Post-Olympics PP Summary
Well folks, here we go. The Olympics are over and it's back to NHL reality as we enter the final 20-or-so games left until the playoffs. Down the stretch, as they say. From a power play perspective, you would think most teams have their PP lines pretty much set at this point, however in some cases there is still some tinkering going on, due to injuries, lineup shuffling, etc. Here's what you need to know as we hit the three-quarter mark of the current NHL season.
On Long Island, the Isles received some bad news from Sochi last week when star center John Tavares went down with a season-ending knee injury. Since then, the team has bumped up 22-year-old Brock Nelson to center the top PP line in place of Tavares. Points-wise, he doesn't have anything to show for it so far, but his ice time has jumped to the 18-20 minute range in the last three games, compared to the 12-14 minutes he was seeing prior to the Olympic break. If you're in a deep league looking for some scoring help, Nelson has some upside now that he's skating with the likes of Kyle Okposo, Thomas Vanek and Lubomir Visnovsky in man-advantage situations. Just don't expect a huge breakout. Other Isles who are seeing an increase in PP minutes playing on the second line are Josh Bailey (2 PPA in his last three games), Ryan Strome (recently recalled from AHL Bridgeport) and defenseman Calvin de Haan.
In Detroit, another 22-year-old center getting an opportunity to see an increased PP workload is Riley Sheahan. Sheahan has bounced back and forth between AHL Grand Rapids and the big club this season as an injury callup, and he's certainly needed right now with Henrik Zetterberg currently on the shelf following back surgery. For his part, Sheahan hasn't fared too badly in the limited action he's seen this year, averaging just 14 minutes per game, but he's managed to record 14 points in the 20 games he's played, including two points on the power play (1G, 1A) along with a game-winner. He's averaging roughly two minutes on the PP this season playing mostly on the second line with Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco, however with Pavel Datsyuk still dealing with a sore knee, don't be surprised if Shehan starts seeing more time on the top line as well.
In New Jersey, with Bryce Salvador currently day-to-day with a bruised collarbone, the Devils have recalled 22-year-old Eric Gelinas. Gelinas has been shuttled back and forth between AHL Albany and the NHL several times this season, but with 25 points in 46 games, it's clear he's one of the promising young scoring defensemen in the game today. In the two games since his return to the NHL, he's scored a goal and two assists, all on the power play. In his last game - a 6-1 win over the Islanders - Gelinas saw a whopping 6:19 of ice time with the man advantage, so look for his opportunities to continue as long as he remains on the Devils' roster.
In Colorado, with the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, P.A. Parenteau and rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs have an embarrassment of riches up front. However, one guy whose name you may not hear quite as often is Ryan O'Reilly. Which is a shame, because he's having one heckuva season. With 44 points in 58 games, O'Reilly is tied for fourth in team scoring with Paul Stastny, and he's tied for first in PP scoring with MacKinnon with 15 points (7G, 8A). He's currently skating on the team's top PP line with Duchene and Parenteau, where he's notched a goal and two assists in his last two games. With restricted free agency looming on the horizon, O'Reilly has frequently been the subject of trade rumors this season, however it now appears he will sign a long-term deal with the Avs this summer and remain an important part of the team's core group of young, talented forwards.
In Pittsburgh, with Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand) sidelined for at least a month, the Pens are leaning heavily on Matt Niskanen to bolster their blue line in the interim. In his last two games alone, Niskanen averaged 26:30 in ice time (versus his season average of around 20 minutes). On the power play, his ice time in those two games was 8:09 and 6:59, respectively, meaning he's out there pretty much every shift. With 35 points in 60 games, Niskanen is already enjoying a career season, which includes a dozen points on the power play. Unless the Pens trade for a puck-moving blueliner at the trade deadline, Niskanen figures to be their top defenseman down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Finally, in Boston, what a season it's been for rookie defenseman Torey Krug. First of all, hands up anyone if they predicted back in October that Krug would be leading the team in PP scoring by this point in the season. Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, thought so. Me either. But here we are, with a month left to go, and Krug has more PP points (18) than David Krejci (17), Jarome Iginla (13), Zdeno Chara (13) and Milan Lucic (12). For anyone who thought he was a flash in the pan earlier in the season, I've got news for you - it looks like he's the real deal, folks. Krug doesn't see elite-defenseman type minutes (averaging just 17:30 minutes per game, 2:44 on the PP), but he makes the most of his chances, with 34 points in 59 games. He has 11 points in his last 13 games, including six on the PP (2G, 4A).