- Sean Allen
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It's "break point" in the fantasy hockey season. In fact, those of you who play fantasy baseball now have box scores to examine.
With no more than four games left for any one team, I'm painted into a corner when it comes to doling out fantasy advice that could make an impact. But I have noticed in years past that when I'm seeking late-season help, power-play lines are a good spot to look. Power plays are obviously the best situation for a team to put a puck in the net, so let's determine where a few hidden goals could come from, and what teams could be hurt by those hidden goals.
If you are reading this, it shows a level of commitment to your fantasy hockey season that is deserving of something a bit extra this week. So in an effort to help you squeeze every last point out of your fantasy team, I went through each team's remaining schedule and looked at their opponents' average penalty-kill percentage since the All-Star break and compared it to the team's power-play percentage since the break.
Let's start with the teams that look the most fantasy-friendly over the coming week:
Sunny Days Ahead
Washington Capitals: The Capitals have the best difference between their post-break power-play percentage versus their opponents' penalty kill. The Caps have been scoring at an amazing 30.5 percent clip with the man advantage since Jan. 27, and the Thrashers, Lightning and Panthers combine for just a 79.1 percent penalty kill. Most of the catalysts for Washington's power-play unit are well-known and well-used, but Brooks Laich could be a nice option for you. He's the seemingly forgotten fifth member of the power play and has three man-advantage points in his past five games. Keith Aucoin is another option. He had a power-play tally Sunday, and despite being up in Washington of late, he still shares the points lead in the AHL this season. Sergei Fedorov is your deep sleeper here; he leads the second unit and had two goals Friday.
Anaheim Ducks: Even though the Ducks have just two games remaining, they still rate second-best in this study. Their opponents --- Dallas and Phoenix --- have a combined penalty kill of just 74.9 since the All-Star break, while the Ducks' power play has been clicking along at 25.5 percent. Bobby Ryan is most likely owned in your league; if not, he should get the nod after supplanting Corey Perry on the first unit.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Buds' power play doesn't rate as impressively as others (just 18.1 percent since the break), but their opponents' combined penalty kill since the All-Star break is the worst. The Devils, Sabres and Senators have averaged a 77.3 percent penalty kill in that time, and there are some free-agent Leafs in your league who could help you take advantage of the situation. Coach Ron Wilson is splitting time among several commodities when the opponent takes a penalty, but Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Ian White and John Mitchell are your best cheap options. Grabovski and Kulemin specifically deserve attention, as they have been performing with Alexei Ponikarovsky off the power play as well.
San Jose Sharks: At first glance, you might wonder why I would bother to include the Sharks here; surely their top offensive options on the power play are universally owned in fantasy hockey. Wrong. Joe Pavelski, available in a handful of leagues, has played more on the man advantage than Joe Thornton over the Sharks' past five contests. Christian Ehrhoff, owned in fewer leagues than Pavelski, is second on the team in power-play minutes of late. With Patrick Marleau and Ryan Clowe out, the team is relying on different options to run their powerful power play. As far as the numbers in this study are concerned, San Jose has been scoring an impressive 25.8 percent of power plays since Jan. 27, and their opponents this week -- Colorado, Phoenix and Los Angeles -- combine for a 78.8 percent penalty kill since the All-Star break. Pavelski and Ehrhoff are both available in about 30 percent of ESPN leagues and have five and six power-play points, respectively, in their past six games.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres came out pretty high on the list in this post-All-Star break comparison, with a 22.9 percent power play and 79.1 percent combined penalty kill from their opponents this week. However, most members of their first power-play unit should not be available in your league (Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek). You will notice I said "most," as Jaroslav Spacek remains an option in more than 20 percent of ESPN leagues. He has five assists in six games, with three of them coming on the power play.
New York Rangers: In other news, rocks are hard and feathers are soft. Most folks already know the Rangers' power play is terrible at best, but they have been especially useless since the All-Star break, converting at just an 11.8 percent clip. They face Montreal once and Philadelphia twice this week, and both teams have been penalty-killing at 81.9 percent since the break. Don't look for a helpful finish from any Rangers players, even newcomer Nik Antropov.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Rangers might not be able to convert on a power play, but they do a bang-up job of making sure no one scores when they are shorthanded. The Rangers easily pace the NHL for the season with an 88.1 penalty-kill percentage and since the All-Star break at 88.8 percent. Philly takes on the Rangers twice this week, and also faces Florida (83.8) and the Islanders (81.1). The Flyers have been scoring without the man advantage lately, but this schedule likely means Claude Giroux, Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul aren't the attractive pickups they might appear to be.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The matchup with Chicago is acceptable to start the week, but the Jackets then finish the season with contests against the two best penalty-killers in the Western Conference. The Jackets' power play is nothing to write home about to begin with, so stacking them up against the Blues (88.4 percent penalty kill since the All-Star break) and the Wild (87.6) does not bode well for fringe-value players. You still start Rick Nash, obviously, but Jason Williams, Fedor Tyutin and Kristian Huselius quickly become questionable plays.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs' power play has reclaimed its place among the league's best since breaking for the All-Star Game. Fueled partly by the acquisition of Mathieu Schneider, the team has been scoring on 24.1 percent of their power plays since Jan. 27 (16.1 percent before the break). Games against the Rangers, Bruins and Penguins late in the week don't offer much in the way of hope, though. I'm not suggesting you should avoid Alexei Kovalev (who has nine power-play points in his last five games) or any other members of the team's first unit, but I am suggesting you temper expectations for Kovalev and avoid members of the team's second unit, (namely Tomas Plekanec and Roman Hamrlik), that are worth consideration when the schedule is favorable.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
11hEthan Sherwood Strauss