Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Week 4

Updated: October 24, 2008, 3:47 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

On tap: It's an action-packed week, as 10 teams play four games, while only four -- the Blues, Coyotes, Devils and Capitals -- play as few as two. The powerhouse Red Wings take things to the road for four, including stops at Anaheim and San Jose, against teams most believe should last deep into the postseason.

Quick click by section:

Week 4 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

The grid below details the Week 4 schedules of all 30 NHL teams. In order to help those of you who are targeting quantity of games, teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are first broken by greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically by team.

TeamMon. 10/27Tue. 10/28Wed. 10/29Thu. 10/30Fri. 10/31Sat. 11/1Sun. 11/2Total gamesHome games
Ducks@CLS DET VAN CGY43
Canucks BOS @LA@ANA DET42
Flames COL BOS @LA@ANA42
Hurricanes @MON @STL EDMTOR42
Maple Leafs TB@NJ NYR@CAR42
Thrashers PHI @NYR @NJFLA42
WildCHI @DALMON @PHO 42
Bruins@EDM@VAN @CGY DAL 41
OilersBOS @NSH @CAR@PHI41
Red Wings@LA @ANA@SJ @VAN40
KingsDET VAN CGY 33
SabresOTT TB WAS 33
Avalanche @CGY CLS SJ32
Blue JacketsANA @COL CHI 32
Flyers @ATL NYI EDM32
IslandersNYR @PHI MON 32
Predators @WAS EDM FLA 32
Sharks PIT DET @COL32
Blackhawks@MIN DAL@CLS 31
Canadiens CAR @MIN @NYI 31
Lightning @TOR @BUF OTT 31
Panthers OTT @NSH@ATL31
Rangers@NYI ATL @TOR 31
Stars MIN @CHI@BOS 31
Penguins @SJ @PHO @STL 30
Senators@BUF @FLA @TB 30
Blues CAR PIT 22
Coyotes PIT MIN 22
Devils TOR ATL 22
Capitals NSH @BUF 21

Quantity might be good for some fantasy owners, but not for all. Quality matters, too, so if you're picking and choosing from individual matchups -- especially important in daily leagues or those with caps on games per position -- I'd take a look at the following four teams as strong Week 4 stat sources:

Devils (TOR, ATL): Rarely does the two-game schedule get my thumbs up, but when both are home games played against opponents generally considered two of the weakest teams in the league, I'll make the exception. Neither the Maple Leafs (28th, 2.14) nor Thrashers (21st, 2.50) ranks outside of the 10 worst offensive teams, and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is off to an uncharacteristically hot start. Amazing what a new mask will do for a guy! Or, perhaps, he just wants to get the all-time wins and shutouts records out of the way so neither is a stretch-run distraction? Offensively, Brian Rolston's absence -- likely a month-plus -- does hurt, but John Madden, Brian Gionta and Jamie Langenbrunner are all capable of stepping up.

Flyers (@ATL, NYI, EDM): Goalie Martin Biron is off to a miserable start -- he has lost every one of his first four starts -- but if there's any schedule that can get the guy on track, it's this one. It's a risky proposition to use him, absolutely, but a neat tidbit: He was a perfect 6-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in six games against the Islanders last season. Maybe that'll help you daily-format players more than weekly, but even if you don't grab Biron, the offense at least should roll in both types of leagues. Scott Hartnell (three assists) and Joffrey Lupul (two goals) each is coming off his first worthwhile fantasy game of the season this past Wednesday, and continued success for each can be expected.

Rangers (@NYI, ATL, @TOR): Sense a theme here? The Atlantic Division is loaded with fantasy-friendly schedules, much of that because they get to beat up on the division's cellar-dweller Islanders, as well as the Thrashers and Maple Leafs, again, widely considered among the league's weakest teams. But the difference between the Rangers and the Devils and Flyers is that we already know the Rangers are going to dominate the Eastern Conference -- instead of thinking they could -- as they're 6-2-1. Lookie here: Brandon Dubinsky, Daniel Girardi and Aaron Voros are all off to hot starts; that youth infusion is working!

Sabres (OTT, TB, WAS): All the favorable schedules come from the East this week, but nothing wrong with that. Buffalo is off to arguably the game's best start, with the perfect mix of roster balance that made this team a 113-point powerhouse two seasons ago. Ryan Miller is a perfect 5-0-0 and ranked second among goalies on the Player Rater, while Thomas Vanek has looked more like the guy who tallied 84 points two seasons ago and finished last season strong than the one who went entirely quiet the first half of '07-08. Ales Kotalik -- available in more than a third of ESPN leagues -- and Jason Pominville are must-starts.

If you're picking and choosing your matchups, I'd do my best to avoid players from the following four teams. Keep in mind, stud players -- like Alexander Ovechkin -- on teams with poor matchups shouldn't normally be benched, but it's worth keeping their schedules in mind if you're deep in high-quality alternatives.

Islanders (NYR, @PHI, MON): Sorry, Garth Snow and Scott Gordon, I know I'm beating up on your squad, but that's not a schedule I trust one bit. The Flyers took seven of these teams' eight meetings in 2007-08, and while those Rangers and Canadiens matchups are home contests, frankly, both of those teams are noticeably more talented than the Islanders. Bill Guerin and Mark Streit are the only Islanders I'd even consider using, and even with them, I'd hesitate.

Maple Leafs (TB, @NJ, NYR, @CAR): Tough to steer clear of a four-game schedule, but there are 10 of them in Week 4, meaning you can pick and choose to your heart's content. And if I'm supportive of the Atlantic Division's schedules at large, then I'd be against that of the Maple Leafs, who have to play two teams from that division, as well as a pretty sound Hurricanes team on the road. Defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are off to mediocre starts, with Nik Antropov about the only Toronto player impressing for fantasy purposes. With precious little talent to choose from, it'd be better to avoid this squad.

Sharks (PIT, DET, @COL): It's not like you're going to sit many Sharks -- not the goalie, not Joe Thornton, not the top two defensemen -- but this schedule could make things tough for the team, at least from a plus/minus and defensive standpoint. San Jose tangles with the two Stanley Cup combatants from last season, then has to travel to Colorado to play an Avalanche team that routinely excels on its home ice. A Christian Ehrhoff or Joe Pavelski might be an attractive pickup right now, but not for the purposes of activating in Week 4.

Capitals (NSH, @BUF): This one's as simple as it being a two-game schedule, one of four in the league in Week 4, and the only one featuring a road contest. Where is that road game, incidentally? In Buffalo, against a Sabres team off to a 6-0-1 start and sporting the league's second-best goals-per-game differential (1.71). Nashville, meanwhile, is averaging better than three goals per game (3.29, or 23 in 7), meaning no need to play Jose Theodore. Not that it's any big loss; Theodore is off to a so-so start, with a 2.92 GAA and .897 save percentage.

For those of you in leagues with daily transactions, I've picked a strong matchup on each side of the puck for each day of the upcoming week. My "defensive choice" doesn't always mean simply "play the goalie"; it means the goalie is a strong pick, but indicates every bit as much that the team will be safe and potentially productive in plus/minus. When possible -- and remember, some days boast fewer games than others -- obvious teams have been avoided in favor of sleeper-type selections.

DateOffensive choice (opponent)Defensive choice (opponent)
Monday, Oct. 27Rangers (@NYI)Blue Jackets (ANA)
Tuesday, Oct. 28Flames (COL)Maple Leafs (TB)
Wednesday, Oct. 29Devils (TOR)Red Wings (@ANA)
Thursday, Oct. 30Avalanche (CLS)Flyers (NYI)
Friday, Oct. 31Blackhawks (DAL)Canucks (@ANA)
Saturday, Nov. 1Devils (ATL)Canadiens (@NYI)
Sunday, Nov. 2Hurricanes (TOR)Hurricanes (TOR)

Phil Kessel, RW, Bruins: I'm a huge Phil Kessel fan, and perhaps I was merely a year ahead of the curve on him when declaring him a sleeper a year ago. He already has six goals in seven games, a streak that's Brad Boyes-like (from last season) and not out of line with his talent. Boston plays six games this week, three on the road, but the team gets to face Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff at a good time, when neither one seems his typical self.

Ryan Kesler, C, Canucks: He's now skating on the Canucks' second power-play unit, but with Jason Krog manning the first unit ahead of him, I can't help but anticipate a change between the two in the near future. Kesler has a point in six of seven games so far, including three goals, and it's clear from the early returns that the Canucks will rotate players until they find a guy they like skating with the Sedin twins on the power play. It's a four-game week for Vancouver, so I'd pick up and activate Kesler right away.

Drew Stafford, RW, Sabres: The first-line right winger alongside Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek, Stafford has goals in back-to-back games and has fired 21 shots on goal, third on the team. Buffalo's Week 4 schedule is favorable enough -- and the team is performing well enough -- to play any meaningful Sabres player. In Stafford's case, his role practically guarantees him a great week; Roy and Vanek have combined for nine goals already, which means huge assists potential at least.

"Tristan's Three" results (through Thursday, Oct. 23): 20 games, 2 goals, 12 assists, even rating, 6 penalty minutes, 26 shots on goal, 5 power-play assists.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.