Fantasy Forecaster: Back from the break
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On tap: The NHL season's traditional second half kicks off with a busy night Tuesday: 22 of the 30 teams are scheduled to play. The woeful Islanders and Kings wait the longest to kick off their second halves, with their first games Thursday. They both play just two games in Week 17. Neither team should be on your fantasy radar right now.
The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 17 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 17 stat sources:
Blue Jackets (DET, OTT, DAL): Columbus entered the All-Star break one of the hotter teams in the league, with an 8-4-1 record since Christmas, during which time the team averaged exactly three goals per game. Rookie Steve Mason, meanwhile, has been the team's sole goaltender during that streak, posting a 2.13 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He's 11-4-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .931 save percentage in 15 home games, so don't fret about that Red Wings matchup, even with the chance he might sit the second of games on back-to-back nights on Saturday. R.J. Umberger had five goals and two assists in his final 10 games before the break, while Manny Malhotra was thriving skating on Rick Nash's line, with a seven-game scoring streak, during which time he had two goals and seven assists.
Canadiens (@TB, @FLA, LA, BOS): This is one of three four-game schedules, and the only one to feature three games against teams with 50 or fewer points for the season (i.e. three sub-.500 teams). The Bruins' schedule is tougher, as they face the Capitals, Devils, Rangers and Canadiens, all squads with 60-plus points. In case you haven't been paying attention, Andrei Kostitsyn has been on a massive tear since Christmas, with 10 goals and five assists in 13 games. Goalie Carey Price's lower-body injury has healed, and facing a schedule like this, he would make an adequate No. 2 goalie in any fantasy league.
Oilers (BUF, MIN, NSH): Three home games represents a favorable schedule for most any team, but it's especially so for a hot team like Edmonton, 10-5-0 in its final 15 games heading into the break. Ales Hemsky has returned from his concussion, posting back-to-back two-goal games upon his return to the lineup, and his seven goals and 10 assists in 16 home games demonstrate his must-start status for Week 17. Erik Cole has also picked up the pace of late, with seven goals and five assists in his past 13 games. Get him into your lineup too.
Thrashers (@DAL, NYI, @CAR): At this point in the season, any schedule that features the Islanders is a favorable one for fantasy, and adding the Stars to it only increases its appeal. Atlanta can score; it ranked 10th in the league in goals per game (2.96) and 12th in power-play efficiency (20.0 percent) in the season's traditional first half. These are three opponents ranked 20th or worse in goals allowed per game, so load up with Thrashers skaters. That includes hot hands like Colby Armstrong (3 goals, 3 assists, plus-5 rating in his past 7 games), Rich Peverley (2 G, 6 A, plus-6 in his past 5) and Todd White (2 G, 7 A in his past 8).
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 Thomas Vanek -- 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.
Coyotes (ANA, @SJ, BUF): Though the Coyotes did defeat both the Ducks and Sharks earlier in the season, neither of those teams presents an easy matchup. Anaheim and Buffalo are fighting for their playoff lives and might come out of the break recharged and ready to make a run. Phoenix is a fairly predictable fantasy team; there's Shane Doan, Olli Jokinen, Ed Jovanovski, Peter Mueller, and not a lot else. Daniel Carcillo, for instance, didn't fight with any Ducks or Sharks players in any of their earlier meetings this season, so you can't necessarily trust him for penalty-minute production.
Kings (CHI, @MON): The Blackhawks and Canadiens are better teams than the Kings, and this is a two-game schedule; you can't say it more succinctly than that. For a six-day week, this is one short on two-game schedules, so pick and choose your matchups. This is the one with the weakest matchups, as Chicago boasts the offense to beat up this team, while a trip to Montreal, fresh off the All-Star excitement, won't be any easy task. One thing to think about: Los Angeles' offense has gone rather dormant in the past month-plus; the Kings have averaged 2.18 goals per game in their past 17 contests, of which they won only six.
Predators (@VAN, @CGY, @EDM): Nashville has won just one of its past nine road games, totaling 13 goals during that span, and it has already lost in each of its past trips to these cities this season. Not one Predators skater is a standout on the road; there isn't a single one averaging a point per game on the road, and Shea Weber (7 goals, 10 assists, plus-3, 22 penalty minutes in 23 road games) is the only one with particularly appealing fantasy totals. Besides Weber, Jason Arnott and Ryan Suter might be the only other Predators worth a look this week.
Sabres (@EDM, @CGY, @PHO): A western Canada road trip, with a swing south to Arizona to complete the week, does not make for a fantasy-friendly schedule for a team that calls a Northeastern city home. This actually extends a six-game road trip for the Sabres, and a January in which 10 of their 13 games were played on the road. Call the schedule-makers: Buffalo got a raw deal this month. The Sabres might have battled so far this month, winning seven of 10 games, but even with the All-Star break's rest, they're bound to tire sometime. This seems like a prime time for it, so steer clear of lesser Buffalo skaters wherever you can.
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.
|Tuesday, Jan. 27||Ducks (@PHO)||Wild (TOR)|
|Wednesday, Jan. 28||Canucks (NSH)||Penguins (NYR)|
|Thursday, Jan. 29||Thrashers (NYI)||Red Wings (DAL)|
|Friday, Jan. 30||Flames (NSH)||Blue Jackets (OTT)|
|Saturday, Jan. 31||Panthers (@NYI)||Canadiens (LA)|
|Sunday, Feb. 1||Capitals (OTT)||Oilers (NSH)|
• David Booth, LW, Panthers: It's astonishing that this guy remains available in almost 50 percent of ESPN leagues, because if you look at his full-season paces, he's on track for 34 goals, a plus-16 rating and nine power-play markers. Those are exceptional fantasy totals for a player with his experience level, and the kid did head into the All-Star break riding a 10-game stretch with four goals and eight assists. Booth skates about 18 minutes per night, and his Panthers will play two home games against the Flyers and Canadiens before getting to beat up on the Islanders.
• Jiri Hudler, RW, Red Wings: Fantasy-wise, this team is an embarrassment of riches, with 12 skaters owned in at least 50 percent of ESPN leagues, and rightfully so. Hudler narrowly makes that cut, but he's every bit as productive as the men owned more than he is, with four goals, six assists and a plus-4 in his final 10 games heading into the All-Star break. At those rates, expect a bump up in ice time in the second half.
• Joe Pavelski, C, Sharks: This team is also absolutely loaded, but Pavelski doesn't seem to get the fantasy press he should. Did you know he skated better than 20 minutes in three of his final four games of the season's first half? He also entered the break with two goals, two assists and a plus-4 in those contests, and continues to get key minutes in the top six. Pavelski might be on pace for only 24 goals and 58 assists, but I won't be surprised if he's able to bump those numbers up to 30 and 70 by season's end.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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