
-- Remember when so many people were using Patric Hornqvist's hot start to bury James Neal? It's amusing that they're, in some ways, at the same spot right now. Neal's 34 points come in more games (52), but he also has 21 goals, a +19 rating, five game-winners and a +19 rating. He's also really clicking with Mike Ribeiro. Hornqvist deserves credit for generating his 33 points in 45 games and generally being very effective in his own right, but he's also seen his offense dry up in a big way.
The message? The trade had benefits for both sides, and that's sort of supposed to be the idea.
More than anything else, it's amusing how many judgments were made early on in the season, before the Penguins hit their customary injury/etc. bumps in the road. The truth is that they're still a good team and have been for some time, even if their problems (depth scoring, etc.) are largely the same even with different supporting cast members.
-- Marc-Andre Fleury gave the Penguins a shot to win, stopping 28 out of 30 shots. He was busy in PK situations, as he went 9-for-9 in that regard.
-- Curtis McElhinney's been a lot more effective than expected. He's now won three in a row and five of six, allowing one goal in three of those games and two in one. (He gave up three in another win and four in his only loss, when he made 40 out of 44 saves against the red-hot Kings.)
Once again, I have to circle back to an important-if-frustrating point: goalies are really, really hard to predict.
CAPITALS 5, JETS 1
-- Marcus Johansson generated two assists on goals involving Nicklas Backstrom, yet it looks like Andre Burakovsky remains Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin's linemate, at least until Barry Trotz's dart board comes out again.
By the way, Backstrom is now tied for the NHL points lead with 63.
-- Tyler Myers is taking to life in Winnipeg, at least so far. He now has four points in as many games with the Jets (plus an impressive 13 SOG) after only managing 13 points in 47 games with Buffalo this season. That volume of shots makes him intriguing enough to grab (short-term or not) to see where this goes, at least if you're hurting for defense.
-- I could see the Capitals being a nightmare playoff matchup thanks to their deadly power play alone. They went 3-for-6 in that regard on Thursday.
While I'd dock them some points for allowing five shorthanded goals (Washington's only given up one), the Red Wings power play is really impressive, in part because they're drawing so many penalties with their even-strength work. Despite playing 56 games to Washington's 59, they have 51 power-play goals. You wouldn't know the advantage was so strong because they're generating such a ridiculous amount of chances (197 in 56 games compared to 180 in 59 for Washington), as many lean so heavily toward percentages instead of totals.
(Honestly, I get why efficiency matters, but totals move me far more than rates in this regard.)
Anyway, apologies if that tangent wasn't of much interest, but I was curious to see who might be leading the clubhouse in PP.
(Buffalo is pitiful with 19 goals and just 161 opportunities.)