Fantasy Forecaster: Brodeur set to break record
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On tap: Martin Brodeur takes aim at the all-time record for wins, needing one to tie Patrick Roy -- and that win might come as early as March 14 -- and two to set a new standard. With four games this week, and only a pair on back-to-back nights (Tuesday versus Chicago, Wednesday at Carolina), it's a mark he'll most likely set mid-week. Brodeur is 6-1-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in seven games since returning from elbow surgery, amazingly recapturing his status as fantasy's top goaltender without any need for an adjustment period.
The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 24 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 24 stat sources:
Canucks (DAL, STL, @PHO): Though the Canucks remained reasonably quiet at the trade deadline -- perhaps because they already made their big add in Mats Sundin several weeks earlier -- they've been playing like a team with added punch the past month-plus, going 12-3-1 since the beginning of February. Like those good Buffalo teams from the past few seasons, the Canucks are getting contributions from deep down their lineup, including lesser names like Alexandre Burrows (7 goals, 5 assists, plus-8 rating in his past 11 games) and Ryan Kesler (5 G, 4 A, plus-5 in his past 11). Oh, and of course, there's that Roberto Luongo fella -- he's 12-2-1 with a 2.38 GAA and .915 save percentage in his past 15 games, one of fantasy's best during that span.
Penguins (ATL, LA, PHI): Here's a squad that tends to play with a bit more "oomph" in home games, and be aware the Penguins classify as "red hot" besides, winners of nine of their past 11 games, with one of those losses coming in the shootout. The trade-deadline additions of Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz have paid huge dividends; they have combined for one goal and seven assists in the team's past four games. But they're not the only ones who have hopped aboard the must-start fantasy bandwagon; kids Kris Letang (2 goals, 3 assists in his past six games) and Jordan Staal (3 G, 2 A in his past seven) have improved their play of late and warrant activating.
Senators (BUF, MON, NYI, @NYR): If you've been a faithful Forecaster reader all season, surely you know I'm not much of a fan of Ottawa for fantasy purposes. It's really a three-player squad -- Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza -- but in the case of favorable four-game schedules like this one, I'll make exceptions. Filip Kuba's flu should have subsided in time to reactivate him for Week 24; Mike Fisher continues to offer modest contributions, with three goals and four assists in his past nine games; and Chris Neil is back from a lacerated calf and ready to wreak havoc on the league in the penalty-minute department.
Sharks (@PHO, NSH, DAL, COL): This schedule couldn't come at a better time for the Sharks, a below-average, 7-7-5 team since the All-Star break, costing them their stranglehold on the West's top seed. It's an offense-friendly schedule, just the kind of thing they need, having totaled 56 goals in 21 games (and therefore averaged a middling 2.67 per) during that span; all four of these opponents ranks in the bottom half of the league in goals per game allowed. Joe Pavelski, in spite of a mediocre past three games, has three goals, 21 penalty minutes and 20 shots on goal in his past seven contests; Milan Michalek has three goals, seven assists and 31 SOG in his past 12; and Christian Ehrhoff has two goals and five assists in his past eight.
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 Jeff Carter -- 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 (@EDM, @VAN, @CGY): Chris Mason might have brought to this team some stability between the pipes, with a 12-5-4 record, 1.96 GAA and .930 save percentage in 21 games since the All-Star break, but if you look at the rest of the squad, there isn't all that much else to like. Sure, Brad Boyes and Keith Tkachuk remain must-starts, but the team's three next-best fantasy considerations, David Backes, Andy McDonald and David Perron, have performed miserably on the road all season. Put their numbers together and they've amassed 24 goals, 31 assists, 15 power-play points and a minus-7 rating in 78 road contests. Ugh.
Flyers (@DET, @BUF, @PIT): What are the two primary things that have kept the Flyers from being lumped into the same class as Eastern powerhouses Boston and New Jersey? For one, the difference in their goaltending, and for the other, they're an elite squad on their home ice, but more of a league-average team in road games. Here's a team that has split its 32 road games for the season, averaging 2.69 goals per game, a significant drop-off from its 3.65 at-home average. Scott Hartnell, Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul might be decent fantasy starters most weeks, but not this one; combine their road numbers and they have 21 goals, 27 assists, 14 power-play points and a plus-5 rating in 94 games.
Islanders (@CAR, @OTT): From favorable schedule to totally unfavorable in a week, the Islanders made good on my Week 23 prediction and I can only hope I'm right they're due for a tumble this week. It's not like it's a bold call; this is a two-game week entirely on the road, unfavorable by most any standard. In a four-game week taking chances on the Sean Bergenheims and Blake Comeaus of the fantasy world makes sense, but in the short week, I'd go against the grain of the Isles' 5-1-1 hot streak and limit my choices to Mark Streit and maybe Kyle Okposo.
Stars (@VAN, @CGY, @SJ): Though the Stars did revive their playoff chances with a promising midseason hot streak, if you've been paying attention lately you'd know they've since cooled again, with an 8-10-1 record since Feb. 5. What's more, this is a mediocre team in road games, with a 14-15-4 record and averages of 2.64 goals scored and 3.18 goals allowed per game. Dallas is fighting for its playoff life, sure, but its offense can't expect Marty Turco to win on his own night after night. Those are three tough venues in which to play, against top-five teams in the West, no less. I'd wait until the Stars return home next week before trusting them again.
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.
|Monday, March 16||Kings (NSH)||Capitals (@ATL)|
|Tuesday, March 17||Canadiens (NYR)||Wild (COL)|
|Wednesday, March 18||Stars (@CGY)||Ducks (NSH)|
|Thursday, March 19||Panthers (TOR)||Oilers (@COL)|
|Friday, March 20||Hurricanes (NYI)||Blackhawks (EDM)|
|Saturday, March 21||Canucks (@PHO)||Sabres (@NYR)|
|Sunday, March 22||Wild (EDM)||Ducks (PHO)|
• David Booth, LW, Panthers: He keeps on scoring for this team, up to 24 goals in 58 games after 22 in 73 the season before, and a lot of fantasy owners seem to have forgotten about him due to a recent funk. But Booth registered a hat trick on March 7, and he tallied a point in each of two games since, getting his game back on track. His number of shots on goal remains consistent -- between three and four per contest -- and he's a beast at home, with a plus-13 rating in 30 games compared to minus-2 in 28 on the road. Oh, by the way, Florida plays all three of its games at home in Week 24.
• Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning: The rookie has arrived! Fantasy owners were abuzz about this kid in the preseason, but unsurprisingly, it took him some time to get acclimated to NHL play. In the past several weeks, though, he has sure seemed to warm to it. Stamkos has four goals and four assists in his past eight games, has been consistently getting about 18 minutes of ice time per contest and generally has been firing the puck a good four times a game on average. Tampa Bay is merely playing out the string, and gets three home games against bottom-half-of-the-league defenses.
• Carey Price, G, Canadiens: He's owned in practically every fantasy league, sure, but most of his owners are probably scared to use him, as unproductive as he has been this season. So let this serve as my recommendation to get him back into your lineup through season's end, as the Canadiens appear to trust him once more as their starter, and are in a dogfight attempting to hold onto their current playoff spot. The stat you should know: Price was 15-5-0 with a 2.26 GAA and .931 save percentage after the All-Star break last season, and as I look ahead to Montreal's schedules the final four weeks, I don't see a single one I dislike, defensively speaking. They're all nicely balanced, three or more games apiece.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.