The Underachievers – Part 2

This is a continuation of a story posted Wednesday, covering the teams in places 13-24.

Zurich: The Lions went from having six great forwards and possible weak links elsewhere to having 7 great forwards and a goalie who was supposed to take care of the back end for them. Key words: supposed to. Longtime Copenhagen Trident Roberto Luongo is playing for a new coach in a new system with new teammates and his transition has been slower than hoped for.  The 35-year-old who saw his save percentage dip a tick last season has seen it go down further in Zurich. He currently owns the 20th best save percentage in the league (88.8 percent). It has to burn Zurich fans that the goalie they gave up on to make way for Luongo, namely Brian Elliott, is ranked 5th in that stat category.  The emergence of Thomas Tatar (15 points in 23 games as a third-line wing) has helped keep the Swiss Lions in good shape in the Southern Conference.

London: The Dons are like a younger version of the Lions. Their defense corps hasn’t been contributing much offense, and when people like Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian and Jake Gardiner start adding more points, look out for London. But so far this season, those three are averaging just 5.3 points through 26 games. Three of the four right wings on the roster shouldn’t be let off the hook, though. London’s getting high-octane play from two centers (Sam Gagner and Jeff Skinner), good production from two left wings (Taylor Hall and Daniel Sedin) and points from one right wing (Teddy Purcell). That leaves them a right wing short of two dangerous lines. It is disappointing that neither Michael Grabner, Devin Setoguchi nor David Clarkson has been able to be that missing piece.

Dublin: The Fighting Irish aren’t where they want to be in the standings but that’s not the fault of goalie Tim Thomas nor the top line of Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel and Evander Kane, who has filled in nicely for Bobby Ryan after Ryan was traded to Stockholm. Ryan played the left side of the potent line for three seasons. The top defense pairing of Keith Yandle and James Wisniewski have been counted on for offense in the past and they aren’t producing at quite the level they have in the past. It seems Dublin is relying too much on those top 6 starters. The players under them on the depth chart haven’t been pitching in enough to allow Dublin to challenge the league and conference leaders. Second-line veterans Tomas Plekanec and Milan Michalek, for example, have 11 points each.  That pace over the course of a full season might get them to the 40-point plateau. And as a unit with James Van Riemsdyk, who came to Ireland in the Ryan deal, they are in the -12 area. The second defense pairing of Olexander Pobyedonostsev and Nikita Nikitin have similarly bad plus-minus ratings.

Frankfurt: The top line of Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and Max Pacioretty is great. What a shock. After them, offensive production falls off a cliff for the German upstarts. To be fair to the other 15 skaters, Coach Peter Laviolette doesn’t give them much of a chance to shine. Look out onto the ice at any given time and you’re probably going to see Stamkos, Giroux and Pacioretty out there with Drew Doughty and Dougie Hamilton. Joe Thornton, a bonafide superstar making superstar money, only sees 11 minutes per game on average. Jumbo Joe centers the Inferno’s second line and is understandably behind Stamkos on the depth chart. But as of Thursday, he wasn’t even on the team’s second powerplay unit, Laviolette using him as a penalty killer instead. The 35-year-old will come nowhere near the 102 points he produced in Munich last season. But Thornton and Laviolette will be forgiven if Frankfurt can get into the playoffs, a plateau they missed by 2 points last season.

Madrid: Fortunately for the Royals, Robin Lehner has been able to replace Jonas Hiller as the number one goalie. Hiller has struggled in his first season in Spain, but Lehner was right there to take the wheel.  And Finn Olli Jokinen has been better than expected at center, where the Royals had a huge vacuum upon the departure of free agent stud Joe Pavelski. As for under-achievers, Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson has to be looked at. Karlsson, as feared, is doing the odd-year, even-year thing. In his first and third seasons with Madrid, the gifted Karlsson accumulated 64 and 66 points. Between those seasons, he was only able to muster up 39 points. With 13 points through 26 games this season, he is on a pace to score 42 points, which is excellent for just about any defenseman not named Erik Karlsson.

Munich: The biggest underachiever on the Munich Dire Wolves has been their training staff. Injuries have been commonplace in Bavaria this season. The most reliable Munich players have been defense partners Mark Giordano and Ryan Wilson, who have been on the ice an average of 25 minutes and who have not missed a game. Together, they are plus players, at plus 12 for Giordano and plus 10 for Wilson. Just behind them in the lineup and on the depth chart, Chris Campoli has faltered. Regarded as an offensive defenseman, Campoli has just 1 goal and 4 assists this season. On top of that, he has missed 7 games and is a minus 11, which makes him second worst in that category on the team, behind Henrik Sedin, whose outstanding playmaking has kept him in the fans’ good graces.

St. Petersburg: Throughout St. Petersburg’s first three seasons, Brent Burns has been one of the players who has carried the team. From his defense position, Burns scored 159 points in 255 games coming into this season. He has been voted into two all-star games and was a starter for the Northern Conference last season. Then he got even better, it seemed, putting together an 82-game season that saw him score 19 goals for the second year in a row, with 52 points, 231 hits and 111 blocked shots. It had to be hard for Burns to live up to the fans’ expectations after that … and he hasn’t so far this season. His howitzer slapshot has only produced 2 goals in 26 games and his minus 16 rating is worst on the team. His defense partner, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, hasn’t been too much better and has only 5 points – all assists – this season. The Red Stars would dearly like it of those two would pick up the pace.

Geneva: If you look at Geneva’s scoring statistics, you might be surprised to see Nick Foligno, Ilya Nikulin and Darren Helm at the top. So if they are there, where are Patrick Marleau, Marian Gaborik and Chris Kunitz? Kunitz has a decent excuse for being way down the list. One month ago today, he sustained a back injury and he hasn’t yet returned to the lineup. But even before the injury, his numbers were, well, abysmal. In 11 games at 23 minutes per game, he managed just one measly little assist. Marleau and Gaborik have played every game but they have disappointed their fans in Switzerland. Marleau is tied for 5th on the team in scoring, but he has scored just one goal. That’s a far, far cry from the 30 he scored last year and the 75 he put in over the previous two years. Gaborik has 7 goals, which ties him with Foligno for the team lead, but only 4 assists. He is tied for 9th on the team in scoring.

Prague: The Siamese Cats are 21st in the league which represents an improvement of two places over last year’s finish. Offense is not the young squad’s problem – they are 12th in the EURO in goals per game at 3.40 – defense is the issue. They give up 4.16 goals per game and are 23rd in that department. Ryan Miller has never been outstanding as Prague’s starting goalie and he is playing about the same as he always has, so it can’t be said Miller is under-achieving. Andrey Bykov, a 22-year-old Russian left wing, has been the most pleasant surprise. His 10 goals and 10 assists in 25 games make him the top scorer on the team along with Marcel Hossa. But Bykov’s production has come as a second line player while Hossa leads everyone on the team in ice time at 25 minutes per game. There really aren’t many under-achievers in Prague. Coach Patrick Roy seems to be getting the most out of his players. But a couple aspects of captain Ryan Getzlaf’s game have been lacking. First off, he sports the worst plus-minus rating on the team at minus 23. Secondly, his shooting percentage is poor at 5.3. Getzlaf has taken more shots on goal than any other Cat has, but he has just 5 goals to show for it. The one-time 30-goal scorer is scoring at a pace that will put him at 15 goals for the season.

Bratislava: The Slovakian team is undoubtedly the most under-achieving team in the league. After three straight trips to the playoffs, the Eagles will have to fly at warp speed from here on out to make it there again. The funny thing is their lineup is virtually identical to the lineup that played in 11 playoff games last season. The only change is the absence of 5th defenseman Matt Greene, who is in Geneva now. Last season, Philip Larsen and David Schlemko split the 6th defense spot. Now they are both full-timers as the fifth and sixth defensemen.  Tyler Ennis is having a breakout year for Bratislava and Franz Nielsen has improved from last season, but just about the entire team has under-achieved. Fans are disappointed with what Jonathan Toews, Christian Ehrhoff, Martin Erat and Kyle Brodziak have done – or not done – this season, but they are mostly upset at the new coach. Bruce Boudreau had the reins for three seasons, but he is in Milan now and Brent Sutter has taken charge. Sutter might have been the league’s best coach over the first three seasons. He always kept his Copenhagen Tridents team challenging for the Cup and in Season 2, he achieved the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team during the regular season. In Bratislava, there has been no synergy.  Until lately, that is. Bratislava has won 4 of their last 5 games, so there is some hope they will get their feet under them and move up standings.

Oslo: The Outlaws are on a long dry spell. They have won just once in their last 14 games. Oslo’s roster is mainly young players like Luca Sbisa, Eric Gelinas, Tomas Hertl and Tyler Seguin. Gelinas has been thrust into a starring role but has not performed well thus far. That he has problems with the defensive part of the game is not news, but his team-worst minus 16 rating is still disappointing. Given the fact he sees 21 minutes per game – only Sbisa gets more ice time – it is a surprise he doesn’t have more points. The young man has a canon of a shot and he is poised with the puck. Two goals and 6 assists? He could do better.

Milan: The last-place Guerriero are in rebuilding mode. That has been known for a year now and expectations in Italy have been tempered by the transparency that Milan GM David Bell has offered in his dealings with the media and the public. Milan fans weren’t expecting miracles, but they probably wanted more. First-round draft pick Tyler Johnson has been very good and free agent pickups Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy lead the team in scoring. Kyle Okposo is one of several Milan players whose plus-minus rating is south of minus 20. He has company at the bottom of the league’s plus-minus list and most of them wear the Milan logo. But Okposo hasn’t been producing points at the rate he and fans are accustomed. A lot of the team’s hopes were pinned on Okposo when he arrived in Italy following a trade with Stockholm. Just a 25-year-old when he began his Guerriero career, Okposo blossomed. He went from seasons of 29 and 22 points in Stockholm to 75 with Milan. This season though, there has been a regression, as Okposo has only been able to account for 9 points in 25 games. And speaking of underachieving, the EURO player with the most games played without a point is Milan power forward Mathis Olimb, a Norwegian with zero points through 25 games.

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