Special to Yahoo Sports
Another week of fantasy hockey and some food for thought …
Catching up from last week: Kieffer Bellows is no longer worth holding after going two games without scoring and being healthy scratched Saturday … Igor Shesterkin has been named the Rangers’ starter, but he can’t start due to an ankle injury, which means Alexandar Georgiev is still the guy for now … Kyle Turris had two quiet games but exploded for three points Saturday and continues his turnaround … Tyler Seguin ended his 17-game goal drought and remains a bounce-back candidate in the second half.
.925 — The brick wall of MacKenzie Blackwood
That’s MacKenzie Blackwood’s save percentage since Jan. 1, which ranks seventh among goalies with at least 10 games played. A number like that usually isn’t exciting, but it definitely is if you’re the Devils. It’s a big reason why their points percentage has improved from .436 in 2019 to .500 in 2020, and they haven’t lost more than three games in a row since Dec. 13, after losing five consecutive and six consecutive earlier this season. They’ve been outclassed in nearly every game in February, but Blackwood’s ridiculous .991 Sv% is saving them.
Their upcoming schedule is soft; they’ll face the Sharks at home and in San Jose, and also visit LA, Anaheim, and Detroit. The Devils will be sellers, so the team is expected to get worse, not better, but it’s a soft stretch in their schedule and upsets shouldn’t be surprising. That makes Blackwood, who is rostered in just half of Yahoo leagues, worth looking into. He is 11-5-0 with a .921 Sv% on the road this season.
That’s how many shots Jakob Chychrun has registered over the last week, tops among all defensemen. The Coyotes may be struggling but Chychrun is not, scoring five points in five games and averaging 22:49 TOI per game and 3:02 on the power play, which rank second and first among the team’s defensemen, respectively. Despite three injury-riddled seasons to begin his NHL career, Chychrun has clearly emerged as the future of Arizona’s blue line, and with a heavy point-shot is also Rick Tocchet’s preferred power-play quarterback, playing more minutes than everyone. It’s no secret the Coyotes’ brain trust is analytically inclined, and if it follows the numbers it will find that Chychrun has also controlled the play better than Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the power play (85.0 vs. 79.93 CF%) and is also more efficient at getting shots through (82.8 vs. 77.3 FF%), according to Natural Stat Trick.
Chychrun’s two assists Saturday against Washington put him back on track after getting his five-game point streak snapped, and staying healthy has also helped him reach a career-high 24 points.
Already arguably the team’s best shooter from the blue line, Chychrun also ranks fourth in hits, second in blocked shots and first in shots, making him a valuable all-around contributor. His role will continue to increase as long as he plays well, having now skated more than 25 minutes in two of his last three games.
5 — Juuse Saros claims the top spot again
That’s the number of consecutive starts Juuse Saros has made through seven games in February, once again taking over the No. 1 job in Nashville. Saros’ .939 Sv% and 1.95 GAA is a huge improvement over Pekka Rinne‘s .891 Sv% and 4.48 GAA, whose play has fallen off a cliff this season. In fact, Rinne’s drop in save percentage from .918 last season to .895 this season is the second-worst drop among goalies with at least 20 games played in each season, trailing only Jack Campbell. (In case you’re curious, the biggest improvements are Cam Talbot and Aaron Dell).
With another win Saturday against the Blues improving his record to 4-1-0 in February, Saros is back in the driver’s seat, and entering Sunday is rostered in less than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues. The Predators face the Blues again Sunday, in which Rinne is expected to start, and they have another back-to-back next Friday and Saturday.
Look for Rinne and Saros to split again, but the smart long-term money is on Saros, and he’ll cement his status as the No. 1 if he can outplay Rinne in those games. Minnesota’s Alex Stalock is also in a similar boat, having started three straight games and supplanted Devan Dubnyk as the starter but remains rostered in less than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
1.41 — Kevin Fiala is attacking
That’s how many more shots per game Kevin Fiala is getting on net since the calendar flipped. During the season’s first 36 games, Fiala averaged just two shots per game, but since then has averaged 3.41 per game, an increase of 70 percent. He scored 24 points through the 36 games and was sixth on the team and 210th in the league in shots (72), but since then has scored a team-leading 14 points in 17 games and ranks first on the team and 21st in the league in shots (58).
This turnaround has been pretty dramatic, and now that Jason Zucker has been traded, that means it’s on Fiala to shoot the puck even more. The Wild had 39 shots in Dean Evason’s debut, including four from Fiala, and controlled the play for nearly two-thirds of the game (64.89 CF%, according to Natural Stat Trick), but many of the shots came from the perimeter and allowed Martin Jones to look better than he actually is. How Evason fares compared to Bruce Boudreau remains to be seen, but Fiala clearly remains a key offensive player.
We always knew Fiala had a good shot, but he was often too trigger-shy and opted to set up his teammates, and it’s not a coincidence he’s getting more points now.
Fiala is on track to come close to his career-high 23 goals, and even though he remains frustratingly inconsistent, his new-found propensity for shooting is worthy of addition. The same goes for Mikael Granlund, who has scored seven goals the last two months and remains on pace for more than 20. In the last week, Fiala has gone from being barely rostered to being rostered in almost half of Yahoo leagues.