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Fantasy Hockey All-Stars for 2017-18

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With the 2018 All-Star Game and weekend festivities rapidly approaching, why not put together a fantasy All-Star team?

A few ground rules for this specific list:

  • It will have traditional positions (wings, center, two defensemen, one goalie) rather than the current setup.
  • Versatility matters.
  • Also, players who were drafted low or were on waiver wires get a big bonus. If you were able to land a top-50 guy far beyond the top 50 picks, your chances of winning your league skyrocket.

Good? Good. Let’s get rolling.

Left Wing – Alex Ovechkin

This one was tough mainly because Jonathan Marchessault went from a guy who likely wasn’t drafted in many leagues (in fact, Marchessault is still available in 16 percent of Yahoo leagues), yet he’s a top-50 guy.

Ovechkin’s just too dynamic to ignore, though, and it’s what he does beyond the obvious that makes him very useful.

His 208 shots on goal is tied for first in the NHL, and Vladimir Tarasenko‘s played in two more games.  Ovechkin’s 94 hits tie him for 34th among forwards. His 20 penalty minutes and +10 rating make him a guy who checks a lot of boxes peripherals-wise.

The obvious stuff is great, too. He leads the league with 30 goals. Ovechkin is also 13th in points with 53, so he’s getting helpers as well.

Simply put, the deeper your league goes with categories, the more obvious a choice Ovechkin and some others end up being.

Center – Sean Couturier

Couturier falls along the Marchessault lines.

Steven Stamkos has better numbers, as does Nathan MacKinnon. Still, Couturier didn’t get drafted in many cases, yet he’s part of a resurgent top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in Philly. The two-way center who’s largely done the heavy lifting is showing he’s more this season, scoring 23 goals and 23 assists. There are some nice peripherals with a +10 rating and even 26 blocked shots.

Value means a big difference in fantasy. Most people can pinpoint the obvious the guys, even if they end up slightly better than expected. The off-the-radar guys make the real difference.

Right wing – Nikita Kucherov

Look, not every pick on this list would mildly surprise somehow.

He leads the league with 63 points, and it’s not like it’s all assists, as he still has a shot to catch Ovechkin with his 27 goals. From a +13 rating to 22 power-play points, Kucherov covers all the bases.

Other members of high-end lines deserve consideration too, especially someone in the Marchessault/Couturier realm of overachievers like Brayden Schenn.

Defenseman: John Klingberg

Six goals and 42 assists for 48 points would be a nice season for Klingberg, let alone just a bit more than half of a season’s worth of work (50 games). While he collects more helpers, the six goals are quite nice. Klingberg has 119 shots on goal in those 50 games, and is basically doing it all.

His points total exceeds every other defenseman by seven points, and he’s 10+ points ahead of every blueliner beyond …

Other defenseman: Brent Burns, who has 41 points after collecting two assists on Thursday.

He now has eight assists during a six-game point/assist streak. During the month of January, Burns has one goal and 15 assists for 16 points in 12 games. Since December, he’s generated a remarkable 30 points in 25 games. If anyone can catch Klingberg, it’s Burns.

Even beyond that, Burns will probably be the most valuable fantasy defenseman going forward, unless Erik Karlsson resumes being fully Erik Karlsson, as he covers more categories.

On one hand, after a +19 rating in 2016-17, he’s -21 this season. (Plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it’s frequently used in fantasy.)

Burns can provide penalty minutes (24) and can be valuable even if he doesn’t score goals because he shoots so much (202 SOG, 50 more than every other defensemen, third in the NHL with fewer games played than Ovechkin and Tarasenko), and he’s logging a ton of ice time with 25:20 per game.

Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, followed by Connor Hellebuyck

OK, Vasi is obviously the guy. He leads the NHL in wins with 29, shutouts with 7 (everyone else as four or fewer), and his .931 save percentage stands out among starters. He’s clearly the best.

That said, Hellebuyck deserves a mention because he was likely picked up on waiver wires or very low in deep drafts. Even among Winnipeg Jets fans, you’d think Steve Mason was selected in almost every instance.

If you hopped on the Hellebuyck bandwagon early, you enjoyed most of the benefits: 26 wins (second to Vasi), sixth-best 1,147 saves, and a fantastic .924 save percentage.

***

Maybe you have a different way of looking at things, and you can’t deny MacKinnon, Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, or someone else from being mentioned. With that in mind, feel free to share your All-Stars, even if you keep it strictly to players who happened to land on your team(s). We’d be delighted to hear about your big steals, shrewd moves, and near-misses.

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: Crawford comes up big for Blackhawks

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Three stars

1. Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars

Lindell scored his second and third goals of the season on Sunday, with the latter being the game-winner as the Stars demolished the New York Islanders 6-2.

This spot could have easily gone to either Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn, each who came away with three-point nights in the win. Dallas has won two straight and are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games.

Gotta love on the defensemen sometimes though.

2. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Crawford was struggling pretty bad prior to this past week after losing five straight. Since then, Crawford is 2-0-1 and has allowed just two goals in those three games.

Crawford’s recent surge was highlighted on Sunday after he stopped 39 shots on Sunday en route to a 3-1 Blackhawks win against the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks are just 2-5-3 in their past 10, so a better Crawford could go a long way as they try to position themselves in a tough Central Division.

3. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights. 

It looks like every game in the Pacific Division is going to have deeper meaning this year with how poor those teams can be at times.

Marchessault, with two goals and an assist, ensured that Vegas got back to winning ways with a three-point night in a 6-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Marchessault was riding a three-game pointless streak coming into Sunday.

Other notable performances: 

  • Nathan MacKinnon had two goals and an assist and Mikko Rantanen padded his stats with two more apples and the game-winner on the power play in overtime. That line is just silly.
  • Three-point night in a losing effort for Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour.
  • Leon Draisaitl had a goal and an assist in a losing cause himself.
  • Curtis McElhinney steered aside 33 shots to help the Hurricanes to a 2-1 win.

Highlights of the night

Tremendous:

Slick feed:

Factoids

Scores

Stars 6, Islanders 2

Hurricanes 2, Devils 1

Blackhawks 3, Wild 1

Avalanche 4, Ducks 3 (OT)

Golden Knights 6, Oilers 3


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

The Buzzer: Jarnkrok, Atkinson post hat tricks; Karlsson gets first for Sharks

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Three stars

1. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

Three goals for the hat trick and an assist to cap off a four-point night for Atkinson in a 4-1 win for the Blue Jackets against the Carolina Hurricanes. Not too shabby. Atkinson helped Columbus to its second-best start through 20 games in franchise history. The Blue Jackets have won three in a row and are sitting in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Atkinson is rocking a four-game point streak now with six goals and nine points during that time. He’s currently on pace to eclipse the 40-goal mark, which would be a career-high. He had 35 two years ago.

Atkinson is now tied with Rick Nash for most hat tricks in franchise history at five.

2. Calle Jarnkrok, Nashville Predators

Jarnkork scored quite the hat trick himself on Saturday.

One of his goals came at even strength, another on the power play and one shorthanded. There should be a special name for that, like the hat-hat trick or something (terrible, right?) or maybe the three-phase hatty? I’m striking out.

Whatever ever way you slice it, it was no small feat. Since 2013-14, only seven players — including Jarnkrok — have done it. Not bad for your first hatty.

3. Aaron Dell, San Jose Sharks 

San Jose got a Dell on Saturday night, and it stopped 30 shots for his fourth career shutout in a 4-0 win against the St. L

Not a bad purchase.

Dell exacted a bit of revenge after he was between the pipes on Nov. 9 when the Sharks were blanked by the same Blues team 4-0 on Nov. 9.

Other notable performances:

  • The Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames can both take a bow. What a game.
  • We almost need to create a ‘Mike Hoffman Streak Watch’ section or something like that. Regardless, the man pushed his point streak to 15 games on Saturday with a goal and an assist, extending the franchise record.
  • Carey Price is taking a beating in the media but he’s been solid over his past two games, including stopping 36-of-38 in a 3-2 win.
  • Henrik Lundqvist captured win No. 438 to pass Jacques Plante for seventh on the NHL’s all-time list.
  • Mark Stone had two goals in a 6-4 win for the Ottawa Senators over the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Chris Kreider is a big reason why the New York Rangers are near the top of the Metropolitan Division. He had a three-point night, scoring and adding two assists.
  • Speaking of the Metropolitan, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30-of-31 and has now won in his past four appearances. His Blue Jackets are in first place.
  • The Buffalo Sabres are good. Rasmus Dahlin is also good and he had a goal and an assist to help the Buffalo Sabres to their fifth straight win.
  • Elias Pettersson scored again, so Vancouver can breathe again.
  • Erik Karlsson finally scored his first of the season in his 21st game, so San Jose can also stop holding its breath.
  • Jaroslav Halak continues to defy anyone and everyone’s expectations. He stopped 31 shots for his seventh win of the season. He’s got a .935 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average.

Highlights of the night

Erik Karlsson dropped his first goal with the San Jose Sharks. It was quite the rocket.

Jarnkrok’s hatty:

And Atkinson’s:

Factoids

Scores
Lightning 6, Flyers 5 (OT)
Red Wings 3, Devils 2 (OT)
Sabres 3, Wild 2
Canadiens 3, Canucks 2
Senators 6, Penguins 4
Rangers 4, Panthers 2
Blue Jackets 4, Hurricanes 1
Bruins 2, Coyotes 1
Predators 5, Kings 3
Flames 4, Oilers 2
Sharks 4, Blues 0


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

Saturday’s Battle of Alberta was gloriously epic

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Hate.

At times on Saturday night at the Saddledome in Calgary, it seethed.

And it was glorious. Mightily, brilliantly, glorious.

Saturday night was alright for mayhem and the Battle of Alberta had it in droves.

A great game of hockey bookmarked massive hits, fights and hate. Did I mention hate?

The montage above was just first-period highlights.

Let’s recap:

  • The Leon Drasaitl hit on Matthew Tkachuk knocked the latter out of the game for a while
  • Nurse clearly threw another bomb after the linesmen go in between him Sam Bennett
  • Nurse was telling the linesman to let him and not in those exact words
  • Connor McDavid and Mikael Backlund wrestled

The hit that led to Nurse and Bennett scraping is here:

The hate resumed in the second period, because of course it did.

Milan Lucic was engaged in this game, a sight for sore eyes for Oilers fans.

Here’s a sample of that engagement:

Now, if Lucic can bottle that and take some sips before each game going forward…

Oilers Twitter seemed quite pleased with No. 27 during the game.

Calgary prevailed in the game, winning 4-2 after scoring four unanswered as the Oilers squandered a 2-0 lead.

Neither team started their struggling No. 1 netminders. David Rittich for Calgary was the better of the two backups in the game, stopping three breakaways in the game. Edmonton simply couldn’t douse the Flames, who kept it coming in the third frame when the Oilers started to fizzle out.

Bonus: For old times’ sake, here’s the scrap of all scraps in the Battle of Alberta:

John Tortorella would have been proud.

Let the hype begin for the next game in the famed series on Dec. 9 in Edmonton.


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

Soak it in: Buffalo Sabres are good

Associated Press
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Remember when the Buffalo Sabres were bad?

The answer is we all do. You don’t have to go that far back in the annals of hockey history to find some woefully bad Sabres teams.

But those days of Buffalo being the butt-end of jokes and all of that sort of thing seem to be over with. The western New Yorkers aren’t simply toiling as an embarrassing team anymore. It’s been a bit of a process to turn the ship around, but the fruits of that labor seem to be flourishing so far this season.

Case and point: Buffalo has now cobbled together five straight wins, including triumphs over the Tampa Bay Lightning — tops in the Atlantic Division — and the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, teams sitting second and third in the Central Division, respectively.

They’ve embraced the grind, have learned to weather storms and are still standing at the end of it.

In Winnipeg on Friday, the Sabres were outshot 12-4 in the first period and survived. In Minnesota on Saturday, they were again pelted in the opening frame, doubled up 18-9 on the shot counter, and still found a way to only be down by a single goal.

And in both games, they battled back in the third, tied the game and then won it late in regulation or in extra hockey, as was the case in Winnipeg. And they did it on back-to-back nights when you’d have forgiven them for packing it in early against Minnesota after Friday’s game, which needed 65 minutes and seven rounds of a shootout.

Summer acquisitions of Jeff Skinner and Carter Hutton have played massive roles in Buffalo’s ascent up the standings a month-and-a-half into the season.

Skinner has 14 goals and 21 points in 20 games this season after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hutton is 4-0-0 in his past four games with a 1.42 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark is 4-0-1 in his backup role and Buffalo had the 11th best team save percentage coming into Saturday. 

Their penalty kill is in the top 10

Jason Pominville has turned back the clock with nine goals and 17 points thus far. Thirty-five years old and the wear and tear of 1,000 games? Pfft. Pominville is laughing at Father Time. 

And most importantly, they’re resilient.

“I just think we bent a little bit but we didn’t break,” Sabres head coach Phil Housley said after Friday’s win in Winnipeg. “I think last year we maybe would have broke a little more and gave the game away. We hung in there. That’s what’s great about this group, that they stick with it. We make some adjustments in between periods and they follow through with those adjustments. But it’s great for them, they’ve shown the resiliency up to this point in the season.”

The Sabres are simply an exciting team to watch these days and they’re positioning themselves to be in the playoff hunt, both this year and in the future.

Imagine that.


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