Normalization. That’s the word we’re looking for as we close out the second week of the season.
Case in point: The Ducks have now lost two straight games with 11 goals allowed after winning two of their first three games. Tyler Bertuzzi is no longer on pace to score 328 goals. Thomas Greiss is no longer the best goalie in the league.
But a few oddities have remained stubbornly the same: the Sabres and Sharks’ unblemished record, and the Avs, Knights, Lightning and Isles – the consensus big four – are still struggling with a combined 5-9-1 record.
Here’s your round-up as we enter the weekend’s games with the Habs (vs. Red Wings on Saturday) looking for their first point and the Blackhawks (vs. Red Wings on Sunday) and Coyotes (vs. Islanders on Saturday) looking for their first win. After a surprisingly good start – minus Thursday’s shutout loss to the Flames – the Wings have another chance to put the Habs and Blackhawks faithful into full-meltdown mode.
Igor Shesterkin, Rangers
I imagine Shesterkin watched MJ’s “I took that personally” meme on repeat all night when Alexandar Georgiev got the start on Opening Night, because he’s been the best goalie in the league since. He’s allowed just six goals on 128 shots (.953 Sv%), including a masterful 40-save performance that spoiled Auston Matthews’ season debut.
The consensus was right; Shesterkin indeed looks like the future franchise starter, and the minor Georgiev controversy was just a head-fake. The Rangers don’t play a back-to-back until Nov. 5-6 against Edmonton and Calgary, so it might be a while until we see Georgiev again. When Gerard Gallant was coaching the Panthers, he played a then 35-year-old Roberto Luongo 60-plus games two years in a row – to be fair, Luongo finished fourth in Vezina voting – and after that with the Knights also played Marc-Andre Fleury 60-plus games, who also finished fourth in Vezina voting. I don’t think Gallant cares much about age or experience – if you win, you’re in, and I can see a much heavier workload than anticipated for Shesterkin this season. Hold on to Georgiev because he’ll get another chance, but Shesterkin is climbing his way into the conversation of top-five fantasy goalies.
Vitek Vanecek, Capitals
Now the Caps have a real goalie controversy. Ilya Samsonov came into the season penciled as the starter but it’s Vanecek’s net now, who has been sublime with a .946 Sv% and 1.30 GAA. The Caps have an early matinee Saturday against the Flames but it’s a fairly light schedule coming up with a trip to Ottawa before hosting Detroit and Arizona. These should be easy wins for the Caps, who thrashed the Rangers, 5-1 in the season opener, then made a statement game with a 6-3 win against the Avs. Vanecek is slowly being rostered in more and more Yahoo leagues, and Samsonov could always force them into a timeshare again, but in the short term, Vanecek is on pace to have an excellent first month.
Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets
Let’s see how long the Jackets can keep this going, because there is undoubtedly something extra sprinkled onto this team. They’ve defied expectations and it’s mostly thanks to Merzlikins’ sparkling play with a .947 Sv% and 1.63 GAA. According to naturalstattrick.com’s model, the Jackets are getting caved in at 5-on-5 with the sixth-worst CF% while Merzlikins ranks 11th in 5v5 GSAA and second in saves in high-danger zones.
Sustainable? Certainly not at this absurd 123-point pace, but they also look like a borderline playoff team. Losing the possession game but grinding out wins has always been the Jackets’ theme in the John Tortorella era, and it looks like that identity has stayed intact. The difference is the Jackets might have more goal support than usual, and that gives Merzlikins’ fantasy value a huge boost. Joonas Korpisalo will be good for the occasional spot start, but it looks like it’s Merzlikins’ net with three starts in their first four games. He is rostered in only two-thirds of all Yahoo leagues.
Other goalies we’re keeping an eye on: Thomas Greiss, Red Wings; Mikko Koskinen, Oilers; Braden Holtby, Stars; Martin Jones, Flyers
Anton Lundell, C, Panthers
Lundell ranks fifth in ice time per game among Panthers forwards and has quickly earned the coaches’ trust. He’s scored four points in four games and winning 56 per cent of his faceoffs, besting even Aleksander Barkov, and allowing the Panthers to play Sam Reinhart on Lundell’s wing. They’ve lacked depth behind Barkov for many seasons, but now it’s a position of strength with Lundell and Sam Bennett. None of their opponents were at full strength, but their undefeated start has been very impressive and Lundell is quickly gaining fantasy value, especially in roto leagues that count faceoffs. He’s an early Calder candidate and rostered in only three per cent of Yahoo leagues. The drawback? No power play time… yet.
Michael Bunting, LW, Maple Leafs
Bunting will be a popular DFS play throughout the season on John Tavares’ wing opposite William Nylander. His finishing ability and high-volume shooting makes him an ideal fit, and playing on PP2 is an added bonus. The Leafs are off to a rocky start and lines always get juggled throughout the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bunting becomes a fixture on the top six; he’s a low-maintenance, all-effort player not unlike what Zach Hyman used to bring to the lineup, and rostered in only 22 per cent of Yahoo leagues. The Bunting-Tavares-Nylander line have registered 47 shots on goal, over 30 percent of the Leafs’ total.
William Eklund, LW, and Jonathan Dahlen, C/LW, Sharks
The Sharks are more interesting this year because they actually have players under the age of 25 on their roster. Eklund and Dahlen (both four per cent rostered in Yahoo leagues) have plenty of offensive upside, though Bob Boughner really spreads out his ice time and doesn’t use either of them very often at even strength. On the power play is where both of them may really shine, and having rejuvenated linemates in Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl should help immensely. The scoring will probably come in spurts – the Sharks will regress sooner or later – but in deep dynasty leagues, Eklund and Dahlen may have leapfrogged a lot of prospects because they’ve already arrived.
Other rookies we’re keeping an eye on: Lucas Raymond, LW, and Moritz Seider, D, Red Wings; Dawson Mercer, C, Devils; Alexandre Carrier, D, Predators; Bowen Byram, D, Avalanche; Spencer Knight, G, Panthers; Filip Gustavsson, G, Senators; Jeremy Swayman, G, Bruins
Derick Brassard, C, Flyers
Kevin Hayes is slated to return in early November at the earliest, but maybe there’s no hurry anymore with Brassard excelling as the No. 2 center. Brassard had his best seasons under Alain Vigneault with the Rangers, and with five points in three games, is now playing his best hockey in four seasons. Having Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson on your line really helps, and Brassard, who is rostered in five percent of Yahoo leagues, will likely remain in that spot for the time being, perhaps even when Hayes returns to the lineup. It’s amazing what having two good finishers on your wings can do as a playmaker.
Jordan Kyrou, C/RW, Blues
This might be the breakout season. Kyrou has scored seven points in three games, and it wasn’t just from easy matchups; he scored four against the Coyotes, but also added three helpers against the Avs and Knights. His ice time remains limited because the Blues roll four lines, but no one else in the Blues’ top nine other than Robert Thomas are under the age of 23.
Kyrou can be a one-dimensional fantasy player because he doesn’t offer much in peripherals – despite his center eligibility, he’s barely played there in the NHL – but showing improvements from last year’s 52-point pace means he could end up as one of the Blues’ top scorers. He’s been a popular pickup over the past while, going from undrafted fantasy player to 57 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Ducks
Shattenkirk came back healthy after undergoing knee surgery during the offseason and has since returned to be a point-per-game player. An assist against the Jets now gives him three goals and six points in four games, including three with a scorching Ducks power play that has scored in four straight games. Shattenkirk was once a premier fantasy option as a power-play quarterback, and despite the strong start, the 32-year-old’s best seasons are probably behind him. Jamie Drysdale is the one to target on Anaheim’s blue line, and even Keith Yandle might be a better option because at least he quarterbacks the top unit.
The Habs look so discombobulated this might be harder than turning around the Titanic. Jake Allen has not been nearly as good as advertised since signing to be Carey Price’s 1B, and now he’s thrust into the starting role with a backup the Habs don’t really trust. A 3-1 loss in the home opener was followed up by an even worse defeat, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi rubbed it into their faces two nights later.
The worst part is, only three Habs have scored a goal, and one of them – Chris Wideman – is on a league-minimum deal and played in the KHL last season. The Habs can’t take advantage of their solid wingers with only one playmaking center in Nick Suzuki, and offense just doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong aspect of Christian Dvorak’s name, who has actually been playing fairly well despite scoring just one point with seven shots and a minus-4 rating through five games. The Habs’ once-vaunted 5v5 possession numbers are no longer there, according to naturalstattrick.com, and a reminder they barely made the playoffs last season and they’re missing three of their key players from that roster.
Vegas Golden Knights
Injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are going to take a lot out of their offense. Losing Alec Martinez, who was hurt in Wednesday’s game, could also be a big loss, and with the way Vegas has allocated their cap (ie. no wriggle room), finding reinforcements may be difficult. In the meantime, that has boosted the fantasy value of William Karlsson’s line, which has managed to stay intact and relevant since the franchise’s inception.
The Knights will also need to get contributions from their depth, including top prospect Peyton Krebs, who has yet to make much of an impression. Defenseman Daniil Miromanov was just called up, and he’ll be intriguing as an offensive option who finished third in scoring with HK Sochi in the KHL last season. With so many key pieces missing, however, and a tough schedule coming up with seven of their next 10 games on the road, the Knights could lose their grip on the Pacific Division and will likely be an easier opponent than usual.