- Sean Allen
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The Washington Capitals have a huge week on tap according to the Forecaster, but all is not well for all the players on the team.
Early this season the Caps established a top six that it looked like we could all trust to be fantasy stars throughout the year: Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich. Injuries to Ovechkin, Semin and Knuble since the beginning of the season helped establish a couple more names worth owning: Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr. Now, everyone is healthy again and the team has swapped captain Chris Clark for underrated scorer and two-way forward Jason Chimera.
That's nine forwards in all who have shown some reason for consideration in medium-to-deep fantasy leagues. Now, we know Ovechkin and Backstrom have a strong connection and are unlikely to be separated. We know that either Knuble or Semin will then occupy right-wing spot on the first line. We also know that Laich will help anchor the second line with whomever of Knuble or Semin is not on the first line. That leaves only one spot in the top six open for four players: Fleischmann, Morrison, Chimera and Fehr.
Let's skip a few steps now and point out that it's Fleischmann who is currently lined up with Semin and Laich on the second line and continues to score at close to a point-per-game pace this season. He is available in 88 percent of ESPN leagues and is a huge option for the Caps four-game schedule next week with huge offensive ratings in the Forecaster. The next question, is whether Morrison, Fehr and Chimera could have any value as a third line for the Caps.
So far, not so good as Chimera only has one point as a Capital in four games and is a minus-1. Morrison doesn't have a point in his past six games. Fehr does seem to have a knack for finding a few points still, but he seems to be doing it during line changes or when he gets an assignment outside or Morrison and Chimera as his plus/minus is still gaining. Overall though, for Morrison and Fehr it appears as though they will be falling out of grace with fantasy owners unless another injury gets them a promotion to the top six. For Chimera, the early indicators are that he won't be a help as a Capital either.
I mention this subject now though, because the next week is about as good as any week I've seen the Forecaster predict for any one team this season. So if Chimera, Fehr and Morrison are going to get their stuff together and be valuable as a third line, this will be their chance to do it. Keep an eye on all three players production and note any power-play time as well. If any team can produce three lines with fantasy assets, it's the Capitals.
"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.
Flyers to fly high: The Philadelphia Flyers have big offensive numbers for a three-game week against the Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and Capitals, but you may have to make a couple decisions with whom to start. First off, James vanRiemsdyk is on fire and needs to get the nod in any league where he is available. The rookie has three two-point games in a row and has done the damage on the third line, bringing Arron Asham along for the scoring ride, but expect a promotion for vanRiemsdyk if he keeps it up, making Asham forgettable. [e] One concern with the Flyers should be the fact that the line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux are a combined minus-17 over the past three games. The Flyers only have an above average defensive rating on the Forecaster for the game against the Maple Leafs, so if you are being extremely prudent with your plus/minus, I'd be careful with starting Gagne or Giroux. Though, to tie the two thoughts together, vanRiemsdyk could get moved up the depth chart to replace Giroux if this keeps up. The good news is that Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter are par for the course of late.
Kopitar still sputtering: Even with Ryan Smyth back as his linemate, Anze Kopitar is still not returning to an elite level of scoring for the Los Angeles Kings. Kopitar has three points in the past six games and five points in his past 10. That's acceptable, but not from someone nearly pacing the league for a month and a half at the start of the season. You still can't depend on Kopitar enough to start him game in and game out, but the Forecaster is here to help you pick your battles. If you want to be careful with Kopitar, only send him out for the game against the Anaheim Ducks next Thursday, and avoid the Kings' bouts with the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins.
DiPetro or Roloson? Neither: The New York Islanders may be getting back Rick DiPietro, as my colleague Tim Kavanagh discusses in In the Crease, but the Forecaster says his return should not matter in the short term. The Isles have games against the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres next week with each rating horribly. Whether they go with Dwayne Roloson or DiPetro for the games should help indicate their goalie rotation plans for the rest of the season, but that doesn't mean it's time to make those numbers count in your fantasy league. Remain a casual observer of the situation for now.
Vokoun to your bench: The normally dependable Tomas Vokoun makes me a bit nervous next week for one of the three Florida Panthers matchups. While back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning look solid for Vokoun to end the week, the Panthers rate terribly on defense against the Capitals next Wednesday. Make a note to slide Vokoun out of your lineup for that evening and get him back in the next.
Howard still rising: Jimmy Howard's monster game against the Kings should help him get on a few more radars this season, and even though he appears to have finally turned the corner, there is still reason to approach part of next week with a little trepidation. The Forecaster calls for a good outing for Howard against the Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes to start the week, but games against the Stars and Chicago Blackhawks to finish the week don't rate very well at all. Though the games are back-to-back, meaning Chris Osgood might get to start one of them; you probably don't want any part of the Red Wings net next weekend.
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