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Monday 25th Jul 2016

At the end of April, I began covering some of the NHL’s Deadly Duos that were still alive and kicking in this year’s playoffs. Here’s the second part of that series.  

The Nashville Predators always lacked the firepower up front to contend with the battleships of the Western Conference, at least until 2015. The Preds acquired Left Wing Filip Forsberg from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat and also exchanged wingers with the Pittsburgh Penguins by sending Patric Hornqvist to the Steel City for sniper James Neal. Both players are now flourishing in their new environment.  

Forsberg ($6400 at DraftKings) finished the regular season with a team leading 33 goals and 31 assists while playing in all 82 games. Neal ($6500) finished third in team scoring with 31 goals and 27 assists and also played a full complement of games. But only 12 of those combined goals came on the power play, where the Predators ranked 10th during the regular season. Neal and Forsberg have pretty much been side by side all season and during the playoffs, but newly acquired Ryan Johanson ($5500) and Colin Wilson ($3800) also make good lower end plays with Wilson quietly leading the Preds in playoff scoring so far with five goals, eight assists and 13 points.  

Now let’s get to a couple of teams who will be squaring off in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Tampa Bay Lightning are front loaded with talent, and that’s excluding Steven Stamkos, potentially the deadliest sniper among the team’s young forward group.  

Perhaps Stamkos’ absence and the continued impressive play of Nikita Kucherov ($7600) and Tyler Johnson ($6100) are making GM Steve Yzerman rethink his position when it comes to Stamkos’ upcoming free agency. But there is no mistaking that Kucherov and Johnson were a two-man wrecking crew in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings.  

Tampa Bay’s second duo is relatively new with once prodigal son Jonathan Drouin ($4700) and regular contributor Alex Killorn ($5500). The latter has been a mainstay on Stamkos’ side since blood clots ended Stammer’s season prematurely. Drouin has been amazing since the Right Wing’s feud with management ended and he finally got to play with the big boys. It’s not fair though to mention Kucherov and Johnson and not mention triplet Ondrej Palat’s ($4900) contributions to the success of his mates. These five skaters have all been an integral part of the Lightning’s success this off-season along with defensive stud Victor Hedman, who may be the most important piece in the team’s bright future.   

Where does one begin with all the offensive talent on the Pittsburgh Penguins? Since I have gushed on long enough about Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, let’s focus on the big dogs. Love him or hate him, Sidney Crosby ($7900) is one of the best players on earth and is the straw stirring the drink in the Steel City.  

Crosby’s partner in crime of late has been Patric Hornqvist ($7000), and these two players are among the more expensive options on DraftKings. But Evgeni Malkin ($7000) and Chris Kunitz ($4800) are the second wave of scorers coming at you in the Penguins offensive attack who have nice potential value. Any of these players’ third line mates are very nice cheap options with the potential to produce. Conor Sheary ($3900) on the Crosby line and Eric Fehr ($4100) now on the Malkin line add points not only with goals and assists, but hits, blocked shots and shots.

All four of these skaters fill out top spots on Penguins power play units and wear down defenders, which is probably why the third line I love here has been tearing opponents apart. This Penguins team often reminds me of the early 90’s Pittsburgh squads, loaded with so much talent that five forwards--Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev and Jan Hrdina—occupied the top power play unit and all finished in the top 30 in scoring.  

Crosby and Malkin are the leaders of this team regardless of who’s doing the scoring; the duo did lead the Penguins in power play markers during the regular season. Crosby had 10 power play goals and Malkin had 11 after missing 25 games. This duo is second (Crosby) and fourth (Malkin) in playoff scoring, and before it’s over, I have a feeling they’ll be one and two again.  

My Pre-Season Top 25 had Crosby and Malkin finishing in first and second in the rankings, and well, not quite so, but it’s not too late to jump on the Penguins bandwagon.

As a Midwesterner, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Pittsburgh, a blue collar city with great people. In fact, my old boss used to play for the Penguins. So do enjoy the Conference Finals and may your beards grow until your wives make you sleep outside.

As I just watched my Red Wings bow out in the first round for the third straight season, I was thinking about Dynamic Duos, and not Batman and Robin. The Red Wings were dismantled by the same duo that tore them apart in last year’s playoffs, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. This tandem was a two-man wrecking crew again, responsible for 15 points in the five games it took to send Detroit home again. Johnson had two goals and five helpers while Kucherov had five goals and three assists. They are not the only duo tearing it up so far in the first round of the playoffs, so let’s take a look at a few of the other Dynamic Duos in the 2016 Playoffs.

San Jose – Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton: These two have just carried over into the playoffs what they did all season long. Jumbo passes and Lil’ Joe buries it, giving the Sharks another excellent chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and once again they lead the L.A. Kings 3-1. The question is can the Sharks finally finish off the Kings? Thornton and Pavelski have to lead the Sharks with the hot hands they have shown off early in these playoffs. Pavelski has four goals and one assist while Thornton has one goal and two assists. Each successful playoff team is usually led by a duo of this caliber, and it’s been so throughout playoff history. The list of duos could equal the bible in pages, so I won’t elaborate on them just yet. Each team also usually has one stud defenseman steering the playoff ship. Tampa Bay has Victor Hedman and San Jose has offensive juggernaut Brent Burns, and I will cover defensemen in a future IceHole article.  

St. Louis – Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz: The Blues are a very deep team, but these line mates are the straws stirring the Blues playoff drink. Schwartz missed 49 games this season while Tarasenko missed only two, but many of the Blues players have fresh legs due to missed games and Schwartz is making Chicago pay thus far. With three goals and two assists in five games along with Vlad’s matching numbers of 3g/2a, these two are all the Blackhawks can handle right now.  

New York Islanders – John Tavares and Kyle Okposso: This duo has been all over the ice versus the Florida Panthers so far in a series tied at 2-2. Tavares, who had a sub-par regular season by his standards, has come on strong this postseason, leading the Islanders in scoring. In four games, Tavares has four goals, three assists and 19 shots on goal while Okposso has been equally as hard to contain with one goal, four helpers and 18 shots on goal. This has been the bulk of the Islanders offense so far, doubling what any other player has put forth in these four games. A very deadly twosome that the Panthers need to contain if they have any chance of advancing to the second round to face state rival Tampa Bay.
 
Washington – Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom: The Capitals are a very deep team and are being lead in scoring by their top defenseman thus far, John Carlson. While T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson are also leading the Caps in scoring, Ovechkin and Backstrom are the leaders of this team, each with over 70 points in the regular season and Ovechkin scoring 50 goals yet again as the NHL’s premiere sniper. He has three goals and one helper in four games with 15 shots on goal. Backstrom has added one goal and five assists, with four of those helpers coming on the Caps league leading power play. For my money, there isn’t a more exciting duo in the NHL than these two, and they compliment each other perfectly, with Backstrom passing and Ovi shooting. There will be many more goals and assists coming from this duo in these playoffs and I will update you as we progress. Do not hesitate to use any of these duos in DFS either. They are all worth the price along with the third line-mate in the Garden Seat, which is a term I stole from Jim “Boomer” Gordon on XM NHL Network. The Garden Seat is what he calls the man skating on the top line with two studs, and I’ll cover these players more in depth down the road.

This is my weekly column on many different things hockey, and there will never be a shortage of content to talk or rant on about. Mainly, I'll discuss the current happenings in the NHL, and I'll also cover history, the record books, favorite players and rookies. There is a never ending stream of information in my head, which seems to be the only thing going on up there come playoff time. There are many things about the NHL I wish Gary Bettman would have never switched, like division names to directions on a map instead of historical figures, just for starters.

As I type this article, my favorite team, the Detroit Red Wings, are on the verge of ending one of the greatest streaks ever in North American major sports. For the past 24 consecutive years, the Red Wings have made the playoffs, sometimes with little success and sometimes with parades down Woodward Ave. in the middle of June. This streak is tied for the fouth best ever of its kind in league history with the Montreal Canadiens teams from 1970-71 through 1993-94. Still ahead of the Red Wings in this list are the 1979-80 through 2003-04 St. Louis Blues' 25-year streak, the 1969-70 through 1996-97 Chicago Blackhawks at 28 years and the 1967-68 through 1995-96 Boston Bruins at 29 years. All of these streaks are beyond impressive and also exemplifies just how great organizations are run, through the draft, free agency, and excellent coaching to get the players to buy into a system that's a proven winner.

Now, the Red Wings are the current 9th seed in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Philadelphia Flyers. Detroit has won four Stanley Cups during this streak, while the Blues and Blackhawks never won any Cups during their long streaks. The Red Wings trail the Flyers by two points and Philly has a game in hand. While the Flyers have been playing excellent hockey of late, the Red Wings have struggled. With only a handful of games remaining, I'm beginning to lose faith in my team and the joy of my annual spring Playoff Beard, which NBC wants to stop because they seem to not understand hockey historical traditions. On paper, this isn't even close, but we all know the only games played on paper are Tic-Tac-Toe and not hockey. The winner of this last place battle gets the honor of heading to the nation's capital to play the Presidents Cup winning Washington Capitols, who the Flyers beat last night in a shoot-out 2-1.

For those of you who have never been to a home playoff game, the volume is automatically double that of the regular season and seemingly gets louder as each round progresses. I've been to over 50 Red Wing home games and even snuck in a few road trips to Chicago Stadium, and I cannot explain the volume unless you have been there for a playoff game. One playoff home game is worth about $2.5 million dollars for the home team, and in the pre-salary cap days, this meant a lot when the free agent deadline in the next season came around or for the UFA deadline on July 1st. The mighty Red Wings have brought in some of the all-time great NHL players in these deadline moves or the signings of Unrestricted Free Agents. The Brendan Shanahan trade brought tears to my eyes because I knew he was the missing piece we needed to hoist the Cup. Luc Robitille, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Dominek Hasek, Curtis Joesph, Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov were all trade acquisitions that have helped us attain greatness during this Stanley Cup filled streak. The list of players that have been drafted is just as impressive as the free agent signings with Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Vlad Konstaninov, Keith Primeau and Chris Osgood. More recent homegrown studs such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrick Zetterberg and Nicklas Kronwall have kept the streak going still, while super rookie Dylan Larkin is just getting his feet wet and would probably enjoy keeping this streak going as long as possible. Not to mention all the superb grinders and 3rd defensive pairings who often go unmentioned but mean just as much as the man wearing the "C" on front of his chest above the Winged Wheel logo. We've had the greatest coach in NHL history turn an offensive machine into a tight back checking defensive juggernaut with Scotty Bowman, and Mike Babcock was no slouch either, winning the last of the four Stanley Cups brought back to the Motor City.

It's time for Coach Blashill to have these boys look in the mirror, the wall of fame, and the 19,076 seats in Joe Louis Arena and realize this streak is more than just a number and t hat it's something we Red Wing fans wear as a badge of honor each game of each season. No matter who wins the Cup, we Red Wings fans can hold this success over the head of all the teams we hate! Mr. Ilitch, Jimmy Develano, Jim Nill, Haken Andersson and Ken Holland have turned the Detroit Red Wings organization into an institution and regardless of how this season ends, the Detroit Red Wings will always remain an institution.

As another great NHL regular season winds down it's time to look forward to the playoffs and think of days past.  Back in the 80’s the NHL used the playoff format 1-16 instead of a breakdown of conferences.  The league wanted to boost the rivalries factor which wasn’t all that bad with the Detroit versus Colorado war.  It would be nice to see the old style come back though instead of force feeding the viewers on the NHL agenda.  As we sit on the last games of the season the current 1-16 match ups provide some interesting thoughts and possibly great hockey, which is what matters most.  The Minnesota Wild would be out of the 1-16 format, if the league decided to go that way this year in this hypothetical stance.

1. Washington vs. 16. Boston

2. Dallas vs. 15. Philadelphia

3. St. Louis vs. 14. Detroit

4. Pittsburgh vs. 13. Nashville

5. Chicago vs. 12. Tampa Bay

6. Florida vs. 11. San Jose

7. Anaheim vs. 10. N.Y. Islanders

8. Los Angeles vs. 9. N.Y. Rangers

These are all very intriguing match-ups.  Washington versus Boston would be an outstanding series as Boston is tough and good enough to give the Caps all they could handle.  Washington is taking its annual steps towards a Cup final, so it’s not a given they would walk all over the Bruins.  Even though the Caps swept the season series 3-0 on the Bostonians, two of those games were decided by one goal. 

Detroit versus St. Louis series would be great hockey as well, and as a Red Wings fan it would be a Western Conference enemy of old to battle.  A lot of memories of Detroit continually knocking the Blues out of the playoffs could be drubbed by a very good, but streaky St. Louis squad.

Philly versus Dallas would be very entertaining too, with offensive players abound and teams that both have shaky goaltending at best.  Led by Dallas forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin (if healthy), Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza, Dallas can certainly bring it. Claude Giroux, Jacob Voracek and rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbhere lead the charge for Philadelphia.

The same could be said with a Nashville versus Pittsburgh series, less the sub-par goalies. Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, for the Pens and Forsberg, Johansen, and James Neal/ Patrc Hornqvist each are squaring off against their former employers.  Then there are three all-star defensemen in Kris Letang,  Shea Weber and Roman Josi...sounds like fun viewing!

Florida versus San Jose has the makings of a great series though the Chicago versus Tampa showdown might be a bludgeoning with the Lightning on life support. A few of their stars down for the count and Chicago is firing on all cylinders led by league MVP Patrick Kane.

A Los Angeles versus N.Y. Rangers affair could be a Stanley Cup final in the real playoffs, which would be an NHL marketing dream.  With two all world goalies in Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundquist squaring off, the goals should be sparse.

Anaheim versus N.Y. Islanders could be very interesting with both teams quietly making their way into the playoffs, albeit with plenty of star power. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf for the Ducks with John Tavares and Kyle Okposso for the Islanders, are all capable of good playoff hockey.

This is just a dream sequence I’d love to see come back into the mix again.  Instead of force feeding the populous with what the NHL feels would be what we want, how about just letting it happen naturally.

Time to set fantasy baseball line-ups and the DVR for free Starz this weekend on Direct TV. May all your pucks find the top shelf and your sticks not break on a one-timer.  

We have reached the finish line of another fantasy season here at the Waiver Wire Report, which means Championship Week! I try to avoid talking about my teams throughout the season, but hopefully you all have at least a couple teams playing for all the marbles this week. I had three teams in the semis last week, and two survived to battle this week. One is in a local league that I have been trying to win for years, and it will mark the third time in four years that I have managed to reach the title game. I have unfortunatley come away empty twice before. Once was the year Tony Romo hurt his hand and had to leave the game. That one still stings. This year my team is led by none other than DeMarco Murray, who of course left last week's game with a broken finger. I am certain I am not the only one who has ridden Murray this far, and I am hoping he can suit up for me this week in my quest to finally win the crown that has eluded me. Before we get to this week's list, I just want to take a moment to thank those of you who have tuned in every week and wish you the best of luck with your own playoff battle this week.

QUARTERBACKS

Alex Smith, KC - Andy Reid has finally loosened the strings on his offense and his quarterback the last few weeks, allowing Smith to toss seven touchdowns over the last four weeks. This week’s matchup against the Steelers' suspect secondary sets him up for another strong outing. There isn’t a ton of upside here, but he should be a safe bet for a solid showing this week if you have doubts about your starter or are facing weather or injury issues.

Robert Griffin III, WAS - Colt McCoy’s neck injury flared up again, which allowed Griffin to get back under center with pretty positive results. He showed that he can still use his legs effectively if needed and if McCoy can’t go, he would be in line to get the start against the Eagles' generous defense. Rolling Griffin out for the most important week of the season won’t be for the timid, but the one upside of playing Philly is the fact that their uptempo style provides extra opportunities for their opponents to exploit their own weak secondary.

Cam Newton, CAR - There is a chance Newton was dropped in the wake of his car accident, but with the playoffs still a possibility, he might just suit up this week against a Browns team that looked like they quit last week against the Bengals.

Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton will get the attention of a lot of streamers this week due to the matchup with Oakland. The fact is he hasn’t been very good of late and the Bills could suffer a letdown traveling across the country to play in Oakland. Don’t force him into your lineups.

RUNNING BACKS

Joseph Randle/Lance Dunbar, DAL - DeMarco Murray owners who are still alive will be first in line for Randle’s services this week after Murray broke a bone in his left hand last week. At this point, he is listed as questionable which would give Randle the start as the primary runner and short yardage back. The Cowboys' offensive line is one of the best in the game and the Colts defense can be run against. Randle is a capable back who can churn out the tough yards, but let’s face it, he isn’t Murray. The fact is if Murray sits, Dunbar will get plenty of work as well, especially on third downs or when the Cowboys go into a hurry-up/passing mode. Randle has more upside as the primary runner/goal-line back while Dunbar profiles more as a flex-worthy plug-n-play option.

Matt Asiata, MIN - Asiata is what he is, an average talent who has shown the ability to punch it in from up close. He has been getting the bulk of the carries the last three weeks for the Vikings and even got involved in the passing game last week, giving him some extra touches that he wasn’t getting before. If you lose Murray this week and can’t get your hands on Randle, then Asiata may be your best alternative.

Toby Gerhart, JCK - It can get ugly this time of year when you are scrambling for guys to possibly get you over the top, and no one personifies this better than one of this season’s biggest draft busts. But it is Week 16, and Gerhart is getting the touches and gets to face the Titans this week. If you are desperate, then you could turn to him at the flex spot and hope that he can churn out some yards and maybe find his way into the endzone for the second time this year.

Digging Deeper

Knile Davis made the list last week when it looked like Jamaal Charles might miss some time. Charles played, but Davis wound up hitting paydirt twice, likely on someone’s bench. He is a Hail Mary play again this week. Alfonso Smith could get the call if Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde can’t suit up. C.J. Spiller was activated from the I.R. and should get back into action this week. The Bills are fighting to get into the playoffs, and stranger things have happened than a talent like Spiller making a splash in the finals.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Harry Douglas, ATL - Douglas gets a bump up the list after stepping in for Julio Jones last week and putting up a ten-catch, 131-yard performance. The matchup against the Steelers was perfect last week, but the Saints offer a similar chance for Douglas to make an impact again this week. Even if Jones makes it back on the field, Douglas is still going to be involved. If Jones sits again, then Douglas could help win the week for you.

Allen Hurns, JCK - Hurns continues to improve and is ready to put a potential exclamation point on a solid fantasy season against the Titans. Even if Blake Bortles misses the game, Hurns performed well with Chad Henne under center, giving him some nice upside in a plus matchup.

Stedman Bailey, STL - Bailey let his owners down in Week 14 against the Redskins, so it will be tough to trust him this week when the Rams take on the Giants. Despite the poor showing versus Washington, Bailey has been the steadiest of all Shaun Hill’s targets, and he should at least be a solid option at your WR3 spot.

Marquess Wilson, CHI - I was pretty high on WIlson’s potential last week, and as such came away disappointed with the results, although a late touchdown helped salvage his day. I still think he has a big game in him, but it remains to be seen if Jay Cutler is capable of bringing it out of him this year.

TIGHT ENDS

Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera was my top option last week and I am sticking with him again, even in a tough game against the BIlls. Buffalo puts a lot of pressure on the QB, which could force Derek Carr to dump it off to his TE early and often. I think Rivera is a sneaky little play this week if you are in a pinch.

Owen Daniels, BAL - If Torrey Smith is still hurting, it helps Daniels' chances of duplicating last week’s output. He is never a great bet to score, but he will continue to see targets in Gary Kubiak’s system.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

Carolina Panthers - The Panthers defense has been rounding into shape as the season comes to a close and now gets to face Johnny Manziel and the Browns, coming off their flop against the Bengals last week. I do think Manziel will play better this week, but the sacks and turnovers should still be there for the Panthers.

KICKER

Shayne Graham, NO - I like dome kickers for my final game of the season if I don’t love my current starter. Drew Brees had the offense humming against the Bears and should keep things rolling against the Falcons.

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