When Tuesday’s deluge of games began, it seemed like the big, bad big, bad hit storyline would dominate yet another Dose. (Does “Seppuku” hand motion.) Luckily - and honestly, quite remarkably - this season’s other big storyline butted heads with dirty hits, as backup and straight-up unknown goalies generally had a great night. (Does reverse “Seppuku” hand motion.”)
Even if it’s a relief that we won’t be talking about guys charging and/or hitting each other with their backs turned for the entirety of this column, there might still be those of you who’ve read so much on these subjects that you need a change of pace.
With that in mind, I thought I’d play up the dueling storylines aspect of this situation and go with a rotation: one questionable hit followed by two startling success stories.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll ignore the occasional exception from the rule. In other words, let’s pour one out for Jonas Gustavsson owners.
Anyway, let’s get to the duels after this quick message …
TOM WILSON CHARGES BRAYDEN SCHENN
Tom Wilson didn’t just charge Brayden Schenn. He’s like a professional wrestler who bounces off both sides of the ring to clothesline an opponent. Even (insert guy who constantly angers your fan base with his over-the-top headhunting) probably wouldn’t provide a better prototype for the NHL to use as an instructional example of what charging looks like.
Naturally, the Washington Capitals are in full-on-denial mode, as everyone seemed to call it a clean hit. It would be fascinating to do an experiment - maybe with Google Glass? - where teams viewed hits with the player uniforms reversed. If GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates were hypnotized into believing that it was Schenn landing that blow on Wilson instead of vice versa, would they have the same assessment of the situation? I’d wager that they probably wouldn’t, unless they wanted to grease the wheels for future leniency by acting indifferent to the situation.
Considering the fact that Wilson is owned in just one percent of leagues (Yahoo might even be rounding up), his 20 PIM probably didn’t benefit anyone but the most hardcore Capitals fans.
On the bright side, Schenn appears to be OK, at least big picture-wise. He's a good contributor when you consider his 18 points and 61 SOG, but things really get interesting when you factor in gritty stats; he has 30 PIM and 80 hits this season.
SUCCESS STORIES: MR. JONES AND RAANTA
To begin the goalie bits, I thought I’d discuss the two most surprising success stories: Martin Jones and Antti Raanta.
Jones improved his young NHL record to 6-0-0 with his third shutout in that span. He’s putting up the kind of numbers that would make you feel guilty about playing a GM or franchise mode in a video game* and force you to up the difficulty level. Amazingly, he’s only owned in 53 percent of leagues right now, so if you have any roster flexibility … you should know what to do.
(Side note: someone made a Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” joke regarding Martin Jones, and now I can’t get that earworm out of my head whenever I discuss him. If you’re susceptible to those kinds of things, don’t click the link.)
While Jones was a bit more of a surprise to me - personally, I didn’t remember him from that 2010 WJC game as much as I remember Jake Allen getting yanked and John Carlson’s glorious** goal - Raanta didn’t sneak up on me in the same way. I mean, granted, it’s mainly because I noticed that the Blackhawks grabbed him as insurance; it’s easier to follow the rapid development of an import than it is to follow the long path of an undrafted free agent, after all.
Anyway, Raanta improved his record to 7-1-1 in this season and is probably relaxing Blackhawks fans regarding Corey Crawford’s health in the same way that Jones (and Ben Scrivens before him) relaxes Kings fans about Jonathan Quick.
By the way, is anyone else feeling a little sympathetic for Scrivens? It’s not like he’s been awful, yet Jones comes along and probably hurts Scrivens’ bargaining power by showing that he’s not the only Kings goalie who could put up huge numbers out of nowhere. And this comes after being seen as just a throw-in for Jonathan Bernier. At least Scrivens has shown that he has the sense of humor to shake these things off. Maybe.
Raanta is only owned in 42 percent of leagues. Obviously returns from injuries could leave these two goalies’ stock plummeting, but why not give yourself a chance to squeeze out short-term elite numbers in the meantime?
KYLE QUINCEY BOARDS RYAN GETZLAF
Hey look, another situation in which a fairly average player puts a star-caliber producer at risk!
You know, if we cannot avoid a weekly bundle of bad apple hits, can’t guys at least stay in their own weight class? Scoring is in a pretty bad place in the league; the last thing we need is an endless stream of jabronies* cheap-shotting (and potentially injuring) the few who can regularly score.
Kyle Quincey’s a respectable defenseman, yet his hit on Ryan Getzlaf was downright disrespectful … and far too typical. I find it obnoxious that people try to blame obstruction crackdowns for all these hits, especially when obstruction grows each season like an infection of dullness.
Either way, the good news is that Getzlaf appears to be OK, albeit a little stitched up. He’s had the kind of season that many of us feel should be a regular thing, as he’s a world-class talent in a terrifyingly huge frame. I’d be surprised if a) Quincey avoids a suspension or b) anyone learns anything from the subsequent suspension.
GOOD GOALIES GONE GREAT
Many hockey hardcores have been aware of Josh Harding’s talent - he was believed to be a future No. 1 for a while now - and might have noticed Ben Bishop’s strong work in the occasional small sample sizes. So maybe there was a sense that elite performance was possible for these two far-from-household-names.
Still, it’s remarkable that Bishop and Harding are tied with Antti Niemi for second place in wins with 18 (behind Marc-Andre Fleury’s 19).
Both goalies also have the kind of numbers that would threaten for a Vezina if the trophy was given out before New Year's: Harding has a 1.51 GAA and .939 save percentage while Bishop is kept busier, as his .934 save percentage results in a more reasonable 1.96 GAA.
There’s basically zero chance you can scoop up either goalie, however, so this is really just a big victory lap for them.
BRAD MARCHAND BOARDS SEAN MONAHAN
OK, this one’s already settled, as there will be no hearing for Brad Marchand’s boarding hit on Sean Monahan.
Deep down, though, the Boston Bruins might just want Marchand to sit in timeout for a while. Marchand has 14 points and a sickly 52 SOG in 34 games played this season. He may very well have more mimed taunts per game than points, really.
My guess is that he misses Tyler Seguin's significant boost more than anything else. In fact, if I were the Stars, I'd probably float some buy-low offers the Bruins' way; if the B’s JUST COULDN’T DEAL with a budding superstar who wasn’t a choir boy or Selke nominee, what about a pest who just can’t help himself?
(Marchand received a talking-to a couple years ago regarding a golf swing motion. I guess lessons have a statute of limitations for him?)
Anyway, Marchand won’t get a suspension. You be the judge if that would have been a blessing in disguise for him, though.
MASON AND ELLIS
Finishing things off, we have a guy whose career seemed to be in freefall (Steve Mason) and a guy who came into this season hoping to prove that he still belongs in the NHL (Dan Ellis). (OK, that Ellis description probably applied to Mason in the offseason, really.)
Mason was showing a few warning signs of returning to his previous Sieve Mason Columbus form, but perhaps he's gotten things back together, as he's won two of three (two and one goal allowed in two respective wins, four in an OT loss). I'm still a little surprised that he isn't owned in more than 63 percent of leagues; how can a regular starter with improving win totals and strong individual stats (.924 save percentage) not be good enough to be your third or even fourth goalie?
Ellis is the exception on this list as I wouldn't recommend much more than a quick add/drop investment in him. Kari Lehtonen is locked into workhorse status in Dallas, and with good reason. Still, Ellis ranks as one of the steadier backups in the NHL, and could be good for a one-day add if you're desperate. His improved recent play is promising for another reason: Lehtonen gets injured often. If the talented Finn suffers another lower-body issue that sidelines him for weeks, Ellis could be a nice asset. Overcoming a sometimes-shabby Stars defense would make it more of a challenge, however, so it's good to see signs that he can do that with some regularity.
So, depending upon your frame of mind (or affected roster members), Tuesday might have been about The Year of Backups or the Unending Stream of Bad Hits. Or maybe both.
* - This Dose is nerdier than usual.
** - Don’t worry, I won’t inject too much MERICA into things with the Olympics approaching, but for some reason the WJC bring that out a bit more.