Ben Bishop

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PHT on Fantasy: Backup plan

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A lot of things baffle me about the NHL, but like many, you just eventually let it wash away for the sheer sake of enjoying the game.

While I consider myself both bemused and annoyed by Matthew Tkachuk, essentially the Bart Simpson of the NHL, it feels like the NHL doesn’t even ask him to write things on chalkboards with these slap-on-the-wrist suspensions. Boosts in scoring almost always come down to a) young talent forcing improvements by sheer skill and will and b) actually calling a handful of infractions that should have always been penalties in the first place. And, of course, the debilitating normalcy of work stoppages.

Yeah, there’s a lot of things you just need to do the shrug emoji toward and just keep moving along.

The things that still baffle me, though, are the decisions that cost teams wins and, arguably, money. NHL GMs sometimes skimping on backups has regularly confounded me, to the point that I can’t just look away.

Consider this. Aside from the Oilers turning Cam Talbot into the hockey equivalent of a running back who received too many carries or a pitcher who logged too many innings last season, most teams pencil their starting goalies in for about 60-65 regular-season games per year. Things get fuzzy when you add postseason starts, especially when you remember that the repeat champion Penguins started at least two goalies for significant chunks of their runs both times.

That generally leaves your backup starting 17-22 games per season, and that’s if you’re lucky with your number one guy’s health.

So, it boggles my mind a bit that the pursuit of a backup is frequently treated with the indifference you’d show in acquiring a bottom-pairing defenseman or depth forward.

[Rotoworld: Looking at the week ahead with Michael Finewax]

Sure, “goalies are voodoo” and maybe there’s even more noise with number two guys, but it still bewilders me that the Pittsburgh Penguins would really think Antti Niemi was a likely fit last summer, and that all these teams with shaky backups didn’t even bother claiming Calvin Pickard. And so on.

Before this devolves from rant to hyper-rant, allow me to shift to the point of this column: a lot of starters are on the shelf right now, so how have their backups been doing, and how much should you trust them to continue to succeed?

In this latest fantasy column, I’ll look at goalies who are currently thrust into situations, and maybe sprinkle in a few scenarios that just ended or experienced quite a bit of disruption.

Note: This isn’t a comprehensive list. Also, this column ended up running long. Sorry.

***

Coyotes – So, it looks like Antti Raanta is healthy, but it’s been a bumpy ride.

Raanta’s played 13 games, Scott Wedgewood appeared in 12, Louis Domingue was banished after seven, and others have picked up some scraps. While I believe the Coyotes are more competitive than their record indicates, I also think that it’s better to travel the road of least resistance in fantasy.

There are a lot of bumps on this desert road.

Bruins – Yeah, I know Tuukka Rask is getting older, but it’s still perplexing that Anton Khudobin has objectively been the better goalie with each guy getting 10+ games played. This is weird and not good, but credit Khudobin for rekindling some of his early-Boston magic.

(Honestly, as happy as I was to see David Backes score two goals last night, I’m generally of the mind that the Bruins offer little beyond a terrifying top line and some promising young blueliners. At least in fantasy.)

Flames – Good grief, it’s really Mike Smith or bust, isn’t it?  Enjoy footage of not-Mike-Smith getting a goal scored off of his mask:

Blackhawks – So far, Anton Forsberg is 1-4-3 with a .906 save percentage as Corey Crawford is on the mend.

For so long, Chicago was the place where backup goalies would do so well, they’d often get chances to be full-time starters. Sometimes those guys ended up being legit, while others were propped up a bit. Now the Blackhawks’ leaky defense instead trips their goalies and pushes their faces in puddles. Or whatever the opposite of “propping up” is. Knocking your crutches/walking cane out of your hand? I don’t know, someone help me out.

You really need to be desperate to roll with Forsberg, is what I’m saying.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

Stars – Ben Bishop is dealing with a back issue, opening the door for Kari Lehtonen to already eclipse 10 games played before the calendar hits 2018. This should go about as well as things went on this hideous shorthanded goal (which wasn’t really on Lehtonen, mind you).

On a similar note, I like some of the Stars players and generally Ken Hitchcock as a coach, but not together. It’s basically a peanut-butter steak in Dallas.

Oilers – In my head, I thought Laurent Brossoit was doing kind of OK with Cam Talbot on the shelf.

In reality, Brossoit’s been even worse, with an ugly .877 save percentage so far this season. If I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder if the Oilers were pretty bad at everything beyond employing Connor McDavid.

Panthers – Roberto Luongo‘s injury could be substantial, which is bad news since he’s been playing so well and James Reimer‘s been off his game. Still, Reimer’s been a 1B and analytics darling for ages now, so if anyone can run with a chance like this, it’s Reimer.

Considering the comedy of errors that is Panthers management, this isn’t a perfect situation, but Reimer’s a decent enough choice if you’re needing a goalie and have limited options.

Kings – Darcy Kuemper playing well so far might, stealthily, be the most surprising thing about these surprising Kings.

Canadiens – Kudos to Charlie Lindgren, who might be a goalie to monitor, yet we don’t really need to belabor the “Carey Price is important” point, do we?

Islanders – A tricky situation with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss splitting things like a true platoon, at least so far. Halak’s been getting the reps lately, it seems. While the Islanders seem like they’re a true playoff team, their goalies are probably not worth the trouble, unless one of them is maybe your alternate option.

Note: I’m the type who prefers the ease of certainty instead of the tedium of tinkering.

Penguins – Coming into this season, Tristan Jarry generated strong work in the AHL in 2016-17, managing a .925 save percentage. The Penguins wanted to leave in there to marinate for some time, but with Matt Murray hurt, Jarry’s pressed into action, and he’s shining pretty nicely. He’s 5-1-2 with a nice .921 save percentage in eight games.

As a second-rounder (44th in 2013 vs. Murray, a third-rounder who went 83rd in 2012), you could argue that Jarry might actually have the superior pedigree.

Jarry is currently 59 percent owned in Yahoo, so there’s still a chance you can get him. While the Penguins’ defense might leave him vulnerable at times, Pittsburgh is playing well, Murray might be week-to-week and Jarry is solid. You could do worse than to give him an audition.

Golden Knights – ¯_(ツ)_/¯

With Marc-Andre Fleury showing some progress, there’s risk beyond the already-comical risk of taking on Vegas goalies, but let’s give Malcolm Subban credit for revamping his career prospects.

As with most Golden Knights things, I really don’t know what to tell you, other than “Yes, they seem better than we all expected, and no, I still don’t know what happens next.”

Jets – There are warning signs that the Connor Hellebuyck train will slow or even come to a screeching halt, but sometimes fantasy success is about being willing to laugh and enjoy hot streaks while they last.

Just be careful to look for escape routes in case that tunnel is actually just a painted-on boulder, Roadrunner-style.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Blind hockey is ‘the greatest thing ever’

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–Marissa Brandt was born in South Korea, but she was adopted by an American family when she was just four years old. Now, she’ll be representing South Korea at the upcoming winter Olympics What a journey! (Sports Illustrated)

–Offensive numbers have increased this season, but there isn’t a clear reason for that. The Sporting News’ Andrew Berkshire believes it could have something to do with defensive systems reaching their limit. (Sporting News)

–It wasn’t easy for Lightning fans to see the team trade Ben Bishop away last season. It clearly ended up being the right choice because Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of remarkable. (Tampa Times)

Jaden Schwartz is one of the funny guys in the Blues locker room, but he’s also dealt with his share of tragedies. A few years ago, his sister, Mandi, died, and that was obviously a difficult time in his life. Schwartz thinks of her every day and he continues to live out their hockey dream. (ESPN)

–The Coyotes have been the worst team in the NHL this season. As if that’s not enough, now they’re being accused of not paying employees enough, spying on their workers, and firing people for bringing up concerns over their pay. (AZCentral.com)

–Now that the three-way trade between the Sens, Preds and Avs is nearly two weeks old, Adam Gretz looks at the impact each part of the deal has had an on their respective club. (Fanragsports.com)

–Canucksarmy.com has had enough of the “stats vs. eye test” debate. “The thing is, hockey analytics is an evidence-based endeavour, and by definition, that means that there is plenty of evidence out there to back up its claims. How often do you see people that denounce the predictability of hockey analytics back up their claims with evidence?” (Canucksarmy.com)

–Blueseatblogs.com explains why yelling “shoot the puck” isn’t always the best solution. After all, passes that cross the slot line have a much higher chance of going into the net. (Blueseatblogs.com)

–You’re probably familiar with the term “putting money on the board”. If you’re not, it basically means that players or coaches offer money to teammate(s) if they win a game against a former team. It could be one reason why the Golden Knights have been so good this year. (Sinbin.Vegas)

–Here’s a nice story out of Connecticut, where hockey for the blind has arrived. “In the 13 years since I’ve been blind, it’s the most freedom I’ve felt,” Jim Sadecki said. (Fox61.com)

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.

The Buzzer: Red-hot lines, Murray’s tremendous save

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Lines of the Night: With combinations of forwards running wild in many cases, it might be best to break things down by the lines that dominated Thursday.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious one.

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Will the Lightning’s top line ever cool down? Probably, but right now they’re basically unstoppable; they didn’t even take it easy on Ben Bishop as he made his return to Tampa Bay. Instead, the Lightning beat the Stars 6-1 thanks to that top trio.

Stamkos scored two goals and two assists to boost his points total to 35 (!) in 19 games, while Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading 17th tally and also produced two assists. Names grabbed an assist and apparently fought Dan Hamhuis.

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen

Some Colorado fans might have uttered “Matt WHO-chene?” for at least one night, as this top trio was ridiculous. Landeskog recorded his first career hat trick, Rantanen collected four points (1G, 3A), and MacKinnon generated one goal and four helpers.

This might just be the breakout season people were hoping to see with MacKinnon, as he has 20 points in 17 games.

It was a landslide from Avalanche captain Landeskog, if you will.

Brayden Schenn continues to ride high for the Blues, as he collected two goals and an assist. His point streak is honestly a little ridiculous:

Eric Staal (1G, 2A) had the better night, but his linemate Jason Zucker is on a tear of his own:

To keep this from getting unwieldy, we’ll leave it at that, but there are worth honorable mentions, such as top scorers for the Golden Knights (who just keep winning).

Highlight of the night: Matt Murray‘s save

There were some other great stops, goals, and hard hits on Thursday, but wow, Murray.

More factoids:

The Maple Leafs make a little history in their 1-0 OT win, which was their fifth straight W.

Roberto Luongo shuts out the Sharks for the first time in his career. You’d think San Jose would have been a victim of one of the previous 73 goose eggs …

And some relief:

More on that Coyotes win here and the Habs’ angry reactions here.

Scores

Leafs 1, Devils 0 (OT)

Islanders 6, Hurricanes 4

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 4

Penguins 3, Senators 1

Lightning 6, Stars 1

Wild 6, Predators 4

Jets 3, Flyers 2 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Capitals 2

Golden Knights 5, Canucks 2

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Bruins 2, Kings 1

Panthers 2, Sharks 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Stone lifts Sens in Sweden; Vegas back to winning ways at home

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Player of the Night: Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators

Stone scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Senators beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in first of two games between the teams during the NHL Global Series in Stockholm.

Highlight of the Night: Robin Lehner clearly did some extra stretching Friday:

MISC:

Roberto Luongo stopped 24 shots, Jonathan Huberdeau handed out three assists and the Florida Panthers got goals from four different players during a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, snapping a five-game skid in the process.

• With the win, Luongo moved ahead of Curtis Joseph for fourth place on the NHL career victory list with 455.

Patrick Marleau was the overtime hero and James van Riemsdyk netted two goals as the Toronto Maple Leafs got by the Boston Bruins 3-2. JVR’s second of the night with a minute left in the third period sent the game to the extra period.

• A pair of power play goals and 27 stops from Braden Holtby helped the Washington Capitals dowb the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1. Holtby is now the second-fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach the 200-victory mark.

Nicklas Backstrom’s first point in eight games was a beauty:

Sidney Crosby is goalless in 10 games.

• A pair of goals from Jordan Staal and 25 saves from Cam Ward helped the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1. Columbus has now dropped four in a row.

John Klingberg scored a goal and added two assists and Ben Bishop stopped all 14 shots he faced as the Dallas Stars blanked the New York Islanders 5-0. The shutout was the 20th of Bishop’s career. Klingberg leads all NHL blue liners with 18 points.

• Doug Weight was not a happy coach after that one:

• The Vegas Golden Knights returned home and went back to their winning ways with a 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. William Karlsson scored twice, James Neal netted his ninth of the year and Maxim Lagace stopped 27 of 29 shots he faced.

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Ottawa 4, Colorado 3 (OT)
Carolina 3, Columbus 1
Florida 3, Buffalo 1
Washington 4, Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 3, Boston 2 (OT)
Dallas 5, New York Islanders 0
Vegas 5, Winnipeg 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

With Tortorella in town for Cup memories, is this best Lightning team since?

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When sports teams milk nostalgia, like the Tampa Bay Lightning did on Saturday by remembering their 2003-04 Stanley Cup run, it often comes with that tinge of sadness that is part of the word’s meaning.

With John Tortorella watching on from the opposing bench of a very good Columbus Blue Jackets squad, the Lightning’s 5-4 shootout win brought about some different feelings tonight. Granted, coughing up a lead made it tenser than the Bolts probably hoped for, yet it also opened the door for Steven Stamkos to collect the shootout-winner.

The Stanley Cup memories and Tortorella’s presence inspire a bold question: is this the best team the Lightning have boasted since that championship run?

Before we dive into that, here’s video of the ceremony:

And a shot of modern players in those slightly-old throwbacks:

The game itself was a thriller, as the Blue Jackets stormed back from a 4-2 deficit to tie things up 4-4, forcing an eventual shootout. Former Tortorella acolyte Dan Girardi delivered a thunderous check on Matt Calvert during the contest:

Remarkably, the Lightning have reached some pretty high marks even though they haven’t sipped from the silver chalice since the season before the NHL went dark. They’ve enjoyed three deep runs since Torts left town:

2010-11: Finished second in their division (103 points), fell to Boston Bruins in Game 7 of a memorable Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins eventually won it all.

2014-15: Finished second in their division (108 points), lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

2015-16: Finished second in their division (97 points), lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of Eastern Conference Final. Penguins won it all.

Those three deep runs are a helpful reminder that there have been some very good Lightning teams, from Guy Boucher’s brief run to a transition away from Martin St. Louis under Jon Cooper’s reign. It’s interesting to note that the eventual champions knocked out the Bolts in all three of those runs, likely inspiring some fun/wistful “What if?” discussions for hardcore fans in Tampa.

Let’s consider a few facets of this Lightning team, which may just be their best since 2003-04:

  • They’re running away with the Atlantic Division so far. As strong as those previous seasons were, the Bolts peaked in the playoffs. Maybe the Lightning can combine strong regular season work and postseason play, much like in those championship days?
  • They have an identity in net. Do not underestimate how well Andrei Vasilevskiy has been so far in 2017-18. The Ben Bishop – Vasi combo was very strong, but there are advantages to having a clear-cut top guy.
  • A deadly duo: Some of the best Lightning teams have deployed some dynamic duos. St. Louis and Stamkos constituted a prolific partnership, yet Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov might be even better. In a fun twist, Stamkos has taken the Marty role early on, as he’s been more of a facilitator to Kucherov.
  • Interesting supporting cast members: In retrospect, the magic of “The Triplets” line may have largely come from Kucherov. Still, there are some nice players who may be able to help generate some points for the Lightning, with Brayden Point seemingly being GM Steve Yzerman’s latest deft discovery.
  • A brilliant, dangerous defenseman: As great as Dan Boyle was, Victor Hedman is truly special. The addition of Mikhail Sergachev may also help the rest of the blueline maintain a solid level of play.

It’s too early to say that the 2017-18 Lightning will rank among the best in team history. Stamkos and Kucherov need to stay healthy and productive. Cold streaks are bound to come.

Even so, nights like these make it tough not to at least think about such comparisons.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.