The first week of April is here, and that means we're heading down the stretch in fantasy hockey. We have a handful of weeks left. Playoffs will be starting in head-to-head leagues, and those in rotisserie formats are jockeying for position. Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure to make the right plays in cumulative formats. And, if you're in a league which averages points per game in a scoring period, you'll want to pay extra attention to the matchups.
In the upcoming week, the Nashville Predators have five games. Unfortunately, they're not exactly an offensive juggernaut or a team that fantasy owners turn to for offensive help. A five-game week for them will simply seem like a three- or four-game week for others. There will be 19 teams with four games on the schedule, with nine teams playing a three-game week, and the Toronto Maple Leafs on for just two contests.
Right wing Martin Erat has ascended to the top spot on the scoring list, posting a goal with seven assists and an even rating over his past four games. He'll be a hot addition off the waiver wire this week. Left wing Gabriel Bourque has really picked up his play, posting five goals and eight points in nine games since March 12.
Must start: Gabriel Bourque, Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Roman Josi, Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Colin Wilson
The trade winds have been swirling this week, and some have suggested the team could move right wing Corey Perry. It's hard to see that happening, though, with the Ducks smack dab in the middle of contention. Those who might be traded are risky plays because they could miss games during the week, but I put his likelihood of moving to a new team in the low range.
Must start: Francois Beauchemin, Andrew Cogliano, Viktor Fasth, Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne
It will be interesting to see how the Flames react to life after Jarome Iginla, after trading their popular captain to the Pittsburgh Penguins this past week. Be very careful starting your Flames in the coming days, as healthy scratches could be the rule as general manager Jay Feaster works the phones trying to make deals. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is likely to be moved, and there are rumblings about defenseman Mark Giordano, left wing Alex Tanguay and even center Mike Cammalleri. Stay tuned.
Must start: Jiri Hudler, Lee Stempniak
The Hurricanes have fallen on hard times, and are finding things tougher than first thought when goaltender Cam Ward (knee) went down with a lengthy injury in early March. He is still expected to miss three to five more weeks, and if the team doesn't turn it around, they are likely to miss the postseason after a promising start.
Must start: Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty
Right wing Patrick Kane has been insane lately, posting five goals and 14 points in a seven-game span from March 10 to March 26. The Blackhawks will likely either stand pat or add some depth at the trade deadline, but don't expect any major shakeups. Left wing Patrick Sharp (shoulder) is nearing a return. Once he returns, let him play one full game to prove his health before plugging him back into the active lineup.
Must start: Corey Crawford, Ray Emery, Niklas Hjalmarsson (hits/blocked shots leagues), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook (hits/blocked shots leagues), Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews
Right wing P.A. Parenteau has stepped up his play, and re-taken the team lead in points. He has two goals with six points in a four-game span from March 23-28, and he has logged six goals and 17 points in 15 games during the month of March. Center Peter Stastny (foot) should be reserved, although he could be back for the next scoring period. Defenseman Ryan Wilson (ankle) is also on the Injured Reserve list with an ankle issue, as he just can't seem to stay healthy.
Must start: Matt Duchene, Jan Hejda (hits/blocked shots leagues), P.A. Parenteau, Greg Zanon (hits/blocked shots leagues)
There are some rumblings that right wing Jaromir Jagr, who has enjoyed a bounce-back season, could be on the move. Jagr wants a contract extension to stay in Dallas, but that might not be possible. The Boston Bruins have been rumored as a possible landing spot after they missed out on Jarome Iginla. Center Derek Roy has also been rumored to be on the block, so be careful starting those two.
Must start: Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Kari Lehtonen, Ray Whitney
Detroit Red Wings
Defenseman Jakub Kindl has been a breath of fresh air for the Red Wings, who have really struggled to find a replacement for retired rearguard Nicklas Lidstrom. Kindl could be that guy, posting four assists with a plus-7 rating over his past six games. Center Pavel Datsyuk continues to hum along, posting two goals, five points and a plus-4 rating over his past four games. He now sits at plus-14 for the season, second on the team behind Kindl, who has a plus-17 rating.
Must start: Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg
The Oilers are well within striking range of a postseason spot, sitting just three points out of the eighth position. Even if they were out of contention, it was unlikely they would sell off any of their core parts, so feel free to start your young Oilers scorers as you normally would. They're not going anywhere.
Must start: Devan Dubnyk, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky
Los Angeles Kings
Defenseman Jake Muzzin has disappeared as quickly as he emerged as a must-start fantasy option. He is scoreless over his past four games, and he hasn't lit the lamp in five straight. Still, with a plus-13 rating he can help those in rotisserie formats. Defenseman Slava Voynov continues to help fantasy owners, posting a plus-11 rating on the season. He has also picked up assists in back-to-back games.
Must start: Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards, Slava Voynov, Justin Williams
The Wild have been one of the hottest teams in the league, and it all goes back to goaltender Niklas Backstrom. He has won seven consecutive starts and lowered his goals against average (GAA) to 2.32. While he has allowed seven goals over the past two games, it is nice for fantasy owners that Backstrom has offensive support and doesn't have to be perfect to avoid losses.
Must start: Niklas Backstrom, Cal Clutterbuck (hits/blocked shots leagues), Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Suter
Center Max Pacioretty has failed to score a goal in five games dating back to his game-winning shot March 16, but he does have five helpers over his past four games. He remains a must-start option in all leagues. The Habs have three home games on the schedule, and we'll get a good idea what this team is made of when they host Boston Saturday, April 6.
Must start: Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price, P.K. Subban
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have gotten a nice jump start with goaltender Martin Brodeur returning from a month-long absence due to injury. He is 2-0-1 with just four goals allowed in his three appearances since coming back. The news isn't as good for right wing Ilya Kovalchuk (shoulder), who is expected to miss at least two weeks with a right shoulder injury. He could be sidelined as much as a month, too, but is worth keeping on a roster in case he returns earlier.
Must start: Martin Brodeur, David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky
New York Islanders
If left wing Matt Moulson and center John Tavares played on another team - even another team in the New York Metropolitan area - they would be household names. It's hard to believe that two guys fly so far under the radar in such a big market. Moulson trails Tavares by one point for the team lead, and each has performed at more than a point-per-game clip this season.
Must start: Brad Boyes, Travis Hamonic (hits/blocked shots leagues), Matt Martin (hits/blocked shots leagues), Andrew McDonald (hits/blocked shots leagues), Matt Moulson, Mark Streit (hits/blocked shots leagues), John Tavares
New York Rangers
The New York Daily News reports the Rangers are concerned that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (head) has taken too many shots to the head in recent weeks, and they are keeping an eye on him for possible concussion symptoms. That makes him a risky play heading into the upcoming week. If you're a daily player, it's probably a good idea to add goaltender Martin Biron just for insurance.
Must start: Martin Biron (daily leagues), Michael del Zotto, Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan
St. Louis Blues
It is likely even die-hard fantasy players would fail if asked who leads the Blues in scoring. It is right wing Chris Stewart, who has been red hot for an extended period. While he is scoreless in his past three games, he still has eight goals with 16 points in 14 games during the month of March. Center Patrik Berglund has also picked up his play, lighting the lamp five times in the past 11 games to take the team lead with 15 markers.
Must start: Patrik Berglund, Jaroslav Halak, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen, Chris Stewart
San Jose Sharks
Remember when left wing Patrick Marleau was lighting the world on fire with nine goals, 13 points and a plus-6 rating in his first five games this season? He has managed just seven goals with 11 points and an awful minus-10 rating in 28 games since Jan. 29. Ouch. He still leads the team in goals, but center Logan Couture has been a far more steady contributor, and he is just two goals behind for the team lead. Be careful with defenseman Dan Boyle, as he is another player who could be on the move.
Must start: Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi, Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay Lightning
There have been rumors the Lightning might deal diminutive right wing Martin St. Louis, but general manager Steve Yzerman said no. That is good news, and so is the fact that new bench boss Jon Cooper plans to employ a more wide-open offensive style. So if you own St. Louis or center Steven Stamkos, the coaching change is huge for you.
Must start: Cory Conacher, Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos
Left wing Alex Ovechkin has been playing out of his mind lately, closing the team points lead of center Mike Ribeiro to just three. Ovie has managed six goals with 10 points and a plus-3 rating over his past six games, finally giving fantasy owners and fans what they want.
Must start: Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson (hits/blocked shots leagues), Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro
Left wing Evander Kane seems to be a very streaky player, but one thing is constant in his game: hits. Rarely do high-skill players dish out the blows, but he is in the top 10 in the NHL with 113 hits through 35 games. He and Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown are actually the only two skaters in the league with double-digit goal totals while also ranking in the top 20 in hits.
Must start: Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey (hits/blocked shots leagues), Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler