The second half of the season has arrived for most of the NHL. That means we get to overuse the phrase “must-win” or “big” game as much as we want now.
Ten games on Saturday’s slate, beginning with two 1 p.m. ET battles. Let’s get right to the recaps.
CAPITALS 4, RANGERS 3 (overtime)
— It would be foolish to not begin this column with Alex Ovechkin, whose two goals gave him 499 for his career. Ovechkin scored in the first, then won it with his 24th in overtime. He also had five shots on goal. How quickly he has entered the scoring-lead conversation. He has seven goals over his past seven games, and he’s one shy of Jamie Benn. The goal race is going to be quite the treat, with Benn, Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick among the top five.
— It seems like the Rangers have Braden Holtby’s (23 saves) number. He has given up 11 goals in three games, though the Caps have won two of them. He has a league-leading 27 wins, and his 1.93 GAA and .932 SV% are top-five. The Caps look like the best team in the game, and that’s a major testament to Holtby … and good news moving forward.
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— Justin Williams (goal, assist) is a solid fantasy player, but we know his value would be higher in a fancy-stat league, if there were such thing. Williams’ points were his first in five games.
— The Rangers have not played that great for much of the season, but they deserve credit for this one. They came back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period, though they allowed one with six seconds remaining to force OT, from Nicklas Backstrom.
— Oscar Lindberg’s goal was his first in 13 games. He’s still shooting 15.5%, so that will come down. Lindberg’s ceiling is a good third-liner, so I wouldn’t be too excited about him in fantasy. He has had a great rookie season, though.
— Kevin Hayes (goal, assist) recorded his first goal in 17 games. Unlike Lindberg, Hayes has top-six and is a big part of the Rangers’ future. This performance was a big one as he sat for two games earlier in the month.
— Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves) has given up at least three goals in three of his past five games. King Henrik hasn’t gotten a lot of help from his defense in most of these games, but fantasy owners are used to him being a one-man brick wall.
FLYERS 4, ISLANDERS 0
— Matt Read (goal, two assists) has two 20-goal seasons on his resume, but other than that he’s been a boring player from a fantasy standpoint. That hasn’t changed this year as he has six goals and 15 points.
— Sean Couturier (goal, assist) has recorded a goal in three consecutive games and has four in five games. This stretch is nice, sure, but he still only has nine goals on the year. I expected him to be a 20-goal, 50-point guy by now. He hasn’t come close, but maybe it comes this year.
— Steve Mason (20 saves) notched his third shutout of the season. He has disappointed (.913 SV%) after a strong 2014-15 (.928 SV%).
— In a game in which the Flyers dominated, it’s hard to find anything good from the Islanders side. Score-adjusted possession: 51-32 Flyers. Only four Islanders (Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen) were above 50%. Nielsen had a team-high four shots.
— Jaroslav Halak (27 saves) was not good, but you can’t blame him for this loss. He has given up seven goals since his return from injury.
PENGUINS 3, CANADIENS 1
— Does anyone truly believe that a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang can be counted out even after a slow start? The Penguins are 20-16-5, one point back of Ottawa for the final wild-card spot. Team is still too talented for me to believe they won’t squeak in.
— Patric Hornqvist (goal) has three of his nine goals over his past five games. He continues to fire shots on goal at a rapid rate (127, 20th in the league), so that should make fantasy owners intrigued moving forward. He has a 7.1% scoring rate, which is still slightly off his 9.3% career rate.
— Eric Fehr netted a short-handed goal (empty-netter), his fifth. Not a ton of fantasy value here, but he will be a pivotal player for Pittsburgh, which has been maligned by a lack of bottom-sixth depth in recent seasons.
— I’m the first to point blame towards Marc-Andre Fleury (33 saves). But he hasn’t been the problem this season. His .928 SV% is sixth in the NHL. He deserves better than 15 wins. Stick with him, fantasy owners.
— If you want to know a defenseman who is due for a breakout, look no further than one of the best (and most charismatic) in the game, P.K. Subban. His goal was just his second, though he has scored on 1.8% of his shots, 4% lower than his career mark. Subban has remained valuable because of 27 assists. He was on the ice for more than half of the game (30:01). I’m tired just reading that.
SENATORS 2, BRUINS 1 (overtime)
— If there’s one thing that’s clear about Mark Stone (goal) in the early portion of his career, it’s that he is all around the offense. He is again primed to break the 60-piont mark, even if he only has 11 goals. Stone got the winner in this one.
— First thought when reading Mika Zibanejad scored his seventh goal was, “That’s it?” I expect more because he’s played 241 games. He’s still a young player, and at 22 still has growth ahead of him. Zibanejad will likely get to 50 points this year.
— Craig Anderson (33 saves) is one of the most underrated goalies. He seems to alternate really good and average years, but he generally has a low floor, which is good for fantasy and real life. After a .904 SV% in October, Anderson hasn’t dipped below .918 in any month.
— David Pastrnak (goal) left the Bruins for the world juniors, then was sent to the AHL for a few games before being recalled for the past two tilts. Don’t expect greatness now, but there should be lots of it coming. Pastrnak is only 19 years old.
— Tuukka Rask (38 saves) deserved better. It just so happened Anderson was better. Rask bounced back in a big way in December (.948 SV%) after two poor months. There’s a lot of time left in January to keep that going.
HURRICANES 4, BLUE JACKETS 3 (overtime)
— Jordan Staal scored the game-winner, and he also had an assist on John-Michael Liles’ goal. I really like Staal as a player; he drives possession and is great defensively. The reality is that he’s always going to end up short of expectations on offense. Staal has 10 goals and 21 points, though he has three games in a row with a goal and a helper.
— Kris Versteeg (goal) has been relatively productive, now with six goals and 25 points. He’s likely to record the most points since the 2011-12 season.
— Every goalie is prone to a hot streak, which Cam Ward (21 saves) has enjoyed lately. I’m hoping you parlayed that into some real value. During this eight-game stretch, he has given up one goal five times. I’m still not buying.
— Josh Anderson scored the first goal of his career. The Blue Jackets took him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. The 21-year-old had nine goals and 18 points in 26 AHL games before getting recalled. The offensive upside appears limited.
— Other goal scorers were Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson. The latter isn’t a bad player to own as he should finish with more than 200 shots on net and around 25 goals and 45 points. He has recorded a point in five of his past six games.
SHARKS 7, MAPLE LEAFS 0
— This is one of those games where if you’re the Sharks (or their fans), you say, “Couldn’t we save some of these?”
— Only six players didn’t get at least a point. Seven players had multi-point games.
— The gold star goes to Tomas Hertl (two goals, assist, five shots on goal, plus-four). Nights like this remind you that Hertl has some can’t-teach-this offensive skills. But he’s still a very young player and doesn’t really seem close to making the jump after such a stellar rookie season two years ago. Patience.
— Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski each notched a goal and an assist. Burns has recorded a point in six games in a row, and he now has 17 goals and 37 points. There aren’t many defensemen better for fantasy purposes as he also has 173 shots, the second-most in the NHL.
— Pavelski is having another excellent season, with 21 goals and 40 points. Could we be witnessing a career year? It’s not out of the realm of possibility; Pavelski’s career-high in goals is 41 and points in 79.
— Outside of Hertl’s effort, perhaps the most important one came from Martin Jones (28 saves). After a .938 SV% in the first month, Jones has struggled. This is just his third time in six games with at least a .917 SV%.
— When Jonathan Bernier (24 saves) realizes this isn’t going to be his year, his 2015-16 campaign will be easier to accept. How many times do you see a team give up seven goals … and the coach keeps the original goalie in for the entirety? Bernier had given up three goals total in the prior three games. But he is prone to these blow ups (six goals against Dec. 29).
WILD 2, STARS 1
— Devan Dubnyk (34 saves) is playing very well. He has given up more than two goals once over his past seven games. Dubnyk’s SV% (.922) continues to rise, and he’s gotten better as the season has progressed.
— Thomas Vanek netted his 13th. He may get criticized for his laziness at times, but Vanek is projected to reach 20 goals for the 10th time in his career, and that’s an accomplishment. He’s more of a secondary player in fantasy leagues, over one who can carry a team.
— There you are, Jamie Benn. He not only scored for the first time in five games, he also recorded his first point. All jokes aside, Benn was due for some quiet nights. His 25 goals lead the league, while his 53 points are second-most. No reason he can’t crack 100 points.
COYOTES 4, PREDATORS 0
— The weak Pacific Division means the Coyotes will likely remain in the playoff hunt the rest of the way. And that’s a good thing. Nothing like some new blood in the playoff picture.
— Tobias Rieder (two goals, assist) is the Coyotes’ best young forward. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair (goal) have rightly received big-time buzz this season, but Rieder, in his second year, is more of the three-zone player. He’s three goals shy of topping last year’s mark, while his 26 points are already five more than last season. Rieder also has 113 shots, compared to 189 in 72 games during his rookie season.
— Duclair has two goals and four points over his past four games. Still not generating enough shots (44 in 40 games) to be considered in yearly fantasy leagues. He's electric, though.
— Why would the Predators trade for Ryan Johansen? They haven’t won in the two games since he’s been on the roster. Johansen (two penalty minutes, three shots) had a quiet night, but was the type of high-upside center the Predators sorely lacked. Would not be surprised to see him generate at a point-per-game pace this season.
LIGHTNING 3, CANUCKS 2 (overtime)
— You really never question the Sedins’ effort or intelligence on the ice. Henrik’s decision to lazily skate off the ice for a line change with Lightning defenseman Vladislav Namestnikov holding the puck in their zone and ready to spring Nikita Kucherov for a breakaway was not a smart play.
— Kucherov won the game, and he also assisted on Alex Killorn’s seventh of the season. Kucherov has been a man on a mission since the start of December. He has recorded 10 goals and 20 points in 17 games.
— Valtteri Filppula’s $5 million cap hit for the next two seasons is surely one the Lightning would rather not be burdened with. He had a goal, but it’s going to be hard to sell five goals and 18 points.
— Seeing young players such as Bo Horvat (goal, assist) progress should be the Canucks’ objective the rest of the way. The next wave will be what fuels the next contender.
— Sven Baertschi (goal) is another one of those young players. He has five of his seven goals and seven of his 14 points over his past seven games. He’s worth monitoring.
BLUES 2, KINGS 1 (overtime)
— Based on the possession game, the Blues had no business earning two points. The Kings held a 42-24 score-adjusted advantage. The Kings, even with a result like this, look like the best team in the West.
— Alex Pietrangelo (goal) has had a quiet season offensively, with three goals and 18 points. He does have points in three games in a row, though. The scoring rate should increase, but it looks like he’ll have a tough time getting to 40 points.
— Jonathan Quick (15 saves) has been sensational lately. He has allowed one goal in four consecutive games. Expanding that timeframe, Quick has allowed nine goals during a 6-0-1 stretch.