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Blue Line Buzz: Back End Trends

Jason Chen

West Coast bias.

The Predators have rattled off three straight one-goal wins to remain within four points of third-place St. Louis in the Central Division and one point away from a wild card spot, but they’re in for a tough stretch with a four-game road trip that will see them play back-to-back against Edmonton and Calgary, and conclude with a date against first-place Minnesota.

They’ll have to do that without P.K. Subban, who remains on the shelf with an upper-body injury even though he’s been taking part in optional skates, and now Roman Josi, who landed on injured reserve earlier in the week after taking a nasty high hit in a game against Boston. The trade for Subban was supposed to mark a clear turning point for the franchise, but exactly which way the Predators are trending post-Shea Weber remains to be seen.

Their offense hasn’t been quite as lethal as last year’s, and their 119 goals ranks fifth in the division and seventh in the conference. Not having Subban and Josi playing to their full potential are big reasons for that, but it’s still better than not having them at all.

In the meantime, not only does Pekka Rinne have to string together some game-stealing performances, both Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have to hold the fort. Both are capable players but miscast as top-pairing defensemen, and don’t bring the same kind of dynamism to the ice as Subban or Josi. The help they’re getting isn’t supposed to be significant, either, with Yannick Weber, Anthony Bitetto, Matt Irwin and Petter Granberg rounding out the group. Weber and Irwin have played well but were part-time NHL defensemen up until this season, while Bitetto and Granberg have spent more of their careers in the AHL than the NHL so far and don’t figure to be anything more than career depth defensemen.

Whatever help Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee can provide has already been called up, and if they need to dig deeper into the farm, 20-year-old Jack Dougherty is an interesting option. The second-round pick from 2014 has played on two different teams in two different leagues prior to turning pro, but in his rookie season has handled himself well with six points in 35 games in the AHL. Defensemen are becoming a hot commodity yet again this season, and if Subban and Josi are out for an extended period of time, it may force David Poile to look for help outside of the organization.

Studs of the Week:

Colton Parayko, Blues
– He scored his first goal of the season on his 101st shot, and scored two points in a 4-0 win against the Sharks. Goaltending has been an issue all year, but Carter Hutton has been the unsung hero and his strong performances has led to back-to-back wins. Parayko’s numbers will continue to look good as the bounces start going his way after a frustrating first half of the season.

John Carlson, Capitals – He left Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day, and the Caps should be crossing their fingers and hope it’s not anything serious. During their nine-game winning streak, Carlson scored two goals and five assists.

Torey Krug, Bruins – How’s that for staying the course with Krug? After a quiet start to the season, Krug is hitting full stride with three goals in his past three games, and fired six shots on goal in Saturday’s 6-3 win against the Flyers. There was never any real doubt that Krug would pile up the points again as the B’s best puck-moving defenseman, and he’s quickly establishing himself as a consistent 40-point threat.

John Klingberg, Stars – Goaltending remains a huge issue, but Klingberg has been excellent of late with four goals and four assists in his past six contests. It’d still be a stretch for him score 50 or 60 points this season, but it’s certainly doable. The talented Swede just needs to stay hot for an extended amount of time, which shouldn’t be hard to do with an explosive Stars offense.

Duds of the Week:

Andrew MacDonald, Flyers
– The Flyers have three (!) more years remaining on MacDonald’s regrettable $30 million contract, and despite leading all defensemen with 15 blocked shots this past week, he also failed to register a point and posted an ugly minus-4 rating. Observers look at MacDonald’s numbers and praise his shot-blocking totals, but he’s forced to block shots because the pucks is always in his own end when he’s on the ice.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers – He was benched against Boston after a minus-2 performance in a 5-4 win against Vancouver, and turned in yet another minus-2 performance upon his return in a 5-0 loss to the Caps. With just 19 points and a minus-17 rating on the season, Gostisbehere has been a big disappointment. Ivan Provorov has been the Flyers’ gem on the blue line this season, and next year Philippe Myers is expected to crack the lineup, so hopefully the added competition pushes Gostisbehere to play better more consistently.

Victor Hedman, Lightning – Hedman has finished with a minus rating in each of the Lightning’s past five losses, as Steve Yzerman’s squad has fallen back to .500 and four points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. It’s no surprise that if Hedman plays poorly the Lightning tend to lose because he’s their most important player not named Steven Stamkos, and he finished the week with just two assists and a minus-2 rating. He still leads all defensemen with 31 assists, but Duncan Keith and Brent Burns aren’t far behind.

Tyson Barrie, Avalanche – No other young defenseman needs more help than Barrie, whose minus-24 rating is tied for the league-worst with Damon Severson. He desperately needs a capable, veteran defenseman to help take some pressure off him, and there’s only so much he can do on defense when Colorado’s goalies continue to be sieves. After an unusually long six-day break, the Avs returned to the ice and posted two straight losses, with Barrie finishing with no points and a minus-3 rating this past week.

Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks – It’s now been eight games since Seabrook has registered a point, and although he continues to play solid minutes for Chicago behind Keith, he’s also got a minus-3 rating in his past four games. After reeling off four straight wins, the Blackhawks suddenly look vulnerable again after an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Washington and then a 3-2 loss to division rival Minnesota on Sunday.

Recommended Pickup:

Justin Faulk, Hurricanes
– The Hurricanes are a sneakily good team. They’re well coached with a lot of good skaters that can score, and at the forefront of late has been Faulk, who has a goal and three assists in his past three games. He was considered a high-upside defenseman coming into the season, but struggled early on and is available in almost a quarter of ESPN leagues. Once thought to be the future captain in Raleigh, Faulk’s no longer considered a lock as the face of the franchise, but is still very much a core player for the Hurricanes.
The Big Board:

^ = stock rising
˅ = stock dropping

1 Brent Burns, SJS 17* 27 15 18 167* 46 76 24:56
2 Victor Hedman, TBL 7 31* 0 29 85 51 73 24:29
3 Erik Karlsson, OTT 7 28 3 16 94 35 105 27:01
4 Shea Weber, MTL 10 18 19 28 108 85 94 25:51
5 Duncan Keith, CHI ^ 2 29 9 10 99 19 57 26:00
6 Dustin Byfuglien, WPG 7 19 -1 64 135 111 75 27:17*
7 Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF 3 24 -5 18 93 112 88 26:44
8 Ryan Suter, MIN ^ 6 20 28* 16 87 44 52 27:11
9 Dougie Hamilton, CGY ^ 7 20 -1 42 130 49 57 19:32
10 Torey Krug, BOS ^ 4 24 -6 24 130 33 36 21:56
11 Zach Werenski, CBJ ˅ 6 20 8 10 107 27 49 21:06
12 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL 8 20 -10 33 86 48 48 20:01
13 Ryan McDonagh, NYR 2 25 9 25 75 46 85 24:15
14 Justin Schultz, PIT ˅ 7 19 20 12 76 34 52 18:41
15 John Carlson, WSH ^ 5 20 10 0 106 39 66 22:53
16 Drew Doughty, LAK 7 16 7 28 105 68 68 27:12
17 Jeff Petry, MTL 8 14 12 18 102 81 79 22:18
18 Cam Fowler, ANA 9 14 3 10 104 21 67 24:44
19 Alec Martinez, LAK 6 19 -6 12 81 89 90 22:25
20 John Klingberg, DAL ^ 7 19 -1 26 65 24 57 23:06

Just missed the cut:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI
Matt Dumba, MIN
Nick Holden, NYR
Justin Faulk, CAR
Colton Parayko, STL

Notable omissions:

P.K. Subban, NSH (upper body)
Roman Josi, NSH (upper body)
Kris Letang, PIT (lower body)
Mike Green, DET (upper body)
Andrei Markov, MTL (groin)