Coyotes are (gasp) on a winning streak

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As of this writing, the Arizona Coyotes have the least standings points in the NHL (11) despite playing a league-leading 22 games.

Things could change for this young team, but for now, it’s about small victories, which makes actual wins that much bigger. Perhaps what they really needed was this road trip through Canada?

After losing to the Jets in Winnipeg 4-1 on Nov. 14 (no real shame, really, as everyone’s losing to the Jets lately … just asking the Devils), the Coyotes left Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens fuming by getting their first regulation win of 2017-18 by a score of 5-4.

Arizona couldn’t make it consecutive wins in regulation, but when Anthony Duclair completed a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, they did something rare: the Coyotes won back-to-back games. Yes, gang, those scrappy kids now have their very own winning streak after today’s 3-2 OT win against the Ottawa Senators.

They wrap up this run of Canadian games by facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday.

Just like any self-respecting sports team, the Coyotes get to participate in a ceremony after wins.

One would guess that Zac Rinaldo got the “championship belt” stemming from the rough stuff between the Coyotes and Canadiens, which included a Rinaldo fight (no surprise) and Tomas Plekanec‘s first NHL bout (in his 941st career game).

The Coyotes want to bounce back from their bad start, while Duclair hopes to shed the weight of a lousy 2016-17 season.

At 4-15-3, Arizona might already be in too big of a hole to make any waves. Even so, they can gain some respect, and show that they’re not as bad as their record indicates. Heck, a win in Toronto would give them an undeniably successful road trip, something that’s not always a layup even for established, contending teams.

Now, now, all of that aside … it might be a little too early to take them seriously.

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 Fantasy: Teaming with the enemy

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If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, or civil correspondence, you probably think that Calgary Flames ragamuffin-forward Matthew Tkachuk is just the worst.

With that in mind, you’re probably not going to enjoy today’s advice: it’s fun and often productive to draft your most hated players in fantasy hockey.

Think of it this way. If Tkachuk helps you win your league next season, you can imagine yourself as some evil fantasy hockey baron, emitting a villainous cackle, possibly with a cigar jutting from your mouth. If Tkachuk stinks, then you can continue to despise him, and even blame your larger fantasy failings on that snotty-nosed kid who just won’t stop poking his mouthpiece outsomeone stop him.

(Now, some of you will respond: “But what if winning with villains on your team ends up souring the sweet taste of victory?” Allow me this response: [Points in other direction, runs away])

My personal villain of choice was once Todd Bertuzzi. Do note that this was vintage, All-Star Todd Bertuzzi, and not sad, sort-of-broken-down Detroit Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi.

The strange wrinkle is that a younger version of myself often picked him as a villain even before that ugly Steve Moore incident. As of today, I can’t recall what precisely rankled me about Bertuzzi before that scene; perhaps it was stubble envy?

It’s important to note that Team Villain (not to be confused with Team Putin?) works much better in leagues with PIMs, aka penalty minutes. Now, that’s not to say that every conniving-type will be sitting in the box all the time, it’s just that the Tkachuks of the world bring extra value because they can score and they can infuriate.

So far this season, Tkachuk has 13 points and 29 PIM in 19 games. Last year, he combined 105 PIM with 48 points, and the young forward happens to be part of a Flames line that dominates puck possession. (That latter point doesn’t always translate to fantasy gold … although it could if their continued strong play earns them more opportunities as time goes along.)

When you ponder the PIM-getters, it’s clear that Tkachuk is fairly rare.

[Rotoworld prepares you for the fantasy hockey week ahead]

On one hand, you have guys who can really pile up PIM and can at least secure a roster spot, but their offense isn’t always dependable. Tom Wilson is a prime example; he now has a whopping 674 PIM in 329 regular-season games, yet only 75 points. Wilson is an interesting example of how opportunities can fluctuate for pests who can play, though, as he has six points so far this season. If he can flirt with a point every game or two, then Wilson suddenly rises up the list of ruffians in fantasy.

Antoine Roussel, meanwhile, might be sliding. The Stars antagonist has generated just under 15 goals and 30 points in recent seasons, which is quite lovely when you consider his robust penalties (711 PIM in 359 games). There’s always the worry about a reduced role, and that – or bad luck – is happening in Dallas; so far he only has three points in 2017-18.

There are also stars who sneakily add mid-level PIMs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both lose their temper often enough to rub fans and opponents the wrong way, and that seems to translate to respectable PIMs.

Still, there are only a few who score while regularly generating 100+ PIM.

Tkachuk isn’t the only “polarizing” player who’s made recent news and also possibly deserves a spot on your fantasy team.

Radko Gudas has been a buried treasure in fantasy leagues with deeper stats for some time now. Oh, and he’s also regularly making waves with … well, his worst-ness.

It makes sense that Gudas is something of an under-the-radar fancy stats darling, as he tends to fill up peripheral categories, even if his point totals are often modest. So far this season, Gudas has 57 PIM in 17 games versus just two assists, yet he fires the puck pretty frequently. With 33 SOG in 17 games, he’s close to two per night. That can help if Gudas is, say, your fourth or fifth defenseman.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast ponders Carey Price’s problems]

As the stats go deeper, Gudas becomes a guy who can help you steal certain categories. He’s delivered 1,097 hits and blocked 533 shots in 286 games, via Yahoo’s handy stats. Via NHL.com’s real-time stats, since 2012-13, Gudas ranked eighth among skaters in hits, and that’s among players who often played about 100 additional games. He comes in 57th in blocked shots, and that’s again while noting that he’s missed some time.

And that’s the thing; with guys like Tkachuk and Gudas, you sort of have to pencil in some lost games. Whether it’s sitting in timeout for a bonehead suspension or getting injured because of their rugged styles, don’t draft or add/drop these guys expecting them to suit up every night.

***

If the last year or so drives any point home, it’s that sometimes the bad guys win.

On the bright side, that can come in handy. When it comes to prestige television and fantasy hockey, rooting for the antihero can sometimes be quite enjoyable.

Though, honestly, cable dramas probably should have curbed that trend after Walter White hung up his undies.

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.

More tension in Montreal after ‘unacceptable’ loss to Coyotes

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Thursday night was rough for the Montreal Canadiens, and not just because of those fights with the Arizona Coyotes.

The Habs fell to the Coyotes 5-4, giving Arizona its first regulation win of 2017-18. After the game, Montreal head coach Claude Julien looked pretty livid, expressing the belief that the issue was not respecting the “gameplan” more than their opponents.

You can see Julien fume in two languages in the presser clip below, with the English answers kicking in around the :45 mark:

It’s been a great ride at times for young goalie Charlie Lindgren, but he showed veteran-level finesse with this quip:

Wait, does this mean I should throw out my uniform-themed skates?

If the loss wasn’t frustrating enough for Montreal, there are some injuries to worry about. Both Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher should be monitored after these moments:

Not good.

The Habs slip down to 8-10-2 on the season, as they continue to see ups and downs. Things started off ugly (and unlucky) with a mark of 1-6-1, but Montreal seemed to correct its course, winning six of eight games from Oct. 28 – Nov. 7. They stumbling has resumed, unfortunately, and Julien must find himself searching for answers.

It all brings up a scarier question: is this really about scheme or are the Canadiens fated for the middle of the pack sooner than expected?

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.

Coyotes get first regulation win, Plekanec’s first NHL fight

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The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes don’t strike you as natural rivals, but the animosity can build pretty quickly when two teams start, well, striking each other.

The Coyotes currently lead the Canadiens 5-4, but even so, you could see frustrations spilling over at times during Thursday’s action. In some cases, it was pretty run-of-the-mill, as Zac Rinaldo fought with Nicolas Deslauriers.

To be fair, there were at least some hard punches thrown, with Rinaldo getting the worst of it, seemingly:

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, there was a truly startling fight, as Tomas Plekanec dropped his gloves for his first bout in his 941st game. Granted, there were times when he didn’t seem like he was totally on board with the fight against Brad Richardson.

You’ll note that there was blood, possibly from Plekanec? It was also that rare fight where a combatant was allowed to return to his feet.

Two questions remain: can the Coyotes hold on for a regulation win, and will Plekanec nab a “Gordie Howe hat trick?”

Update: No Howe hat trick for Plekanec. Instead, the Coyotes protected that 5-4 for their first regulation win of 2017-18. They improved to 3-15-3 on the season.

Here’s hoping Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher is OK:

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.

Brent Burns and Ryan Johansen are still searching for their first goals

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Over the past two seasons Brent Burns held a commanding lead over every other defenseman in the league when it came to scoring goals.

His 56 goals during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons were 19 more than the next closest defenseman, Shea Weber, during that stretch.

The gap between him and Weber was as large as the gap between Weber and the No. 25 defenseman, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. He has been such a dominant player offensively that he was also the seventh-leading scorer in the league regardless of position. He has produced goals and points like an elite forward and doing so as a defenseman. Other than Erik Karlsson there is not another defenseman in the league that is capable of that.

His dominance the past couple of seasons is what makes it so shocking that nearly a quarter of the way through the season he has yet to find the back of the net for the San Jose Sharks despite putting 65 shots on goal. Only eight players in the league have more shots on goal. He finished in the top-two in each of the past two seasons.

Given the standard Burns has set for himself over the past few years, as well as the fact he is still averaging more than four shots on goal per game (an absurd number for a defenseman) this drought to open the season seems to be nothing more than a cold streak due to some poor shooting luck. Burns is typically around a seven to eight percent shooter, which should have him at about five goals at this point given the number of shots on goal. In each of the past three seasons he had at least five goals at this point in the season.

Given the shot volume and his willingness to keep putting pucks on the net, as well as the fact he still has a 54 percent Corsi rating, it seems quite likely that he is probably on the verge of an offensive breakout.

Burns is not the only top player in the league still searching for his first goal at this point.

Down in Nashville, where the Predators are starting to get on a roll with wins in five consecutive games, top-line center Ryan Johansen is heading into game 18 this season without a goal.

Johansen’s goal drought is a little different than Burns’ at this point.

While Burns seems to be more about some percentage driven bad luck, Johansen simply is not giving himself many opportunities to score goals.

As of Wednesday Johansen has registered just 23 shots on goal in his first 17 games. Among forwards that have played at least 300 minutes of hockey this season only one (Valtteri Filppula) has recorded fewer shots on goal than Johansen.

Part of the lack of shots is the fact he has spent a large portion of the season playing alongside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, two of the Predators’ best goal scorers and most willing shooters, resulting in Johansen taking on more of a playmaking role.

But he could also probably stand to be a little more selfish in some situations as he himself admitted this week to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

“Sometimes shooting the puck creates more opportunities for the guys on my wing and creating more opportunities to score goals,” said Johansen, who has 22 goals since being traded to Nashville nearly two years ago. “I think sometimes, especially at the start of this year, I’ve been a little too passive.

“I need to find ways to bring pucks to the net more often, which will lead to more opportunities for my wingers and more rebounds and chances and things like that.”

Overall his line is playing really well. They dominate possession, the other two guys are scoring goals, and the Predators as a team are starting to find success. After the addition of Kyle Turris and the return of Nick Bonino to the lineup they now have one of the best center trios in the Western Conference.

Still, with Johansen carrying around an $8 million per year price tag the Predators would probably like to see a little more goal production — and pucks at the net — from Johansen.

It is not like he doesn’t possess natural goal scoring ability, either. This is a guy that score 33 goals in the NHL as a 21-year-old then followed it up in his age 22 season with 26 more. When he was doing that he was averaging more more than 2.6 shots on goal per game. He is now barely averaging more than one shot per game. He can be that sort of goal scorer again, but not until he starts taking a few more shots when the opportunities present themselves.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.