Week 5 in Review

by Johnny Fantasy

This week: more goalie spot starts, stale headlines and our new favourite hockey hobbit.

The rise of the little guys

NHL-level hockey is an ever-evolving organism.  What’s nice is that nowadays with the game more focused on speed and puck possession, you don’t necessarily need to be a giant in order to succeed.  We’ve just seen the close of a stellar career for Martin St. Louis (5′ 8″) and exciting young players like Tyler Johnson (5′ 9″) and Johnny Gaudreau (5′ 9″)[1] will be showing us that skill can overcome bulk for years to come.  But one of the lesser celebrated little guys is Mats Zuccarello (5′ 7″), who is making his fantasy owners very happy this year.  The Rangers are off to a great start this season and Zuccarello is on the top line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, is producing with 15 points in 17 games so far, including 9 points in his past 7 games (with two of those being 3-point nights).  Yes, Zucc’s hockey skills are a lot better than his photoshop skills, and it looks like probably see a season similar to 2013-14 (59 points in 77 games) from him (even if his points come in a bit of a clumpy manner).  The best part of this though (other than the fantasy points) is it means more awkward Zuccarello interviews.  In interviews, Zucc’s facial expressions range from confused, lost child, to Norwegian crazy-eyes, to impatient death stare:

What about this face makes you think he's looking forward to answering your question?
(my personal favourite)

{***Update*** As soon as I finished this post Zuccarello went out and had another 3-point night, giving him 12 points in his last 8 games and 18 points in 18 games on the season.  At this point, I refuse to update my prediction that he’ll do better than his 2013-14 total, if for no other reason than to egg him on so he’ll go out and score another 3 points next game.}

More goalie spot starts

After last week’s section on starting hot goaltenders, I guess James Reimer felt left out.  He was very solid in week 4 (although not as far as wins/losses, if that’s your thing), but he’s been amazing in week 5 posting a 0.952 save percentage in three games (all wins for the Leafs, if that weren’t unpredictable enough).  Meanwhile Michael Neuvirth has only played once this week (4.00 GAA and 0.900 save percentage) and Mike Condon had been decent until getting blown out by the Avalanche and pulled on Saturday night.  At least Linus Ullmark has remained hot with a 0.947 in his only appearance this past week.  This is the problem with spot starting goalies – streaks can end at any time.  But, some of us may have no other choice (i.e. those like me who drafted thinking something like “hmm, I only have Holtby and Varlamov – oh, I’m sure I’ll be fine!”).  Looking ahead, Reto Berra seems to be a good new candidate to add to your spot start rotation – he’s been outstanding this week and Varlamov was just placed on injured reserve, so we can expect more starts (hopefully good ones) from Berra in the coming week.

Tonight Ovechkin to try for record against…

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of these as well, and therefore know that back on November 7, Alex Ovechkin tied the all-time record for goals scored by a Russian-born player, and ever since he has been sharing that record with Sergei Federov.  It’s been 3 games since, and Ovechkin is still tied for that record.  Even with 15 shots on goal[2] on November 10, he wasn’t able to score.  I’m not really sure there’s much to say here (and thus, not sure why everyone is leading with those headlines) – Ovechkin will break that record very soon, and then will be continuously setting a new record for years to come.  I guess this is just a well-timed drought for journalists who like to sensationalize the titles of their game preview articles.  And of course this story is not without loads of irony as well.  Ovechkin has had 2 potentially record-setting goals disqualified.  Dammit Justin Williams!  Must you be so consistent in everything you do??   Well Sergei, at least you have a few more days to share custody of the title – the Caps don’t play again until November 18.

On the subject of ‘not breaking news to anyone’…

John Klingberg is good at hockey.  That is all.

Klingberg is tied for fourth in points in the NHL.  That’s not just among defensemen, that’s overall.  He’s had an amazing start to the season, and his advanced stats numbers aren’t even signaling many warning signs (maybe PDO is a little high, but nothing alarming about shooting percentages).  Klingberg is scoring more than a point-per-game, and that hasn’t been a sustainable pace for any defenseman in recent years (since the ‘great lockout’[3] only Nick Lidstrom (80 in 80 in 2005-06) and Mike Green (73 in 68 and 76 in 75 in 2008-09 and 2009-10, respectively) have finished the bulk of a season at that pace).  Not even Erik Karlsson has managed to do so yet (although to be fair, he’s come very close with 78 in 81 2011-12).  Has Klingberg made it into the elite yet?  Well, Klingberg himself says it’s too early to start thinking about the Norris Trophy, but it’s starting to sound less and less unreasonable after each game.  The most amazing thing to me is how little respect he was given in drafts this year – on average, he was drafted in the 12th round in Yahoo leagues.  It may be a while before the Norris gets awarded, but I think we’ll be able to crown sleeper-pick-of-the-year pretty soon.

[1] Although, I’ve not seen an article talking about Gaudreau’s height that doesn’t add the qualifier “generous” before 5′ 9″.

[2] I was surprised that that wasn’t a record of its own – apparently that is held by Ray Bourque with 19 shots one game back in 1991.  In fact, this wasn’t even the first time Ovechkin has hit 15 [http://hfboards.hockeysfuture.com/showthread.php?t=450603].

[3] The 2004-05 full-season lockout.

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