On tap: So we're already well past the one-quarter point of the NHL season, and -- this might surprise you -- the one-third pole arrives in Week 10, on Saturday the 13th. That's more than enough time for us to get an accurate read on a team, wouldn't you say? Consider Dallas, for one. The Stars, widely considered the favorites in the Pacific Division, instead have fewer points (22) than games played (25). They rank in the bottom half in the league in goals per game, goals allowed per game, power-play efficiency, penalty-killing efficiency and ratio of points to games played. They're bad, people, and with all the headlines in Dallas these days Sean Avery-centered -- speaking of which, poor Kim Bauer, first, the cougar, now this? -- things aren't going to improve. Their best player and captain, Brenden Morrow, by all rights might be done for the season.
Other teams in the bottom half in all five categories: Carolina, Colorado, N.Y. Islanders, Tampa Bay. I think the Hurricanes are a little better than their numbers, while Atlanta would be in that group if not for a smidgen of offense, because that team is awful in every other facet of the game. Load up, folks. On the flip side, Boston, Chicago, Minnesota and San Jose rank in the upper half across the board and represent dreadful matchups. And Pittsburgh would be in there with only a little boost in power-play production. Same goes for Detroit with stronger goaltending performance.
In other words, when seeking matchups, go with what you know. As you'll see below, matchups very much will play into the findings above.
Quick click by section:
The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 10 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.
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 10 stat sources:
Blackhawks (OTT, @COL, CLS): Though the team's recent six-game road trip, much of which was played on the West Coast, seemed to wear on the goalies, Cristobal Huet was able to limit the Ducks to two goals in a 4-2 victory in the Blackhawks' return home this past Wednesday -- so that allows room for optimism. These are three games that Huet can handle, and barring either an imminent meltdown or Nikolai Khabibulin stepping in and making this a goalie controversy, I'd roll the dice on the former Canadien. As for the offense, you probably know by now that this is a team that can score. But I'll throw out these names -- Martin Havlat (4 goals, 4 assists, even rating in 13 games since Nov. 1); Duncan Keith (0 G, 5 A, plus-6 in 13); and Kris Versteeg (5 G, 9 A, plus-9 in 13) -- as three less-obvious skaters you must activate this week.
Bruins (TB, @WAS, @ATL, ATL): Bottom line, this is the No. 2 team in the league, after the San Jose Sharks. That's right, so far, they're better than either Stanley Cup finalist from last season. So when I see a four-game schedule for the Bruins, with three of them against the two worst teams in the league -- the Lightning and Thrashers are a combined 14-25-11 -- I can't help but drool. Tim Thomas might be the game's most underrated goalie, and even with him splitting starts with Manny Fernandez at about a 2:1 ratio (in Thomas' favor), he'll rank as one of the week's strongest plays. Fernandez, by the way, could be a one-night wonder in the games he starts, especially since I'd expect him to start the Saturday home game against Atlanta in the home-and-home series on back-to-back nights. This is such a talented team and such a favorable schedule I'd even go so far as to call these three players must-starts: searing-hot Matt Hunwick (3 goals, 6 assists, plus-10 rating in his past 8 games); David Krejci (5 G, 6 A, plus-10 in his past 7); and Blake Wheeler (2 G, 2 A, plus-6 in his past 3).
Predators (@STL, VAN, @CLS, DAL): This is actually not that bad a team, with a 7-3-1 record, and a rookie goalie, Pekka Rinne, riding a notable hot streak (wins in three consecutive starts). Bold call to forecast Rinne a fantasy option this quickly, but the kid has the skills to be a productive NHL goalie, and a four-game schedule against four teams the Predators can hang with makes him a bit of a sleeper. I'd probably trust him more in daily formats than weekly, but it's still early enough in the season that some gambles are warranted. Offensively speaking, keep riding the big three of Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Shea Weber. But take a look at Martin Erat and David Legwand, too. Both players can be streaky types who capitalize upon favorable matchups like these.
Senators (FLA, @CHI, @WAS, TB): Huge fan of Alex Auld right here. I'm thrilled the Senators have handed him not only the starting goalie job, but pretty much the everyday goalie job, because his skills put backup Martin Gerber's to shame. I didn't like Ottawa's schedule in Week 9, as it was a two-game one, but this week Auld gets the advantage of four contests, and they're spaced out enough that I can't see him starting fewer than three of them. Can Auld win in Chicago? Maybe not, but I won't say he can't; he has defeated other top-10 offenses like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Offensively speaking, this is not a deep team, but I'll go ahead and name Mike Fisher and Filip Kuba as two skaters to activate.
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 Joe Thornton -- 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.
Hurricanes (@PHI, @NYR): It's a two-game road schedule, the only one in the NHL in Week 10, and they'll be played against foes who are a combined 17-9-4 on their home ice. Paul Maurice had his work cut out for him with games against the Penguins, Flyers and Capitals at home before hitting the road for this short week, and while I'm of the mind that teams tend to pick up the pace under a new coach in the NHL, I think you at least need a respectable schedule in order to do so. This isn't the best point in Carolina's schedule to expect a resurgence, so I'd wait another week.
Lightning (@BOS, @BUF, @MON, @OTT): This is a bad hockey team, and things get even worse for it on the road. The Lightning have dropped six consecutive road contests, and eight of nine, and overall this team is 2-8-5 in its past 15. I'll give you a second to digest that; that's 13 losses in 15 games, and in seven of those their opponents have scored four or more goals. It's a four-game schedule, sure, but those are four tough cities for an elite hockey team, let alone one of the league's worst. So unless you can stomach a brutal plus/minus, even hot hands like Ryan Malone and Steve Stamkos are better left on your bench.
Sharks (ANA, STL): Prediction: This is the only time all season the Sharks land on my "trap" list. Obviously, you're not going to sit Thornton or Rob Blake or Dan Boyle or Evgeni Nabokov or Patrick Marleau. But Anaheim comes to play, and this is one of only five two-game schedules in Week 10. In other words, don't get too creative when picking Sharks, meaning guys like Christian Ehrhoff, Milan Michalek and Jeremy Roenick are better avoided.
Thrashers (NYR, BOS, @BOS): Another case of brutal team faces brutal schedule, as there aren't many teams I wouldn't avoid playing two of three against the Bruins in any given week. By the way, as noted earlier, the Thrashers' strength is their offense, and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist represents one of the game's most skilled netminders, with a 5-2-4 record, 2.16 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 12 career games against Atlanta. There's a huge offensive downside with the Thrashers in Week 10, and it should limit you to Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov and maybe Ron Hainsey, if you can deal with the latter's poor plus/minus.
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.
• Trent Hunter, RW, Islanders: Who'da thunk it? Hunter is fantasy-relevant again, after three straight disappointing years, filling categories in a way few others can from the back end of your lineup. He has four goals, three assists and a plus-2 rating in his past six games; he gets penalty minutes, fires a healthy number of shots, everything. The Islanders' schedule isn't exactly the most favorable one -- all four of their games will be played on the road -- but there are worse things than dirt-cheap skaters playing four games, regardless of the individual matchups. This is a hot streak you must ride.
• Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Canadiens: About time this kid stepped up, and goals in back-to-back-to-back games sure bodes well for his immediate future. Those were home games, incidentally, and Montreal remains home for three more contests in Week 10, against teams whose goalies have gotten off to sluggish starts (Calgary, Tampa Bay and Washington). Kostitsyn has a way of running very hot or very cold for certain chunks of time -- look at his Dec. 20-Jan. 5 game log from last season -- so gamble on this being the start of one of his token two-or-three-week hot streaks.
• Joffrey Lupul, RW, Flyers: I've always liked this guy, despite his being quite streaky, and if you remember back to last season, this was the exact week in which he completely went off. Seriously, his December 2007: 13 games, 10 goals, 8 assists, plus-3, 9 points on the power play. Lupul is also a beast on his home ice, with 16 goals and 19 assists in 38 games in Philadelphia between this and last season. The Flyers play three at home in Week 10, and two of them come against the mediocre Islanders and the struggling Hurricanes. Sounds like a good schedule to me.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.