The Red Wings are forced to look to the future, turnarounds for Malkin and Pacioretty as well as notes on Evander Kane, Phil Kessel, David Perron and more in Scott Cullen's latest blog.
1. As the Detroit Red Wings took to the ice for Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, it was without both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for the first time since 2006, a great opportunity for some of the younger Wings forwards -- Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, most notably -- to take on bigger offensive roles.
The Wings started the year with a glut of forwards on their roster, even before they made the late decision to re-sign LW Dan Cleary, and it meant that Nyquist had to start the year in the AHL. Tatar remained in the NHL, because he required waivers to get sent down, but even so, Tatar played only five games in October.
As extraneous Red Wings forwards like Patrick Eaves and Jordin Tootoo went by the wayside, there was more opportunity for Tatar and, even though he hasn't played big minutes, he's been productive. After scoring a pair of goals against Philadelphia, Tatar has 11 points in 21 games.
Nyquist, who didn't need to clear waivers to get sent down, went to the AHL, where he was already a point-per-game scorer for the past couple seasons, and tallied 22 points in 15 games, further proving that he was ready for NHL duty and, upon being recalled, he joined Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen on Detroit's top line.
Wednesday, Nyquist was with Franzen and Stephen Weiss and contributed an assist, giving him four goals and six points in seven games since he was recalled, thus prompting the question: Why wasn't he part of Detroit's roster from Day One?
2. Early in the season, there was such concern about Penguins C Evgeni Malkin, who had 10 points in his first 13 games. Why wasn't Malkin scoring?
Such are the lofty expectations when you are one of four players to have at least three 100-point seasons since 2000-2001.
But then, the calendar turned to November and Malkin started piling up assists. The game got a little easier when James Neal, Malkin's right winger, returned from an injury suffered prior to the second game of the season. Malkin's slow start wasn't simply a reflection of poor play, it was also a function of his quality of linemates. With Neal out, Malkin and left winger Jussi Jokinen skated with the likes of Chuck Kobasew, Beau Bennett, Jason Megna and Matt D'Agostini, none of whom can be confused for Neal as a finsher.
In any event, Malkin is scoring like an elite player. With 25 points in 15 November games, Malkin was six points ahead of the next highest-scoring player (Chicago's Patrick Kane), and, with 19 points during his current nine-game point streak, Malkin has notched 37 points in 29 games, climbing to within one point of teammate Sidney Crosby for the scoring lead.
All this production is despite Malkin registering a career-low 3.0 shots on goal per game with a career-low shooting percentage (8.0%). If, once he returns to the lineup from a lower-body injury, those numbers move towards career norms, Malkin may be in line for another 100-point season.
3. Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty also started the year slowly, with four points in his first 12 games, sandwiched around a two-and-a-half week absence due to a hamstring injury.
With 48 goals in the previous two seasons, Pacioretty had established himself as a legitimate scoring threat, one that should have been able to get the Canadiens out of their collective scoring funk.
And then he did.
Pacioretty scored a hat trick at home against Minnesota on November 19, registering 10 shots on goal in the process, then added a pair a couple of games later against Pittasburgh. Two goals against Toronto Saturday night and another against New Jersey Tuesday night left Pacioretty with eight goals (and an assist) in his last eight games, playing primarily with David Desharnais -- shaken from his own disastrous start -- and Brendan Gallagher.
If Pacioretty can keep generating shots like this, a career-high 4.2 per game, he could be in for a big season, even having missed eight games already. At the very least, it should make a team think twice, or three times, before trading him.
4. While we're discussing shot-generating scoring wingers that find their way into trade talks, Jets LW Evander Kane has been in an out of that rumour mill for the last couple seasons.
Even though Kane has generated a career-best 4.15 shots on goal per game, his shooting percentage is a career-low 6.5% (9.2% for his career) and his on-ice shooting percentage is also 6.5%, which is the lowest among forwards that skate in the Jets' top nine.
Generally, what should be taken from low percentages is that they should regress closer to Kane's career norms, so he ought to be considered a buy-low opportunity right now, both for fantasy owners and NHL teams that might be looking to pry him out of Winnipeg.
Kane is currently out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, which isn't exactly enhancing his value, but doesn't appear to be a long-term issue.
5. Since scoring four points against the Edmonton Oilers October 29, Maple Leafs RW Phil Kessel has seven goals and one assist in 15 games. Kessel has recorded 63 shots on goal in that span (4.2 per game), which is even a little better than his season average of 4.0 shots per game, yet that's still just one assist in the last 15 games for a skilled winger playing more than 19 minutes per game.
There have been reports about Kessel nursing a wrist injury and that very well may be part of the problem. If the suggestion is that he's having bad luck, that's probably part of it too, yet Kessel still has the highest on-ice shooting percentage of his career so, like his teammates, was due for some regression.
6. Not surprisingly, after starting the year on Washington's fourth line, Capitals LW Martin Erat has requested a trade, which isn't the easiest thing to make happen, since he comes with a $4.5-million cap hit and has yet to score a goal in 25 games this season.
Erat does have seven assists and has been a middle-of-the-pack possession player for the Capitals, but it's been an undeniably poor experience in Washington, precipitous fall for a player who scored between 49 and 58 points eery year from 2003-2004 through 2011-2012. That track record is what gives Erat some appeal to a team that hopes he might be able to help out on their second line.
7. While we're bandying about names that have made their way into the trade rumour mill, Maple Leafs D Jake Gardiner of course found his way into those rumours when he was recently a healthy scratch.
This usage doesn't come as a surprise, at least not after last season's extended stay in the AHL and then stint in the press box before suddenly playing top four minutes in the first-round playoff series against Boston.
If the Maple Leafs were to move Gardiner, they had better get a pretty sweet return for the player who posts some of the best possesion stats on a team that posts horrendous possession stats.
8. Oilers LW David Perron has been taking his game to a new level with his new team. Sure, he has nine goals and 13 points in the last 12 games, that's good stuff, but he's also been a strong puck-possesion performer, at least in relative terms, and is averaging 3.64 shots on goal per game, way up from 1.75 last year with the St. Louis Blues (and his 1.95 per game over the course of his career).
He's played alongside a variety of linemates, with Boyd Gordon and Ryan Smyth his most common linemates, and it's Perron that is driving play when he's on the ice, giving the Oilers even more than they could have reasonably expected when they traded for him.
9. Not getting carried away with modest production from a mucker who has five goals and seven points in 21 games, but Stars LW Ryan Garbutt is suddenly generating shots like he's more than a bottom-of-the-depth chart grinder.
Over the last eight games, playing primarily with Vernon Fiddler and Antoine Roussel, Garbutt has four goals and two assists, with 32 shots on goal. Small sample, and all of that, but 4.0 shots on goal per game is notable, so it will be worth keeping an eye on Garbutt to see if the guy who climbed up from Brown University, through the Central Hockey League, ECHL and AHL before reaching the Stars, has a chance to contribute offensively for more than just a couple of weeks.
10. Capitals RW Eric Fehr has found a spot on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer and, while his playing time has been inconsistent this year, Fehr has the best possession stats among Washington forwards and has six points (2 G, 4 A) in his last seven games.
11. Islanders LW Michael Grabner has gone 18 games without a point, even while playing mostly with Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey on the second line. He has two goals in 25 games, scoring on an absurd 3.8% of his shots, but the lack of production isn't all bad luck -- he's generating a career-low 2.12 shots on goal per game.
12. Hurricanes LW Jeff Skinner had a three-point game at Washington Tuesday, a bit of a breakout performance while skating with Tuomo Ruutu and Eric Staal on Carolina's top line.
Prior to that game, Skinner had two points and 11 shots on goal in the previous six games since coming off the injured list. Considering how much Eric Staal's line has struggled this year, it's probably worth checking out to see if Skinner can fit in that role.
13. Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky is out for more than a month with a groin strain, leaving Curtis McElhinney to man the crease. McElhinney has been great this season, with a .925 save percentage in eight appearances, and he was good in the AHL last season (.923 SV% in 49 GP with Springfield), but he has never played more than 28 games in an NHL season and has a save percentage of .902 in 77 career games, numbers that will not stack up well if McElhinney is making the next dozen or more starts for Columbus.
FIRST NHL GAMES
Alex Grant, D, Anaheim - The 24-year-old was acquired from Pittsburgh in the summer for Harrison Zolnierczyk and has 74 points ni 144 career AHL games. He scored a goal in his NHL debut, at San Jose on November 30.
John Albert, C, Winnipeg - A sixth-round pick for Atlanta in 2007, Albert played four years at Ohio State, scoring 103 points in 118 games over his last three seasons, and has 40 points in 111 AHL games since. He played a modest 8:29 in his first NHL game with Anthony Peluso and James Wright on the fourth line, but scored on a breakaway.
Erik Haula, LW, Minnesota - Drafted in the seventh round in 2009, Haula had 100 points in 80 games during his last two seasons at the University of Minnesota. He has a dozen points in 24 AHL games since and has been fitting in a depth role for the Wild over the last three games.
Kevan Miller, D, Boston - Undrafted stay-at-home defenceman who played at the University of Vermont was an injury fill-in for three games and held his own, enough that he'll be on call when injuries hit the defence again.
Zach Sill, LW, Pittsburgh - A late bloomer who was undrafted and only played in the QMJHL as a 19-and-20-year-old, Sill isn't a big scorer, with 72 points in 273 AHL games, but that kind of experience makes him useful in limited fourth-line minutes.
Connor Murphy, D, Phoenix - The 6-foot-5 blueliner was a first-round pick in 2011, Mruphy has ascended quickly, limited to 68 games over two OHL seasons due to injury, then getting the call after a dozen games in the American Hockey League. He scored in his NHL debut, playing more than 22 minutes, but has been working on the third pair since.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay - Taken in the second round in 2011, Kucherov scored 63 points in 33 QMJHL games last season, then opened his first pro campaign with 13 goals and 24 points in 17 games. He's a skilled forward and, upon being called up, was put on a line with Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn. Kucherov hasn't scored since lighting the lamp in his debut but, with 11 shots on goal in four games, he's generating opportunities.
Reid Boucher, LW, New Jersey - Picked in the fourth round in 2011, Boucher has a heavy shot and scord 62 goals in 68 games for Sarnia of the OHL last season, then got off to a quick start in the AHL this year, with 10 goals and 18 points in 21 games. Making his debut against Montreal Wednesday, Boucher had an assist and scored in the shootout. With injuries in New Jersey, there is an opportunity for Boucher to earn regular time in a scoring role.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.