Pressing question: Are the Avs for real?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Colorado Avalanche went from being second worst team in the NHL to Central Division champions in the span of just one season.

That’s remarkable under any circumstances, but especially when you factor in that the team didn’t change substantially over that stretch beyond the addition of rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon and, the man that’s received most of the credit for the turnaround, coach Patrick Roy.

At the same time, certain indicators have left people wondering if the Avalanche are playing above their heads and in danger of coming back to Earth.

One of the big reasons for that fear is that, from an advanced possession statistics perspective, Colorado is roughly the same team that finished in the Western Conference basement a year ago.

Teams have a tendency to dismiss those statistics and some fans might find them confusing, but basically Corsi and Fenwick are a way of gauging puck possession by looking at how many shots are taken (including those that miss the net). Corsi also includes blocked shots whereas Fenwick doesn’t. The idea is simply that if you’re controlling the puck, you’re controlling the game and that will lead to more long-term success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs found this out the hard way in 2013-14, as their horrid Corsi/Fenwick numbers eventually caught up to them and they collapsed. Colorado isn’t nearly as bad in that regard, but the team is near the bottom of the pack.

Toronto: Corsi 42.1 percent (29th in NHL), Fenwick 41.5 percent (29th in NHL)

Colorado: Corsi 47.4 percent (25th in NHL), Fenwick 46.8 percent (27th in NHL)

All stats courtesy Extra Skater

The way the Avalanche have overcome that deficiency is through strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov faced 2,013 shots in 2013-14, which is 125 more than any other goalie in the NHL. If he wasn’t also one of the league leaders in save percentage — he finished third, at .927 — there’s a good chance Colorado wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So is that it then? Colorado might have some defensive weaknesses, but Varlamov is capable of covering them up? Well, maybe not. For one thing, Varlamov has very little playoff experience and none since 2010, so the man at the center of the Avalanche’s success is an X-Factor just based on that.

Additionally, the Avalanche are dealing with the loss of Matt Duchene and two-way forward John Mitchell, which might exacerbate the issues that have been laying beneath the surface.

In the end, the best counterargument to the Avalanche’s shortcomings might be pointing the finger at the team they drew as a first round opponent: the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in shots on goal per game in the regular season, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild also aren’t leaps and bounds better than Colorado from a Corsi perspective (48.2 percent, 23rd in the league). Had Colorado been forced to play against Chicago, St. Louis, or even Dallas, it would be an entirely different story, but given that Minnesota is a team that has puck possession issues of its own, that red flag in the Avalanche’s game might not be exposed.

The flip side is that this question won’t be put to rest with the Avalanche beating them. Getting past Minnesota would lead to them facing a team that might be far more qualified to exploit Colorado’s weaknesses.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Julien: Price’s return to practice “encouraging”

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A Montreal Canadiens team struggling for answers in the early going this season got a bit of a boost on Monday.

Goaltender Carey Price returned to practice on Monday morning in Montreal, a welcome sign for a team struggling to stop pucks and desperate to start winning as they wallow in the depths of the Eastern Conference.

Price worked on lateral movements with Habs goaltending coach Stéphane Waite prior to practice starting, per TSN’s John Lu, and continued to work in the Canadiens’ backup net for the rest of practice.

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien confirmed after practice that Price would be on the team’s upcoming quick two-game back-to-back road trip beginning in Dallas on Tuesday. Julien also said Price is still listed as day-to-day and that there was still no timetable for his return. Charlie Lindgren will man the crease against the Stars.

Truth be told, the Canadiens weren’t very good with Price in the lineup before he went down with a lower-body injury, forcing him to miss the past eight games.

In 11 starts, Price has been above a .900 save percentage in just three of them and owns a 3-7-1 record. His save percentage sits at .877 with an equally unhealthy 3.77 goals-against average.

Montreal has the second-worst team save percentage in the league at .886 and have several other issues to contend with, including being 29th in goals for, 30th in goals against, 27th in power-play efficiency, 28th killing penalties and dead last in shooting percentage.

Indeed, the Canadiens will take any positives that come their way at the moment.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Down but not out: There’s hope for those below playoff line

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It’s 20 games into the regular season, give or take, and your team is looking pretty far down the standings.

It looks bad, American Thanksgiving is approaching quickly, and prayers to the hockey gods are going unanswered.

Aye, but it might not be all doom and gloom. Not yet, at least.

Take the Philadelphia Flyers, for instance.

Flyers fans are concerned given their team’s current four-game winless streak. They’ve won just three of their past 10 contests and are sitting with a less than superb 8-8-4 record.

Yet, given how tight the Metropolitan Division has started, the Flyers, who sit in the basement of the division, are only five points off its pinnacle despite their recent downswing.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, you can find some solace in that.

Anything appears to be possible in the stacked Met. The New York Rangers began the season 3-7-2 but are just three points adrift of the summit now. Sure, their 7-3-0 record in their past time games is certainly helping their cause, but it goes to show that stringing together a few wins can reverse early season misfortunes.

Now, if the Flyers could only figure out how to stop blowing two-goal leads and fix their discipline issues

Over in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks have only won three out of their last 10 games dating back to Oct. 30. This, after starting the season 6-3-1.

Their recent skid hasn’t done them any favours, but the pending return of defenseman Chris Tanev could be the shot in the arm they need.

What about some of the teams that really look down and out, you ask?

The Edmonton Oilers have most certainly failed expectations so far this season.

With just seven wins and the team sitting in 28th spot in goals for, despite having Connor McDavid in the lineup, there’s definitely a cause for concern.

Their current two-game skid coupled with losing four of their past five is far from ideal, but the Oilers, despite their poor play, are only five points back of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

The Oilers have the goal scoring in them. They finished eighth last season in the category. Some consistency would be nice. They put up eight against the Vegas Golden Knights last Tuesday but just two goals combined in their losses to Washington prior to that game and St. Louis following it.

Continuing with the five-point trend, the Montreal Canadiens — yes, these Montreal Canadiens — find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference heading into Monday’s action.

Losers of two straight and four of their past five, things don’t look great from Les Canadiens and it would appear changes are coming.

Indeed, the problems in Montreal are numerous: low goals for, high goals against, bad save percentage, bad shooting percentage, bad power play, bad penalty kill.
At this point, it’s going to take a minor miracle in La belle province but they’re still in the mix despite their unfavourable results.

Things might be looking up, however.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fantasy adds & drops: It’s Teuvo Time

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Every week, PHT will look to give you some fantasy hockey advice. This column will attempt to shed some light on the waiver wire by helping you pick up quality players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Also, we’ll let you know which players owned in more 50 percent of leagues you should part ways with at this point.

As you can tell from today’s headline, Teuvo Teravainen is going to be involved in the article. But when you read the headline, I want you to read it with Arnold’s voice in mind (top).

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we can start.

Adds:

–Teuvo Teravainen-C/LW/RW-Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Not only is Teravainen eligible to play all three forward positions, he’s also been extremely productive in 2017-18. After collecting three points in a win over the Islanders on Sunday, the ‘Canes forward now has 19 points in 19 games this season. Definitely worth an add.

David Perron-LW/RW-Vegas Golden Knights (44 percent)

Perron is averaging close to 18 minutes of ice time per game, which means he has ample opportunity to chip in offensively. That’s exactly what he’s done in the first quarter of the season, as he leads the Golden Knights in points with 17 in 19 games. Even though he saw his six-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, he should continue to produce going forward. Like Teravainen, the fact that he can play multiple positions in fantasy also helps his value.

[Fantasy Podcast: Rotoworld on what’s going on with Carey Price]

Mathew Barzal-C-New York Islanders (33 percent)

I’m not sure why fantasy GMs keep snoozing on Barzal, who has emerged as a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate this season. The Isles forward has registered at least one point in nine of his last 11 games. He’s already up to 19 points in 20 games in his first full season.

Brock Boeser-RW-Vancouver Canucks (42 percent)

Like Barzal, Boeser continues to be criminally under-owned in standard fantasy leagues. The Canucks forward is currently riding a three-game point streak and he’s been able to stay on a point-per-game pace in his first full NHL season. Boeser has 17 points in 17 games right now.

Mattias Ekholm-D-Nashville Predators (44 percent)

Ekholm has been fantastic since the end of October. Since Oct. 28, he’s accumulated nine points in nine games. As of this moment, he’s scored a goal in three straight games and he has five points during that stretch. He’s the number one defenseman to add on the waiver wire this week.

Matt Niskanen-D-Washington Capitals (45 percent)

Niskanen is finally back from the upper-body injury that kept him out of the Caps lineup for 13 games. In three games since returning, he’s managed to pick up just a single assist, but that should change going forward. He isn’t a major point producer, but he still has value at that position.

[More Fantasy: Check out Rotoworld’s PP Report]

Drops:

Ondrej Palat-LW-Tampa Bay Lightning (57 percent)

Palat is on pace to record a 50-point season, which is nothing to scoff at, but he’s clearly behind guys like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa when it comes to offensive options. Picking up one of the forwards listed above at Palat’s expense makes a lot of sense.

Derick Brassard-C-Ottawa Senators (55 percent)

Brassard got off to a great start this season, but he’s cooled down considerably over the last few weeks. He’s failed to collect a point in each of his last three games and he’s registered just five points in his last 11 games (he has no goals during that span). Brassard might get hot in the future, but for now you can safely drop him from your lineup.

Patrick Maroon-LW-Edmonton Oilers (56 percent)

This isn’t the first time Maroon’s been mentioned on this list. Unless you play in a league that awards points for penalty minutes, I don’t get why you’d still have him on your roster. Maroon has two points in his last eight games and both of those came in the same contest. Adding Barzal, Teravainen or Boeser would make more sense.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Brendan Smith ejected for ‘dangerous’ hit on Mark Borowiecki (video)

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The New York Rangers were able to take down the Ottawa Senators on Sunday even though they were forced to play with five defensemen for most of the third period.

With the Rangers leading 2-0 in the third (they ended up winning 3-0), defenseman Brendan Smith was given a five-minute major plus a game misconduct for interference on Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

Borowiecki needed help getting off the ice, and after the game Sens head coach Guy Boucher confirmed that his defenseman lost consciousness on the ice. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion.

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page. 

After the game, Smith made it clear that he didn’t agree with the referee’s decision to toss him from the contest.

“I think it was a bit harsh,” Smith said, per Newsday. “I’m OK with two minutes [for interference] . . . We made eye contact and he was expecting to get hit. He’s a pretty big guy, a strong guy. I kind of just connected with my shoulder. You see those plays happen all the time. It’s just unfortunate, the outcome. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Guy Boucher called the play “one of the most dangerous hits you can make in hockey.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the NHL’s Department of Player Safety hands out any supplemental discipline to Smith on this one.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.