- Sean Allen
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Numbers and trends can change quickly. Checking this Forecaster only once in a while to try to gauge the ability of an offense isn't going to cut it. Not only would you get a slanted view as every Forecaster is calculated according to the latest statistics and a specific schedule, but the offensive snapshot you get of a team can still change quickly this early. It was just two weeks ago when the Anaheim Ducks had one of the worst offensive ratings for the week. Now, they have a seven for the week with a nine in one of their three games. Though the sample sizes that make the Forecaster stronger as the season progresses are growing, a couple of good weeks can change a team's fortunes quickly.
The 5-7-2 Ducks scored 16 goals in their first seven games of the season. Over their past seven games they have scored 25 goals as Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf have awaked from early slumbers. Even Joffrey Lupul and Saku Koivu have found their groove, with the latter on a four-game point streak. With average-to-strong ratings in three games this coming week against the New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings, look for the Ducks to divide up 10-12 goals among them. Start all top six forwards, and look for Corey Perry to continue his hot streak.
That recommendation is night and day to what I would have said two weeks ago when Koivu and Lupul were barely being noticed and even Getzlaf was struggling. So make sure you check in weekly to see how offenses are stacking up and changing throughout the season.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Sharks hunting in the Central: So what happens when the biggest run-and-gun offense in the NHL gets a four-game week against some weak offenses and weak defenses? An offensive and defensive rating of eight for the San Jose Sharks, that's what. The games against the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are tough on the offense but a cakewalk for the Sharks' defense, while games with the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will allow the offense to explode. The Sharks are the perfect team this coming week for those on weekly transaction deadlines. Definitely get Ryane Clowe active as he is skating with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley until Devin Setoguchi returns from a leg injury. Deep leagues can consider Manny Malhotra and Benn Ferriero, as they make up the second line with Patrick Marleau and get modest power-play minutes. Consider Jason Demers for some plus/minus and modest points output, and his partner Kent Huskins could add some plus/minus points for deep league owners.
Malkin-less Penguins will struggle to score: Don't read this wrong, as the Pittsburgh Penguins could very well finish the week 3-0. But they might do it by only scoring four or five goals as a team. Two games against the Boston Bruins and one against the Devils presents a tough offensive challenge for a Penguins team that now -- without Evgeni Malkin -- looks dangerous only one line deep. Going any deeper than the first power-play unit of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang, is not recommended.
Capitalize on Kaberle: If you can come to grips with the fact that Tomas Kaberle is in fact not a No. 1 fantasy defenseman and was just on an insane hot streak, now might be the time to try to flip him. The Toronto Maple Leafs have a pretty average offensive and defense rating for the week, but dig a little deeper and it doesn't look like a good week for the Leafs' power play. The man advantage has been the key to Kaberle's recent success, but games against the Minnesota Wild, Blackhawks and Calgary Flames don't bode well. All three teams are in the top half of the league for their penalty kill, with the Hawks and Wild in the top five, and all three teams are in the bottom half of the league for the number of times they have been short-handed. That's not a great combination for the Leafs or Kaberle.
The Kings of defense: The Los Angeles Kings easily have the best four-game week defensive rating I have seen so far this season. A game against the Chicago Blackhawks is followed by a road swing through the low-scoring Southeast Division, with games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Jonathan Quick has an outside shot at a 3-0 week with stellar ratios and perhaps a shutout tossed in for good measure. Davis Drewiske and Matt Greene could provide some surprise value with their plus/minus. It's not a terrific week offensively for the Kings, as all their opponents are fairly stout on defense as well, so stick to the top line and Dustin Brown when starting forwards.
Can Niitty strike twice?: The opportunity is there for Antero Niittymaki to solidify his status as the No. 1 goalie for the Lightning, thanks to some easy contests next week. The Minnesota Wild and Kings matchup favorably for the Bolts' defense, and if coach Rick Tocchet is still allowing Niitty a chance to take over, he could put the final nail in Mike Smith's coffin by starting both games. If you were thinking about picking him up, this should make the decision easy -- even if you just snatch him up, let his value build over the next week and then sell.
Squeeze a little more from Razer: Roberto Luongo is traveling with the Vancouver Canucks and is expected to make a start by the end of this Forecaster period (he's projected to be ready for Thursday's game against the Red Wings), but there is still a little more to be gained from owning his backup, Andrew Raycroft. In Luongo's absence due to cracked ribs, Raycroft has been pretty valuable, and is even the third-best goaltender on the ESPN Player Rater for the past 15 days. The Canucks begin next week with a game against the lowly St. Louis Blues offense in which Raycroft should get the start, but even if Luongo returns for Thursday's game, he may get a break on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche as he is eased back into action. That would also be a good matchup for Raycroft given that he shut them out already this season. After this coming week though, you can send Raycroft back to the waiver wire.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here
Sean Allen looks at Week 6 of the fantasy hockey season with an eye to the best offensive and defensive matchups of the period.