- Sean Allen
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Small sample sizes are awful for making long-term decisions in your fantasy hockey league, but they are fun to point out exciting and concerning trends. With that, we present the encouraging and troubling early-season numbers from the power play and penalty kill.
Colorado Avalanche (second in the NHL with a 29.2 percent power-play conversion): Through six games, the Avalanche are 7-for-24 with the man advantage, and the success has played an important role in the team's 5-1-0 start. Erik Johnson and Paul Stastny are not surprises as two of the staples on the Avs' top power-play unit, but some of the other names might catch you a bit off guard. Milan Hejduk (available in 31 percent of ESPN leagues) has collected four of his five points on the man advantage and David Jones (available in 62 percent of ESPN leagues) is right behind him with three. More conspicuous by his absence, Matt Duchene has not been a regular on the power play. In fact, he is eighth on the team in power-play time per game. Stastny, Jones, Hejduk and Joakim Lindstrom, along with Johnson on the point, are the team's top unit so far. This may not be a reason to downgrade Duchene a whole lot, especially since he had only 15 power-play points last season. Clearly special teams play is not a big source of his points production.
New York Rangers (fourth to last in the NHL with a 5.6 percent power-play conversion): The Rangers are 1-for-18 with the man advantage through four games. Perhaps not finding a puck-moving defenseman during the offseason is coming back to haunt the team. Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, with either Michael Del Zotto or Daniel Girardi on the point, have been the Blueshirts' top unit. The talent is definitely there up front, but Del Zotto and Girardi are hardly the type of high-scoring ice generals you want to see on the point. The problem could be that the team is simply homesick. The Rangers won't play in Madison Square Gardens until Oct. 27, their eighth game of the season. Sparing that, it comes down to the man on the point needing to set things up better. Del Zotto is the best bet for the team, but he will need to get back to the form of his 2009-10 rookie season, when he scored 22 power-play points, and then build on that. Wade Redden anyone? That will never happen, but the team needs somebody in that mold to make things happen on the man advantage.
Pittsburgh Penguins (first in the NHL with a 96.8 percent penalty-kill rate): The Pens have managed to allow only one power-play goal against them in 31 opportunities over the span of nine games. That is one tight penalty-killing unit. Led by the shutdown pair of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin on the blue line and the backchecking of Matt Cooke and Craig Adams, the Pens are keeping it fairly simple for Marc-Andre Fleury (and Brent Johnson). Shorthanded for a total of about 57 minutes so far, the Pens' tenders have stopped 43 of 44 shots. That is a nice trend for anyone invested in Fleury, as the penalty kill is when a goalie is most vulnerable. If the Penguins can give Fleury a head start with such a shutdown system, his numbers should be significantly boosted.
Ottawa Senators (second to last in the NHL with a 68.6 percent penalty-kill rate): Shorthanded for about 10 fewer minutes than the Penguins have been, the Sens tenders have allowed 11 goals on 59 shots for a .814 save percentage on the kill. Craig Anderson is holding a .826 save percentage on the penalty kill, having allowed eight goals on 46 shots. Who knows how much worse those numbers would be if two of his games hadn't been against the Jets and Detroit Red Wings, who are collectively 3-for-40 on the man advantage? Bottom line: Things aren't going to improve for Anderson if the Sens remain so porous whenever someone goes to the sin bin. Maybe even more concerning is that the team boasts two players who are consistently in the running for the most penalty minutes in the NHL in Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka. If this trend holds, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for those who drafted Anderson as a No. 2 goaltender.
"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 and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 for that week's matchups.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have the best week on tap for all the offenses in the NHL with an O:10 on the Forecaster for games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes. The Flyers have been trying out some new line combinations, and there are some readily available players to help your fantasy scoring next week. Matt Read (available in 77 percent of ESPN leagues) was promoted to the Flyers No. 2 line with Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds after scoring six points in the first five games of the season. Brayden Schenn (available in 57 percent of ESPN leagues) was called up from the AHL after he posted eight points in four games with the Adirondack Phantoms. He skated with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek on Thursday (and finished minus-3).
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts have a Forecaster rating of O:7 on a three-game schedule against the Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators and Jets. Two players in the top six are still available in a lot of leagues. Ryan Malone (available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues) is skating on a line with Teddy Purcell and Steven Stamkos of late. Although two goals and two assists in seven games isn't something to write home about, it is enough to consider him when the schedule looks good for next week. To try to spark Brett Connolly (available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues) to start scoring like he was in the preseason, the Bolts have shifted him to a line with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Connolly is also earning top power-play minutes with St. Louis, Lecavalier and Stamkos. With that kind of company, if he doesn't have a breakout week soon, he isn't going to.
Montreal Canadiens: It shouldn't be a surprise that Max Pacioretty is acting like the No. 1 offensive star for the Habs. His production was trending that way at the end of last season, and he picked up right where he left off with five points in six games on a line with David Desharnais and Andrei Kostitsyn. What is a bit surprising is that there isn't complete buy-in yet. Pacioretty is available in 51 percent of ESPN leagues. Why not try him out on a week when the Canadiens have four games and an O:7 Forecaster rating on offense? Here's betting you keep him beyond this coming week.
Boston Bruins: The offense just hadn't been clicking this season (until Thursday), and the result is an O:1 for a two-game week on the Forecaster. That said, there is some more bad news depending on which B's you invested in this season. David Krejci returned from his abdomen injury Thursday to a line shuffle that found him playing on the Bruins third unit. That is very bad news for Krejci owners. However, if you bet on Tyler Seguin this season, there is good news. Seguin, who performed quite well as top center when Krejci was hurt, found himself on the new top line with Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly. The trio had eight points in the Bruins 6-2 win against the Leafs, which means they will get to stay together for now. Kelly, available in almost every ESPN league, is worth a pickup to see if he sticks. Rich Peverley was also bumped from the second line to make room for Nathan Horton to skate with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. That is not good for folks who had considered Peverley as an addition to their roster, but it shouldn't hurt Horton.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild offense has cooled considerably since the preseason and first few games of the regular season. Dany Heatley hadn't scored since the first game of the season before he got one in the last second (literally) of Thursday's game. Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi won't stay cold for too many stretches this season. Someone who is known for cold stretches is Guillaume Latendresse. However, in a season where his conditioning and commitment were called into question, it is nice to see him with five points in seven games. He has a nose for the net and could surprise any fantasy owners who give him a look (available in 80 percent of ESPN leagues). Next week just may not be the best time to pick him up given a Forecaster rating of O:2.
New York Rangers: The Rangers boast a D:6 or better for all three of their contests next week, including their first two home games of the season against the Maple Leafs and Senators. Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the lone bright spots for the club this season and is a great play for the next fantasy scoring period. Remember, a good defensive rating on the Forecaster is a boon to plus/minus ratings. That means Michael Del Zotto (available in 47 percent of ESPN leagues) and Ryan McDonagh (available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues) could be in consideration while you are filling out your defense next week.
Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller has been rock solid so far this season and should continue the trend into next week. The Sabres are a D:6 with home games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers. The solid defensive rating means Andrej Sekera (plus-6, available in 99.6 percent of ESPN leagues) and Marc-Andre Gragnani (three points, plus-3, available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues) might be good choices for your final defense roster spots.
St. Louis Blues: One goaltender who isn't having a good start to the season is Jaroslav Halak. With a 3.47 goals-against average and .835 save percentage, it wouldn't be a shock to see Brian Elliott start getting into the mix next week. Not that you would necessarily start Elliott either, given a D:3 on the road during the complete three-game Western Conference Canadian trip (Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers). However, if Elliott does get a start or two and performs well, it will be time to start giving him a look as a potential addition if you need goaltending help.
The Philadelphia Flyers three-line attack has rocketed to the top of the goals per game list. This will likely be the final week we include the preseason numbers to beef up this chart, but you can still see the damage being inflicted by the Flyers. Players still under the radar for the club include Wayne Simmonds (available in 39 percent of ESPN leagues) and Matt Carle (available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues). Simmonds, who has proven in the past to be a fantasy stat-stuffer in the right situation, looks ready to provide a great mix of points, plus/minus and penalty minutes this season. With four points already, a plus-2, nine PIMs and 19 shots on goal, the trend suggests Simmonds will earn serious value thanks to across-the-board contribution. Carle is on the top pairing with Chris Pronger and has four points and a plus-4 rating.
The number of shots the Tampa Bay Lightning are facing is having a negative effect on Dwayne Roloson, yet Mathieu Garon is thriving. The two goaltenders have played about the same number of minutes (211 for Roloson, 218 for Garon) and have faced close to the same number of shots (127 for Roloson, 113 for Garon), yet Roloson has a 5.11 goals-against average and .858 save percentage, while Garon has a 1.93 GAA and .938 save percentage. Since the Lightning have faced the third-most shots in the league and have the second-most blocked shots, this trend of having a highly peppered goaltender is not going to change. That means Garon is going to be the man for the Bolts sooner than later.
Best Bets: The Vancouver Canucks have a solid three-game week on tap and should be one of the first places you look for offense. If you happen to have the resources, adding the twins is always a good idea, but Daniel Sedin ($9M) and Henrik Sedin ($8.9M) cost a pretty penny. The Philadelphia Flyers, with a great Forecaster rating and a four-game week, are probably the best place to look. Claude Giroux ($8.2M) is a great price, and the bargain hunter might want to consider James van Riemsdyk ($5.9M).
Weekly Bargain: While Sami Salo ($5.2M) is a liability for regular fantasy hockey, which stretches over the whole season, he is a value add on defense in a game where you can swap out any player on a weekly basis. Salo is healthy and producing for the Canucks. While history tells us he won't stay healthy long, if you are buying him for short stretches, there isn't much downside, especially when he is the blue line's offensive catalyst for a squad as prolific as the Canucks.
Rentals: The Rangers have a well-rated week ahead, and this might be a good time to rent Henrik Lundqvist ($13.4M) for some potential wins (and even shutouts) against the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs have a four-game week, and Phil Kessel ($7.7M) won't stop scoring. Consider sliding him into your roster as well, given the low price for the league's leading scorer.
My roster for next week:
Jonathan Quick, G ($12.3M)
Henrik Lundqvist, G ($13.4M)
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D ($6.1M)
Erik Karlsson, D ($6.4M)
Lubomir Visnovsky, D ($7.4M)
Sami Salo, D ($5.2M)
Daniel Sedin, F ($9.0M)
James Neal, F ($7.3M)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M) -- I'm trying to stay ahead of a market increase.
Phil Kessel, F ($7.7M)
Henrik Sedin, F ($8.9M)
Jason Spezza, F ($7.3M)
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can email him here.