Let’s start by briefly touching on something I brought up in previous Fantasy Nuggets and that’s the league’s average scoring this season. When I mentioned it before it was in the context of the league’s scoring being up early in the season, but Rotoworld/PHT writer James O’Brien mentioned it last night because at this point scoring is actually down in 2016-17 compared to where it was last season. Currently we’re sitting at 2.70 goals per team per game and unless we see an upswing in scoring, we’re now on course for the league’s offense to decline for the third consecutive year.
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To give that 2.70 pace some context, scoring had gone down to 2.57 in the campaign prior to the lockout and it was 2.65 the season before that, so we’re not at the low point of the Dead Puck Era in terms of scoring, but we’re edging in that direction. The 2.70 pace would also be the least offense the league has seen since the salary cap era started, but again there’s a lot of hockey left to play this season, so we’ll see what happens.
I think if scoring does end up being down in 2016-17, it might not attract a lot of public attention because in my experience, people tend to judge if there’s an offensive shortage based on what the league’s elite are doing. In that regard we aren’t seeing an issue. Connor McDavid is having a superb campaign so far with 11 goals and 36 points in 28 contests while Sidney Crosby has netted an incredible 17 goals in 20 games. However, the offensive storyline that might do the most to draw attention away from the overall offensive decline is the rookie race.
We’ve just seen so many great rookie performances so far this season. Patrik Laine is just 29 games into his career, but he already has 17 goals and 25 points. Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander have given the Maple Leafs plenty to cheer about with 19, 19, and 16 points respectively. We have an offensive defenseman that already has 17 points in 24 games in rookie Zach Werenski. And there’s plenty of other noteworthy rookies out there too like Jimmy Vesey, Sebastian Aho, and Matthew Tkachuk, to name just a few more.
That’s an exciting crop and when you factor in that last year’s rookie class had some elites too like Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, and Artemi Panarin, you start to wonder If maybe we’re in a transitional period, where the league’s overall offense has taken a bit of a dip but that will be reversed as this young guard grows into its potential.
Moving past that, I wanted to discuss the Montreal Canadiens because they recently lost Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais to knee injuries that will sideline them for six-to-eight months. That’s a huge setback for the club, with missing Galchenyuk being particularly troubling given that he has been a major factor offensively with nine goals and 23 points in 25 games.
It remains to be seen how the Canadiens will cope with losing that pair of centers. They might resort to a trade, but if they do it will probably be for a stopgap option as it’s unlikely that you’re going to see any major moves at this stage of the season. You’re also likely going to see Tomas Plekanec playing a bigger role for now. That will be interesting to monitor as Plekanec has been very effective offensively at various times during his career and he’s usually at least solid in that regard, but this season the 34-year-old has just two goals and nine points in 26 games – and that’s even after his two-point night on Tuesday.
Maybe this is the moment where Plekanec steps up to provide the Canadiens with some relief in their time of need. That would certainly make for a nice storyline and it’s not a far-fetched scenario given his past.
I’m also interested to see what this means for Alexander Radulov. He’s been great in his return to the NHL with five goals and 21 points in 24 contests, but he’s also gotten a lot of ice time with Galchenyuk, who has shared in 12 of Radulov’s 21 points thus far. So will Galchenyuk’s injury negatively impact Radulov or will Radulov keep up the pace regardless?
It will also just be interesting to see if Montreal can overcome these injuries. This is a squad that was beaten down in 2015-16 in large part because of the absence of goaltender Carey Price. I’d consider that to be a bigger loss, but all the same, will the Canadiens struggle without Galchenyuk? It’s something that they need to prove that they can do and they’re not alone in it.
The Tampa Bay Lightning lost an even bigger name, star forward Steven Stamkos, to what appears to be a much longer-term knee injury. Stamkos last played on Nov. 15 and since then the Lightning have been a mixed bag. They started out okay following his injury, but are 4-5-1 overall in the 10 games that have followed. Their offense has unsurprisingly been the biggest issue as Tampa Bay has averaged just 2.2 goals per game without Stamkos.
The silver lining for the Lightning is that Nikita Kucherov, who had played alongside Stamkos this season before the injury, has held his own over that 10-game span with five goals and eight points in 10 contests. While that’s still down from his more than point-per-game pace prior to Stamkos getting hurt, it seems the injury won’t dramatically change Kucherov’s production.
One final item I wanted to note is the recent success of Steve Mason. If you want to talk about a team that needed someone to step up during an injury, the Flyers were dealing with major goaltending woes in the early portion of the season and then that issue came into focus even more with Michal Neuvirth suffering a knee injury. However, Mason has stepped up recently, allowing just nine goals in his last five games and posting a .930 save percentage from Nov. 12 through Dec. 6. Neuvirth is getting close to returning, but at this point it looks like it will be as Philadelphia’s backup.