For plenty of sports fans, scapegoating almost always comes down to hitting the same points and blaming the same figures.
Some guys make it easy to do so, even if it’s not particularly fair. The most timely example is Tony Romo; one can almost guarantee that TV pundits will bury Romo today for a terrible and narrative-friendly interception in the Dallas Cowboys’ 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
(The NHL had its own version of that interception yesterday, which you can view here.)
No doubt, that INT was hideous, but what about the Dallas defense that forced him to be so ridiculously prolific? Sadly, Romo’s many brilliant moments typically get washed away by an untimely mistake or two.
After all, it’s much easier to blame the rich, talented and weirdly cursed guy instead of digging a little deeper.
For ages, goaltending has been the Tony Romo INT for the Philadelphia Flyers. People will probably cling to that explanation as they sit 0-3-0 after three ugly losses, but the frightening thing for Philly is that netminding has probably been the closest thing to a strength for a so-far rudderless team.
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PAINTING AN UGLY PICTURE
First things first, it’s obvious that placing too much stock in three games is a fool’s errand.
(Although ... let it be said that you should keep an eye on newer people in your league during especially bad streaks; you might be able to cruelly swindle someone out of, say, Claude Giroux … if the rest of the league doesn’t veto a trade, that is …)
Getting that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Philly’s troubles:
It’s easy to blame Giroux, especially since he’s failed to score a point in three games. My guess is that it might be a combination of rust (his golfing injury) + bad puck luck (see: Phil Kessel getting zero bounces to start the 2012-13 season). He has nine SOG, good for three a game, which is all you can reasonably expect from people not named Alex Ovechkin. In other words, that “steal Giroux” plan is worth considering, even if the odds are against someone punting him so soon.
Only five Flyers players have a point so far: Vincent Lecavalier, Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit (two points each) along with Luke Schenn and Kris Newbury (one apiece).
Of Philly’s three goals in three games, just one (Sunday’s lone tally in a 2-1 loss to Carolina) was at even strength.
They’re giving up almost seven more shots per game (31.0) than they’re firing on opposing nets (24.3), so it’s not just bad luck.
Steve Mason's off to a respectable start (.915 save percentage), while Ray Emery's four goals allowed were somewhat understandable since he faced 34 shots. The "if only they had a good goalie" refrain is just out of touch.
MAKING ANXIETY WORK FOR YOU
Again, that Giroux gambit is a Hail Mary. You might, however, be able to start whispering in ears about other quality pieces such as Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell (both adept at the rare feat of combining big PIMs with nice point totals) if things slip for another week or two.
Flyers fans shouldn’t feel too lonely, though. There are plenty of other players and teams limping out of the gate.
Note: I throw a lot of caveats in these comments, yet I still feel the need to emphasize that “it’s still really early.” The basic message is “don’t panic, but take advantage of people who might.”
Let’s take a look at some goalies who’ve had tough starts so far and ask: is this a sign of more bad things to come?
Pekka Rinne - Really, it depends on perspective. If you’re expecting Rinne to be a lights-out fantasy netminder like Henrik Lundqvist, you’re probably out of luck; that defense misses Ryan Suter and Nashville doesn’t have the guns to give him much goal support most nights. Rinne had a brutal start last season as well - he didn’t get his second win until February - but he eventually managed to grind out decent workhorse numbers aside from that sub-.500 record.
Health permitting, Rinne should start 70 games, so it's hard to imagine him falling short of at least matching his second-best career wins mark of 33. So, overall, I think Rinne will be OK, but maybe in a vintage Miikka Kiprusoff quantity-over-quality kind of way.
Braden Holtby - Going into the 2012-13 season, I wasn't sold on Holtby, mainly because he only had 21 NHL regular season games under his belt. He kept his outstanding work (in small sample sizes) going in 2012-13, so I warmed up to him ... and so far, he's allowed 10 goals in three games. Much like Alex Ovechkin's shooting frenzy (see page 2), I expect that to normalize, but now I'm truly puzzled as to where he stands in the goalie ranks. My advice: just wait and see.
Devan Dubnyk - Another guy I counted out in 2012-13 who played better than I expected (bad record, but an impressive .920 save percentage). I hate his situation - Edmonton’s a deeply flawed team, despite the hype surrounding their youngsters - but the two saving graces are that he’s enormous and in a contract year. I’m leaning in a slightly negative direction with double-D, but it’s early.
Guys who are just bad/in awful situations - Calgary’s battling, but stay away from their guys … Ondrej Pavelec is an anchor, albeit one who’s used often. He’s Kiprusoff in his worst years … I can’t see how Steve Mason and Ray Emery are worth all the headaches that go with keeping tabs on a platoon. One of them might have a chance eventually, though. You’d think Emery, but do the rules of logic ever apply to Philly? … If Tampa Bay’s competent, I’d wager it’s with Ben Bishop doing the heavy lifting, so be weary of Anders Lindback.
13 shots, no goals, one assist - Chris Higgins
12 shots, no goals, no points - Dennis Wideman
9 shots, no goals, no points - Christian Ehrhoff, Claude Giroux
8 shots, no goals, no points - Patrick Sharp
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to players who are having awful puck luck and should get better soon. In particular, I might target Sharp with trade offers if the bad bounces keep going against him for a few more games; he endured a cold streak last season and still put up fabulous numbers.
(Phil Kessel’s the inspiration for such tallies, and he’s had bad puck luck to start once again, with one goal on 15 shots.)
After the jump: players on undeniably hot streaks, a thumb’s up for Jaroslav Halak and more.
Alex Ovechkin - has an absurd 24 SOG in three games, good for eight per night. That's a 656 SOG pace with about 109 goals. Unless we're teleporting back to the halcyon 80's, that's not happening.
Still, this could be the Ovechkin who ran away with the SOG and scoring titles for years before hitting a bit of a funk, and that is really exciting. You have to be a pretty irrational Crosby zealot to enjoy Sulking Ovi.*
Mikhail Grabovski - There’s no denying that I’m on the Grabovski bandwagon, but there are limits. His shooting percentage is currently at 42.9 percent, which would make him a solid shooter in the NBA. His career average is 12.7 percent, so prepare as if he’s going to slow down. (In other words, if someone offers you Sharp for Grabovski, just make sure you don’t hit the “accept trade” button so hard that you damage your keyboard.)
Lars Eller - Certainly worth grabbing, as his nine SOG indicate that he's not just getting every bounce. Just don't go too crazy; he's shooting at 33.3 percent rate (one out of every three shots has been a goal) and his career-high is just 16 goals. There's talent there, but beware.
Other players who should be useful but are shooting at 20 percent or higher: Jiri Hudler, Jason Garrison, David Jones, Mason Raymond and Brandon Saad.
Again, most if not all of the guys listed in the “too hot” section should be viable, they’re just playing a bit-to-way over their heads right now.
* - Tip for enjoying sports: try your best not to pick sides, but instead enjoy your league’s most brilliant talents. You might just regret frowning every time Special Player A gets one over on Special Player B once they’re both gone. (See: Lemieux-Gretzky, Bird-Magic and so on.)
I’m not saying you can’t have a favorite, though ...
CHECK THAT GUY’S PADS
Marc-Andre Fleury - .50 GAA, .979 save percentage, two wins: Those numbers will normalize, but you won't complain because he could very well establish himself as elite once again.
Jonathan Bernier - .64 GAA, .979 save percentage, two wins despite one start: Another unsustainable set of numbers, but he certainly gained at least a short-term advantage over James Reimer. Management wants him to be the guy, so that's a huge plus, too.
1.00 GAA's: Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, Semyon Varlamov and Anton Khudobin.
Note: I really like all four of those guys in fantasy, though. Rask is obvious, Niemi was quietly nominated for the Vezina and is an underrated workhorse. I'm a fan of Varlamov's talent, and while I believe he'll have some absolutely brutal nights behind that rocky defense, Colorado could also have an offense that steals him some wins.
Jaroslav Halak deserves special mention, though. I believe you can put most of the Brian Elliott and Jake Allen fears to bed and consider him near-elite for 2013-14. Here's why:
He’s in a contract year. As a reminder, he shocked the world by helping the Montreal Canadiens upset the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 playoffs during his last one.
The Blues are really good. No, they won’t boot goalies in every game like they have so far (Pekka Rinne and Tim Thomas* are their victims), but they’re my Stanley Cup champion choice.
Halak’s been limited by injuries and bad luck, to some extent. This is his chance to rectify all of that … and, again, earn a big contract in the process.
I believe Allen is a year or two away and Elliott’s a career backup.
It’s still a fluid situation, though.
INJURIES (full list)
A knee strain sidelines Charlie Coyle for 3-4 weeks … Alex Burrows could be out a couple weeks after blocking a shot, surely endearing Canucks fans to John Tortorella’s strategies … Steve Downie’s hit concussed Roman Josi, who appears to have a discouraging history with head injuries … Ryan Miller has a minor groin injury while Henrik Tallinder’s expected to miss about a week … Gabriel Landeskog has a leg injury, but he should play on Tuesday … Kris Letang is skating, yet no word on when he’ll return … Jesse Joensuu is day-to-day with a back injury … Max Pacioretty is indeed banged up with an arm issue ...
* - No, I’m not particularly worried about Thomas yet, just a warning that there could be some bumps in the road.