On tap: It's a good week to be in the East; 14 NHL teams play either four games or two-of-three at home, and 10 are from the Eastern Conference. By comparison, five of the seven teams that play only two games come from the Western Conference.
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The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 6 schedules. In order to help those of you targeting quantity of games, teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are broken first by the greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically by team.
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 -- 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 6 stat sources:
Canucks (COL, TOR): Few two-game schedules qualify as strong fantasy choices in weeks where 23 of the 30 squads play at least three, but I'll make the exception for this one. Colorado and Toronto rank as bottom-10 defensive teams, and in the Avalanche's case, they've been a considerably weaker team all-around on the road since the beginning of last season. Though the Canucks continue to shuffle their top-line assignments, there's enough to like here to keep hot hands like Ryan Kesler and Kyle Wellwood fantasy-worthy.
Capitals (TB, @CAR, NJ, @NJ): Had I written this column one week ago, surely this schedule would not have fallen under the "fantasy-friendly" category, not by a long shot. A home-and-home series against the Devils on back-to-back nights? No thanks, that'd have been a nightmare ... at least before Martin Brodeur succumbed to elbow surgery that will shelve him for much of the regular season. So for now, it's Kevin Weekes in net for the Devils, backed up by Scott Clemmensen, and it's impossible to overlook that, since the lockout, Weekes has a 3.03 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in 58 games. The Capitals are also riding a three-game winning streak against the division-rival Hurricanes, and a five-gamer against the Lightning, so it's quite the four-game schedule. It's easy to advise using the Alexanders -- Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin -- but keep their line mate Sergei Fedorov in, and consider the Nos. 2 and 3 line centers, Nicklas Backstrom and Michael Nylander, as well.
Blackhawks (BOS, STL, SJ): One of the hottest teams in the league, the Blackhawks finally seem back on track under their new coach, Joel Quenneville, winners of three in a row and five of their past seven. But this is more than riding a hot streak; the Blackhawks represent one of the game's most domineering home teams, owners of a 15-3-3 record at the United Center since last season's All-Star break. The Chicago kids -- Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews -- are rounding into superstar form, and guys like Martin Havlat (amazingly healthy!), Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are looking like must-plays most weeks, too.
Stars (@LA, LA, @PHO): They are off to a terrible start -- compared to their past standards -- and poor defensive play has been the primary reason. Goalie Marty Turco is 3-5-2 with a 4.34 GAA and .837 save percentage, and even he is calling out the team for poor communication. Not that it's the first time he (or the team) has struggled out of the gate; October of the 2005-06 season coming out of the lockout was another sluggish opening month. Dallas could begin to straighten things out this week. Turco was 8-2-2 with a 2.30 GAA and .916 save percentage in 12 games against the Kings the past two seasons combined, and the Stars as a team are 12-2-2 against L.A. during that span. Mike Ribeiro has been particularly productive in those; he had six goals and 16 assists in those 16 contests.
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 Marc Savard -- 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.
Blues (@BUF, @CHI, MON): Feel free to blame the McCain-Palin Republican ticket for St. Louis' recent funk; Manny Legace hurt his hip tripping on the red carpet used for Sarah Palin's ceremonial puck drop on Oct. 24, and the defense has suffered since. (Gee, no wonder Obama appeared to dominate the vote in the greater St. Louis metro area!) Legace could be back this week, but even if he is, this is hardly the schedule for the Blues to straighten themselves out. The Sabres, Blackhawks and Canadiens are all top-10 offenses, so Legace -- or stand-ins Chris Mason and Ben Bishop -- is a clear no-go. In fact, about the only "gos" for this week should be Brad Boyes, Paul Kariya (if healthy), Keith Tkachuk and perhaps Andy McDonald. And if Legace does sit out the week, be prepared to take a plus/minus hit.
Bruins (@CHI, MON, @NYR): It's easy to tell that the two road games represent poor matchups, but it's the home contest I choose to focus on here. Home-ice advantage or not, the Bruins have dropped 12 consecutive regular-season meetings with the Canadiens, including five in a row in regulation in Boston, and lost their first-round playoff meeting last season in seven games. It's tough to make a case to use red-hot players like goalie Tim Thomas (4-1-0, 1.20 GAA in his past five starts) or forwards Blake Wheeler (4 goals, 2 assists in his past three games) and Marco Sturm (4 G, 3 A and a plus-5 in his past four). Stick to the names you know.
Panthers (TB, DET): Two-game schedule, and one of them comes against the Red Wings. Bottom line. Detroit ranks No. 2 offensively (3.50 goals per game) and tops in the league in terms of power-play efficiency (33.3 percent, 17 of 51). Keith Ballard, Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton each makes a case to stay active, short week or not, but it's probably better to avoid Cory Stillman, even if he returns from his concussion as early as Wednesday.
Predators (@SJ, @ANA, @LA): They endure the dreaded west-coast swing, and games at the HP Pavilion at San Jose and Honda Center (Anaheim) would hardly represent easy assignments for an elite NHL team. Those games will surely wear down this so-so squad, with the lightest matchup of the bunch -- the game at Los Angeles -- coming a night after the one at Anaheim. Yuck. Another troubling note: These three games complete a six-game road swing, and the Predators served up 11 goals total in back-to-back losses to begin the trip. Goalie Dan Ellis is already 1-5-1 with a 3.68 GAA in seven road contests so far this season, and among the skaters, Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Martin Erat have been the only ones shaping up as true "road warriors" since the beginning of last season.
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.
• Daniel Girardi, D, Rangers: He's quietly developing into one of the Rangers' more reliable blue liners, and despite having only four power-play assists to his credit, is skating nearly three minutes per game with the man advantage, which isn't bad. Girardi has been a force at even strength, and with that kind of role on the power play, he's bound to remain a somewhat consistent double-digit-goal, 40-point performer. But it's this week's schedule that counts: The Rangers draw the Oilers and Bruins at home, sandwiching a road trip to New Jersey to battle the Brodeur-less Devils.
• Tuomo Ruutu, LW, Hurricanes: He is such a hot-streak, health-risk kind of player, and right now, he's performing like an elite fantasy player and, most importantly, he's healthy. Good combination for a guy who was once a top-10 overall pick in the draft (in 2001) and who, at times when healthy, has flashed future superstar potential. I won't be so bold as to declare Ruutu a reliable long-term option. He's bound to either cool off or, more likely, get hurt before long. For this week, though, his Hurricanes play the defensively poor Thrashers and Lightning -- and the Capitals too -- so it's a good time to use him.
• Kris Versteeg, RW, Blackhawks: This one's digging somewhat deep, but an all-home, three-game schedule represents a favorable one, as mentioned above, and while Kane, Sharp and Toews get all the press in Chicago, Versteeg has it in him to develop into a fairly useful player before long. He's a matchups play at this stage of his career, but that he has six points, a plus-3 rating and has averaged better than 18 minutes of ice time in home games thus far bodes extremely well for his Week 6.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.