By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Here's a look around the league at the latest trends after another week of hockey. Some food for thought, some leftover stats, and of course, some fantasy advice. Let's dig in.
All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Big Trouble in Long Island
The big news out of Long Island is the loss of Anders Lee.
And while there's no replacing the presence of arguably their best two-way player and team captain, Kieffer Bellows made the most of his golden opportunity and scored two goals to secure a win against the Devils on Saturday. It was Bellows' first game since Feb. 18 when he only played 7:47 and finished with zero shots and was subsequently sent to the taxi squad.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Bellows bumped to the top line so quickly, especially with the Isles' depth on the wings — Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Michael Dal Colle would've been more obvious candidates. But stylistically, Bellows' physical edge and scoring touch around the net was more similar to Lee's skill set, and his ability to drive the net was on full display in what turned out to be the eventual game-winner when he blasted down the right wall and cut through the crease for a highlight-reel goal.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Isles' new top line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Bellows skated 10:51 at even strength — more than any other line — and generated 11 scoring chances for a 64.71 CF%. It was the one unit that head coach Barry Trotz didn't have to put in the blender as he used six different combos for the other three lines to relatively mediocre results. The key to their offense remains in the hands of Barzal and Eberle, who are burying their opponents in scoring chances (59.61 CF%, 61.38 FF%) and expected goals (66.58 xGF%). The analytics have always discounted the Isles, but they're a proven exception because they've punched well above their weight for long, sustained periods. And honestly, there's no debate with the Barzal-Eberle combo; they pass both the eye test and the numbers test.
How long Bellows (<1 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues) stays on the top line is a mystery, but his scoring touch and unhindered physical aggression seem to be a good fit and the early returns are promising. Trotz showed plenty of trust in Bellows by playing him in the late stages of a close game and slotting him on the power play. It's worth noting Barzal and Eberle have also shown solid chemistry with Dal Colle (64.29 CF% in 6:25 TOI at 5v5) and Beauvillier (72.22 CF% in 10:55 TOI at 5v5) despite the small sample size. And if Trotz breaks up his usual second line of Beauvillier, Bailey, and Brock Nelson — as he did for parts of Saturday — it could have a ripple effect across the lineup.
The left-wing slot on Barzal's line is an enviable position to be in and whoever plays in that spot is worth a look in deeper leagues.
Good Ol' Sutter
New Flames' head coach Darryl Sutter is now 2-0 since taking over and, in true Sutter-iffic fashion, has turned their games into a tough slog and limited their opponent to just two goals. It's even more impressive the wins came against the Canadiens, who got served a big dose of their own medicine and were crushed by the Flames' 60.39 5v5 CF% despite being the league's second-best possession team.
It's been well-noted Sutter's two-time champion Kings were known for turning their games into physical, low-scoring affairs. And during these times of uncertainty, there's a lot of comfort knowing Sutter has not changed — at all. He'll roll four lines because that's how he expects his teams to play if they want to win, which was apparent when the fourth line of Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo, and Sam Bennett provided two goals for Sutter's first win and drew praise during the post-game presser.
For fantasy managers, Sutter is a double-edged sword. The offense will improve because they're spending less time defending and scrambling, but note the Flames currently rank 24th in GF/GP. And during his six seasons in LA, the Kings ranked 27th in GF/GP — the implication being the improvement on offense may be marginal. Only Elias Lindholm (40th) and Johnny Gaudreau (45th) rank in the top-50 in scoring, so there's a chance no Flames player will finish inside that level at season's end. Lindholm's usage, in particular, will be something to keep an eye on; through two games under Sutter, he skated just 11:19 and 11:46 at 5v5 — the second- and third-lowest total among Flames' forwards. Some of that is due to game flow, but note Lindholm ranked sixth in the two games before Sutter took over and still currently ranks third in EV TOI/GP among Calgary forwards.
The good news is that Sutter's Kings ranked second in GA/GP, which is something the Flames — who currently rank 15th — should be able to improve upon. It's not easy playing under Sutter and their effort level seems to dip a little in the third period, but they've had tremendous starts by limiting the Habs to just two (!) high-danger chances in the first two periods of both games combined. That will be a huge boost for Jacob Markstrom, who may lower his GAA and boost his save percentage under the new system and climb back into the conversation as the top-10 fantasy goalie we all expected him to be.
The Blues are 0-4 with Vladimir Tarasenko in the lineup. That's a problem, but it's definitely not Tarasenko's fault, as he's notched a goal and three assists since returning. He's rostered in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues when it should be close to 100 percent. When Jaden Schwartz and Robert Thomas inevitably return, the Blues' offense will be talented and deep. There's no easing Tarasenko back into things as he skated 16:25 in his season debut but surpassed 20 minutes in both of his recent games against Vegas. If he's available in your league, he needs to be rostered right away because not many offer his offensive upside. It's all for naught if the Blues can't defend and keep allowing easy goals — that means less time in the offensive zone — but at this point in the season it's tough to find quality on the waiver wire.
Fellow countryman Nikita Kucherov was spotted skating with the Lightning, but he's supposedly not ready to play. Teams will complain that Tampa is circumventing the cap by preventing an otherwise healthy player from dressing, but that argument seems flawed because, well, wouldn't you rather play the Lightning without Kucherov? The original plan was for him to join shortly before or during the playoffs. And given Tampa's cap crunch, it's currently their only viable plan. Those who stashed Kucherov on IR for the season may be excited with the new development, but don't get your hopes up. If the NHL is going to change the rules regarding teams stashing injured players for a playoff run, it will most likely come during the offseason.
Someone who could return soon is Carolina starter, Petr Mrazek. He's been sidelined by a thumb injury but has been practicing and is expected to make his return soon. There's no hurry and Mrazek will likely be eased in because the Hurricanes look like they've already secured a playoff spot — barring a monumental second-half collapse — and also because both Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer have played well in his absence. The emergence of Nedeljkovic — 5-2-1 with a 2.21 GAA and .926 Sv% — is particularly interesting because the Canes are now a three-headed monster without a clear top dog. The easiest solution — if Mrazek assumes the No. 1 job again with teams allowed to carry three goalies this season and Nedeljkovic having cleared waivers in mid-January — is to rotate Nedeljkovic and Reimer in the backup spot, but that's a difficult juggling act. It'll be an interesting situation for fantasy managers as both are worth rostering, but the short-term hedge is probably Reimer since seniority and experience seem to be the standard most times with Nedeljkovic the potential long-term option since both Mrazek and Reimer are pending UFAs.
Saturday's loss extended the Sabres' losing streak to 10 games — their longest of the season — but the bigger shot to the stomach was news that Jack Eichel may be out long-term. Both Eichel and Dylan Cozens were unavailable in the shutout loss to the Penguins, and "top-six" centers Riley Sheahan and Eric Staal supplied only one shot each. Sheahan, in particular, is miscast with 69 career goals in 538 games while Staal sometimes plays like he's waiting for a trade. This has a trickle-down effect, namely for wingers Sam Reinhart (52 percent rostered), Victor Olofsson (56 percent), and Taylor Hall (78 percent). Scoring has already been a huge challenge, but Eichel was only involved in nine of Reinhart's 19 points, eight of Olofsson's 19 points, and Hall's lone power-play goal. As poor as Eichel's been, he was still a key part of the offense, and losing him — potentially for the season — brings down the fantasy value of all Buffalo players to the point where you question a little if they're still worth rostering in deeper leagues.