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Friday, October 10, 2008
Fantasy Forecaster: Week 2

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

On tap: The first full week of the NHL schedule is a busy one; all but five teams play three or more games, and seven teams play four each. Among the highlights: a rematch of the Eastern Conference finals between the Flyers and the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday; megastuds Alexander Ovechkin (Capitals) and Sidney Crosby (Penguins) facing off in Pittsburgh on Thursday; and the Canadiens and the Bruins, a one-sided rivalry stacked in the former's favor, in Montreal on Wednesday. Yes, it's quite a week of Eastern Conference story lines, also including the annual Devils-Rangers battle (Monday in New York) and a Canadiens-Flyers playoff rematch (Monday in Philadelphia).

Quick click by section:

Week 2 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

Week 2 schedule

The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 2 schedules. To help those of you targeting quantity of games, the teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are broken first by greater number of home games -- a home game almost always is better than a road game -- and then alphabetically.

TeamMon. 10/13Tue. 10/14Wed. 10/15Thu. 10/16Fri. 10/17Sat. 10/18Sun. 10/19Total gamesHome games
Blackhawks (CHI)NSHPHO@STLVAN43
Ducks (ANA)@LAEDMSJCAR43
Rangers (NYR)NJBUFTOR@DET43
Flyers (PHI)MON@PIT@COL@SJ41
Predators (NSH)@CHI@DAL@CLSCLS41
Sabres (BUF)@NYI@NYRVAN@ATL41
Canucks (VAN)@WAS@DET@BUF@CHI40
Penguins (PIT)PHIWASTOR33
Thrashers (ATL)MINNJBUF33
Blues (STL)@TORDALCHI32
Canadiens (MON)@PHIBOSPHO32
Capitals (WAS)VAN@PITNJ32
Flames (CGY)COLEDM@EDM32
Red Wings (DET)@CARVANNYR32
Sharks (SJ)CLS@ANAPHI32
Stars (DAL)NSH@STLCOL32
Avalanche (COL)@CGYPHI@DAL31
Blue Jackets (CLS)@SJNSH@NSH31
Hurricanes (CAR)DET@LA@ANA31
Islanders (NYI)BUF@TB@FLA31
Maple Leafs (TOR)STL@NYR@PIT31
Oilers (EDM)@ANA@CGYCGY31
Coyotes (PHO)@CHI@OTT@MON30
Devils (NJ)@NYR@ATL@WAS30
Wild (MIN)@ATL@FLA@TB30
Kings (LA)ANACAR22
Lightning (TB)NYIMIN22
Panthers (FLA)MINNYI22
Senators (OTT)PHOBOS22
Bruins (BOS)@MON@OTT20

Stacked! Favorable matchups

Quantity might be all well and good for some fantasy owners, but not for all. Quality matters, too, so if you're picking and choosing from individual matchups -- most important in daily leagues or those with caps on games per position -- I'd take a look at the following five teams as strong Week 2 stat sources:

Ducks (@LA, EDM, SJ, CAR): Three home games for the Ducks is quite a fantasy-friendly schedule, and if you tack on a fourth at Los Angeles, where Anaheim has won seven of its past nine games, well, that's icing on the proverbial cake. The Ducks won 68.3 percent of their games at the Honda Center in 2007-08 and 65.0 percent since the lockout, averaging 3.23 goals per game during the latter time span. Even the complete second line of Chris Kunitz, Brendan Morrison and Teemu Selanne, coming off a strong preseason effort Oct. 3, warrants a look.

Flames (COL, EDM, @EDM): This one is more about Miikka Kiprusoff than it is about the offense, not that battles with Peter Budaj and Mathieu Garon should scare you off Flames skaters. But Kiprusoff is 16-8-3 with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 27 career games against Edmonton, including a 1.87 GAA and .922 save percentage in seven meetings last season.

Stars (NSH, @STL, COL): Although the Stars are coming off a lackluster preseason, the schedule they will face in their first full week is relatively soft, with games against Predators and Avalanche teams that were awfully ordinary in road games last season and a matchup with a Blues team in St. Louis that ranks among the weaker ones of the league. Sean Avery's addition should add some real grit to this lineup, and it's a good time to dig deep among Dallas skaters. Not that I'd go so far as to gamble on rookie Fabian Brunnstrom, not yet, but with a schedule like this, he bears watching.

Thrashers (MIN, NJ, BUF): There won't be a lot of times this season that I'll recommend the Thrashers for fantasy -- they're a positively awful team -- but a three-game home schedule featuring two defensively minded teams that are weak on offense (Wild, Devils) isn't a bad one. Atlanta has won 66 of 123 home games (53.7 percent) since the lockout, after all. Top-line center Todd White, offensive defensemen Ron Hainsey and Mathieu Schneider and, obviously, Ilya Kovalchuk all should be started. Even goalie Kari Lehtonen might be worth the rare one-week whirl.

No, it's a trap! Unfavorable matchups

If you're picking and choosing your matchups, I'd do my best to avoid players from the following five teams. Keep in mind stud players -- like Sidney Crosby -- on teams with poor matchups normally shouldn't be benched, but it's worth keeping their schedules in mind if you're deep in high-quality alternatives.

Blue Jackets (@SJ, NSH, @NSH): The Predators might be on the decline, but it's tough to overlook the fact that they've taken 15 of these teams' past 16 meetings, limiting the Blue Jackets to 23 goals (that's 1.44 per game). Plus, a trip to San Jose isn't a fantasy-friendly matchup at all. Goalie Pascal Leclaire is a combined 3-9-0 with a 3.68 GAA in 16 career games against those two teams, so he's a no-go. So is just about any other Blue Jacket not named Rick Nash.

Bruins (@MON, @OTT): I don't know that most people truly understand the level of dominance the Canadiens have had over the Bruins since the lockout. Consider that before Boston took Montreal to seven games in the first round of last season's playoffs, the Bruins had lost 11 consecutive regular-season meetings and 20 of 24 games the previous three seasons. So when I see a road game in Montreal -- where the Bruins are 2-10, playoffs included, since the lockout -- and another in Ottawa, I tend to steer clear. Play Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, but that's about it.

Canucks (@WAS, @DET, @BUF, @CHI): That's a four-game road swing, and more importantly, all of those games come against teams with extremely potent offenses. The Capitals, Red Wings and Sabres almost assuredly will rank among the league's leaders in goals, and the Blackhawks are loaded with young, up-and-coming talent. It's practically impossible to advise sitting a goalie as talented as Roberto Luongo, but if there's any week for him to let you down, it's this one. Be aware that he was 4-7-0 with a 2.91 GAA in 11 games last October. And while he'd be in my lineup if I owned him, I'd be concerned the matchups might mean Luongo will sap his mates' plus/minus ratings, especially those of fringe players like Steve Bernier and Pavol Demitra.

Devils (@NYR, @ATL, @WAS): Historically, there might not be a slower-starting team than the Devils, who have gone 16-17 in October in the three seasons since the lockout and 125-88 all other regular-season months. Martin Brodeur, in particular, is 13-15 with a 3.10 GAA and .893 save percentage in 28 October games during that span. The Rangers can handle them -- at least in recent years, they sure can -- and the Capitals should dominate them. Like Luongo, Brodeur is a tough cookie to bench, but it's not a crazy idea in daily formats. Expect another sluggish start.

Daily picks

For those of you in leagues with daily transactions, I've picked a strong matchup on each side of the puck for each day of the upcoming week. My "defensive choice" doesn't always mean simply "play the goalie"; it means the goalie is a strong pick but indicates every bit as much that the team will be safe and potentially productive in plus/minus. When possible -- and remember, some days boast fewer games than others -- obvious teams have been avoided in favor of sleeper-type selections.

DateOffensive choiceDefensive choice
Monday, Oct. 13 Maple Leafs (STL) Capitals (VAN)
Tuesday, Oct. 14 Flames (COL) Thrashers (MIN)
Wednesday, Oct. 15 Canadiens (BOS) Canadiens (BOS)
Thursday, Oct. 16 Lightning (NYI) Lightning (NYI)
Friday, Oct. 17 Hurricanes (@LA) Sabres (VAN)
Saturday, Oct. 18 Blackhawks (@STL) Panthers (NYI)
Sunday, Oct. 19 Ducks (CAR) Blackhawks (VAN)

Tristan's Three: Week 2 sleepers

Brandon Dubinsky, C, Rangers: I've got a good feeling about this kid, the second-line center between Nigel Dawes and the underrated Nikolai Zherdev. Dubinsky already potted a goal in the opening weekend in Prague, he skated more than 18 minutes in both of those games and he's coming off a decent preseason. Plus, the Rangers play four games this week, three of them at home, one against Toronto.

Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Canadiens: Remember that note earlier about Montreal's domination over Boston last season? Kostitsyn, who continued to excel this preseason, totaled eight goals, nine assists, a plus-12 rating and three power-play points in 14 games against the Bruins last season, between the regular season and the teams' first-round playoff meeting. In other words, he was one of the key contributors in that rivalry, as was brother Sergei (three goals, three assists, plus-4 in their seven-game playoff series).

Filip Kuba, D, Senators: No one ever gives this guy enough credit. He has managed 30-plus points in back-to-back seasons, has gotten a good third of those on the power play and, with Ottawa suffering some blue-line losses this offseason, will be the team's leader on the defensive end. That means a prime role as a power-play point man, and his three assists from the opening-weekend series in Sweden serve as evidence of how much he can help you. Ottawa might draw the short end of the stick in terms of total games this week, but both are home and against beatable teams. Keep Kuba in there.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.