NHL's best forwards in tough situations: Datsyuk, Zetterberg … Gomez?

goalmez.jpgEvery now and then, we’ll try to go deeper than the every day stats talk you normally see. After all, hockey is a sport where a lot happens that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. One of the increasingly useful ways to gauge a player’s usefulness (and transcendence) comes in looking at who they play against and in which situations they come onto the ice. 

Oilers blog the Copper & Blue is one of the leading sites for hockey stats nerds like myself and they didn’t disappoint today with a post regarding which players thrive amid the toughest competition.

It’s not too surprising to see Detroit’s brilliant forward duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top of the list since they’re often considered elite two-way players. Other names like Eric Staal, Mike Richards and Daniel Alfredsson make plenty of sense too. That doesn’t mean that the list lacks surprises though, including ones that could change your viewpoints of a few oft-critiqued (or completely ignored) players. Here’s a few of Derek Zona’s observations.

I said last year that I was stunned that Stephen Weiss was the 4th-best player on the list. This year, he’s up to 3rd. I took a deeper look at Weiss and noted that he was outscoring the biggest names in the game each year and I still find it hard to believe just how good Weiss is and how under-recognized he is.

Scott Gomez takes a beating from NHL fans for his lack of goal-scoring and Bob Gainey took a beating for the trade that he made to acquire Gomez, but Gomez is the goods. He may not score goals, but his defensive prowess and playmaking ability are top notch. His performance in New York was supposed to be a by-product of Henrik Lundqvist, but the numbers in Montreal show differently. Gomez is an even strength demon.

Jochen Hecht is one of those bargains on this list. Though he’s thought of as a role player in a very specifically defined and extremely narrow scope, in reality, Hecht is an excellent even strength player.

Seeing Weiss at No. 3 on that list is possibly the most surprising development, as he seems (on paper at least) to be something of a bust in a parade of drafting blunders by the Florida Panthers. While I have noticed that Scott Gomez was playing well in the playoffs, I’m also among the hordes of bloggers who lampooned his huge contract. (And let’s not be too hasty to say it still isn’t a bit rich.)

Stats aren’t everything, but they can often provide a crucial dollop of cold, hard reality while raw perception can often be plagued by personal prejudices. I, for one, will have to hesitate the next time I make fun of Gomez or Weiss. Not to say that I won’t make fun of them again altogether but … baby steps, right?

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    Red Wings’ Abdelkader out with lower body injury

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The Detroit Red Wings will be without veteran forward Justin Abdelkader on Saturday night when they host the San Jose Sharks.

    The official word from the team is that he is sidelined with a lower body injury.

    He will be replaced in the lineup by Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou has appeared in three games this season and yet to record a point.

    He was not only in the lineup on Friday in the Red Wings in their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators, but also scored his first goal of the season and played a season-high 17:55.

    After scoring 19 goals and recording 23 assists in 82 games in 2015-16 the Red Wings signed a seven-year $29.7 million contract extension.

    According to general manager Ken Holland (via Helene St. James) he is expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday.

    Ales Hemsky returns to Stars lineup tonight

    NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 24:  Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 24, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Stars defeated the Devils 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    When the Dallas Stars take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday evening one of their top forwards will be making his 2016-17 debut.

    The team announced on Saturday afternoon that forward Ales Hemsky will be activated from injured reserve after missing the first four games of the season due to a groin injury at the World Cup of hockey.

    He is expected to skate on the Stars’ top line on Saturday night alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

    Now 33 years old, Hemsky isn’t quite as dynamic as he was during his prime years in Edmonton, but he is still an extremely skilled playmaker that is a solid fit in Dallas’ system. He is entering his third year with the Stars and has 71 points (24 goals, 47 assists) in 151 games with the team.

    With Hemsky now activated and back in the lineup, the Stars also announced on Saturday that veteran forward Jiri Hudler has been placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 15 due to illness.

    Goalie nods: Elliott won’t play against former team, Flames will start Johnson vs. Blues instead

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames during warm-ups prior to an NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres during an at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Playing against your former team is always special, but Flames goalie Brian Elliott won’t have that pleasure tonight.

    Instead of giving Elliott the start against St. Louis, Calgary will turn to Chad Johnson.

    “You want to play good against your old teams,” said the veteran goalie, per beat reporter Wes Gilbertson. “Turns out, I didn’t get the opportunity today. Can’t really get hung up on it.”

    Elliott spent the previous five seasons with the Blues.

    It’s important to point out that these two teams will go head-to-head in St. Louis on Tuesday and Elliott will probably start that game.

    “We thought about it, obviously, with (Elliott) having such a great career in St. Louis,” Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said, per the St. Louis Dispatch. “But at the end of the day, we thought we wanted to keep (Johnson) going a little bit so we put him in.

    Still, it has to be disappointing not to face your old teammates.

    The 31-year-old has struggled with his new team. He’s dropped each of his first three starts of the season and he’s allowed four goals or more in each of those games.

    Jake Allen will be between the pipes for St. Louis.


    Carey Price will make his second straight start since coming back from the flu. With Tuukka Rask on the shelf, the Bruins will likely turn to Anton Khudobin.

    –We should get an excellent goaltending duel in the Rangers-Capitals game, as Henrik Lundqvist will go up against Braden Holtby.

    Cory Schneider will get the call for the Devils, while the Wild have yet to name a starting goaltender. Don’t be surprised if it’s Devan Dubnyk.

    Martin Jones will be between the pipes for the Sharks. Jimmy Howard gets a second straight start for the Red Wings. He was excellent in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers.

    Semyon Varlamov will make his third straight start for Colorado. He’s coming off a 27-save shutout against Tampa Bay. Veteran Roberto Luongo will start for Florida.

    Frederik Andersen will be in goal for the Leafs after getting the night off on Thursday. The Blackhawks will likely go with Scott Darling because Corey Crawford played last night.

    Eddie Lack will make his second consecutive start for the ‘Canes. The Flyers will go with Steve Mason.

    Andrei Vasilevskiy starts against Ottawa on Saturday night, while Craig Anderson will face the Bolts.

    –The Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to name their starter. Kari Lehtonen will be between the pipes for the Dallas Stars. Lehtonen has a 2.03 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage against the Jackets in his career.

    Marc-Andre Fleury makes his sixth straight start for the Penguins. The Predators, who have been hit by food poisoning, have yet to name a starter.

    Jacob Markstrom is making another start for the Canucks. Peter Budaj is expected to get the nod for the Kings, after Jeff Zatkoff was injured during the morning skate.

    Gretzky surprised by support from Jets fans heading into Heritage Classic alumni game

    EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    It’s Heritage Classic weekend in the NHL, which means that there will be an alumni game between the Jets and Oilers on Saturday afternoon.

    The rivalry between these two teams has come down a few notches over the years (mainly because the Jets moved to Phoenix), but that doesn’t diminish how intense it used to be.

    It was so intense that Wayne Gretzky, who will be dressing for the Oilers alum, was surprised when he was cheered during Friday’s practice at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

    “I was kind of Public Enemy No. 1 back in the day,” Gretzky said, per NHL.com. “But, that is the way it should be. I was with the other team. When I was in Winnipeg, the people were great to me and they always treated me with respect. You have to cheer for your own team and I understand that.”

    It’s not hard to figure out why Gretzky and the Oilers were so hated in Winnipeg during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

    Edmonton won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and they beat the Jets all six times they met in the playoffs, sweeping four of those.

    Gretzky, who’s looking forward to playing against the Jets alumni on Saturday, hasn’t played much hockey since retiring in 1999.

    “I don’t play a lot. I skate once a year. I just never really find the energy, the enthusiasm to grab my equipment and say I’m going to go play pickup hockey.

    “I played in one outdoor game in Edmonton and it was fun and it was great for hockey. When Winnipeg talked to me about this game a couple years ago, playing in Winnipeg was always fun and when we get together as a team, it is always a unique situation.”

    Here are the rosters for this afternoon’s game:

    The alumni game gets going at 4:00 p.m. ET.