We enter the final week of March, and things are about to get really interesting. The Anaheim Ducks have looked like the class of the Western Conference lately, taking the title from the Chicago Blackhawks, who have suddenly struggled, at least by their standards.
In the Eastern Conference, there are some surprising guys coming on for fantasy owners. We're rounding the corner toward the fantasy playoffs, and this will be one of the most important weeks of the season. If you're in a cumulative format and depend on several St. Louis Blues or Tampa Bay Lightning players, my condolences. They have just two games in the upcoming scoring period.
Defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray continue to help fantasy owners, not only with their occasional offensive contributions, but their amazing plus-21 ratings. That's the best mark in the Western Conference and top plus/minus rating among defensemen in the NHL. Beauchemin has also been strong with 66 hits and 49 blocked shots, helping those in advanced scoring systems.
Must start: Francois Beauchemin, Andrew Cogliano, Viktor Fasth, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonas Hiller, Saku Koivu, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne, Sheldon Souray, Daniel Winnik
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg came through big with 64 seconds left in regulation Wednesday, sinking Ottawa. It was his only goal of the season, to go along with seven assists and a plus-9 rating. However, his biggest contribution for fantasy owners has been his 69 hits and 67 blocked shots. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk is also a player who can help in advanced scoring systems, posting 62 blocked shots with 45 hits. However, he left practice Friday after blocking a shot, and he could have a leg issue heading into the new week. Be careful.
Must start: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Seguin
Center Steve Ott has picked up his offensive play with two goals and a pair of assists over his past four games, and he has 10 penalty minutes (PIM) and 11 shots on goal (SOG) during the span. Still, he is worth an add in leagues that reward penalty minutes. Ott is also a friend to those in advanced scoring systems, as he is second in the NHL with 130 hits in just 31 games.
Must start: Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Steve Ott (PIM leagues, blocked shots/hits leagues), Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek
The two-goaltender tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery continues to pay big dividends. Crawford is 13-3-3 with two shutouts, a 1.86 goals against average (GAA) and .926 save percentage, while Emery is 11-0-0 with a 2.26 GAA and .916 save percentage. Head coach Joel Quenneville said Friday, March 22, that left wing Patrick Sharp (shoulder) is not close, so keep him reserved. Right wing Marian Hossa (upper body) is also battling an upper-body injury, and he is a question mark heading into the new week. Keep him reserved.
Must start: Corey Crawford, Ray Emery, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews
Columbus Blue Jackets
Defenseman James Wisniewski (foot) will travel with the team on their upcoming road trip, but there is no guarantee he'll play the whole schedule. As such, it is best to keep him reserved until he can prove his health in one full game. Center Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) missed Friday's game, and he should be reserved in all leagues that reward PIM.
Must start: Sergei Bobrovsky, Vinny Prospal
If center Sam Gagner played anywhere else, he might be a household name to casual hockey fans and fantasy players. However, playing in Edmonton is so far off the radar for most, at least for right now. Gagner has team highs with 12 goals and 28 points in just 29 games, and he has managed four power play markers. The Oilers are getting nice contributions from first-year defenseman Justin Schultz, who has five goals and 15 points, and right wing Nail Yakupov, who has six goals and 15 points. However, both have had their fantasy values lowered due to a poor minus-11 rating. As the Oilers get better, so will their fantasy appeal.
Must start: Devan Dubnyk, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky
Los Angeles Kings
The points keep coming for defenseman Jake Muzzin, who has posted four goals and nine points with a plus-9 rating and 27 PIM over his past 10 games. In leagues which discourage PIM, he isn't as great of an option, but he is a friend in most other formats. Left wing Kyle Clifford has surprised with four goals and 10 points, but he has really helped fantasy owners in advanced scoring systems with his 109 hits and 37 PIM in 30 games.
Must start: Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford (hits/blocked shots leagues), Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards, Slava Voynov, Justin Williams
Since the calendar turned to March, right wing Devin Setoguchi has been absolutely on fire. He has eight goals with 11 points and a plus-9 rating in 10 games in the month. He has had an even or positive rating in 15 straight games from Feb. 17 to March 20. The team is gaining confidence in defenseman Jonas Brodin as he gains confidence in himself. He has two goals with a plus-4 rating over his past four games, and he is a strong fantasy option in deeper formats that discourage PIMs.
Must start: Niklas Backstrom, Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Suter
Do you remember when right wing Jakub Voracek started the season slowly? Well, it seems like a distant memory now since he has 13 goals and 31 points over 30 games. Sure, his minus-7 rating has held him back a little bit, but eight power play goals have more than made up for it. Defenseman Harry Zolnierczyk has served his four-game suspension and can return. When he plays, he is only worth a look in the deepest of pools that encourage bad behavior.
Must start: Ilya Bryzgalov, Claude Giroux, Nicklas Grossman (hits/blocked shots leagues), Brayden Schenn, Luke Schenn (hits/blocked shots leagues), Wayne Simmonds, Kimmo Timonen, Jakub Voracek
Goaltender Mike Smith (whiplash) is dealing with whiplash symptoms, according to goaltenders coach Sean Burke. He is considered day to day. If he is able to return to game action Sunday, March 24, plug him back into the active fantasy lineup. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body) is dealing with a lower-body injury and should be kept reserved if you normally depend upon him.
Must start: Mikkel Boedker, Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mike Smith (check status Sunday), Keith Yandle
San Jose Sharks
Right wing Ryane Clowe (shoulder) is considered questionable to return to action Monday, leaving fantasy owners in a tough spot. Reserve him to be on the safe side. Really, he is only worth a look in formats that reward penalty minutes. Left wing Patrick Marleau has been up and down this season, and lately he has been up again. He has three goals and five points over his past six games, going scoreless in just one game during the span.
Must start: Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Antti Niemi, Joe Thornton
Toronto Maple Leafs
Defenseman Leo Komarov (upper body) is dealing with an upper-body injury, and he should be reserved in deeper fantasy pools until he can return and show his health in two full games. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf has posted five goals, 17 points, 92 hits and 40 blocked shots over 31 games, showing his value to those in advanced scoring systems after a slow start offensively. He'd be even better if he could rectify his minus-9 rating. Defenseman Mark Fraser continues to surprise with six assists, a plus-15 rating, 47 PIM and 98 hits with 59 blocked shots. Left wing Joffrey Lupul was suspended two games by the NHL, killing owners last week. He is eligible to return Monday, so start him as you normally would.
Must start: Mark Fraser (hits/blocked shots leagues), Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, James van Riemsdyk