If confidence, indeed, plays a key role in how an athlete performs game to game, what do you think Mika Zibanejad’s level of anticipation was heading into Saturday’s matinee against the Flyers?
This after the Rangers centre rocked Philly with back-to-back three-goal, six-point efforts (and a plus-8) over an eight-day span? Those outbursts, conveniently spread out over two scoring periods in head-to-head leagues, likely turned out to be difference-makers for his owners. Zibanejad then added another power-play goal in the first period of Saturday’s rematch before the Flyers finally figured out how to keep him off the scoresheet the rest of the way.
But the damage was done and Zibanejad now is 8-7-15 in six games against the Flyers this season with a plus-5 and two more games against them, on April 22-23, at home.
The offensive explosions have actually been a long time coming this season for owners of Zibanejad who, in his past three seasons on Broadway, has often relied on the big night to pad his scoring totals. Last season in 57 games, he turned in a whopping 22 multi-point games, including four with four or more points. That included his first two games of the season and a five-goal assault on the Capitals on March 5. The season before, he had 21 multi-point nights and trio of four-pointers.
Zibanejad’s recent six-packs against the Flyers, believe it or not, were his first two multi-point efforts this season. In his first three games versus Philly this year, he managed just two assists.
But he is now up to 27 points in 33 games which, while still well off his other-worldly production of last year, is more of what his owners are accustomed to seeing from him.
— Speaking of big nights, we got a couple of them from unexpected sources this past week when a pair of third-liners not known for their goal-scoring prowess — Nashville’s Rocco Grimaldi and Jets’ Andrew Copp — turned in career games with four goals apiece. Copp managed his quartet on just four shots against the Canucks on Wednesday, and gave him 10 on the season, one goal and one point off his career highs. Grimaldi’s four-spot (tying a career-best with seven shots), the following night against Detroit was even more of a surprise as he entered the game with just a 3-1-4 scoring line in 25 games and has been scratched eight times. We wouldn’t rush out to scoop up either player off the waiver wire, however. These things tend to be one-offs, especially without the benefit of playing with top-six linemates.
— Thanks primarily to those two ghastly efforts against the Rangers, the Flyers’ defensive tandem of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers is a combined minus-24 with three assists in the past two weeks alone. Scott Laughton and Justin Braun are the only plus-regulars on Philly this month.
— Despite Zibanejad’s huge couple of games, it’s Mark Stone of Vegas, at 8-14-22 in 13 games, who has been the NHL’s most prolific points-producer in March, to go with a plus-13.
— Don’t expect Eric Staal’s fantasy value to rebound with his trade this week from Buffalo to Montreal. In fact, it could conceivably slide even further. A second-line centre with the woeful Sabres, he appears destined for a bottom-six role with the Habs, though he should still maintain a power-play presence.
— Did you see who was playing LW on the Islanders’ top line after Kieffer Bellows was returned to the taxi squad earlier this week? None other than Uncle Leo Komarov. The veteran superpest could pick up a few points as the sandpaper element to complement Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle, but the ultimate solution to replacing injured Anders Lee’s offence on that line will probably be found via the trade route.
— Tuukka Rask’s return from an upper-body injury on Thursday night lasted just one shutout period before he had to leave the game. Coach Bruce Cassidy said it was the same issue as before, admitting that “obviously something is going on.”
— Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov left Tuesday’s pre-game warmups with a lower-body ailment and is day-to-day. Word is he’ll be a game-time decision for Saturday night against Dallas.
HOT AND NOT: Forwards the past two weeks (games played in parentheses)
Gabriel Landeskog COL (7): 4-9-13, +8
Pavel Buchnevich NYR (6): 6-5-11, +13
Sidney Crosby PIT (8): 4-8-12, +6
Mikko Rantanen COL (8): 6-6-12, +8
Ryan Strome NYR (7): 2-10-12, +7
Yanni Gourde TB (8): 5-3-8, +5
Tomas Hertl SJ (8): 3-4-7, +2
Joonas Donskoi SJ (7): 5-4-9, +7
Max Pacioretty VGK (5): 5-4-9, +4
Bo Horvat VAN (7): 3-4-7, +2
* * * *
Nolan Patrick PHI (8): 1-0-1, -10
Victor Olofsson BUF (7): 1-1-2, -8
Mike Hoffman STL (7): 1-0-1, -7
Vlad Tarasenko STL (7): 0-2-2, -6
Nick Ritchie BOS (5): 0-0-0, -5
If you are one of those fantasy owners who likes to play the platoon game when assessing hitters to draft, National League rotations will open the 2021 season almost three-quarters (73.6%) right-handed on a 64-23 split. That includes pitchers opening on IR. Where normally you could expect left-handed platoon batters — those starting against righties but sitting against southpaws — to get roughly 440 ABs a season, the right-heavy rotations could mean another 50-60 chances to add to their stats. The American League’s righty/lefty split (57/24, 70.4%) is not quite as pronounced but still favours the left-handed batters more than in most years. These ratios, of course, will change as the season progresses but it’s at least a solid starting point … Awful news for owners of White Sox LF Eloy Jimenez, one of the best young players in the game. His shoulder discomfort turned out to be a torn pectoral muscle and he is out until at least September, maybe the whole season. If you’ve already had your draft or auction and made him a cornerstone pick in the early rounds, that’s one injury that will require some diligence and good fortune to recover from … The Reds are looking at moving Mike Moustakas back to 3B and Eugenio Suarez to shortstop. That would, in theory, give promising INF Jonathan India a clear path to the starting 2B job. Suarez’s fantasy stock would also get a lift with added middle-infield eligibility … In D.C., young 3B Carter Kieboom’s dreadful spring has earned him a ticket to triple-A … Jimenez’s injury all but cements elite prospect 1B Andrew Vaughn as part of the White Sox’s opening-day lineup. If he doesn’t take over in LF for Jimenez, he’ll serve primarily as DH and backup to Jose Abreu … While Jared Walsh, one of last season’s breakouts, is expected to open the season on the strong end of a 1B platoon for the Angels with fading icon Albert Pujols, look for him to eventually take over full-time. Walsh, a lefty bat, has hit left-handers (.327) better than he did righties (.277) last year … D-Backs’ Zac Gallen, a top-25 overall pitcher in mixed leagues, will miss the first month after landing on the IL with a hairline fracture in his right arm while taking batting practice. And the howls for a DH in the senior circuit get louder … Our reminder last week that SPs Mike Clevinger and Yonny Chirinos were done for the year, should also have included Justin Verlander. And you can now add closer Kirby Yates … Keep an eye on Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers. The rookie struck out 10 in 5.2 innings against the Astros on Friday … The Jays say they won’t have one defined closer with Yates having already undergone TJ surgery, but don’t believe it. Jordan Romano, from Markham, Ont., has the best stuff of any Jays hurler and is coming off a tremendous, though injury-shortened, rookie season in 2020. The fantasy world doesn’t disagree as Romano’s ownership shot up 53% this week … Padres C Austin Nola (finger) appears to be ahead of schedule for a return and won’t miss as many regular-season games as first thought … In his first four spring appearances, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was merely perfect: 12 up, 12 down. In his fifth, on Saturday against the Orioles, not quite so good: Three earned runs on three hits and a walk in a third of an inning that included three wild pitches and actually being booed by the ‘home’ fans in Tampa. At least he got that one out of the way before it counted for your fantasy team.