- Sean Allen
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Picking up some extra power-play points for your fantasy team is never an easy assignment. But compared to all other statistical categories, the distance required make up those points is much lower. The league leader for goals has 39, the league leader for assists has 46, and do I even need to mention shots on goal or penalty minutes? By contrast the league leader for power-play points is Claude Giroux with 30 and second place (Brian Campbell) only has 24. Logic dictates that there are fewer counting stats between your team and extra fantasy points in the power-play points category than in any other category.
Of course, the counter argument is that because there are power-play points are fewer in the league, it becomes more difficult to start gaining in the category. Normally we take power-play points for granted and assume they will come to us from our top performers in other categories, but there are definitely situations around the league where you can target power-play points.
First, we will take a look at where there has been some improvement in recent weeks. Since the All-Star break, the San Jose Sharks lead the NHL with 12 power-play goals. The New Jersey Devils are next with nine, the Columbus Blue Jackets have eight and the St. Louis Blues have six. The Sharks are not tops in the league this season, but they are certainly a top-10 power play unit. However, the Devils, Blue Jackets and Blues all rate near the bottom of the pack in overall season power-play percentage. The Blues' six power-play goals in eight games since the All-Star break represents more than 20 percent of their total power-play production in fewer than 15 percent of their games played. Let's zone in on these squads and see if there is some help available for your power-play points category.
New Jersey Devils: It's no surprise or secret to see that Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias pace the Devils for power-play time this season. But the fourth and fifth players with the most time on the top unit are not universally owned in fantasy leagues. David Clarkson is getting close (available in 14 percent of ESPN leagues) after heating up both on and off the power play during the past few weeks, but Kurtis Foster is nowhere close to being an everyday fantasy asset (available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues). It's understandable that fantasy owners are shying away given Foster's 14 points and minus-15 rating this season. But six of those points have come in the past 12 games and all six of those points have come on the power play. Foster is the best option the Devils have on the point and unless they make a move for a puck-moving defenseman at the deadline, he will be the best option going forward. Foster's heavy shot has produced power-play points at a fantasy-relevant level in the past and as the Devils continue to get stronger as the season wears on, he could be an asset. It was just 2009-10 when Foster had 26 power-play points for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Columbus Blue Jackets: It is not a shock to see the Blue Jackets scoring all these points on the man advantage. After all, coach Todd Richards did make a name for himself as the power-play coaching specialist for the Sharks before he got his first head-coaching gig. Richards has implemented a strong four-forward attack with Fedor Tyutin on the point as quarterback. Tyutin is the first place to look. He is available in 35 percent of ESPN leagues and has five power-play points in five games. Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette join Rick Nash on the top unit and all of them have at least one power-play point in the past five games. If the team doesn't sell off Nash or any other key parts before the trade deadline, take another look at this top unit. Certainly, Brassard is playing his best hockey of the season lately and Umberger would be due for a run if he stays on a line (and team) with Nash.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have really been stepping things up on offense lately to finally equal what the team has been accomplishing on defense. Alex Pietrangelo and T.J. Oshie are the players leading the charge on the power play. Both players have a team-high 13 power-play points this season and both have five power-play points in the past five games. But David Perron (who is still available in 11 percent of ESPN leagues) is right behind them lately with four power-play points in five games. Perron has a six-game point streak going with nine points overall and should be owned in every format. Beyond the top power-play unit, there may be reason to get excited about a second power-play unit chipping in. With playmaker Andy McDonald and power-play specialist Jason Arnott back in the lineup healthy, they form a nucleus for another power-play attack. McDonald remains available in 48 percent of ESPN league while Arnott is available in 85 percent. Both could help pay dividends on and off the power play.
"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.
Vancouver Canucks: As usual, the Canucks have the best outlook for the week ahead and offer some opportunities for roster changes to take advantage of the schedule. First, David Booth has settled in with Ryan Kesler on the second line and is available in 75 percent of ESPN leagues. He has 10 points in 12 games with a plus-4 since returning from a knee injury and has scored in three straight. Though Christopher Higgins returned to the lineup this week, it is Mason Raymond currently rolling with the assignment next to Kesler and Booth. Raymond is available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues and would be a deep-league selection for next week.
San Jose Sharks: Literally available in 100 percent of ESPN league, Tommy Wingels might be the answer to the rotating wing spot next to Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe in the Sharks' top six. Wingels returned from an upper-body injury this week and in his first game playing on the scoring line, he managed a goal and assist with five shots. The sixth and final spot on the top two lines has been a revolving door for the Sharks since Martin Havlat was hurt and they will surely continue to roll Wingels while he is hot. The Sharks have four games as they continue their red-hot road trip against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild.
Phoenix Coyotes: Meeting the Los Angeles Kings at home followed by road games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers results in a very poor Forecaster outlook for the Coyotes. It's impossible to recommend sitting Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata since the pair is as hot as anyone in the league, but every one else on the Coyotes roster is fair game for the bench. These three games could still be wins by the Coyotes, but the way things have been going, they might win all three games on fewer than six goals.
Washington Capitals: It was a rough week for the Capitals as Tomas Vokoun's bout with the flu meant Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby had to tend fort against the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks. Fortunately, the Capitals got a four-day rest and should have Vokoun back in action on Friday night in time to prepare for a strongly forecasted week ahead. With four games against Eastern Conference foes, including two games against the teams they are chasing in the standings (Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators), expect some of Vokoun's best work to continue. He has a 1.23 goals-against average and .961 save percentage and two shutouts during the past two weeks.
Nashville Predators: If ever there was a week to consider benching Pekka Rinne, this coming week would be the one. Firstly, Rinne is as cold as he gets (which is still better than most other goalies) in the past couple weeks. He has only won two out of five games and has a 2.53 goals-against average. Secondly, the Predators run directly into three of the hottest scoring teams in the league next week in the Canucks, Blues and Sharks. It's not a recipe for complete disaster and in many cases in head-to-head leagues you will have little choice but to start Rinne. But if you are trending well in your games played totals in rotisserie and want to play it safe, consider resting Rinne next week.
Talk about potential for high-scoring affairs. The Edmonton Oilers pace the league during the past three weeks for goals scored and are second in the league for goals allowed. It's a formula that has formally ruled out any consideration for the team's goaltending duo in fantasy hockey. Nikolai Khabibulin, despite a Herculean start to the season, is a four-goals-allowed liability in net lately and not worth starting in any fantasy league. Devan Dubnyk continues to show hints of potential brilliance, but is just as likely to be dragged into a high-scoring game.
The improved offensive numbers stem primarily from the play of Sam Gagner during the past couple weeks, but with his ownership almost peaked at 100 percent of ESPN leagues (still available in just more than three percent of leagues), we have to look elsewhere. The second line -- consisting of Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Magnus Paajarvi -- came to life in a game against the Ottawa Senators last week and had seven combined points. They may be worth a look in deeper leagues, especially when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returns and replaces Paajarvi to strengthen the unit further.
And keep a close eye on the Gagner-versus-RNH battle for ice time next week. Though Gagner has given himself a bit of breathing room, if Nugent-Hopkins comes back strong, the depth chart could become murky very quickly. To be clear, you are most interested in the player on a line with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. Right now it's Gagner, but it used to be Nugent-Hopkins. There can only be one and it will be whichever coach Tom Renney feels gives the team a better chance to score.
Best bets: While Antti Niemi ($11.8M) may seem like one of the better bets, the recent play of backup Thomas Greiss and the six-goal debacle Niemi had against the Tampa Bay Lightning this week, could mean more work for Greiss. At the very least, one Greiss start would eliminate the four-game advantage that makes Niemi an attractive pick in the first place. [e] Consider Jonathan Quick ($11.1M) or Tomas Vokoun ($11.9M) as netminders. Both have four-game schedules and both are workhorses. Vokoun appears more likely to win some contests, but does cost a bit more in salary. [e] Feel free to rely on the San Jose Sharks stars for another week. Joe Thornton ($8.0M), Logan Couture ($7.7M), Patrick Marleau ($7.4M) and Joe Pavelski ($6.9M) are all worthwhile investments while the team remains hot.
Weekly bargains: Brent Burns ($6.2M) has more points than any other defenseman since the All-Star break but still comes with a very reasonable salary. He has the ability to be an every-week performer as well, so he could just rise in value in your lineup as weeks go by. [e] Sam Gagner's ($5.7M) ridiculous point totals have been the topic of many discussions, but did you know Ilya Kovalchuk ($8.5M) has just as many points since the All-Star break? If Kovalchuk is going to be the star he can be, his salary can still go quite a bit higher. Lock him in now and enjoy some savings.
Rentals: Evgeni Nabokov ($8.0M) should be over his stomach flu by the start of next week and he still offers Hockey Challenge players one of the best low-cost options in net. His New York Islanders have four games on the schedule. [e] The Dallas Stars have a four-game week and Alex Goligoski ($6.5M) has been as hot as any defenseman lately. In fact, he has been hotter than most that come with a much higher salary. [e] You should still have little trouble putting together any lineup you can dream up, as salaries have yet to go high enough to force tough decisions. Still, there is a chance if you aren't saving money with locked in players that you need to save a buck or two somewhere. Strongly consider Wayne Simmonds ($5.7M) or David Perron ($5.7M) as a way to save salary for somewhere else in your lineup.
My roster for next week:
Jonathan Quick, G ($11.1M)
Tomas Vokoun, G ($11.9M)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($6.0M / $6.6M on market)
Brent Burns, D ($6.2M)
Dan Boyle, D ($6.7M)
Kris Letang, D ($6.8M / $7.2M on market)
Joe Pavelski, F ($6.8M / $6.9M on market)
Logan Couture, F ($7.5M / $7.7M on market)
Evgeni Malkin, F ($8.9M / $9.5M on market)
Martin St. Louis, F ($8.1M / $8.4M on market)
Steven Stamkos, F ($9.5M)
Ilya Kovalchuk, F ($8.0M / $8.5M on market)
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 send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.
Sean Allen sets the fantasy tables for the week of Feb. 20, looking at players succeeding at the power play in recent weeks.