With just over a week left until the playoffs, this is the final column of the season. Thanks to all for reading and commenting. Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This week’s article includes a pair of Seans on a roll, Skjei it’s so, a defensive strategy switch making all the difference in St. Louis, Stamkos close to returning and the Islanders’ #1 goalie not getting the job done.
First Liners (Risers)
Sean Couturier, C, PHI – Couturier is on a roll and continued that hot streak with a goal and two assists Thursday. Those three points give him four goals and 10 assists along with a remarkable plus-16 the past 14 games. Philly is vey much on the outside fringes of playoff contention with five to go, but Couturier is ending a disappointing season on a roll. This will also mark four straight years where he has put up at least 30 points.
Sean Monahan, C, CGY – The Flames are sizzling and are being led by Monahan. 11 points in the past six games certainly qualifies as red-hot, leaving him with 26 goals and 31 assists overall. Just three points in his last five games in the season would give Monahan his third straight 60-point campaign with Calgary on the verge of a playoff berth.
Ondrej Palat, LW, TB – Palat notched a pair of assists Thursday, giving him 10 points during his six-game point streak. His numbers are a far cry from the 59 points he tallied in 2013-14 and 63 in 2014-15, but still fairly solid. Palat slumped to just 40 points last season, but has rebounded to 46, including 30 assists and is still stuck on 16 goals, matching his lamp-lighting total from the past two seasons.
Brayden Schenn, LW, PHI – As you all know, I am not in favor of highlighting two players from the same team, but it’s worth it in Schenn’s case. His two assists Thursday give the former King 10 points with a plus-7 rating in his last 10 contests. Schenn is now up to 52 points, seven shy of the career-high he set last year. And as he will only turn 26 this summer, there is still room for growth.
Jonathan Marchessault, LW, FLA – Marchessault is scoreless the last two games but that doesn’t diminish the year he has had. The six goals scored the previous three games give the undrafted winger 29 on the season. Add in 20 assists and you have a pretty darn good total, despite the minus-19 rating. Marchessault is skating on the third line, but still sees an average of 2:43 in power-play time.
Brady Skjei, D, NYR – Skjei has had a tremendous, but fairly unpublicized rookie season for the Rangers. Three assists Tuesday moved his total to 33, the majority of which have come at even strength. When you add in five goals and plus-13 rating while moving between pairings, you realize just how impressive his year has been. The next step is for Skjei to be more of a power-play quarterback, which could put him in the 45-to-50 point range.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, WAS – After a slight bobble, the Capitals have righted the ship winning six in a row. A big reason for that upswing is the play of Shattenkirk. The big trade deadline acquisition has 11 assists – six on the man-advantage – in the 14 games since coming from the Arch City to the Nation’s Capital. While he has yet to light the lamp, Shattenkirk has been an offensive igniter from the blue line, something Washington had been lacking.
Jonathan Bernier, G, ANA – John Gibson’s injury opened the door for Bernier, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity. Heading into Thursday, Bernier had won 10 of his 12 starts while posting a 1.65 GAA and .946 save percentage. That run may have ended with the four goals Bernier allowed Thursday while Gibson was healthy enough to be the backup, so closely monitor the starting goalie news.
Jake Allen, G, STL – All Allen needed was for Ken Hitchcock to be fired. Hitchcock’s man-to-man D system wasn’t the best fit for the Blues’ personnel. When Mike Yeo took over, he scrapped that system and employed a zone strategy. Since then, Allen has taken off, moving his season marks in line with the numbers he posted last year when he posted 26 wins in 47 games played. Over the last 20 games, the starter is 13-6-1 with a 1.70 GAA and .942 save percentage, helping St. Louis move into a playoff spot.
Others include Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Derek Stepan, Ryan Johansen, Jack Eichel, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Mathieu Perreault, Ryan Getzlaf, Filip Forsberg, Patrick Kane, Elias Lindholm, Colin Wilson, Brock Boeser, Marcus Johansson, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Jarome Iginla, T.J. Oshie, Artemi Panarin, Mats Zuccarello, Jeff Skinner, Rickard Rakell, Johnny Gaudreau, Rick Nash, Cam Atkinson, Viktor Arvidsson, Vladimir Tarasenko, Shea Weber, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, Alex Pietrangelo, Victor Hedman, Jake Gardiner, Braden Holtby, Carey Price, Cam Talbot, Brian Elliott, Corey Crawford, Eddie Lack and Michael Hutchinson.
Training Room (Injuries)
Steven Stamkos, C, TB – Stamkos, sidelined with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery in November, did not play Thursday but is now deemed as day-to-day. He is now just over four months from the surgery but there had been speculation that he would be shut down if Tampa was out of playoff contention. They are on the fringe of playoff contention, so Stamkos could return to action before the end of the season.
Others include Aleksander Barkov (upper-body injury, day-to-day), Artem Anisimov (lower-body, out until the playoffs), Logan Couture (mouth, out all three games of Sharks’ road trip), Ryan Strome (broken wrist, out rest of the season), Evgeni Malkin (upper-body, making progress, skated Thursday), Tyler Johnson (lower-body, close to returning), Anthony Mantha (fractured finger Thursday, out for the year), Zach Parise (upper-body, out next three contests), Craig Smith (upper-body, day-to-day), Jake Guentzel (concussion, may play Friday), Aaron Ekblad (neck, may miss rest of the season) and John Gibson (lower-body injury, served as backup Thursday).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Frans Nielsen, C, DET – Nielsen notched a goal and assist Thursday, giving him just 36 points on the season. Prior to that, he only tallied four points in his last 15 games. His struggles after a solid start played a role in Detroit missing the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. Nielsen has five more years left on the six-year, $31.5 million contract he signed last summer – a deal that looks like it will be an albatross around the Red Wings’ neck.
Charlie Coyle, RW, MIN – Coyle, the main asset remaining for Minnesota from their ill-fated deal of Brent Burns to San Jose, began the season like a man shot out of a cannon. The second part of the season hasn’t been as kind. Coyle notched 44 points the first 55 games, setting a new career-high. His ice time has dried up a bit, contributing to just seven points during the past 22 contests.
Sami Vatanen, D, ANA – It’s been a year to forget for Vatanen, who broke an eight-game scoreless streak with an assist Thursday. After tallying 37 and then 38 points the last two seasons and primed to take a step forward, the Finn regressed mightily this season with only three goals and 20 assists in 68 games. Those numbers are shockingly high when you consider how little of a difference Vatanen has made this season.
Thomas Greiss, G, NYI – Greiss grabbed a hold of the Islanders’ starting job when Jaroslav Halak was passed through waivers and sent to the AHL. His play after that move resulted in the club rewarding him with a three-year extension and New York moving into playoff contention. That fine effort looks to be ages ago, as Greiss was chased Thursday after allowing three goals on eight shots and now has an .886 save percentage the past nine appearances. Look for Halak to play more down the stretch.
Others include Vincent Trocheck, Victor Rask, Alexander Wennberg, Kevin Hayes, Phil Kessel, Brendan Gallagher, Tanner Pearson, Jimmy Vesey, Anton Stralman and Henrik Lundqvist.