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Oh, fickle indicator statistics. When will you stay true to your word?
The answer to the preceding question: never. Stats that we use to forecast things to come are still just guesses. This week's Front Line looked at missed shots as a possible indicator for some players who might be generating more offensive chances than their other statistics illustrate. Whether it's true that Alex Ovechkin or Phil Kessel will actually start hitting the net more depends on too many variables to predict with certainty. But a pile of missed shots does feel like an indicator that they are at least trying to generate offensive chances. That's the false promise that comes with using statistics to predict what is coming next in a game like hockey.
Let's face it, hockey is a pretty wild, free game for which to keep statistics. There is a puck bouncing around an enclosed area with players whacking it with their sticks. No two plays on the ice are exactly the same, and rarely do we have rigid variables to compare across shifts, let alone games. That is why there are no game-changing statistical measures to analyze in hockey. It's a game that can't be tamed by statistics.
But we live in a fantasy sports world, and we need to find ways to evaluate players while trying to predict what comes next. While it is true that no statistic in hockey can truly be an indicator, like the missed-shots example from this week, we can take a statistic and apply other knowledge we have of the situation to try to find something that might suggest future performance.
The indicator statistic we are looking at this week has to do with goaltenders. There is little doubt that an NHL goalie is at his most vulnerable when his teammates are in the penalty box. In most cases, the goaltender will have a large body planted directly in his field of vision and the opposing team will be swinging the puck from side to side looking for an opening. A lot of power-play goals cannot be stopped even if the goalies knew the opponent's plan.
That's why looking at a breakdown of some goaltenders' special-teams save percentages might help us identify some players to target -- or worry about.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: Few expected Luongo and Cory Schneider to have an equal number of starts at this point of the season. But Luongo has been phenomenal. Five of the 10 goals he has allowed in six starts (seven games) have been scored on the power play. His save percentage for the season is a sparkling .943, but when you remove the power plays from the equation, Luongo's save percentage becomes a spectacular .965. That's best in the NHL among goaltenders who have worked at least half of their team's games. For his part this season, Schneider has a .921 save percentage, which improves to .943 with opponents' power plays removed.
Both goaltenders have been good enough to continue getting a rotation from coach Alain Vigneault, but Luongo really is playing exceptional hockey right now. In fact, he would probably be on a different team if his numbers were worse than Schneider's. Whether Luongo is traded or plays in half of the Canucks' games going forward, he is putting up statistics like a No. 1 fantasy hockey goalie. If you can acquire him for your team for less than that cost, you win even if he stays put this season.
Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks: ESPN Fantasy Hockey's resident goalie expert Tim Kavanagh recently took a look at Fasth, who is getting ice time while starter Jonas Hiller rests an injured groin. There is no question this 30-year-old import for the Ducks has been impressive this season, but is it enough to ultimately steal the mantle from Hiller? Looking at the special-teams save percentages for both goaltenders, Hiller has been Swiss cheese -- and it's a major problem. Hiller leads all NHL goaltenders in power-play goals allowed per game by a wide margin. Of the goalies starting more than one game, Hiller has allowed 1.83 power-play goals per game this season (next on the list is Jimmy Howard with 1.17 PPG/G).
Fasth has allowed fewer than 0.429 PPG/G this season and boasts a save percentage of .900 when his opponents are on the power play. Hiller's power-play save percentage has been .750. Hiller's injury absence might be all coach Bruce Boudreau needs to let Fasth run with the job. If not, Hiller needs to fix his performance while the Ducks are down a man, or it only will be a matter of time before Fasth takes over.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks and Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers: These goaltenders are being considered together because they are the only two starters in the NHL with an impressive statistical attribute as it relates to special-teams save percentage. Crawford's and Dubnyk's save percentages actually improve with the power play as a factor. Think about that for a second; Crawford and Dubnyk have been so good while killing penalties that their overall save percentages are better because of it. Dubnyk has faced nearly 20 more power-play shots than any goalie in the NHL this season, but has turned them aside with a .938 save percentage. That's even better than his overall save percentage of .923. Dubnyk is vastly underrated for his skills, and his 2.58 goals-against average is going to come down before the season is through.
Crawford has been even better when facing his opponents' power plays. Turning aside 40 of 42 shots while the Blackhawks were short-handed, Crawford leads all NHL goalies with a .952 power-play save percentage. The team's strong penalty kill is going to help buoy Crawford's numbers this season. While Dubnyk is facing more than eight power-play shots per game, Crawford is facing little more than four per game.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: If the Blackhawks have been making it easy for Crawford with their penalty kill, Smith very well could be kicking back in a hammock.
The Coyotes have limited opponents to just three power-play shots against Smith per game this season. This could be viewed in one of two ways: Either it's a good thing that the Coyotes are limiting the opposition's chances against him when he is most vulnerable, or it's an issue that Smith still has allowed six power-play goals on just 30 shots (for a power-play save percentage of .800.) Smith's save percentage with the opponents' power plays removed from the equation is decent enough at .914 this season, but his overall save percentage is teetering on the brink of fantasy relevance at .900. Is this a reason to be concerned?
Actually, maybe a bit. Jason LaBarbera and Chad Johnson combine for a power-play save percentage of .931, while having faced just one fewer shot than Smith. Like Hiller, Smith needs to fix what has been ailing him on the penalty kill.
New York Islanders: Quick, someone sound the five-game-week alarm. The Islanders have the first five-game stretch in seven days in the NHL this season, as they only have Wednesday and Friday off during the coming scoring period. That means it's time to load up on folks from Long Island. First and foremost on your list of targets should be Lubomir Visnovsky, though the window of opportunity to get him is quickly closing. Visnovsky has been back with the club for three games and is already playing a ton of minutes, taking lots of shots and doing so while on the power-play first unit. Visnovsky is available in only 12 percent of ESPN leagues, and that number will continue to shrink until he is universally owned. If you needed an excuse to drop one of your players for him, use the five-game week to justify your decision.
Brad Boyes is the next player you should scoop up. Playing with John Tavares and Matt Moulson full time, Boyes has totaled 10 points in 13 games. When Visnovsky returned to the team, it was Frans Nielsen, not Boyes, who was moved off the power-play first unit. Boyes is filling the role that made P.A. Parenteau famous the past few seasons. Owned in only 6 percent of ESPN leagues, check Boyes out for the coming week and you may end up keeping him long term.
Finally, what about considering Brian Strait? The defenseman, who was picked up on waivers by the Islanders before the season, has some serious speed but hasn't shown much offensive ability. That is, until Strait was paired with Visnovsky last week. Strait has three points in three games playing with Visnovsky as his defensive partner.
Carolina Hurricanes: Heading into a four-game week, the Hurricanes finally have a first and second line that are scoring as was anticipated before the season began. Jiri Tlusty led all NHL players during the past week with seven points. Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin combine to create a very potent trio that peppers the opposing net with pucks from all over the offensive zone. While Staal and Semin are exceptional at controlling the puck, Tlusty has a knack for rushes. Luckily, Staal and Semin are equally adept at the quick attack as they are the controlled passing game. Tlusty isn't going to score at a ridiculous pace all season, but this isn't a quick flash in the pan, either. Tlusty's ownership has rocketed from 0.1 percent of ESPN leagues to 57.9 percent, but that means he is still available in more than 42 percent of leagues.
On defense, Joe Corvo remains Joe Corvo when it comes to the other aspects of his game, but he can't be criticized too harshly for his ability to make an outlet pass. So long as the Hurricanes' top six are scoring on a regular basis, a player like Corvo can pick up some points by sending the puck forward and getting the odd chance to fire a shot from the blue line. Corvo has two goals and three assists in his past four games. For super-deep leagues, we will again mention Tim Brent, who continues to play on the power-play first unit with Semin, Staal and Tlusty.
Philadelphia Flyers: While Claude Giroux struggles to find his identity without Scott Hartnell at his side, the second line for the Flyers has picked up the offensive slack. And really, we are talking about the duo of Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn, who have had a couple of different looks during the past few games with Matt Read and Tye McGinn as the third member of the line. Voracek and Schenn have posted four and five points, respectively, in the past three games.
On a broader scale, Schenn has watched his ice time increase somewhat during the past two weeks, and has collected a total of seven points in seven games. Voracek has a similar run of eight points in the past eight games. One report suggests that Hartnell could be back on the ice as soon as next week, so the first line will get going again. But now that Voracek and Schenn have shown their quality, they will continue to get opportunities to produce. The Flyers get four games next week, with three of them coming against teams that do not have elite goaltending.
Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer is expected to miss a minimum of one week with a knee sprain, which puts his return at late next week. The Maple Leafs have four games next week, which means that another goaltender could be in line for some wins. That last sentence was purposefully vague on a specific name because Ben Scrivens has been far from lights out this season. Already with one loss while Reimer is sidelined, Scrivens may end up ceding some time to Jussi Rynnas before the weekend is through. If Rynnas has success, he'll get a chance to continue starting until Reimer is back (and possibly beyond). Rynnas has some upside and has proved to be a dependable AHL goaltender. He may not be the long-term solution for the Leafs, but in the short term, he might have to suffice.
Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff's knee will keep him out another couple of weeks, leaving Leland Irving to mind the net in the meantime. Irving has been better than the numbers show in four starts since Kipper was hurt. The Flames have four contests next week against the less-than-potent offenses of the Phoenix Coyotes (two games), Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild. Irving was picked up in only 13 percent of ESPN leagues during the past week, so he remains an option for those in need of goaltending help.
Chicago Blackhawks: As scoring begins to level out in the NHL this season, the Blackhawks finally emerge on the list of top-scoring teams. With Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp leading the offense, it's not a surprise. They should continue to pile up goals at a rate near the top of the league.
Where fantasy owners might find some extra production as the season wears on is both obvious and convoluted. It's obvious, because the Blackhawks have four players, and scoring lines consist of six players. It's convoluted because the team seems to be constantly in search of forwards who can keep up consistent scoring while skating with the Big Four.
Dave Bolland has had the most opportunity this season, skating with Kane and Sharp on a regular basis. He started the season with a strong showing, but has since faded. He has taken only four shots on goal in the past seven games. Andrew Shaw has had a few looks with Toews and Hossa on a line, but Brandon Saad seems to have won the current battle to play with the star forwards. With only two goals this season, Saad certainly isn't producing what one would expect with such linemates. That said, Saad has 10 shots in the past two games, which could be a sign of things to come.
The wild card is Daniel Carcillo, who started practicing again in his return from a knee injury suffered in the first game of the season. A pugilist by trade, Carcillo had an assist and a plus-3 in the first game of the season (playing with Toews and Hossa) before he was injured. If returned to a scoring line when he is healthy, he offers tantalizing potential for penalty minutes while also providing other stats.
Each week, the Fantasy Forecaster also will include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary-cap game that allows you free reign over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
The skeds: Whether you are a fan of quality or quantity, the first power-play unit for the New York Islanders is a solid choice for next week. Tavares ($9.0M), Moulson ($8.1M), Boyes ($5.7M), Mark Streit ($6.8M) and Visnovsky ($6.1M) all make sense for your lineup as the Islanders play five games next week.
On the other end of the quantity spectrum, the Ducks, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Wild and Washington Capitals all have short weeks, with only two games. Given that a lot of teams have four games next week, it is probably worth giving up some saved salary on players to switch them out for next week.
The Hurricanes have been hot on offense and are headed into a four-game week for the Hockey Challenge. Staal ($8.7M) has been particularly good. The same can be said of the Flames after they exploded with Mike Cammalleri ($6.7M) back in the lineup. Roman Cervenka ($6.4M) might be a sleeper as he continues to improve.
Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist ($12.3M) and the New York Rangers have three evenly spaced games next week, meaning Lundqvist likely won't be rested. That can be just as good as any team with a four-game schedule.
With five games during the week, Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov ($11.1M) may end up starting as many as four. There are several winnable games in that stretch, and Nabokov is cheaper than a lot of other goalies.
My roster for next week:
Corey Crawford, G ($11.2M)
Evgeni Nabokov, G ($11.1M)
Kevin Shattenkirk, D ($6.7M / $7.0M on market)
Mark Streit, D ($6.8M)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($7.1M / $7.4M on market)
Lubomir Visnovsky, D ($6.1M)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M / $9.5M on market)
Evgeni Malkin, F ($8.7M / $9.4M on market)
Steven Stamkos, F ($8.7M / $9.3M on market)
Thomas Vanek, F ($7.4M / $8.3M on market)
John Tavares, F ($9.0M)
Matt Moulson, F ($8.1M)