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Seven interesting NHL players to watch in 2022

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With 2021 winding down, we’re looking ahead to 2022. Specifically, we’re pinpointing players to watch in the second half of the season.

What makes a player one to watch? Strong underlying numbers are a start, but really we’re looking to those who are trending in the right direction as of late, or who should find themselves in a better position to succeed moving forward.

Let’s dive in.

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Elias Pettersson, Vancouver

It’s only been a few games, but Bruce Boudreau seems to be making a difference to start his tenure in Vancouver. Whether minor tactical adjustments or just a change in the vibes, his players seem to be responding early. And that includes Pettersson, who got off to a challenging start this season and saw his minutes decline as a result.

Now, Pettersson seems to be trending in the right direction. At 5-on-5, we expect to see him excel alongside winger Conor Garland who can buy him time and space. Plus, there’s potential in a net-front role on the top power play unit moving forward. So, let’s see what 2022 has to offer after a tough second half to 2021.

Jason Robertson, Dallas

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Through 23 games, last year’s Calder finalist is up to 10 goals and 25 points. He’s picked up right where he left off with his scoring — now up to 3.86 points per 60 minutes in all situations that lands him 11th in the league — and below the surface. That was the key to his Calder case last season; Robertson’s play-driving was a huge difference maker at 5-on-5 that really fuelled his part in the race (in addition to his scoring).

That’s no different this year. Alongside Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, the trio has earned over 69 per cent of the expected goal rate at even strength. So while the sophomore’s shooting percentage may be slightly elevated, this line is generating offence that may help keep their production sustainable moving forward.

Ivan Barbashev, St. Louis

Before going on the COVID list, Barbashev was clicking alongside Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich in St. Louis — and as long as he returns to the middle of that trio, we expect it to continue.

Together, they have a 58 per cent expected goals rate in just over 73 minutes of play. Tarasenko’s having an excellent bounce back year, scoring up to expectation and often driving to the slot while two-way winger Buchnevich is the primary passer. As for Barbashev, he’s not far behind Buchnevich in his passes to the slot. Plus, he’s contributing some goal scoring; though he’s scoring at a higher clip than years past, his goal production does line up with expectations. So we’re curious how he builds on this start, in what looks to be a career year.

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Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay

After breaking out in his second full NHL season and pushing his name into the Selke conversation, Cirelli took a step back last year — especially while playing through injury. He didn’t score at as high of a pace as he did in 2019-20 and struggled defensively. This year, though, he’s rebounded when the team’s needed it most, as Tampa has been without Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov through much of the season to this point.

With the support of the Lightning’s best around him, we expect Cirelli to thrive in the second half of the season. As we noted just before the pause, Tampa kept collecting points as their offensive generation slipped at 5-on-5 and on the power play. Having their stars back should boost that and the players around them, too — including Cirelli, who has tilted the ice in his team’s favour even while they were short-staffed.

William Karlsson, Vegas

Speaking of two-way centres, there’s Karlsson in Vegas. After being sidelined with a broken foot, he’s played just 18 games so far, netting eight points along the way. While it’s obviously a limited sample, it’s encouraging that the team has rocked a 61 per cent expected goals rate at even strength with him deployed. But we can see that getting even better as more reinforcements enter the lineup.

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In a sense, he’s being bumped as the team’s 1C. So why mention him here? Because we’re curious about how Vegas shifts the lines for balance once Jack Eichel makes his debut. Slotting him between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone may stack one line too much, leaving some imbalance elsewhere. Maybe the answer is pairing Eichel with one of those wingers, and subsequently, Karlsson with the other. Or, if Pacioretty and Stone prove they should stick together, maybe Karlsson just rounds out that trio. Either way, our interest is piqued.

Evan Bouchard, Edmonton

After averaging 14:50 in all situations in 14 games played last year, Bouchard’s playing legitimate minutes for the Oilers in 2021-211, now averaging 21:28 through his first 29 games. On defence, that’s second only to number one Darnell Nurse. In those minutes, Bouchard’s scoring at a rate of 1.74 points per 60 in all situations, which ranks 24th in the league among defencemen.

At 5-on-5, Edmonton’s generating quality offence when the frequent-shooting Bouchard is on the ice — a rate of 3.04 expected goals per 60, which ranks fourth on the team (behind Zach Hyman, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Connor McDavid). And for a team that needs contributions everywhere to support its elite leading forwards, Bouchard’s contributions have been key. The second half of the season should help the Oilers see just how much they can lean on him, as they try to make the most of the two entry-level years remaining on Bouchard’s contract.

Rasmus Sandin, Toronto

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With no structural damage to his knee, it’s possible Sandin resumes his strong start to the season early in 2022. Before being sidelined with injury, the 21-year-old’s minutes were fairly sheltered on the third pair. That said, he was making an impact. His transition play helped move the puck up the ice, standing out in particular in his passes to facilitate zone entries. And once in the offensive end, along with Morgan Rielly, Sandin helped set up his teammates with quantity and quality passing.

That play is going to come in handy down the stretch, especially if the coaches start shifting him higher if (and when) others struggle. It’s the final year of Sandin’s entry-level contract on top of it, so this is a player (and situation) to keep an eye on.





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2022 WWE Clash at the Castle card, matches, rumors, predictions, match card, date, start time, location

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After 30 years, WWE is finally bringing a major stadium event back to the United Kingdom. Clash at the Castle goes down on Sept. 3 from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

In the main event, undisputed WWE champion Roman Reigns will put his titles on the line in front of the U.K.’s own Drew McIntyre. It’s an epic clash that puts Reigns’ more than 700-day title reign at high risk of coming to an end. The SmackDown women’s title is also set to be defended as Liv Morgan will take on a fresh challenger in Shayna Baszler.

The build to the show has started but the full card is far from finalized. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we know — and what we expect — at WWE Clash at the Castle.  

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WWE Clash at the Castle matches

Undisputed WWE Universal Championship — Roman Reigns (c) vs. Drew McIntyre: Ahead of SummerSlam, McIntyre defeated Sheamus to become No. 1 contender to the undisputed title. Reigns then defeated Brock Lesnar in a wild Last Man Standing match at SummerSlam to retain his titles, setting up the match with McIntyre. McIntyre will clearly have the hometown crowd behind him but ending the title run of Reigns has proven near impossible.

SmackDown Women’s Championship — Liv Morgan (c) vs. Shayna Baszler: Morgan successfully — and controversially — defended her title by pinning Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam. Of course, Morgan was tapping out to an armbar, which the referee didn’t see as he counted Rousey’s shoulders down. Now, Morgan will try to make a more emphatic statement against another former MMA star in Baszler, who earned her title shot by winning a gauntlet match against six other women on SmackDown.

Bianca Belair, Asuka & Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley, Iyo Sky & Dakota Kai: After Belair defeated Becky Lynch at SummerSlam to retain the Raw women’s title, things got wild. First, Bayley returned from a lengthy injury layoff. Then, Sky and Kai made their way to the ring to join her. The new group immediately changed the landscape of the division and they set their sights on Belair and Lynch. Unfortunately, Lynch suffered a legitimate shoulder injury that put her on the sidelines, leaving it to Asuka and Bliss to join up with the champ to take on Bayley’s crew.

Seth Rollins vs. Riddle: This match was supposed to take place at SummerSlam but was pulled at the last minute with Rollins taking out Riddle with a series of stomps. Riddle again suffered the brunt of Rollins’ stomps at SummerSlam when he showed up and challenged Rollins to fight him. On Raw, Riddle announced he was now medically cleared and the two brawled again. After that, the challenge was laid down to finally face off at the upcoming pay-per-view.

Intercontinental Championship — Gunther (c) vs. Sheamus: A new challenger was required after Gunther quelled the advances of Shinsuke Nakamura. Sheamus won a hotly contested “Fatal Five-Way” match on the Aug. 19 edition of SmackDown to crown a new challenger. Sheamus defeated Happy Corbin, Madcap Moss, Ricochet and Sami Zayn to be named No. 1 contender for the intercontinental title.

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WWE Clash at the Castle predictions

The Miz vs. AJ Styles: Miz and Styles seem to keep falling into each other’s orbit. After several confrontations, the two men met in a no disqualification match on Raw, which Styles won. It seems unlikely the entire situation would end with a simple television match. Instead, look for the two to battle in Wales.

Finn Balor vs. Edge: Balor, Damian Priest and Rhea Ripley violently turned on Edge, kicking him out of The Judgement Day in brutal fashion. Edge has since made his return, attacking Judgement Day multiple times. It only makes sense for Balor and Edge to finally meet in an actual match.



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White Sox’s Tony La Russa issues another intentional walk on two-strike count in loss vs. Guardians

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Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa made one of the weirdest strategic decisions of the season in June, when he issued an intentional walk to a batter who his pitcher had already staked out a 1-2 count against. The call backfired, as the next batter unloaded a home run that put the White Sox in a hole from which they could not recover. La Russa defended his decision afterward, and on Friday night he doubled-down, in a sense, by doing the same thing against the Cleveland Guardians as part of a 5-2 loss (box score).

Here’s how it went down:

The White Sox led the Guardians 2-1 entering the seventh inning. Cleveland would subsequently score a pair of runs with two outs in the frame to take a 3-2 lead before La Russa inserted left-handed reliever Jake Diekman. Diekman would then walk two consecutive batters before giving up a single to Andrés Giménez to plate two more runs, making it 5-2 with runners on first and second. At that point, the Guardians rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez had a chance to blow the game open.

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Diekman would get ahead of Gonzalez 1-2 before the Guardians’ baserunners succeeded on a double-steal attempt. With first base open and two outs, La Russa called for the intentional walk. It should be noted that Gonzalez, though right-handed, has performed worse against lefty pitchers this season, and that he’s struck out in nearly 40 percent of the plate appearances that have reached two strikes.

Nevertheless, La Russa evidently wanted to force Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s hand with the next spot in the order. Lefty-swinging rookie Nolan Jones was due up, but Francona subbed him out for righty Owen Miller. La Russa then strolled to the mound to replace Diekman with right-hander Jimmy Lambert, who subsequently induced an inning-ending flyout on the second pitch of the at-bat.

The results will spare La Russa from the intensity of criticism that he received in June, but that doesn’t make it a sound process. We know from various studies conducted by smart analysts that microsplits, including those of the platoon and count variety, require regression toward the mean to have any actual predictive value. Maybe La Russa had those numbers on hand from the White Sox’s analytical department, but we’re going to guess that he made his call based on Gonzalez’s two-strike average (.265) and Miller’s average against righties (.262 this year or .242 career). 

After all, if intentionally walking batters who are stuck in two-strike counts was a sound tactical decision based on the numbers, the odds are that the Los Angeles Dodgers or … well, the Guardians would be the ones doing it; not La Russa. 

It may have not factored into the final score on Friday, but the White Sox can’t be thrilled that their manager seems committed to making the same mistake twice.

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Sonya Deville & Natalya face Toxic Attraction in WWE's Tag Team Title Tournament | WWE on FOX

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Natalya and Sonya Deville took on former NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne from Toxic Attraction on Friday Night SmackDown.



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