Random PP Observations
In Toronto, what a turnaround year it's been for the Maple Leafs so far. And in every possible way, too. After 25 games, the Leafs are in second place in the Northeast and have not one, but two players - Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul (yes, Joffrey Lupul) - sitting atop the league scoring pile. In terms of power play, the Leafs have really come alive in that department too, ranking second overall with a 23.4% rating, after being one of the 10 worst PP teams the last two seasons in a row. Lupul is certainly doing his part, sitting sixth overall in PP scoring with 11 points (3G, 8A), while Kessel is not far behind him with nine points (4G, 5A). However, credit also has to go to defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who also has nine points (2G, 7A), just three shy of the 12 he produced all of last season. Meanwhile, John-Michael Liles (2G, 6A) has also been a valuable addition after arriving in the offseason from Colorado. Currently, the Leafs' top PP line consists of Kessel, Lupul, Phaneuf and Liles, along with Tyler Bozak.
In Colorado, the struggling Avs are currently sitting fourth-last in the West, however this is not a reflection of their power play attack, which currently ranks third overall in the NHL (22.9%). Where the Avs continue to have problems is five-on-five scoring, but in man-advantage situations, they've been lights out. This is due to a very balanced scoring attack, led by Kyle Quincey, Milan Hejduk and Erik Johnson (eight points each), Paul Stastny (7 pts), Matt Duchene (6 pts) and Ryan O'Reilly (5 pts). Keep in mind that Johnson, currently out with a groin injury, has been replaced in the lineup by rookie callup Stefan Elliott, who has three points in three games (but none on the PP). It will be interesting to see whether Johnson will see his minutes reduced once he is healthy enough to return. As good as Johnson has been on the PP, he has yet to score a goal this season - something Elliott did in his first game - and only one of his nine assists have come at even strength, something he has been roundly criticized for in the Denver press. For now, Elliott remains part of the Avs' first PP defensive pairing along with Quincey.
In St. Louis, the Blues are in almost the exact opposite situation compared to Colorado - surging up the standings (7-1-2 in their last 10 games, fifth place overall in the West), but with no PP attack to speak of - dead last in the PP rankings with a dismal 8.8% success rate. Unlike the Avs, the Blues are excelling in five on five situations - second only behind Boston in that category with a 1.59 goals for/against ratio, but just cannot put anything together on the power play, with just seven PP goals scored all season. Fantasy owners are no doubt getting killed by guys like Chris Stewart and David Backes, who have just two PP points apiece thus far. Meanwhile, Alex Steen, who has arguably been the Blues' best all-around player this season, with 17 points in 24 games, has just one lonely PP assist to show for his efforts. Not having Andy McDonald in the lineup (out with a concussion) has no doubt had an impact. However, even though coach Ken Hitchcock has been juggling his PP lines since replacing Davis Payne behind the bench in early November, he appears to be favoring a first unit consisting of Steen, Arnott and Patrik Berglund, along with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on the points.
Another vastly-improved team this year - in all areas, not just on the power play - has been the Florida Panthers. After 25 games, the Panthers are currently first in the Southeast division - ahead of teams like Washington and Tampa Bay - and are third overall in the East. On the power play, the Panthers are roughly middle-of-the-pack, very respectable when you consider they finished second-worst in the league last season. The team's offseason acquisitions have been huge contributors to the turnaround this season - guys like Brian Campbell (13 PP pts), Kris Versteeg (9 pts) and Tomas Fleischmann (9 pts). Stephen Weiss (6 pts) continues to produce for the Cats, along with off-the-radar contributions from guys like Dmitry Kulikov (5 pts) and Jason Garrison (4 pts). Garrison in particular has taken major strides this season, and has finally emerged as the top-four defenseman, something he was never really projected to be when he signed with Florida back in 2008. For now, he remains part of the Panthers' top blueline pairing along with Campbell.
In Edmonton, there was much debate at the start of the season whether Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be able to stick with the team out of training camp. With the benefit of hindsight, such talk seems utterly laughable today, as RNH is currently the team leader in points, both at even strength (11G, 16A) and on the power play (3G, 10A). In fact, no one on his team is even close to him in terms of PP production. With 13 points, RNH currently sits second overall in the league behind only Daniel Sedin, and you have to scroll down roughly 30 players to find Nuge's next closest teammate to him in the standings - namely Taylor Hall with eight points. Not to diminish what guys like Hall, Jordan Eberle (7 pts) and Ryan Smyth (4 pts) have done for the team this year, but one would have to argue that without "the Nuge", Edmonton would very likely not be 4th overall in PP scoring at this point in the season.
Quick injury updates:
VAN: With the latest injury to Sami Salo (lower body, DTD), the Canucks are relying more on Dan Hamhuis for PP purposes, who skated almost four minutes on the first line PP alongside Alexander Edler vs. Nashville on Thursday.
PHI: Jaromir Jagr (groin), Chris Pronger (knee) and James van Riemsdyk (upper body) remain out of the lineup, so coach Peter Laviolette has been giving Scott Hartnell and Matt Read more PP minutes. (NOTE: Jagr and JVR could be back in the lineup as soon as this weekend.)
CGY: Rookie defenseman T.J. Brodie has been seeing his share of second-line PP duties this season, and could be upgraded to the first line with Mark Giordano now on the IR with a sore hamstring.
PIT: With Kris Letang out of Thursday's game against WAS with an assortment of injuries (virus, broken nose, possible concussion), the recipient of his ice time was Paul Martin, who saw 5:51 on the PP alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steve Sullivan and James Neal.