Blue Line Buzz: Weber is back in action
Shea Weber appears to be back to his dominant form. Dan Pennucci brings you the latest defensemen news in his Blue Line Buzz.
(All statistics through Saturday, December 21)
The debate continues as to whether Montreal star and current Norris Trophy holder P.K. Subban will be on the Canadian Olympic team. His game has been dissected, studied and every second of ice time analyzed with people seemingly either for his inclusion or vehemently against it, for some reason. Subban has always been a lightning rod for criticism, but some of this seems unfounded considering how he can simply dominate a game and keep possession in the offensive end.
Every mistake, no matter how minor, is broken down and cited. Canadian Olympic Team coach Mike Babcock feels he “needs to trust every player on the ice” and some worry about Subban's penchant for taking offensive risks, especially on the larger Olympic rink surface exists.
Subban's statistics aren't in question, with five goals and 27 points through 38 games. Then there is the fact that Canada has three presumptive right-side defensemen already in Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo. The debate over Subban's roster spot has captivated the North American hockey world, a debate that seems like it shouldn't even be happening given Subban's talent. His confidence can often be taken as cockiness and the term “brash” is used to describe his attitude on the ice; however, there is no denying the talent of Subban. As cited by many, the Team Canada brass is concerned with his risk taking, as noted by TSN's Darren Dreger.
As he mentioned in Coach's Corner during the first intermission of the Detroit-Toronto game on Saturday, Grapes is baffled as to why Subban isn't a lock.
Of course, what do I know? I'm not Canadian.
When you have one of the league's most dynamic players at your disposal and there is such a rampant debate about whether to include him on All-Star Team, something's afoot.
Can Subban become a U.S. citizen before February?
While Nashville remains one of the league's worst offensive teams with 2.31 goals-per game, good enough for 25th out of 30 teams, Shea Weber is again one of the Predators' leading point-producers with 20 points through 30 games. He trails only career Predator David Legwand. Weber has been back to his prolific ways this past week with a five-game points streak that has him with two goals and five helpers over that span. Weber had a goal and an assist in Saturday's loss to Montreal in 29:40 of ice time. (Also of note in that game is that Roman Josi logged 29:10 for the Preds with seven shots on goal, but no points. Seth Jones played 7:49).
Weber producing isn't a shock to hockey poolies, but when he starts to crest, he's been highly consistent throughout his career. Save for the minus-10 rating this season, Weber has not had too many dry spells, unlike last season when it took him nine games to register a point and 15 to find the back of the net. He had three points in his first 15 games last season, but finished with 28 total in 48 games, leaving 25 points for the final 33 tilts. We don't have to tell you that Weber is an elite player, just don't discount the fact that he is on Nashville. If you can pry him from a greedy owner, go for it, just don't expect it to be easy.
Mike Green's teammates in Washington have been one of the league's highest-scoring groups of late, seemingly abandoning all notions of defending at some points of contests. The Caps scored four goals and lost to New Jersey Saturday evening after potting five in a comeback win over Philadelphia last Sunday. Finally getting in on the act is the ever-vexing Mike Green, with points in three of the last four games and four of the last six, including his second goal of the season in that comeback win against the Flyers.
It took Green 24 games to find the back of the goal. 24 games. He's the last defender to pot 30 goals and led all NHL defensemen in tallies with 12 during last year's truncated campaign. (He was just one of four blue liners to notch double digit goals in the winter of 2013.) Green has been a frustrating player to own the last few campaigns, campaigns plagued by injury and inconsistency until he and the rest of the Capitals starting scoring goals like it was 2010 toward the end of last season. Green is too good of a player to stay as quiet as he had been. He's notched seven of his season's 18 points in the 14 games since he returned from a minor injury a week before Thanksgiving.
We know what Green is capable of doing, but he's seen some of his power-play time fall in the last week in favor of John Carlson. Carlson has been a streaky player this season but his seven goals are a solid number. However, Carlson has just two points over the last 11 games. While Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin are scoring in droves, the Caps' defense can afford to be a bit more consistent. Both Green and Carlson should be targets for those seeking blue line help. Neither will set the league on fire, but Green has the track record of having done it before. Caveat Emptor.
200 miles north of Washington, along Amtrak's Northeast Regional line, Andy Greene has been quite active for the Devils, snagging the overtime winning goal Saturday against Green's Captials, batting a puck out of mid-air off a Braden Holtby rebound. The goal was his third point of the evening as he also grabbed two power-play assists, extending a point streak to three games (2-3-5). Greene won't be on Team USA for Sochi, but the former Miami University star appears on pace to challenge the 37 points he notched in the 2009-10 season.
Greene has surpassed expectations thus far and can be a savvy addition to most rosters if he's still kicking around on waivers. He's seeing power-play time with the team's first unit (Marek Zidlicky (two goals Saturday), Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac). Greene has not gone more than two tilts without a point since early November. Greene also has been steady defensively and jumping into plays at the right time. He scored the equalizing goal in Friday's overtime loss to Anaheim on a perfectly-timed pinch.
The Penguins are running away with the Metropolitan Division (which isn't that great of a feat) but the squad is dealing with injuries on the blue line to Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang (due back Dec. 27), Rob Scuderi and the suspension of Deryk Engelland (also due back on Dec. 27). Scooping up those minutes on the blue line is Matt Niskanen (who scored in Saturday's win over Calgary) and 19-year old Olli Maatta.
Maatta is one of the team's brighter defensive prospects and has been enjoying top-pairing minutes with the MASH unit that is the Penguins' blue line. He's been producing too, with five points over the last seven games, playing over 20 minutes in each of the last five contests and a season-high of 28:06 against the Rangers on Wednesday.
Maatta has the talent to produce but has sparingly seen the opportunity, especially when the Penguins have their full complement of defensemen. Maatta will likely be returned to a secondary role once the Pens start getting players back from injury and suspension but he is certainly worth monitoring. There simply aren't enough assurances that Maatta will see regular ice time.
Remember when the Flyers threw a four-year, $21 million contract at Mark Streit this past summer? The team in dire need of defensive help signed a 35-year old known for his offensive ability. Streit had been all but invisible the first two months of the season, much like the Flyers themselves, however both have found their stride.
While the Flyers are in the midst of a packed Metropolitan Division, Streit has been one of their top point-producers in recent weeks, riding a four-game points streak that's seen him grab two goals and three helpers. Of his season's 16 points, 10 of them have come since November 21. Streit has been a streaky player throughout his career, but he has produced. He's eating power-play time alongside a resurgent Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and has a track record of producing. Given's Streit's history, the odds are that the season's first two months are the aberration, just expect a few ebbs from the aging Swiss master.
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