How much do rivalries matter?
In the scope of modern sports - where players change uniforms pretty frequently, and quite a few of them become friends behind the scenes anyway because of shared agents, All-Star teams growing up and even the mere fact that they probably only have so many peers at hand - they might not be as big of a deal as the more romantic-minded fans and media members would like to think.
On the other hand, I’d wager that rivalries are a factor in fantasy.
This is totally unscientific, but I’d probably rank them alongside home-ice advantage but not quite at the level of being the rested team against an opponent weary from a back-to-back.
Of course, rivalry can be shorthand for a game that matters more to an individual player, too. Anaheim vs. Vancouver does not exactly smell of a rivalry game, yet Ryan Kesler probably cares more about it than usual (even if he says that he does not). The same might be true for Roberto Luongo vs. Vancouver, warm and fuzzy memories or not.
Wednesday provided two solid examples of rivalry games (excluding Toronto and New Jersey, which was as bloodless as any other Devils game*). As much of a mess as the Los Angeles Kings have been, I had an odd feeling that they’d “get up” for a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. That seemed to be the case.
Anyway, I think that certain players absolutely elevate their games against certain opponents, whether it be Claude Giroux against the Pittsburgh Penguins or a Boston Bruins - Montreal Canadiens game.
It’s not a rule to end all rules, but in a long season, sometimes tiebreakers like these come in handy.
KINGS 4, BLACKHAWKS 3
-- Tyler Toffoli returned to action from mono (his first game since Jan. 8) and looked strong with a goal and an assist. I would keep an eye on him in deeper formats and in daily leagues like FanDuel.
-- Especially in tandem with Jeff Carter, who scored two goals and an assist. Carter generally seems to produce when he's given halfway competent linemate.
-- All signs point to Patrick Sharp getting an extended stay on a line with Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. Both Sharp and Kane generated a goal and an assist apiece thanks to this assignment, so a big win for Sharp owners and a bummer for Bryan Bickell owners (although a line with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw isn't exactly chopped liver).
-- Dustin Brown did not score on Wednesday, yet I think he might be worth owning in hits leagues at this point. He's been averaging four SOG per night since Jan. 14 and brings a nice, versatile mix of respectable scoring, hits and SOG to the table. You would think his "acting skills" and general stir-things-uppitdness (scientific term, I know this is getting dense) would result in more four-PIM nights like last night, but the mix is still promising enough to be worth a look in certain circumstances.
-- The Kings almost feel spread thin with quality offensive defensemen, as Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez do not seem to be separated by THAT much while it always feels like Drew Doughty could do ... more.
That said, Muzzin is by no means the worst fringe option in especially deep leagues (and Doughty is obviously nice as long as you didn't draft him too high).
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting an $25,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Thursday night's NHL games. It's just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Thursday at 7pm ET. Here's the FanDuel link.
CAPITALS 4, PENGUINS 0
-- It was my feeling that Alex Ovechkin was less prone to hitting a wall closing off back-to-backs, and that seems to be somewhat true, although it might be coincidental. Here's a quick look at his work in back-to-backs this season.
Last night: two goals
Jan. 17: one goal, one assist
Jan. 8: one goal
Dec. 23: one goal
Nov. 29: zero points, seven SOG
Nov. 15: not much
Nov. 8: one assist
Nov. 2: one goal, three assists
Oct. 26: not much
Not half-bad. Considering his penchant for scoring GWGs and lack of much (if any) drop-off from back-to-backs, you would think maybe he would get a little more credit for having “character.”
Then again, that would require some research, which is something the vast majority of Ovechkin-backers probably sneer yet.
-- Not sure how much Nicklas Backstrom cares about All-Star Game nods - my guess is that he did not mind the breather, even at 27 - but either way, he's producing wonderfully. He's riding a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists) and even has 15 goals this season. His career-high for goals is 33, but he's only eclipsed the 20-goal mark one other time, so this could be a slightly elevated fantasy season for the Swede (though his shooting percentage is a touch high at 15.2 versus his career average of 11.6).
Either way, as melodramatic as some of the outcry is, there's no denying that he's an All-Star talent.
-- Braden Holtby hit a bit of a rough patch there, but credit to Barry Trotz for sticking with him. Holtby rewarded the back-to-back nods by pitching a 27-save shutout, his fifth of the season. He's rewarding those who were patient with him in fantasy, too.
-- Any concern for Marc-Andre Fleury? He's currently on a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) in which he's allowed 15 goals. Personally, I could not care less about his All-Star Game performance, yet worried types would add that to a worrisome trend.
-- Mike Green has been strong every other game lately, rotating pointless nights with two-point evenings (including a goal and an assist on Wednesday) to round out to six points in as many games. His contract situation could be quite tricky, whether it be for Washington or another team invested in a good player who has a troubling history of injuries.
DEVILS 2, MAPLE LEAFS 1 (SO)
-- I must say, just about any alignment that separates James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel is one I don’t agree with. I’m not saying that I don’t understand Toronto’s desperation, but those two should only occasionally be taken off the same line as a threat to add a little urgency to the harmonic work they do together (and perhaps that is somewhat the case here).
-- I've been stumping for a nice second half for Cory Schneider for some time now, and Wednesday served as the quintessential second-half Schneider win: he was strong (29 out of 30 saves) and did not get much goal support. The small margin of error the Devils will provide him with most nights means you should not give up an above-average starter in a trade for him, but I still think Schneider’s upswing can continue.
Just do not expect miracles, either.
-- The Devils have to feel some relief in seeing Adam Larsson play a lot better. He scored a big goal, fired four SOG and logged 24:59 TOI. The only bummer is that zero seconds came on the power play.
I wonder how much of his turnaround comes from Lou Lamoriello being behind the bench, but either way, his split stats are dramatic.
From October through December, he had a -4 rating, never averaged more than 17:05 TOI and generated just four points in 21 games.
In January, Larsson has six points, a +3 rating and a 23:37 TOI average. Wow.
-- Martin Havlat currently has a four-game point streak going. Do not bother … but good for him. Sometimes the Devils feel like some half-sad, half-charming hockey time machine, don’t they?
* - I get the feeling a Devils game where someone got bloodied may still be labelled bloodless, metaphorically.