Fantasy Forecaster: All-Star weekend shortens schedule
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On tap: All-Star weekend is here, with the 2009 NHL All-Star Game set for Sunday in Montreal. That's an event well worth watching, as is the Honda/NHL SuperSkills competition the night before. For fantasy owners, All-Star weekend puts our game on a five-day hiatus. Four of those days come in Week 16, shortening the week to four days' worth of games, Monday-Thursday. If you play in a league with weekly lineups: Go for players on one of the 18 teams to play twice wherever you can.Week 16 scheduleThe grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 16 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.
Blackhawks MIN STL 2 2 Islanders WAS ANA 2 2 Lightning DAL BUF 2 2 Maple Leafs CAR BOS 2 2 Panthers BUF DAL 2 2 Bruins STL @TOR 2 1 Devils @NSH MON 2 1 Thrashers MON @PHI 2 1 Wild @CHI LA 2 1 Blue Jackets @EDM @CGY 2 0 Blues @BOS @CHI 2 0 Canadiens @ATL @NJ 2 0 Capitals @NYI @OTT 2 0 Ducks @NYR @NYI 2 0 Hurricanes @TOR @PIT 2 0 Kings @MIN @COL 2 0 Sabres @FLA @TB 2 0 Stars @TB @FLA 2 0 Avalanche LA 1 1 Coyotes DET 1 1 Flames CLS 1 1 Flyers ATL 1 1 Oilers CLS 1 1 Penguins CAR 1 1 Predators NJ 1 1 Rangers ANA 1 1 Senators WAS 1 1 Sharks VAN 1 1 Canucks @SJ 1 0 Red Wings @PHO 1 0
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 16 stat sources:
Blackhawks (MIN, STL): This team is phenomenal at home, with a 14-2-4 record and per-game averages of 4.05 goals scored and 2.05 goals allowed at the United Center. Only the Sharks have fewer than the Blackhawks' two regulation home losses; they suffered their first this past Thursday. You already know to use the "big three" kids. What you might not know is that Martin Havlat (5 goals, 7 assists, plus-6 rating in his past 10 games) and Kris Versteeg (5 G, 6 A, plus-4 in his past 11) are must-starts, especially in a short week, all at home. Ah, if only this team could pick a goalie and stick with him; as is, Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin should split these starts, making each more worthy as daily (not weekly) plays.
Bruins (STL, @TOR): The Bruins tend to clobber any opponent, but they should especially clobber these two opponents. To give you a sense, Boston has won three in a row against the Maple Leafs by a combined score of 16-9. That's right, those teams have engaged in slugfests all season, which might bother Tim Thomas owners except for the fact that he has picked up wins in each of those games, keeping him fantasy-worthy. David Krejci has three goals, four assists and a plus-4 rating in his past four games, and rookie Blake Wheeler has four goals, six assists and a plus-9 in his past 12. Keep 'em both in there every week.
Capitals (@NYI, @OTT): You probably already know that the Islanders rank dead last by far in goals-per-game differential (minus-1.06), but did you know that the Senators rank 24th in the category (minus-0.45)? As such, a two-road-game week shouldn't be terrifying to owners of Capitals players, especially since the team averages 3.22 goals per game. A sleeper to consider: Tomas Fleischmann, a right winger with a penchant for lighting the lamp; he has goals in back-to-back-to-back games and has scored six of his 15 goals on the season on the power play.
Panthers (BUF, DAL): First off, I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of the Panthers fantasy-wise, as there isn't a single player on the roster averaging even a point per game for the season. Still, looking at Florida's schedule, this is a team to exploit matchups-wise, with games against the streaky Sabres and miserable Stars. The Panthers' kids are performing rather well of late: David Booth (6 goals and 7 assists in his past 8 games), Gregory Campbell (2 G, 4 A, plus-6 rating in his past 3) and Stephen Weiss (2 G, 8 A in his past 9) are all worth a look.
If you're picking and choosing your matchups, I'd do my best to avoid players from the following four teams. Keep in mind that stud players -- like Olli Jokinen -- 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 (@BOS, @CHI): Of the 18 teams playing two-game schedules in the abbreviated week, the Blues are the one of the bunch you should avoid. Those two opponents, after all, are a combined 31-5-5 at their home arenas. St. Louis has been ravaged by injuries, with Keith Tkachuk joining the injured list this past week, having been scratched on Thursday due to a head injury. Brad Boyes is about the only Blues player who belongs in your lineup for Week 16.
Canucks (@SJ): The Sharks routed the Canucks in their first two meetings of the season and have won five consecutive meetings. Vancouver is in a bit of a funk, having lost six of its past seven games. Roberto Luongo is back in the lineup, but the Canucks might have been better off holding him out until after the All-Star break. He's 4-8-1 with a 3.24 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 13 career games against the Sharks, and he looked pretty shabby in his return Thursday, stopping only 28 of 32 shots.
Coyotes (DET): If you must pick players from either team in this game, make it the Red Wings, even though they're playing in Phoenix. The Red Wings are winners of nine consecutive meetings overall, and seven in a row at Phoenix's Jobing.com Arena. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, incidentally, is 1-3-2 with a 2.94 goals-against average in six games against Detroit between this and last season, demonstrating the level of plus-minus risk in this game. By the way, a heads-up to you Daniel Carcillo owners counting on him for regular penalty-minute production: He is scoreless in his past 15 games ... and has 12 PIMs in his past eight.
Senators (WAS): If I'm pro-Capitals in Week 16, then surely I'd be anti-Senators, since their only game of the week, albeit at home, comes against -- you guessed it -- the Caps. Here's the other problem: Ottawa is really a three-man fantasy team -- Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Beyond them, no Senator really makes a case to be activated in a week of poor matchups. For one thing, Ottawa is currently using a rookie in net (Brian Elliott). That's not a recipe for success battling one of the game's most potent offenses.Daily picks
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 also indicates 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.
Date Offensive choice
Monday, Jan. 19 Devils (@NSH) Hurricanes (@TOR) Tuesday, Jan. 20 Capitals (@OTT) Canadiens (@ATL) Wednesday, Jan. 21 Ducks (@NYI) Avalanche (LA)
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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