Fantasy hockey – Panic or patience regarding slow starts

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Panic or exercise a little patience? Now that we’re a few games out of the 2019-20 gate, here’s a round-up of several popular fantasy figures falling short of preseason expectations. And whether invested managers should wait it out or make adjustments in the here and now.

Cause for concern

Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators (90.4 percent): Five games in, the Senators have yet to score on the power play – and before you ask, they’ve had 17 opportunities with the extra skater. While D.J. Smith continues to fiddle in trying to nail the right formula, there’s a limit to what the Sens coach can do with the personnel at hand. Meaning Chabot shouldn’t count on banging numbers with the man-advantage this season. Then there’s the arithmetical burden of competing for a team in rip-down, rebuild mode. If your league recognizes plus/minus, know that Ottawa’s gifted young defenseman is already off to a minus-five start.

Jakub Voracek, RW/LW, Philadelphia Flyers (81.9 percent): Despite Wednesday’s breakout performance for two goals and an assist, there’s still cause for mild fantasy anxiety here. Wedged on a third line with Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl, Voracek has looked out of sorts with zero points in his first four games. (It’s worth noting the 30-year-old scored both goals on the club’s top power play in Wednesday’s loss to the Oilers.) No doubt coach Alain Vigneault will continue fiddling with his lines following three-straight losses, opening up the possibility of Voracek re-joining the top-six. But if not, his fantasy managers have right to be a little concerned about his production at even-strength.

Devan Dubnyk, G, Minnesota Wild (74.2 percent): In slightly gentler language, Minnesota’s head coach himself recently labelled his team as not very good. I’m summarizing here, but Bruce Boudreau essentially said the Wild lack speed and high-end talent. That they have to play a more conservative, grinding game just to compete on a nightly basis. So now we’re supposed to expect this club to turn matters around? (Not that Boudreau is wrong.) There’s little doubt Devan Dubnyk will improve on his ugly 8.67 SV% and dreadful 4.44 GAA to start this season, but he may not improve much. Doesn’t help that Alex Stalock backstopped Minnesota to their only win of the season, a 2-0 shutout victory over the Senators.

Ryan McDonagh, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (72.5 percent): Having already hammered this point in recent days, with Victor Hedman, young Mikhail Sergachev and newbie Kevin Shattenkirk around, McDonagh is being tasked with a greater shutdown role in Tampa. He isn’t skating with the man-advantage. At all. The 40-plus points days are over. In conventional scoring leagues, forego the veteran defenseman for Sergachev (71%) or Shattenkirk (54%), if available.

Antti Raanta, G, Arizona Coyotes (55.4 percent): Right now, Darcy Kuemper shows zero inclination in giving up ownership of the starter’s gig in Arizona. Rocking a 1.52 GAA and .955 SV%, the Coyotes’ netminder is off to a torrid start winning the last two of his four starts (a little goal support, and he could easily be 4-0). At this rate, coach Rick Tocchet has little choice in rolling out Kuemper (36.8%) more often than not. And those insisting he’s due for a petering out should remember the 29-year-old was mostly great through 55 appearances last year. None of this bodes well for Raanta’s fantasy managers.

Give it a minute

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida Panthers (93.6 percent): While his personal numbers – 3.90 GAA and .870 SV% – are far from pretty, they’re also imprecise in revealing how Bobrovsky has played for his new club in Florida. One ugly showing against Carolina and 21 challenging minutes versus New Jersey aside, he’s been largely good to great. Once the ever-underachieving Panthers fall in line with Joel Quenneville’s fresh approach to the game – the new bench boss is working them hard – they should make life easier for their No. 1, both defensively and by putting puck in the opposition’s net more often. If you compete in a trade-happy fantasy league, Bobrovsky presents as an appealing buy-candidate right now.

Phil Kessel, RW, Arizona Coyotes (93.0 percent): He wasn’t red-hot stuff when first joining the Penguins either, collecting only three points in his inaugural seven games of 2015-16. No, I’m not really comparing those Stanley Cup winners with this current Coyotes roster, only suggesting Kessel likes a little time to warm up. He’s playing a ton on the top line and power play with Clayton Keller, and shooting with pleasing regularity. It’ll come.

Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks (89.6 percent): First of all, the Blackhawks have only played four games, which helps soften the edges of Toews’ one, lonely assist (collected in Monday’s 3-1 win over Edmonton, the club’s best effort of this young season). Further, Chicago’s captain is steadily logging heavy minutes on a scoring line with Alex DeBrincat, and top power play with Patrick Kane. There was some preseason fantasy concern that Toews wouldn’t replicate last year’s career totals of 35 goals and 46 assists. He probably won’t. But he’ll likely put up near 65 – 70 points without much trouble, especially once DeBrincat gets going.

Braden Holtby G, Washington Capitals (83.1 percent): In the face of my cheerleading the rookie in this week’s edition of Waiver Watch, even before the Capitals opted to stoke the alleged fires of an assumed goalie controversy, let’s not award Ilya Samsonov the team’s net quite yet. Four appearances in, the 22-year-old has been good – particularly impressive after giving up two quick goals in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs – but we’ve got a long way to go. A strong showing against the Rangers Friday, assuming Holtby earns that start, quiets a lot of noise here. Still wouldn’t hurt to grab Samsonov either, if you have a roster spot available.

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils (76.2 percent): It’s getting a bit weird in Newark. Ballyhooed as much improved this preseason, the Devils are off to a 0-4-2 start with a league-worst goal differential of minus-16. Newbies P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds isn’t living up to billing. KHL-export Nikita Gusev is proving an early dud. Hughes, an late-summer Calder favorite, has zero points (minus-four). And now assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald is heading behind the bench to help (read: supervise) still-head coach John Hynes. You get the sense it’s heading in one direction or the opposite in a hard hurry. On the upside, Hughes appears more snake-bitten than anything, having enjoyed a fair share of quality scoring chances. And he’s set to slide in as top center between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri Thursday in place of an injured Nico Hischier. Betcha they start coming in bunches soon enough.

The Dallas Stars: Maybe it’s too much faith in the Stars’ head coach, but I’m buying what Jim Montgomery is selling, even after four-straight losses (1-6-1). Following two good periods (and one bad) against the Blue Jackets Wednesday, the club still exudes confidence they can turn it around. They’re too skilled to flounder for long. Tyler Seguin is going to score, as will Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, and Alexander Radulov. Sophomore Roope Hintz will snap out of his mini-rut, and Ben Bishop will settle in his crease. With three games in the next four days, Dallas could be feeling much better about itself as early as next week. Along with invested fantasy owners.

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