It was a short National Hockey League slate on Wednesday night. Perhaps the hockey schedule maker is a huge fan of Halloween, and figured families wouldn't bring their kids to the rink instead of trick or treating. Wednesday is normally a pretty light night anyway, but we had just one game - the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks - on the slate from 10:00 p.m. ET. Other than that, NHL rinks were dark and full of ghosts from hockey players of the past. Spooky, eh? Anyway, hopefully everyone had a safe and Happy Halloween. Let's get started!
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Vancouver Canucks 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
If you owned stock in Jacob Markstrom on Wednesday evening, it was quite the treat. He allowed just two goals on 26 shots against the Blackhawks, cruising to a victory. He has been on a roll lately, picking up wins in four of his past five starts while limiting the opposition to two or fewer goals in four of those showings. Perhaps he felt Anders Nilsson breathing down his neck. In any event, the goalie competition between Markstrom and Nilsson has been great for the Canucks, who have been a surprisingly tough out. Many prognosticators figured they would be a pushover in the Western Conference, especially after losing their long-time franchise mainstays, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, to retirement. Not so, however. Markstrom is a legit No. 2 fantasy backstop right now, as he has his record up to 6-3-0, his goals-against average is south of 3.00 and his save percentage is north of .910. That's very strong.
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Markstrom received some pretty solid offensive support, too, especially some unlikely sources. Jake Virtanen was the big offensive hero with a pair of goals, giving him five overall on the season. He entered the week with just two goals and two assists in his first 12 outings, but he has light the lamp three times with a plus-1 rating, a power-play goal and eight shots across the past two contests. He is still averaging just 12-14 minutes per contest, but if he keeps lighting the lamp on a semi-regular basis he might see his time on the ice pick up over time. For now, he is a wait-and-see fantasy option, even in deeper pools. However, if you need help in the hits department, Virtanen is your man. He has 31 hits and nine blocked shots through just 14 games while adding 10 penalty minutes. Brendan Gaunce was an even more unlikely offensive star, as he was still fresh off the plane from AHL Utica. He was recalled Saturday after posting a goal in three games for the Comets down on the farm, and he managed just six points in 37 games last season. Apparently he was excited about being back in the NHL, as he recorded a goal with an assist and a plus-3 rating in his initial game of the 2018-19 regular season. He has played 115 games in his NHL career, and he has managed two multi-point games. Ironically, the last time he had two points in a game was Feb. 1 of last season when he lit the lamp twice against the Blackhawks.
Antoine Roussel also beat Corey Crawford for a goal, too, as the Chicago backstop yielded four goals on 28 shots. Alex Biega, Markus Granlund and Erik Gudbranson also picked up assists in the victory, with Biega and Granlund also picking up a plus-1 rating. Apparently Michael Del Zotto felt like being Michael Myers on this Halloween, inflicting punishment on the Blackhawks. He didn't etch his name onto the scoresheet with a goal or assist, but he had a plus-1 rating, two blocked shots, a minor penalty and 11 hits. He has just one assist under his belt through six outings, but he has dished out 26 hits with eight blocked shots. Del Zotto and Gudbranson are the cause of many players from the opposition needing a trip to the cold pool. Gudbranson has just two assists in 14 games, but 27 PIM, 28 hits and 16 blocked shots. If you need help in those categories, remember Gudbranson. Just have plenty of offense at your other fantasy spots. Tyler Motte also had two hits in this game, and he leads the team with 34.
Brandon Saad picked up another much-needed goal. He opened the scoring at 6:56 of the first period with assists from Chris Kunitz and Artem Anisimov, and Jonathan Toews struck on the power play on helpers from Erik Gustafsson and Luke Johnson. That was it for the offense of the 'Hawks, though. Saad stumbled out of the chute with no goals and just two assists in his first eight outings, but he has struck for three goals and an assist over the past five. Toews also needed a goal pretty badly. He fired out of the chute with five goals over his first three games, including at least one in each game. However, the goals dried up from Oct. 11-28, and he posted just one in nine contests. His marker on the man advantage was his first of the season, too. Toews was also tremendous in the faceoff circle, winning 12 of his 18 chances. If your fantasy pool has advanced scoring using faceoffs, Toews and Anisimov paid big dividends. Anisimov won 10 of his 14 (71.4 percent) of his faceoffs.
The team was playing without Patrick Kane, who was sidelined by illness. Meanwhile, Brandon Sutter was missing in action for the Canucks due to a shoulder ailment. He is still awaiting the results of an MRI to determine the severity of his injury and how long he'll be on the shelf. In addition, Chris Tanev (hip) continues to sit after suffering a hip injury in Vegas last week. He is likely to sit out on Friday, too.