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The Man Advantage: Toews Brings 'Hawks Back up the PP Rankings

Mark McLarney

Mark McLarney writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Near the end of my last article (posted 11/29), I mentioned the Chicago Blackhawks as one of the worst power play units in the NHL over the prior two weeks, having scored just four goals in 26 chances. At the time, this dropped them from third overall in the NHL’s PP rankings to ninth. However, I also cautioned fantasy owners not to fret too much, as it was surely just a matter of time before the team’s high-octane offense started to crank it up again. Well, crank it up they did, as the ‘Hawks went on to score eight PP goals over the ensuing two weeks, moving them back into third place in the PP ranks. Not surprisingly, Jonathan Toews led the charge over this period with five PP points (3G, 2A). The rest of the scoring has been fairly spread out, with contributions from d-men Brent Seabrook (4A) and Duncan Keith (3A), as well as second-liners Dave Bolland (2G) and Troy Brouwer (1G). A couple of notes here – Tomas Kopecky, who had been seeing only minimal PP time, has rejoined the top line in place of the injured Patrick Kane. Also, Patrick Sharp has slowed down his torrid scoring pace, potting just one PP goal in his last 10 games. However, Brian Campbell is starting to contribute a little more, with two PP assists in his last five contests.

The Oilers continue to be a bottom-of-the-barrel team, but you can’t say that about their power play, which currently ranks about middle-of-the-pack – 16th overall (16.4%) - among the NHL’s 30 teams. That puts them on par with such powerhouse teams as the Penguins and Flyers (both at 16.2%). Lately, with Ales Hemsky out with a groin injury, the team is using a top PP line of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall. On the back end, Ryan Whitney and Kurtis Foster are usually the top two d-men employed on the power play (although Ladislav Smid is seeing a bit more first-line duty these days), while on the second unit, Tom Gilbert has been the most productive blueliner of late, with two goals and a helper in his last six games. Oh, and by the way, the team’s second forward unit now appears to consist of Dustin Penner, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and the recently-recalled Linus Omark, who is filling in for the injured Shawn Horcoff (torn MCL).

In Montreal, the Canadiens’ power play unit has really turned things around over the last several weeks. At the end of October, the Habs’ PP was ranked second-last in the NHL with a 7.7% rating. As of December 11, the team had jumped 15 spots in the standings to sit 14th overall with a 17.6% success rate. Since October 30, only five teams – the Canucks, Lightning, Blackhawks, Capitals and Red Wings – have scored more goals than the Habs, and this is without perhaps their #1 PP weapon, Andrei Markov, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Who has been doing most of the heavy lifting this season then? Surprisingly, no one in particular other than Michael Cammalleri, who leads the team in PP scoring with 10 points (4G, 6A). His linemates Tomas Plekanec (1G, 5A) and Brian Gionta (2G, 2A) have also been chipping in, though not quite as effectively. On the second line, Andrei Kostitsyn (3G, 1A) has been joined by Mathieu Darche (2G, 3A) and Jeff Halpern, who has no PP points while filling in for the injured Scott Gomez (lower body). On the back end, veteran Roman Hamrlik has stepped into Markov’s role this year as PP quarterback and has responded well with a goal and five helpers. Also helping out on the blue line are P.K. Subban (when he’s not a healthy scratch), Yannick Weber, Jaroslav Spacek and Alexandre Picard. Bottom line for fantasy purposes, you won’t find a lot of superstar PP guys here other than Cammalleri. It’s pretty much scoring by committee.

Can someone please explain to me what happened to the Los Angeles Kings’ power play this year? Their unit finished seventh overall in the NHL last season with a 20.8% success rate; and with 64 total PP goals, only four other teams tallied more. This year? The team is fourth-last in the league at 14.4% and is on pace for only 48 goals. The biggest problem has got to be Drew Doughty, who is suffering the dreaded sophomore jinx so far this season. Doughty has just seven points in 21 games (as of the week ending December 12) and just two on the PP. Many forecasters (including us) had him on pace to score 70+ points this year and tally at least 40 of those with the extra man. At this rate, he will be lucky to hit 30 and 10. Granted it’s early, and I don’t see any Doughty owners in keeper leagues panicking just yet, but does this remind anyone else of the Dion Phaneuf scenario from a couple of years ago? Or is it just me? With Doughty struggling, it is time to take notice of a guy like Jack Johnson, who is quietly putting together a career season in Doughty’s shadow – 16 points so far, with 10 of those (1G, 9A) on the power play. Furthermore, Johnson is putting up those numbers in less PP time than Doughty - he has averaged 3:56 PP minutes per game over the last two weeks compared to 5:58 for Doughty.

The struggling New Jersey Devils power play finally showed signs of life during the last two weeks, scoring six PP goals over that stretch. That number almost doubled their total for the year to date and pulled them out of next-to-last place in the league’s PP rankings. The Devils’ most dangerous tandem lately has been Patrik Elias (3G, 1A) and Ilya Kovalchuk (1G, 3A). Their linemates on the first PP unit have been Jamie Langenbrunner (1A), Travis Zajac (3A) and Dainius Zubrus (1G). Take note at the lack of a defenseman in that group, which is not surprising considering the Devils basically have not had one who can quarterback the PP since Paul Martin left town. The closest to a true PP defenseman the Devils have on their roster is Andy Greene, and he only plays on the second unit. While it’s nice to see Elias and Kovalchuk finally showing some chemistry, this team really needs Zach Parise back. Unfortunately, he will be out until late January at the earliest with a knee injury. The bottom line here is – and I’m straying away from a true PP discussion, I know – Kovalchuk just does not fit into the Devils’ system. He wasn’t a fit when they first acquired him last season under then-head coach Jacques Lemaire, and he’s still not a fit now under Lemaire’s replacement, John MacLean. The Devils will ultimately have to overhaul their system in order to allow Kovalchuk to do what he does best – freewheel and score. It will probably mean yet another head coach and another season or two of retooling the roster, but it must be done; otherwise, the $100 million contract handed to Kovalchuk in the offseason will go down as the worst mistake in franchise history.