Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Strike With Oilers

Updated: January 2, 2009, 3:38 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Quick click by section:

Week 14 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

On tap: The fantasy hockey season will hit its official halfway point during Week 14; at the point of completion of the 1 p.m. ET games on Saturday, Jan. 10, exactly half the NHL's scheduled regular-season games will be in the books.

It's also crunch time for the NHL, whose All-Star break approaches Jan. 22-26, a little more than two weeks from now. Five teams will play nine times in the final 17 days before the break: Anaheim, Chicago, Edmonton, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. Of those, the Oilers play a league-high six home games, only once playing on back-to-back days. It's quite a schedule for Edmonton in January, so expect good things from your Oilers.

The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 14 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. 1/5Tue. 1/6Wed. 1/7Thu. 1/8Fri. 1/9Sat. 1/10Sun. 1/11Total gamesHome games
OilersNYI VAN SJ STL44
Ducks LA @LATB NJ43
Predators COL PIT CHI@CHI43
RangersPIT MON @BUF@OTT 42
Blackhawks @PHO @COL @NSHNSH41
Devils @CAR ATL @LA@ANA41
Penguins@NYRATL @NSH @COL 41
Bruins MIN OTT CAR 33
Coyotes CHI TB DAL 33
Red Wings CLS DAL BUF 33
Avalanche @NSH CHI PIT 32
Canadiens  @NYRTOR WAS 32
Canucks  @EDM STLSJ 32
Capitals PHI  CLS@MON 32
Flyers @WAS MIN TOR 32
Kings @ANA ANA NJ 32
Panthers @TOR CAR ATL 32
Sabres OTT  NYR@DET 32
Blue Jackets @DET  @WASMIN 31
Hurricanes NJ @FLA @BOS 31
Maple Leafs FLA @MON @PHI 31
Senators @BUF @BOS NYR 31
Sharks @CGY  @EDM@VAN 30
Thrashers @PIT @NJ @FLA 30
Wild @BOS @PHI @CLS 30
Flames SJ NYI   22
Blues    @VAN @EDM20
Islanders@EDM  @CGY   20
Lightning   @PHO@ANA  20
Stars   @DET @PHO 20

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 14 stat sources:

Bruins (MIN, OTT, CAR): The Bruins come charging into the new year on a 10-game winning streak, boast NHL bests in points (62) and winning percentage (.763) and now get a cakewalk schedule, three home games against teams no better than .500. Not that you need me to tell you that Boston is a red-hot team worthy of fantasy attention, but feel free to load up, accounting for this especially fantasy-friendly schedule. P.J. Axelsson has a goal, seven assists and a plus-3 in his past eight games, fueled by his skating on the Phil Kessel-Marc Savard top line, and David Krejci and Blake Wheeler continue to jell skating together, totaling 10 goals, 16 assists and a plus-16 during the Bruins' 10-game winning streak. Start 'em all.

Ducks (LA, @LA, TB, NJ): The Ducks tend to dominate their annual series against the division rival Kings, winning eight of their past 10 meetings, and tossing in a home game against the offensively challenged Lightning makes this a pretty favorable schedule. Rookie Bobby Ryan, skating extra minutes while Teemu Selanne has been sidelined, has two goals and six assists in his past six games, and had two goals and two assists in four games against the Kings last season. Backup goalie Jonas Hiller even has some spot-start potential; he's 3-0 with a shutout, a 0.56 goals-against average and .979 save percentage in four career games against Los Angeles.

Oilers (NYI, VAN, SJ, STL): As noted above, the Oilers boast by far the game's most favorable schedule between now and the All-Star break, and their Week 14 in particular is exceptional, with four consecutive home games, none on consecutive days. They'll need it; they've played an NHL-high six more road than home games so far. Goalie Dwayne Roloson, starter of eight of the Oilers' past 11 games, seems to love the home cookin'; he's 3-1 with a 2.30 GAA and .927 save percentage in nine career games at Rexall Place. Erik Cole has also picked up his play, skating 19-plus minutes in each of the past three games, totaling two goals and three assists.

Red Wings (CLS, DAL, BUF): Joe Louis Arena is a fierce place for an opponent to visit, and the Red Wings have lost just 25 of 141 games in regulation there since the lockout (that's 17.7 percent). Detroit is also riding a four-game winning streak against Columbus, and dispatched Dallas in last season's playoffs, so the matchups are certainly fantasy-friendly ones in addition to being home games. Not that it's tough to pick your Red Wings studs, but two lesser-known players to think about: Daniel Cleary, who has five goals and seven assists in 15 home games this season, and Jiri Hudler, who has three goals and four assists in his past seven games, as well as eight goals and seven assists in 15 home games on the season.

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 Mikko Koivu -- 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 (@VAN, @EDM): This is an injury-riddled team, as forwards Andy McDonald (ankle) and Paul Kariya (hip) and defensemen Eric Brewer (upper body) and Erik Johnson (knee) all find themselves on the injured list, with no potential return date in sight. That leaves Brad Boyes and Keith Tkachuk the only reliable fantasy choices these days, and they'll be at serious risk for brutal plus/minus numbers in a two-game trip to Western Canada. Keep in mind the two have combined for a minus-9 in the Blues' past seven games.

Islanders (@EDM, @CGY): Just when it looked as if goalie Rick DiPietro was finally getting back to full speed following knee surgery, a groin problem knocked him back to the sidelines after his Dec. 26 appearance. That's the story of the Islanders' season; they seemingly can't cut a break. A two-game schedule featuring games in Western Canada isn't at all a favorable one for fantasy, and it should keep your choices on their side to Mark Streit and Bill Guerin. That's it.

Stars (@DET, @PHO): Dallas lost in the Conference finals to Detroit last May, and make no mistake, that was a far more talented Stars team than the one that will toe the ice this week. These days, Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards are the only Stars you can trust regardless of matchups, though Loui Eriksson would be tough to sit, hot as he has been (eight goals in his past seven games). These represent the final two games in a four-game road trip besides.

Wild (@BOS, @PHI, @CLS): Rumored season-ending hip surgery for Marian Gaborik might prove a devastating blow to this team, which has sagged to 26th in the league in goals per game (2.47) thanks to getting only six healthy games from its biggest star all season. Plus, these are the final three games of a four-game road trip, with difficult assignments in Boston and Philadelphia. Goalie Niklas Backstrom remains productive enough in GAA and save percentage to keep in there, but wins will almost assuredly be a problem. Mikko Koivu, the team's leader in goals (11) and points (37), is the only other must-start on the roster.

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, Jan. 5Oilers (NYI)Oilers (NYI)
Tuesday, Jan. 6Red Wings (CLS)Blue Jackets (@DET)
Wednesday, Jan. 7Canucks (@EDM)Canadiens (@NYR)
Thursday, Jan. 8Devils (ATL)Coyotes (TB)
Friday, Jan. 9Ducks (TB)Canucks (STL)
Saturday, Jan. 10Coyotes (DAL)Blue Jackets (MIN)
Sunday, Jan. 11Oilers (STL)Blackhawks (NSH)

Pascal Dupuis, LW, Penguins: He's currently skating on Sidney Crosby's line, and sometimes, that makes all the difference for fantasy. Dupuis has six goals in his past nine games, and he's skating in the ballpark of 18 minutes per game in his past six. Not that he's a likely candidate to keep up this hot streak all season, but given his role and four-game Week 14 schedule, Dupuis is well worth a pickup.

Sergei Samsonov, LW, Hurricanes: He's such a streaky performer, but all that means to fantasy owners is that when he's on, he's on, and worth an immediate pickup. Fact is, Samsonov scored two goals with an assist this past Wednesday, and that brings his numbers to seven goals, nine assists and a plus-10 rating in his past 20 games. Can't you find a place for a player like that on your team?

Travis Zajac, C, Devils: The Devils continue to streak into the new year, winners of 14 of their past 20 games, and Zajac is a big reason for their recent hot play. He has eight goals and eight assists during that 20-game span, and has skated 20-plus minutes in four of his past nine contests. New Jersey plays four games this week, three next and two in the All-Star break week; it's a good time to load up on guys like him.

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