On tap: As the NHL heads into the Christmas break -- coming on Wednesday and Thursday of next week -- it's a little surprising that the schedule hasn't cluttered itself up a little more than this. Only eight teams play four games, fewer than we saw in Weeks 8 or 10, and six teams play twice. Strange, but maybe better for fantasy than we've seen in some seasons past, as the Christmas week schedule is actually not as light as you'd think. Way to go, NHL, for balancing out these next few holiday weeks!
The big source of contention in Week 11: Sean Avery's suspension ends and he'll be eligible to play on Tuesday, but all indications are that his Stars career is over. With a surprisingly favorable schedule for Dallas skaters, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out, as the distraction might neutralize the value of the matchups if Avery is indeed cleared to play and restored to the active roster.
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The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 11 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 11 stat sources:
Bruins (TOR, CAR, @STL): This team is on such an unbelievable roll, isn't it? Winners of 17 of their past 21 games, the Bruins look to extend that string against three sub-.500 teams, two of which they'll battle at home. That St. Louis game does begin a five-game road trip for the Bruins, but it's a favorable matchup that kicks off the road swing, at least. Phil Kessel has been on a remarkable tear, with 10 goals in his past 11 games, and even lesser-known players like David Krejci (15 points in his past 10 games), Milan Lucic (goals in each of his past two) and Blake Wheeler (six points and a plus-8 rating in his past six) are hot enough to warrant your attention.
Canadiens (@CAR, PHI, BUF, CAR): This is one of two four-game, three-at-home schedules, and the Canadiens are certainly more fantasy-worthy as a team than the St. Louis Blues, the other team with four/three. A home-and-home season against the defensively challenged Hurricanes should pose no problem for the Habs, and home matchups against the Flyers and Sabres aren't nearly as scary as you might think. For one, goalie Carey Price owns those teams; he's 4-1-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in six career games against Buffalo, and 4-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .948 save percentage in four career games against Philadelphia.
Coyotes (@DAL, NSH, CLS): Phoenix is the perfect type of team with which to exploit matchups, and those three all represent favorable ones. Dallas, Nashville and Columbus rank 28th, 19th and 24th in terms of goals allowed per game, and in the case of the Blue Jackets, the Coyotes have defeated them in all three meetings thus far. Olli Jokinen's return from a shoulder injury this past Wednesday provided an offensive boost for this team at just the right time, with respect to the schedule. But beyond the obvious skaters, take a look at red-hot Martin Hanzal, who has six goals in five games in December, and Derek Morris, who has six points in his past eight contests.
Devils (@TOR, @BUF, OTT, PHI): I was down on the Devils facing those unfavorable schedules a few weeks back and ended up wrong -- they did quite a bit with so few games and so few good matchups -- but now the schedule lightens up for them. It's perfect timing; this is right around the time of the year when this team tends to hit its stride. Actually, New Jersey seemed to hit its stride this year beginning with that 6-5 shootout victory against Washington on Nov. 15; the team has won eight of nine since that day. No reason that can't continue, and that's in spite of Martin Brodeur's absence. Fill-in Scott Clemmensen has wins in seven of his past eight starts, allowing 15 goals total, and is a must-start in a four-game week. Meanwhile, even players like Jamie Langenbrunner (2 goals, 8 assists, plus-5 rating in his past nine games) and Travis Zajac (3 G, 4 A, plus-5 in his past nine) have earned your trust.
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 Chris Pronger -- 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.
Maple Leafs (NJ, @BOS, @PIT): No one in the league should want to face the Devils or Bruins right now. Since Nov. 15, they're a combined 17-3-1. As for Pittsburgh, this simply isn't a team that can hold that offense in check, with a defense that ranks 27th (3.36 goals allowed per game) and a penalty-kill unit that ranks, again, 27th (76.7 percent). Tomas Kaberle is out with a lower body injury, and some of the team's more appealing scorers, like Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan, have been suffering terribly in the plus/minus department, combining for a minus-15 in the team's past eight games. Consider this a week to steer clear of the Leafs entirely.
Ducks (NYR, @EDM): It's a two-game week, and the Ducks' one home game isn't an easy one, an almost certain low-scoring affair against the Rangers, the league's No. 7-ranked defense (2.48 goals allowed per game). Then it's off to Edmonton for the Ducks, who average 2.31 goals per game on the road, 26th in the NHL. It's getting painfully difficult to pick your fantasy play from the goalies, Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and outside of your obvious offensive studs, there isn't a lot here to trust. The five Ducks owned in every ESPN league must be kept active; everyone else would take a cozy seat on my bench.
Rangers (@ANA, @LA, @SJ): OK, so I just suggested you sit your Ducks; that's more quantity-related. With the Rangers, it's a quality-related thing, as a three-game West Coast swing isn't at all a favorable one for a team averaging 2.35 goals per game, 29th in the league. Anaheim and San Jose come out to play, defensively speaking, but the Kings are no slouches, either, ranking 13th in goals allowed per game (2.75). To note, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Daniel Girardi and Michal Rozsival have combined for four assists and a minus-11 rating in the Rangers' past six games. I'd sit every one of them this week.
Blackhawks (@EDM, @CGY, @VAN): I absolutely love this offense, which for the season ranks third in goals per game (3.46) and eighth in power-play efficiency (22.4 percent). But this is a noticeably weaker squad in road contests than at home; Chicago averages 2.75 goals per game, allows 3.25 per game and is 4-5-3 on the road, compared to 4.07, 2.07 and 9-1-4 at home. Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews are obvious must-starts, but beyond that, the Blackhawks' primary road warrior is Kris Versteeg (3 goals, 6 assists, plus-4 rating in 12 road contests). Sit the rest of the lot.
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.
[b] Matt D'Agostini, RW, Canadiens: Last week I tabbed Andrei Kostitsyn one of my sleepers, and this week I'll choose one of his linemates. D'Agostini has four goals and one assist in his past four games, he's skating about 15 minutes a game and he's demonstrating good chemistry with Kostitsyn and Saku Koivu. No, it's not a streak likely to last forever, not coming from a 22-year-old rookie, but that's nevertheless a huge opportunity for the kid in a pretty decent offense. Give D'Agostini a look to round out your Week 11 lineup. Now, if only he could get some serious power-play time!
[b] Antti Miettinen, RW, Wild: This is a heck of a schedule for the Wild's offense, even nonexistent as it has been for much of the season. Minnesota battles the Flames, Islanders and Blues; those teams rank 22nd, 30th and 26th in terms of goals allowed per game and have combined to allow 4.06 per game in the month of December. Not that there's a lot to pick from on the Minnesota roster, but Miettinen has been one of the team's more reliable scorers of late. With two goals, seven assists and a plus-3 rating in his past eight games, he's one of the better under-the-radar Wild to grab.
[b] Mike Modano, C, Stars: I know you know this name, and as such, he might not strike you as a "sleeper." But Modano remains available in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues, and while I didn't list the Stars' schedule above as one of the more favorable ones, that's more a knock on the dearth of fantasy talent on the roster, not the schedule itself. Dallas can at least hang with Phoenix, Columbus and Ottawa, even if it doesn't win any of those contests, and Modano does have five goals and three assists in his past eight games. He's this team's veteran leader, and if the Stars are to have any hope of turning around what has been an embarrassing start to the season, now's as good a time as any.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.