It seems as though a few of the superstars in the NHL were listening to Jump Around by House of Pain on repeat last week and told themselves “Like the cream of the crop, I rise to the top”. If you have players like Crosby, Stamkos, Malkin, Staal, Letang or Karlsson, then you likely had a pretty good week.
What is curious were the top performers in net last week. In a standard roto league, these were the top five goaltenders from last week: Luongo, Hedberg, Vokoun, Dubnyk, Anderson. None of these goalies were ranked in my top-10 preseason rankings and the top three are, in fact, backups.
This brings me to my next point. Before the season started, I talked to anyone who would listen and warned them about the variance that this kind of season would bring. There’s a reason the NHL and NBA seasons are 82 games and the MLB season is 162 games; small sample sizes (SSS). Whenever you have a SSS, unpredictable variance and luck will play a bigger factor than you can forecast. Anyone who plays Head-To-Head fantasy sports can attest to this. When you introduce additional factors like a six-day training camp instead of 20, no exhibition games instead of four or five, half the league not playing competitive hockey for at least six months, the compressed nature of the schedule—meaning less practices thus less time to learn a new coach’s systems (ahem, Washington)—and the higher-than-usual incidence of injuries because of these factors mentioned, this is a season that has no equal. No, 1994-1995 doesn’t count for much because of how different the game was back then compared to now. You have to look no further than the scoring leaderboard for this to bear out; of the top-11 point-getters, eight are from Tampa Bay, Buffalo or San Jose, including all top six. We are nearly through 20 percent of the regular season and Raphael Diaz has more points than Erik Karlsson.
The point of all that was to say that process has to trump results. Yes, you need to tweak your team as you go along. Not enough assists? Trade a goal-scorer for a set-up guy. But no, you don’t need to get completely frustrated because you are 0-2 or 1-1 to start your season even though you think you should be 2-0. For those who are foraying into fantasy hockey for the first time, take this year as a learning experience. Just because you don’t win your first league ever doesn’t mean you can’t win two of three leagues next year once you get the hang of it. Always be mindful of variance and look for improvement in your team rather than focusing on the final results.
With all that said, let’s take a look ahead to this week’s action.
There is only one two-game team this week and that’s the Colorado Avalanche. If you have to lock your lineups, I wouldn’t be sending in anyone from Denver. They do have an easy schedule with both Dallas and Anaheim visiting, but two starts for Varlamov just isn’t enough for me (and he’s not guaranteed to get them both).
Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets
With the majority of teams playing three games this week, logically, the majority of your players will come from this group. Of these teams, the following have back-to-back games at some point this week: Bruins, Canadiens, San Jose. If you’re looking for a back-up to maybe fill in a spot, Thomas Greiss of San Jose would make the most sense. If he gets a start, it most likely will come tomorrow (Tuesday) at home against Chicago. Not a great spot, but he is capable. Calgary, Carolina, Florida and Los Angeles all play their three games on the road this week with the Flames likely having the toughest schedule (Detroit, Columbus, Vancouver). These four teams are a combined 3-7-2 on the road so far this year (SSS aside), so if you are relying on goaltending from these teams outside of Jon Quick, I would be very concerned. Conversely, Columbus, Ottawa, Philadelphia and St. Louis play all of their games at home this week. The easiest schedule is pretty close between the Senators and Blues, but overall these four teams are a combined 10-3-2 at home so far this year, so I would consider just about anyone from these teams a good play. This will be a very important week for Montréal, as they play three division opponents and can really put some distance between themselves and Buffalo/Toronto with a couple regulation wins. Mike Smith of Phoenix has been solid since returning to action, allowing just three goals on 41 shots, going 1-0-1 including a shutout of Dallas. However, Phoenix is in for a murderer’s row this week, playing the top two teams in the conference – San Jose and Chicago – and playing host to Minnesota to start the week. I wouldn’t say bench Smith, but if you have another viable option, I would go ahead and do it (Phoenix is averaging nearly three goals against/game). The Islanders face a similar situation this week, facing the Rangers and Penguins before finishing the week at home against Buffalo. If you have players from Long Island, be wary of your +/- as the week goes on. With Jaroslav Halak likely out for the week with a groin injury, Brian Elliott of St. Louis will be getting all the starts. It’s not an easy schedule (Nashville, Detroit, Anaheim) but you have to start the goalie of who I think is the best team in the NHL. The goaltending situations in Vancouver and Washington are no clearer today than they were a week ago. Avoid them if you can help it. Finally, Winnipeg has a softball-ish schedule, with two home games against Toronto and Florida, then finishing off the week on the road against Ottawa. Winnipeg is a much different team at home than on the road, so look for them to fill the net in the first two games of the week, then be happy if you can get anything out of the third one.
Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Laffs (Leafs)
With the exception of Nashville, you should be starting your skaters from every team on this list. All these teams (except Nashville) rank inside the top-20 in goals/game scored, six out of nine are in the top-15 (Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Toronto, Detroit), four of them are in the top-10 (Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Buffalo) and two of them are among the top three in goals per game (Tampa Bay and Anaheim). Every single one of these teams plays a back-to-back at some point this week, so you should probably be concerned about a back-up getting a start this week (and if you’re a Marc-André Fleury owner, this is even more worrisome). If you’re a Martin Brodeur owner, I would be very, very afraid. The Devils play at home to the Rangers and Lightning before having a home-and-home set with Pittsburgh. Remember how concerned I was with Lundqvist last week? This is DEFCON-3 concerned for Brodeur this week. Not only will he likely lose a start, but three of those four games come against teams in the top-7 in terms of goals-for per game. Speaking of Tampa Bay, they are off to a great start this season with a 6-2 record and currently second place in the East. However, they have played just two games on the road so far this year and SSS aside, there is a full two goal/game difference between their home scoring (5.33) and road scoring (3.50). They also have four tough games ahead in the Flyers, Devils, Bruins and Rangers. I’ll wait until the end of the week before I make judgments on the quality of this team. I really like this week for Pittsburgh’s guns to come out blazing this week. They play the Islanders, Capitals and then a home and home with the Devils. I believe Pittsburgh will out-gun the Devils in one of those two games, and the Islanders and Capitals are both in the bottom five in the East in terms of goals-against per game. Nashville has a tough schedule this week, playing on the road in St. Louis, at home to Los Angeles before a back-to-back on the road then at home with Minnesota and Chicago. I don’t see this as the week Pekka Rinne heats up (or the team as a whole). Detroit has likely the easiest schedule this week, playing at home to Calgary, on the road in St. Louis followed by two home games in a back-to-back with Edmonton and Los Angeles (yes, as tough as that seems, that’s probably the easiest schedule of the four-game teams). Toronto will be in tough this week, playing at home to a high-powered Carolina team, followed by three road games against Washington (blah), the home-favorite Jets and the surprising Canadiens.
Players I Like This Week
As is now customary with my postings, I am going to talk about two players from each position that I really like this week, followed by two players I don’t like. Please keep in mind this could all change in a week’s time with the next set of match-ups. Please note that as far as skaters are concerned these are players that might fly under the radar for some people. I’m not going to tell you “I really like Stamkos” this week because that’s just not helpful, just like saying “I don’t like Mike Komisarek” this week isn’t either.
Chris Kunitz (LW – Pittsburgh) - Coming off a hattrick yesterday against Washington, Sidney Crosby‘s linemate is set up for a huge week. They have four games this week that is an easy-ish schedule. Not only that, but that line is heating up big time. Over the last two games, Kunitz and Crosby have combined for five goals and seven assists. That is the beauty of this Pittsburgh team; either of the top two lines can carry a team to a win and if they’re both clicking, look out. What separates Kunitz from his other linemate Pascal Dupuis is the fact that he plays top-line PP minutes with the big boys. Look for the Crosby-Kunitz pairing to keep stuffing stats this week.
Adam Henrique (C – New Jersey) - He still might be available in your leagues (24% owned on Yahoo, 71% on ESPN), so scour your waiver wire. Either way, this guy was a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) finalist last year and is the centerman for Ilya Kovalchuk. He is just returning from a thumb injury and has tallied one goal and one assist in three games so far. It will take him time to get used to his role but with four games this week, admittedly tough games but against teams who have shown to be porous defensively at times, he should get back into the swing of things.
Sheldon Souray (D – Anaheim) - With Cam Fowler out for an indeterminate amount of time, Souray remains the last puck-moving D-man for Anaheim (with a little Beauchemin and Sbisa too). However, Souray already plays all three facets of the game (EV, PP, SH) and always has that booming shot from the point. With an increase in minutes from the loss of Fowler comes an increase in probability that he will produce points for you. They have a tough schedule with San Jose and St. Louis as two of their four opponents, but we are looking for upside here for the week and Souray has that.
Dmitry Kulikov (D – Florida) - While the Panthers have a tough schedule ahead, Kulikov seems to have finally found his game. After a slow start that saw him go pointless in his first five games with a (-5) rating, Kulikov is (+4), he has an assist with a (+4) rating in his last two games, averaging well over 23 minutes of ice-time. The Panthers as a whole are not a great team, but Kulikov is a bright spot for them and will hopefully garner some more power-play time (Filip Kuba is not the answer for them, I have no idea why he gets so much ice-time).
Brian Elliott (St. Louis) - Elliott has looked rough at time this season with three of his five outings producing sub-.900 save percentages. However, I think the three home games for St. Louis and the fact that he will likely get all three starts is a good place for Elliott to start finding his consistency. He has already shutout Nashville for half of a game in relief of Jaroslav Halak and winning it in a shootout and took the loss while allowing just two goals to Detroit. St. Louis could very well go 3-0 or 2-0-1 this week and you will reap the rewards from starting Elliott.
Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg) - Although still not exceptional, Pavelec’s home splits vs. his road splits this year (and last) are significant. We’re talking 22 points on his save percentage last year and 44 points this year. Playing at home to Florida is a great spot, the Panthers are one of the worst road teams in all of hockey. Toronto has been very good on the road this year (3-1) but in three starts against them last year, Pavelec had a GAA of 1.95. Ottawa at the end of the week will be a tough game, but like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad. He is by no means a front-line goalie (bottom tier-2, top tier-3), but if there was a week I feel comfortable starting him, it’s this week.
Players I Don’t Like This Week
Jarome Iginla (RW – Calgary) - As a whole, there aren’t really any bright spots on Calgary outside of Lee Stempniak. As I warned in my draft guide, Iginla has been starting seasons at a slower and slower pace over the last few years and has yet to find the back of the net this year in six games. Now, it really is just a matter of time before he gets going, he’s averaging his most shots on goal/game since 2002-2003 at 4.17. However, I don’t see that happening this week. Calgary plays all three of their games on the road this year, including visits to Detroit and Vancouver. I really do think once Iginla starts bulging the twine then it will be a flood of goals, but I wouldn’t count on it being a week where he plays three games on the road.
Kris Versteeg (LW/RW – Florida) - A little caveat here; if you’re in a points-only league, then he’s still fine. But in roto formats, I could not start Versteeg this week. With three road games this week (and two very tough ones in Winnipeg and Philadelphia), Florida is in for some pain. For a team already boasting a (-10) goal differential just eight games into the season, this is a bad omen. On top of that, Versteeg is already a (-5) through his first three games since returning from injury. If a player can stuff other stats, like shots or PIMs, then starting a player who will hurt your +/- is easier to do. When a player does not, like Versteeg, he’s then essentially a three category player who is detracting value from your team further with his plus/minus rating.
Marek Zidlicky (D – New Jersey) - Virtually the only ownable defenceman on the Devils, Zidlicky sees first-line PP minutes with New Jersey, which is typically very valuable. However, as I explained earlier, the Devils are likely going to be in for some serious hardship this week. Zidlicky has yet to find the back of the net and will in all likelihood be a minus player this week, so unless your hand is forced, he should be avoided at all costs.
Roman Josi (D – Nashville) - For a defenceman expected to at least fill part of the void left by the departure of Ryan Suter, Josi (along with Shea Weber) has been a disappointment this year. Despite averaging over 24 minutes per game, he has yet to register a point or a penalty minute. Nashville is the lowest scoring team in the NHL this year at a paltry 1.5 goals/game and the schedule ahead is not an easy one; at St. Louis, vs. L.A., at Minnesota and at home vs. Chicago. Like Iginla, I do expect Josi to break out later in the season, he’s having too much opportunity not to. Just not this week.
Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) - After allowing just three goals in his first three games of the season, Brodeur has allowed 14 goals in his last three games. It is not going to get any easier this week with two games against Pittsburgh and games against the Rangers and Lightning. Not only will his back-up Johan Hedberg at least get one of these starts, but that’s a deadly stretch of games ahead. If I had just about any other goalie on my bench, I would have Brodeur riding the pines this week.
Ryan Miller (Buffalo) - Miller is another goalie who started hot (eight goals against in his first four starts) but has significantly cooled off since (four goals against in four straight games). There is obviously something going on with Miller, we just have no idea what. He’s looked lost at times with his movement and his angles recently, which is not typical of one of the elite goalies talents in the NHL. With games against four teams currently sitting in a playoff spot ahead this week (including a back-to-back with the Islanders and Bruins), this is going to be a really tough stretch of games for Miller to find himself. I would wait to see him turn things around before putting him in my lineup if I can help it.
Well that’s all for this week. Good luck in your head-to-head match-ups and remember; it’s about process and improvement, not results. For your fantasy hockey questions, feel free to tweet me @SlimCliffy. Until next week.