After a fast and furious pace to start the season, the condensed NHL schedule doesn't look that bad for the third week of the regular season. In fact, only eight teams play four games in seven days, with 21 teams playing three games, and one team, the Colorado Avalanche, scheduled for just two games. Some of those players who have received early bumps and bruises will at least get some respite between games, with a little bit more rest for the weary.
The Ducks might be on the ice for four games, but none of the matchups are particularly attractive with red-hot San Jose at home and Colorado, Dallas and St. Louis on the road. It might be a long week for goaltender Jonas Hiller and backup Viktor Fasth. After a slow start, right wing Bobby Ryan pieced together back-to-back games with points Jan. 26-29. Be patient, as he'll come around, and you'll be happy you stuck with him.
Must start: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan
Left wing Thomas Vanek opened the season with at least one point in five straight games, including a five-point performance in the opener against Philadelphia. He has been everything fantasy owners could want and more, although his plus/minus rating could use a little improvement. Rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko was informed earlier this week he is staying in the NHL, and not returning to junior hockey. He responded with his first NHL goal against Toronto Tuesday. Still, he is only worth a look in deeper-pool and long-term keeper formats.
Must start: Cody Hodgson, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek
Detroit Red Wings
Center Pavel Datsyuk (2 G, 6 A, plus-5) and left wing Henrik Zetterberg (2 G, 5 A, plus-3) are doing what is expected, but they could use a little help. Center Valtteri Filppula has shown signs he might be that guy, and after a slow start, rookie center Damien Brunner has patched together a scoring streak. The problem with the Red Wings is that after their top-six forwards, they have an uncharacteristic lack of depth.
Must start: Damien Brunner, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg
The young Oilers are not only getting it done at home, but on the road, too. They have taken big steps forward, and this looks like a young team that could go deep into the playoffs. One of those key young guys, right wing Nail Yakupov, potted the game-winning goal in overtime at Phoenix Wednesday, giving him a team-high four goals in six games. There will be growing pains with this team, but you can't swing a hockey stick without netting a top-notch draft pick that is hitting on all cylinders.
Must start: Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Nail Yakupov
The Nashville offense has been rather punchless, and no one has been a bigger disappointment than defenseman Shea Weber, who went scoreless in his first six games with a minus-1 rating and 11 penalty minutes (PIM). If this team is to have any measure of success, they need their quarterback Weber to start generating some offense, and quickly. At this point, he is no longer considered a must-start for fantasy owners. Goaltender Pekka Rinne is holding it down with a respectable 2.68 goals-against average (GAA), but he has no wins and just three overtime losses to show for it in five starts.
Must start: Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Pekka Rinne
New Jersey Devils
The biggest surprise has been the solid play of defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who had managed four assists over his first eight games while posting eight PIM and 10 shots on goal (SOG). Zidlicky isn't quite a must-start, but he is a solid option in cumulative pools with a four-game week on tap. The Devils need another forward to step up and join right wing David Clarkson (4 G, 3 A), left wing Patrik Elias (2 G, 5 A, plus-3) and right wing Ilya Kovalchuk (2 G, 3 A, plus-4) in the scoring column.
Must start: Martin Brodeur, David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk
Some might think center Evgeni Malkin is off to a disappointing start by his standards, as he has one goal, five assists and a minus-3 rating through the first six games. Still, he and center Sidney Crosby are performing at a point-per-game clip, and that's not too shabby. Left wing James Neal leads the way with four goals, and right wing Pascal Dupuis has been serviceable, especially on the power play, chipping in with one goal on the man advantage. Left wings Tanner Glass and Eric Tangradi looked to be in favorable spots to share a top-six forward spot, but each are scoreless to date and are no longer worth holding out hope for. The team claimed left wing Zach Boychuk off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes, and he is worth watching.
Must start: Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal
Tampa Bay Lightning
Goaltender Anders Lindback has been instrumental in the team's success, as he is 4-1-0 with a 2.80 GA and .914 save percentage over his first five games. He isn't quite must-start status in fantasy leagues, but he has emerged as a decent low-end No. 1 netminder because Tampa Bay has been winning regularly. Center Cory Conacher continues to surprise, as he posted three goals with six assists and a plus-5 rating through the first six games. Defenseman Sami Salo has surprised early on, going for five assists with a whopping plus-10 rating in the first six contests.
Must start: Cory Conacher, Vincent Lecavalier, Anders Lindback, Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs
Center Nazem Kadri is living up to immense expectations, currently producing a point-per-game pace (3 G, 3 A, plus-1) through six games. Right wing Matt Frattin has filled the shoes of injured left wing Joffrey Lupul (forearm) rather admirably. Frattin was fluid Tuesday in Buffalo, roofing a game-winner in overtime with less than a second remaining in the extra session. It was his second goal of the game and third in three games since being recalled from the minors. Fantasy owners are starting to pay attention. Meanwhile, right wing Phil Kessel has no goals and three assists with a minus-2 through six games. He is topped only by defenseman Dion Phaneuf as a fantasy disappointment. The captain Phaneuf has only one helper with a minus-7 and no PIM in six games.
Must start: Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri
In other news
Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (ankle) might be sidelined two or three more weeks due to a high ankle sprain. He had just one goal in three games as it stands, and his loss is way more valuable to his real team than to fantasy owners.
The Montreal Canadiens agreed to terms with defenseman P.K. Subban, ending a contract impasse. He is a great addition to most lineups, especially if you need help in the PIM category. He'll spend plenty of time in the sin bin, but he is offensively gifted, too.
New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique (thumb) can be added and activated in all fantasy leagues once he makes it through his second full game without any setbacks. That second full game should come Saturday in Pittsburgh.
New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (shoulder) will be on the shelf 10 to 14 days after suffering a left shoulder injury in a dust-up with Philadelphia Flyers forward Maxime Talbot Tuesday night. It appears Callahan will need to be reserved for at least the next two scoring periods, but he should definitely be held onto as a reserve. With a surplus of rearguards, bench boss John Tortorella might elect to bump defenseman Stu Bickel or Matt Gilroy up to a forward position, but their fantasy appeal would still be rather minimal.
Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza (back) is reportedly out indefinitely, and he will undergo back surgery Friday in Toronto. It's terrible news for fantasy owners, who will be left scrambling for replacements. Center Kyle Turris has posted four goals with three assists through the first seven games, and he is an in-house replacement. Center Mika Zibanejad picked up his first NHL goal Wednesday, and he has the talent to be a top-six forward. Will the Senators trust the 19-year-old in such a high-profile spot right off the bat? We'll see.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is doing his best to muddle the goalie picture in the Pacific Northwest. He made his second straight start Wednesday and blanked the Colorado Avalanche. So far, Luongo is 1-0-2 (one shutout) with a sparkling 1.61 GAA and .938 save percentage in four games (three starts). Meanwhile, goaltender Cory Schneider is 2-2-0 (one shutout) with a 3.13 GAA and less-than-stellar .897 save percentage. If you rolled the dice on Luongo midway through your draft, good for you.