For the second straight week, the schedule maker in the National Hockey League has given teams a huge difference in games. If you're a fan of the Boston Bruins or a fantasy owner of any of their players, then you are certainly smiling. The Bruins have five games in seven days, making even their most marginal players must-starts in cumulative formats.
The only thing that can slow down the Chicago Blackhawks is the fact they have just two games in the upcoming week. The Blackhawks are one of four teams with just two games in the next seven days, joining the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers for some much-needed rest. There are six teams with a four-game slate and 19 teams who have three games in the next seven days.
The condensed schedule has given us some quirky results following the lockout, but perhaps no quirkier than this. The Bruins actually visit the Pittsburgh Penguins twice in six days in the upcoming week. In fact, the Bruins head to Pittsburgh for successive road games, sandwiched around home games against the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. Each of Boston's games this week should be high scoring, and even their fringe fantasy players are must-starts this week.
Must start: Patrice Bergeon, Zdeno Chara (PIM leagues), Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Seguin, Dennis Seidenberg (hits/blocked shots pools)
Los Angeles Kings
Center Jeff Carter has been unbelievable lately, posting at least one goal in eight of his past nine games, lighting the lamp 10 times during the impressive stretch. They have been important goals, too, as four have been of the game-winning variety. Needless to say, he is a must-start option, but fantasy owners might want to consider trading him while his value is at its pinnacle. While he can help fantasy owners win right now, you could net a giant package in return to help push your team to a championship. You definitely couldn't say that just three weeks ago.
Must start: Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards (PIM leagues), Slava Voynov, Justin Williams
If you guessed center Colin Wilson would be the team's scoring leader at the midway point of the condensed schedule, kudos to you. Your nose is also growing. He has posted five goals with a team-high 15 points, three more than veteran right wing Martin Erat, who is firmly in second place. No one is doing much scoring in 'Smashville', as this club grinds it out with physical play, tight checking and goaltending. Left wing Gabriel Bourque leads the team with six goals, but finds himself on just five percent of all fantasy rosters.
Must start: Martin Erat (PIM leagues), Kevin Klein (hits/blocked shots leagues), Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Colin Wilson
The Senators are starting to get a little healthier, as left wing Milan Michalek (knee) returned to the lineup Wednesday after nearly a one-month absence. General manager Bryan Murray is also on record stating center Jason Spezza (back) could return to game action within the next two or three weeks. If he is available in your fantasy pool, grab and stash him immediately. Goaltender Craig Anderson (ankle) remains sidelined, but Ben Bishop has done a nice job in his absence.
Must start: Ben Bishop, Marc Methot (hits/blocked shots leagues), Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris
Left wing Chris Kunitz was not always known for his deft scoring touch. In fact, when he entered the league with the Anaheim Ducks, he was a decent scorer, but he took too many penalties. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, his points have been generally the same, with his goal totals up, his plus/minus rating way up and his penalty minutes down. He is becoming a smarter player, and he is red hot right now. The former standout at Ferris State has seven goals and 10 points with a plus-8 rating during his current five-game goal-scoring streak, and he has at least one point (8 G, 4 A) in each of his past seven games.
Must start: Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin, James Neal, Brooks Orpik (hits/blocked shots leagues)
Center Matt Hendricks has gotten a shot on the team's top scoring line, posting a game-winning goal and an assist with a plus-3 rating over the past three games. While he is considered mostly a placeholder until center Brooks Laich (groin) is ready for a return, Hendricks has some short-term fantasy appeal. Center Mike Ribeiro has lit the lamp in three straight, and he maintains a stranglehold on the team's top scoring spot with nine goals and 28 points. If you need help with hits and blocked shots without taking too much of a hit in the offensive categories, look to defenseman John Carlson. He has four goals and a respectable 10 points in 22 games to go along with 59 blocked shots and 26 hits.
Must start: Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson (hits/blocked shots leagues), Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro
Left wing Evander Kane has been on an awful streak this season. Right now, he is in the midst of one of those troughs, going scoreless with an even rating and six PIM over his past four games. He'll keep your head above water in leagues which reward hits and shots on goal (SOG), but if those two categories aren't part of your pool, you're likely very frustrated. He'll get on a hot streak, gain the trust of fantasy owners and then he'll go cold. Fantasy owners sit him, and then he goes on a tear. The best thing to do is sink or swim with him, leaving him active while riding the waves.
Must start: Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Those in cumulative fantasy leagues will take a hit this week, as their Blackhawks standouts have just two games. Goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are likely to split the two games, so they are definite must-sits unless your pool averages points per game in a scoring period. Also, note that left wing Patrick Sharp (shoulder) is out at least three weeks, and perhaps a month, with a shoulder ailment.
Must start: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
Les Habitants de Montreal have just two games on tap, so nearly every player on their roster is a must-sit until next week. Left wing Brandon Prust is actually an exception in leagues which reward penalty minutes. He has 81 PIM in 24 games, while posting a respectable four goals, nine points and a plus-13 rating. Goaltender Carey Price will likely make both starts, so he should remain active regardless of format.
Must start: Josh Gorges (hits/blocked shots leagues), Brandon Prust (PIM leagues), Max Pacioretty, Carey Price
New York Islanders
The good news is that the Islanders will play favorable games for their offensive players at Tampa Bay and at Florida. The bad news is that will be their only two games in the upcoming week. Fantasy owners in cumulative leagues will want to steer far clear of those marginal producers such as right wing Brad Boyes, right wing Michael Grabner and defenseman Mark Streit. Left wing Matt Martin leads the NHL with 116 hits in just 24 games.
Must start: Matt Martin (hits/blocked shots leagues), Matt Moulson, John Tavares
The Fly Guys have shown some signs of life lately, picking up the pace offensively. The return of right wing Wayne Simmonds from concussion has really made a difference, as he has three goals and an assist over his past four games. Defenseman Niklas Grossman has emerged as a must-start in advanced scoring systems with a whopping 63 hits and league-leading 73 blocked shots through 25 games.
Must start: Claude Giroux, Niklas Grossman (hits/blocked shots leagues), Luke Schenn (hits/blocked shots leagues), Wayne Simmonds, Kimmo Timonen, Jakub Voracek