The schedule in the National Hockey League this week brings us 10 teams with four games, 17 teams with three games and three teams with just two games. It's good to have teams listed early alphabetically, as only the Ottawa Senators play four games with a city name after M in the alphabet. These are the small little quirks you notice when you're writing in the quiet.
One thing has remained clear throughout this entire season, and that is the Chicago Blackhawks are an unstoppable buzzsaw so far this season with a bevy of fantasy options. And, as luck has it, they are among the teams with four games in the upcoming week, so enjoy!
While a four-game week looks great when you go to set your lineup, keep in mind that the Ducks have a fairly difficult schedule with road games in Los Angeles Monday and Phoenix Saturday. And a battle against goaltender Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators is no walk in the park, either. The stat lines these guys will produce might resemble that of a three-game week, so be prepared. If it comes down to an Anaheim player with four games, or another comparable player, it might be best to go the other way.
Must start: Viktor Fasth, Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne
Unlike the Ducks above, the Bruins have a couple of very favorable matchups against the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, two teams who do not exactly pay great attention to defense. There will be some huge numbers from the Bruins scorers this week in those games, with a couple of guys going for multi-goal games. Nathan Horton scored twice in Tampa Bay and nearly had a hat trick in the previous meeting Thursday. Can he do it again?
Must start: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara (PIM leagues), Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask
The Sabres have a new coach for the first time since Bill Clinton started his second term in office, but the results were the same in Toronto Thursday night. Offense really isn't the problem for this team, but rather poor defense and goaltending as a result of misplays and giveaways in their own zone. Goaltender Ryan Miller made some ill-received gestures to teammates earlier in the week after a miscue. This team is a mess, but are still pretty good for fantasy purposes if you ignore plus/minus rating. Center Tyler Ennis has jumped up and become a surprising fantasy contributor with six goals, 14 points and a respectable minus-1 rating in 18 games.
Must start: Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek
The Hurricanes are a banged up bunch, with the most notable injury to left wing Jeff Skinner (concussion). He has been diagnosed with a concussion, and is out indefinitely. He joins center Tim Brent (lower body) and defenseman Jamie McBain (upper body) among the nattily dressed in the press box. The good news is that defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body) might be ready to return soon after missing several games.
Must start: Alexander Semin, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Cam Ward
Right wing Marian Hossa (head) took a crack to the head in a mid-week game against the Vancouver Canucks, but apparently he has tested out fine. If he can play over the weekend without any setbacks, keep him in your lineup. It looked like he could be out a while, but he received good news. Center Jonathan Toews not only has performed at nearly a point-per-game clip, but he leads the team with a plus-10 rating. Right wing Patrick Kane has been insane, going for 22 points (9 G, 13 A) with a plus-9 rating in 16 outings. This team has been a machine.
Must start: Corey Crawford, Ray Emery (average points-per-game leagues), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews
Oilers center Sam Gagner (5 G, 11 A) and left wing Taylor Hall (3 G, 13 A) have been quietly performing at a point-per-game clip, but outside of Alberta and the most dedicated fantasy leagues, you might never know about it. This team has so much young talent that if they ever get a top-notch defense and goaltender, they'll look like the Chicago Blackhawks in the win column.
Must start: Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall
Center Jonathan Huberdeau is proving to be the real deal, just ask the Philadelphia Flyers. He roasted the Flyers for two goals, including the game-winner, with two assists and a plus-3 rating in Thursday's 5-2 road win. Huberdeau now has three multi-point games in his early career, and he has lit the lamp five times over the past five games. There aren't many must-starts on the Panthers, especially in leagues which penalize plus/minus rating, but the rookie is an exception.
Must start: Jonathan Huberdeau
The Canadiens had been red hot until the visiting Islanders cooled them off at Bell Centre Thursday. The upcoming week looks difficult, with road trips against three divisional opponents and a home date with the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins. It could be an ugly week for the goaltending combination of Carey Price and Peter Budaj. If you're in a fantasy pool which rewards penalty minutes, you have to love left wing Brandon Prust so far. He has 76 PIM in just 17 games, and he has also delivered 35 hits with 12 blocked shots and a respectable plus-7 rating.
Must start: Rene Bourque (PIM leagues), Raphael Diaz, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price, Brandon Prust (PIM leagues)
According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Senators expect left wing Milan Michalek (knee) back at some point next week. But he should be kept on reserve until he can return and knock off the rust. He has missed five games this season, but he still sits fourth on the team in points. Goaltender Craig Anderson (ankle) suffered a sprained left ankle, and he is considered day to day. He is a risky play going forward, but since the team has four games, he might be worth a roll of the dice since he has been so good. However, be prepared for a potential mid-week, or later, return.
Must start: Daniel Alfredsson, Craig Anderson (use caution), Kyle Turris
The Flames have really struggled this season, and it is hard to find must-start fantasy options when they have three or four games in a scoring period. However, when they have two games, it is best to reserve almost every option on the team. Left wing Alex Tanguay leads the team with 12 points (4 G, 8 A), but he is also tied with a team-worst minus-7 rating. That's how it has been in Calgary this season.
Must sit (cumulative leagues): Mike Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler, Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Dennis Wideman
Columbus Blue Jackets
If the Columbus Blue Jackets took a week off, would fantasy owners notice? Defenseman Fedor Tyutin had ascended as a fantasy option for a bit, but even he has tailed off lately. Center Artem Anisimov (upper body) was crushed in Thursday's game against Detroit, sending him to the hospital for a while. The good news is that he regained consciousness and was released. Will the Jackets ever regain consciousness?
Must sit (cumulative leagues): Derick Brassard, Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson, Mark Letestu, Fedor Tyutin
New Jersey Devils
Even with two games, left wing Patrik Elias (5 G, 16 A, plus-11 rating), right wing Ilya Kovalchuk (6 G, 10 A, plus-4 rating) and right wing David Clarkson (10 G, 6 A, plus-4 rating) should remain in your starting lineup. With favorable road games against the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, goaltender Martin Brodeur should be kept active, too. Other than that, all Devils should be sent to the bench.
Must sit (cumulative leagues): Stephen Gionta, Andy Greene, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Marek Zidlicky