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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    PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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    –Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

    –Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

    –The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    –Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

    Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

    –We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

    –Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

    Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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    In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

    Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

    He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

    (Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

    It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.

    King Leon: Draisaitl collects four points vs. Ducks to give Oilers a Game 1 win

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    So far, the Edmonton Oilers had been showing that they can win tight, low-scoring playoff games. And then the third period of Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks happened.

    The two teams entered the final frame tied 1-1, with smaller breaks and bounces being the story. Then just about everything happened in the third, with Leon Draisaitl guiding the Oilers to a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

    Draisaitl ended up with a goal and three assists, extending his point streak to three games (seven points during that span).

    He wasn’t the only Oilers player to raise some eyebrows, and actually, the other two starring members were a lot more surprising. Mark Letestu seemed to make the early difference with two power-play goals, while low-scoring defenseman Adam Larsson found the net twice, including on the game-winner.

    Phew, that’s a lot to absorb, right? This video captures the wildest scoring stretch of that period, even if there would be more:

    While Connor McDavid hasn’t been bad, he’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – so far in the Oilers’ run, and that was mostly true on Wednesday. He ended up with a mere secondary assist in this one,

    Yet, that might just be part of the good news for the Oilers. They advanced after McDavid had spotty series against the Sharks, and they just gave the Ducks their first postseason loss of 2017 with Draisaitl and others stealing the headlines.

    Things got nasty at the end of this game, with key Ducks such as Ryan Getzlaf being prominently involved. Such moments make it clear that Anaheim isn’t likely to bow out of this one easily (and perhaps not gracefully?) but that should only make for a captivating Game 2.

    That Game 2 airs Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; you can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

    Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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    The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

    Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

    In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

    Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

    Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

    With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

    And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

    The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.