Braden Holtby

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What fantasy hockey players should be grateful for

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Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families come together to overeat, try to ignore the more problematic elements of the holiday’s roots, watch lopsided football games, and get into arguments.

Not great, honestly, but kudos to my family specifically for at least adding pierogies to the mix.

With the American version of the holiday upon us (it’s in October in Canada … weird!), it seems wise to share gratitude for the players who are powering our fantasy hockey teams to greatness, or at least to help us avoid total mockery at the water cooler.*

Going for seconds, thirds

So far, 2017-18 has been The Year of The Top Lines. It can be seen mostly blatantly in noting that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are battling for the top scoring spot in the NHL, while Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz are also in the top 10.

Much like the satisfaction of eating homemade sides instead of canned vegetables, the real winners have been the less-obvious members of lines who have been incredible values, and some of whom might deliver for a full season.

Schenn is an obvious example, with his 30 points in 22 games (not to mention 20 PIM and +19 rating) making him a blistering steal. His Yahoo pre-season ranking was 85th, and he likely went lower depending upon your given draft.

Sean Couturier might be the most delirious example so far, though. His yahoo ranking was 262, yet he’s ranked 18th by the same standards, as it’s clear that he’s taken the bull by the horns when it comes to getting an increased offensive role with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings. Vladislav Namestnikov has been glorious, and it sure seems likely that’ll he remain with Stamkos and Kucherov as long as he’s healthy.

Micheal Ferland might spell his name in a funny way, but you’ll make fun of him less often if he’s on your team and manages to stay with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan over the long haul.

On that note, there are still some things to sort out. Will Kyle Connor be the guy that gets to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele more often than not? Can the Stars get a consistent third player (aside: we need a third [blank] to go with “second banana”) to dunk in opportunities from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least with Alex Radulov seemingly not being the right fit?

[Rotoworld: Breaking down the first quarter]

Really, the questions about duos makes you appreciate stable trios that much more, especially if you have one or both of them on your teams. You don’t see reasonable answers to the glorious combo of the Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Daniel Alfredsson very often in the salary cap era, after all.

Hopefully most of those top lines can at least maintain some of this ridiculous energy, as the dog days of the season will probably cause at least some regression. Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.

Trading goods

I can’t really go too long without thanking GM David Poile and others for spicing up the season with some trades. Don’t scoff at this being mentioned in fantasy, as trades can make the process more exciting *and* create new gems.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

In six games with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris has five points, but I’m most thankful – and intrigued – to see gains from Kevin Fiala (six points in his past five games) and Craig Smith (six in his past six). Fiala and Smith will probably be more worthy of adds in deeper leagues, but it’s a situation to watch, preferably with popcorn.

Turris could also boost guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in a delightful domino effect, so again, a nod of gratitude to Poile.

Big saves

Quite a few goalies are saving their teams’ bacon (or honey-baked ham, to fit the theme?), with Corey Crawford, John Gibson, and Mike Smith coming to mind, in particular. Imagine where the Anaheim Ducks would be without Gibson?

Also: thanks to Braden Holtby, who’s navigating the Capitals’ struggles to remain the new Henrik Lundqvist as far as reliable fantasy hockey star goalies go.

Avoiding turkeys

Finally, all but one owner in each league can be happy to avoid Brent Burns, an awesome, caveman-looking scoring sensation who’s been on a puzzling scoring slump. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, even beyond getting a piece of those red-hot lines.

(And hey, maybe you’ll be thankful when you trade for Burns at a discount rate, only to see him bounce back?)

* – For those who grumble about this being a lame gimmick for a fantasy hockey column, allow me to respond with this hex: I hope your Crazy Uncle shares extra ridiculous, patently offensive theories this time around.

And, if *you* are in the crazy uncle role, I hope that a know-it-all nephew totally schools you, to the point that even like-minded family members are giggling at your stammering responses.

Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Maybe all the gravy is making me edgy.

Enjoy the holiday, hockey fans.

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.

Ovechkin returns after being badly bloodied by puck to face

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It’s still relatively early on Saturday night, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals could eventually provide further updates that derail this optimism.

With that out of the way, at the moment, the theme of the night might just be teams dodging big injury bullets, even if the star players in question can’t dodge actual damage.

In the case of Corey Crawford, he bounced back for the Blackhawks after Evgeni Malkin‘s thigh area clipped him in the head. Maybe it looked worse than it was?

Now, any time you see people scrape blood off the ice, you get a reminder of how dangerous – and yeah, occasionally strange – hockey can be. That only becomes more disturbing when that blood is coming from a player as important as Alex Ovechkin:

Remarkably, Ovechkin is returning for the third period of the Capitals’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

So:

  • This is a reminder that Ovechkin is tough, in case you foolishly think he isn’t because … his teams have lost in big games or something? Considering how recklessly he often throws his body around, and how infrequently he misses games due to to injury, you’d think that debate would have died a long time ago. Moments like this make it seem that much sillier.
  • Ovechkin must really want to help the struggling Capitals turn things around.
  • Maybe he wants to hang an L on his old boss Bruce Boudreau?

Anyway, PHT will keep an eye on these situations. Sometimes there are more answers the night of events, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

Right now, it’s reasonable for Capitals fans and Blackhawks fans to feel some relative, even if it’s only in the interim.

Update: The Capitals ended up winning 3-1, thanks in large part to Braden Holtby‘s strong night.

Ovechkin logged 8:18 TOI in the third period, so it seems like he’s OK. This post will be updated if he shares a nasty battle scar.

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.

Capitals can’t slow powerhouse Predators

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The Nashville Predators beat the Washington Capitals by a score of 6-3 on Tuesday, and it wasn’t a matter of luck.

Actually, you might argue that the Capitals were lucky … at least for a little while. Nashville stormed out of the gate in the first period, managing a hearty 18-3 shots advantage. Braden Holtby kept things reasonable in keeping Nashville’s lead to 2-0 through the opening frame, but eventually the Predators’ attack was just too much.

Washington made things interesting during a second period that was wild at times, with the two teams combining for five goals in about five minutes. They combined for seven goals overall in the middle frame. It was a good time for everyone but the goalies and coaches (and some of the defensemen):

Ultimately, the second period and game ended with the same 6-3 score, leaving Holtby & Co. bewildered. They also forced Holtby to the Capitals’ bench. Under most circumstances, it was a team-wide struggle, but goals like these probably left Holtby muttering expletives to himself:

Aside from some defensive lapses, this is the sort of night that Predators GM David Poile probably dreamt about when trying to hash out the three-team trade that eventually netted them Kyle Turris. Turris (one assist) ranked among 12th different Predators with at least one point. His presence sure seems like a benefit for Craig Smith (goal) and Kevin Fiala (goal, assist), while Nick Bonino found the net in his return to the lineup.

After a bumpy start to the season, the Predators are looking like the team that many expected to translate a strong playoff run to better results overall in 2017-18. This rise in optimism also predates Turris’ first two games in, as Nashville’s winning streak is now at five games.

They’ve snagged wins against some legitimate competition, too. They beat the Ducks, Kings, and Blue Jackets on the road, got some revenge against Pittsburgh at home during Turris’ Saturday debut, and then left the Capitals shaking their heads in Nashville tonight.

And this team doesn’t even have Ryan Ellis back in the lineup yet.

Perhaps the Predators’ powerful work might make Holtby feel a little better. Coming into tonight, he was on a six-game winning streak, allowing a meager 11 goals during that run. Luckily for Holtby and the Capitals, they don’t have to deal with Nashville again until April 5.

Who knows how scary this Predators team will look by then?

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.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators

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The Barry Trotz Bowl resumes Tuesday night as the Capitals visit the Predators at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Both teams enter the game playing well since the calendar turned to November. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom are all scoring while Braden Holtby has been superb in goal for Washington. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have been doing plenty of damage up front for Nashville, but they could really use some help from Ryan Johansen, who is without a goal through 16 games.

Watch the game tonight on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Also, for a preview of this game, check out this post.

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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.

Paul Kariya and Scott Stevens, reunited (The Buzzer)

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Player of the Night: Miles Wood

The 22-year-old generated a hat trick and an assist (we need a term for this … maybe “Help Trick?”), giving the Devils a needed edge in a zany 7-5 win against the Blackhawks. You can read more about his strong night here.

Since Wood got the post treatment, it feels fair to spotlight some other players while we’re at it.

In that same game, Nico Hischier was excellent in his own right, generating a goal and two assists. Maybe the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft hasn’t been as bombastic as others at times – Clayton Keller continues to spellbind in Arizona, seemingly like a mirage in the desert – but Hischier has 14 points in 17 games.

If he had more goals (three so far), we’d have to nickname him “The Swiss Can’t-Miss.”

Two goalies deserve a quick mention, too. John Gibson continues to hold things together for the ridiculously injured Ducks. He lost, but Gibson made 35 saves; in a way, this highlight feels like the story of his night.

Braden Holtby was excellent, too, making 29 saves as the Capitals managed a 2-1 shootout win against the Oilers.

Highlight of the Night: Paul Kariya, Scott Stevens reunited.

How cool is this? OK, and how awkward is this?

Quite a moment. Maybe they’ll be best buds some day.

Or at least they might make amends?

If that bends the rules of “highlight” too much for you (Sheesh, you get into such semantic arguments that you must be … a person on the Internet), then Wood’s hat trick should suffice.

Factoid of the Night: Introduce yourself, 2017-18 Lightning:

That’s one of several interesting marks set by this red-hot team to begin the season.

Scores and more

Devils 7, Blackhawks 5

Capitals 2, Oilers 1 (SO)

Lightning 2, Ducks 1

Sharks 2, Kings 1