Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Schedule exploitation

Updated: November 3, 2008, 11:24 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

On tap: It's a week of schedule extremes, with half of the league's teams playing at least three games and two of those at home, while seven play two or fewer. Can you believe this: The Red Wings play once, and their opponent is the Devils! Exploit the schedule this week; there might not be a week that's more evident.

Quick click by section:

Week 5 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 5 schedules. In order to help those of you 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. 11/3Tue. 11/4Wed. 11/5Thu. 11/6Fri. 11/7Sat. 11/8Sun. 11/9Total gamesHome games
Blue Jackets@NYI EDM MONCGY 43
DevilsBUF TB  @DETEDM43
Ducks @LASTL DAL FLA43
Sharks MIN STL DAL@PHO43
Coyotes @CGY @VAN FLASJ42
Flames PHO NSH @CLS@CHI42
Hurricanes @TOR @WASOTT ATL42
IslandersCLS@NYR @ATL PIT 42
Canucks NSH PHO MIN 33
Kings ANA FLA STL 33
Avalanche@CHI  MIN NSH 32
Capitals @OTT CAR NYR 32
Maple Leafs CAR @BOS MON 32
Rangers NYI TB @WAS 32
Senators WAS PHI@CAR  32
Sabres@NJ   ATL@BOS 31
Thrashers   NYI@BUF @CAR31
Blues  @ANA@SJ @LA 30
Lightning  @NJ@NYR @PHI 30
Oilers  @CLS@PIT  @NJ30
Panthers   @LA @PHO@ANA30
Predators @VAN @CGY @COL 30
Wild @SJ @COL @VAN 30
BlackhawksCOL     CGY22
Bruins   TOR BUF 22
Flyers   @OTT TB 21
Penguins   EDM @NYI 21
Canadiens    @CLS@TOR 20
Stars    @ANA@SJ 20
Red Wings     NJ 11

Quantity might be all well and good for some fantasy owners, but not for all. Quality matters, too, so if you're picking and choosing from individual matchups -- most 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 5 stat sources:

Ducks (@LA, STL, DAL, FLA): Finally -- finally -- the Ducks are starting to figure things out this season, winning five consecutive games while scoring 20 total goals. Naturally, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Chris Pronger are doing much of the damage and continue to warrant must-start fantasy status, but look at what "forever-young" right wing Teemu Selanne is up to: Five goals in his past three games, all of them on the power play, one a game-winner. Anaheim plays three home games this week against teams that are off to sluggish starts -- especially on the road -- and a trip to L.A. has never posed a problem for the Ducks.

Flames (PHO, NSH, @CLS, @CHI): They've begun to turn their season around as well, following a slow start, and much of the credit belongs to goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, winner of each of his past five starts. He has allowed seven goals total during that span, and stopped 95.2 percent of the shots he has faced. With four beatable opponents on Calgary's Week 5 schedule, Kiprusoff should keep his team in every one of those games, meaning plenty of safety for their skaters in the all-important plus/minus department. And that's the key to this top-heavy-in-talent team; you can't dig deep when there's a risk of a miserable week.

Hurricanes (@TOR, @WAS, OTT, ATL): I look to Thursday's game in Washington as the key for Carolina; these fierce division rivals split their season series in 2007-08, but the Capitals took three of four in Washington. Not that we're anywhere close to the point where these games are critical, but intradivision contests are always important, meaning Carolina will bring its best on that day. Sandwich it, then, with games against the mediocre Maple Leafs and Thrashers, as well as a Senators team that looks about league-average thus far, and you're talking a nice week for the Hurricanes to start to break away from the pack in the Southeast. Rod Brind'Amour and Matt Cullen are off to strong starts, and keep in mind they combined for five goals and 10 points against Washington last season. Good week to use them.

Rangers (NYI, TB, @WAS): The Rangers are historically a hot-starting team and, surprise, surprise, they're on quite a roll, coming off a 10-2-1 October, best in the league. November should kick off comparably strong for them; the Islanders and Lightning entirely lack offensive punch, and then the Blueshirts head to Washington for what should be a hard-fought, offensive affair. Rangers kids Brandon Dubinsky and Daniel Girardi and brilliant offseason pickup Aaron Voros are off to extraordinary starts; yes, they all remain must-start fantasy options.

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 Henrik Zetterberg -- 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.

Canadiens (@CLS, @TOR), Red Wings (NJ) and Stars (@ANA, @SJ): This is the easy call, because it's a matter of quantity; in a week where eight teams play four times, none with fewer than two home games, and two other teams play three games all at home, there's no way you can use players on teams slated for two road games, or worse, one game all week. These are elite hockey teams -- well, Dallas can be once it gets its act together -- but you know the drill: Play your studs, but avoid the fringe guys and don't be afraid to sit even a member of the elite class for a slightly less talented player with three or four games.

Blues (@ANA, @SJ, @LA): West-coast swings are typically rougher on East Coast teams than those from around the Mississippi, but what's troubling about this stretch is it kicks off a five-game road trip including Week 6 visits to Buffalo and Chicago, so the Blues will certainly need to pace themselves. Anaheim is a more talented defensive team than the numbers indicate, and San Jose represents one of the league's elite, while the Kings, with their offense, are no pushovers. Andy McDonald should be fired up by the return to Anaheim, facing his old mates, and Brad Boyes, Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk are impossible to sit, but no other player on the roster lights the lamp often enough to warrant a look.

Devils (BUF, TB, @DET, EDM): It's a four-game schedule with three of four at home, but that doesn't mean it's an easy schedule for the Devils, who, in spite of their 5-2-2 record, still rank 20th in goals per game. New Jersey's is a below average-to-poor offense, and Buffalo, Detroit (at their arena) and Edmonton represent three stiff defensive teams. That puts all the pressure on goalie Martin Brodeur to carry this team. I'd never call him a sit, hot as he has been, but after him and Zach Parise, this team is effectively a snore-fest.

Lightning (@NJ, @NYR, @PHI): Three road contests trekking up and down the New Jersey Turnpike all week? No thank you! (Believe me, I've driven that road many a time; the traffic is a nightmare.) In hockey terms, you're talking about three games against teams that tend to romp on their home ice for a Lightning squad that was a dreadful 11-24-6 on the road in 2007-08. The big three -- Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis -- are the only ones really getting it done; the rest of this team will probably end up as roadkill.

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, Nov. 3Blue Jackets (@NYI)Blackhawks (COL)
Tuesday, Nov. 4Flames (PHO)Canucks (NSH)
Wednesday, Nov. 5Oilers (@CLS)Blue Jackets (EDM)
Thursday, Nov. 6Thrashers (NYI)Bruins (TOR)
Friday, Nov. 7Sabres (ATL)Ducks (DAL)
Saturday, Nov. 8Avalanche (NSH)Flyers (TB)
Sunday, Nov. 9Hurricanes (ATL)Hurricanes (ATL)

Francois Beauchemin, D, Ducks: He never gets the headlines skating behind Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the depth chart, but make no mistake, Beauchemin has arrived as an NHL force, and a valuable asset in fantasy leagues. He has four goals already -- all of them in his past seven contests -- and is averaging better than 25 minutes of ice time per game for the season. No reason he can't boost his production to the 12-to-15 goal and 40-point range this year, despite his No. 3 status on the depth chart.

Dustin Boyd, C, Flames: With Matthew Lombardi sidelined with a shoulder injury, Boyd has been sneaking in time on the top line with Jarome Iginla, and making the most of that opportunity. He fired seven shots on goal and scored the game-winner this past Thursday, and as mentioned above, Calgary enjoys a rather fantasy-friendly schedule in Week 5. Boyd might not be much of a long-term bet for fantasy success, but for so long as he's Iginla's linemate, he'll warrant a look in deeper leagues.

Joe Pavelski, C, Sharks: A 19-goal, 40-point performer last season, Pavelski has stepped up that pace in this, his third year in the NHL, and is on track for 37 goals and 67 points. Most importantly, he has four points on the power play and is skating nearly 19 minutes per game, meaning he's getting oodles of looks in the offense after drawing raves for his energy and work ethic in the preseason. San Jose gets four games in Week 5, so if you're in one of the nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues in which Pavelski remains unowned, scoop him up now. Then start him with confidence for the upcoming week.

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