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Friday, October 17, 2008
Fantasy Forecaster: Week 3

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

On tap: Week 3 is an interesting one. Saturday represents only the second time in NHL history that all 30 teams have been scheduled to play. The first was Oct. 5, 2005, when every team played on opening night as the league returned from the most recent work stoppage. It's immediately followed on Sunday by the only "day off" for all 30 teams that isn't holiday- or All Star-related all season. Strange scheduling, and baseball's World Series, which might appear the logical reason, can't be blamed; the World Series has games both Saturday and Sunday night, but all 15 NHL games on Saturday are night games, meaning they'll be going head-to-head with Game 3 of the Fall Classic.

Quick click by section:

Week 3 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

Week 3 schedule

The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 3 schedules. In order to help those of you targeting quantity of games, teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are first broken by greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically by team.

TeamMon. 10/20Tue. 10/21Wed. 10/22Thu. 10/23Fri. 10/24Sat. 10/25Sun. 10/26Total gamesHome games
Bruins (BOS)PIT@BUFTORATL43
Panthers (FLA)@MON@OTTSJ@STL41
Stars (DAL)@NYR@NJ@NYIWAS41
Blues (STL)DETLAFLA33
Avalanche (COL)@LAEDMBUF32
Blue Jackets (CLS)VANNYR@MIN32
Devils (NJ)DALPHI@PHI32
Flyers (PHI)SJ@NJNJ32
Maple Leafs (TOR)ANA@BOSOTT32
Rangers (NYR)DAL@CLSPIT32
Senators (OTT)FLAANA@TOR32
Flames (CGY)WAS@NSH@PHO31
Kings (LA)COL@STL@NSH31
Penguins (PIT)@BOSCAR@NYR31
Red Wings (DET)@STLATL@CHI31
Sabres (BUF)BOS@MIN@COL31
Capitals (WAS)@CGY@PHO@DAL30
Ducks (ANA)@TOR@OTT@MON30
Oilers (EDM)@CHI@COL@VAN30
Sharks (SJ)@PHI@FLA@TB30
Thrashers (ATL)@TB@DET@BOS30
Blackhawks (CHI)EDMDET22
Canadiens (MON)FLAANA22
Coyotes (PHO)WASCGY22
Islanders (NYI)DALCAR22
Lightning (TB)ATLSJ22
Predators (NSH)CGYLA22
Wild (MIN)BUFCLS22
Canucks (VAN)@CLSEDM21
Hurricanes (CAR)@PIT@NYI20

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 four teams as strong Week 3 stat sources:

Canadiens (FLA, ANA): It's rare that a two-game schedule -- in a week when 21 teams play three or more games -- is a favorable one for fantasy, but when picking from the two-gamers, take the ones played entirely at home and against weak opponents. Sure, you might claim that the Ducks are annual playoff contenders, but they dropped four straight to begin the season, allowing 17 goals. A trip to hostile Montreal doesn't suit them well, nor does it Florida, for that matter. In a short week, a lesser-known hot starter like Guillaume Latendresse might be a bit risky play, but have no fear with Saku Koivu, Sergei Kostitsyn and Alex Tanguay.

Predators (CGY, LA): Nashville is 84-30-10 at home since the lockout, and while this isn't quite the Predators team that excelled in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, it's still a dangerous, matchups-worthy squad. Something to think about: Both Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont managed 40 points in 40 games last season, demonstrating their level of home dominance. (Of course, Arnott would need to show first that he can play with a fractured finger.) Martin Erat, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are also off to decent starts this year, and are worth a look.

Red Wings (@STL, ATL, @CHI): Both the Thrashers and Blackhawks are off to sluggish starts, and the Blues, while 3-1-0 thus far, are 9-14-1 against the Red Wings since the lockout. This is a prime time for Detroit to make a statement within its division, with two intradivision road contests, so expect the Red Wings to come out to play. Take a look at the hot-starting Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen, who have totaled six goals and 19 shots on goal in four games.

Senators (FLA, ANA, @TOR): Again, the Panthers and Ducks don't shape up well for their eastern Canadian trip, and it's widely assumed that the Maple Leafs will finish one of the worst teams in the league come season's end. That puts Ottawa on the list of teams with favorable matchups, which in their case means you can deploy more than simply the usual guys, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza (Daniel Alfredsson is still recovering from knee surgery). Filip Kuba and Antoine Vermette merit a look, as does fresh-off-a-groin injury Mike Fisher.

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 four teams. Keep in mind stud players -- like Mike Richards -- on teams with poor matchups shouldn't normally be benched, but it's worth keeping their schedules in mind if you're deep in high-quality alternatives.

Blackhawks (EDM, DET): Normally teams that make coaching changes go on a mini-hot streak -- at least comparative to their pre-switch performance -- but Chicago's schedule does not portend good things on that front. First of all, the Blackhawks play the upstart Oilers and the juggernaut Red Wings in Week 3, then they travel to Minnesota and host Dallas to complete the month of October. They endured a forgettable preseason, too, so a slump lasting into November seems probable. They've been splitting the goaltending chores between Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin, limiting their fantasy value, and they're 1-for-19 on the power play. Things will improve on a team with this much young talent, but for now, ride only the big names: Brian Campbell, Martin Havlat (surprisingly healthy), Patrick Kane, etc.

Blue Jackets (VAN, NYR, @MIN): This one's simple, just look at the opponents. They're a combined 11-2-0 through this past Thursday, averaging 3.62 goals per game while allowing 2.31. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom are unquestioned top-10 goaltenders, so Rick Nash might be your only "safe" choice from Columbus. Goalie Pascal Leclaire, by the way, has allowed 12 goals in three games.

Coyotes (WAS, CGY): Shane Doan, Olli Jokinen and Peter Mueller will barely ever be sit candidates, but after those three you're talking a lot of risky plays on Phoenix's roster. It's a two-game week, and one of the Coyotes' opponents is the mighty Capitals, one of the most potent offensive teams in the game. A short week full of plus/minus risk is not one you want to count on. By the way, Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, despite his miserable start, is 8-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 12 career games against Phoenix.

Flyers (SJ, @NJ, NJ): Philadelphia is off to a miserable 0-3-1 start, much of that a result of awful goaltending by Martin Biron, 0-3-0 with a 5.75 GAA in his three starts. Great stat: Biron is 5-11-2 with a 3.09 GAA and .893 save percentage in 21 career games against the Devils. New Jersey, by the way, has won 19 of 24 meetings since the lockout, including six of eight last season.

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 choice (opponent)Defensive choice (opponent)
Monday, Oct. 20 Kings (COL) Canadiens (FLA)
Tuesday, Oct. 21 Canucks (@CLS) Lightning (ATL)
Wednesday, Oct. 22 Senators (FLA) Senators (FLA)
Thursday, Oct. 23 Bruins (TOR) Bruins (TOR)
Friday, Oct. 24 Devils (PHI) Senators (ANA)
Saturday, Oct. 25 Predators (LA) Canadiens (ANA)
Sunday, Oct. 26no gamesno games

Tristan's Three: Week 3 sleepers

Alex Auld, G, Senators: This is a bit of a gamble, because by the time Week 3 kicks off, projected starter Martin Gerber could have posted a stellar performance in the Oct. 17 or 18 home games against the Coyotes or Bruins to establish himself as the go-to guy. But I'm impressed with what Auld did in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 5, stopping 30 of 31 shots and having a shutout spoiled with two seconds to play. He might -- and I think he is -- the stronger choice to start the bulk of the games for Ottawa, and with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, he's guaranteed at least one start. I'd count on two, barring Gerber impressing and stealing the Wednesday game against Florida. And if Auld gets the Panthers and Maple Leafs games, boy, what a week he might have.

Jason Blake, LW, Maple Leafs: It'll be the rare week when Toronto's schedule is favorable enough to play the matchups, but this one isn't bad, with two home games and a road contest at Boston against an opponent that's not overwhelming. Besides, Blake is firing a ton of shots -- 15 through three games -- skating close to 20 minutes and he has a history of strong starts. Did you know that in the past three seasons combined, he has 28 goals (13 on the power play), 37 assists and a plus-12 rating in 75 games through Nov. 30 of those years? Best to ride Blake now, then sell high about a month from now.

Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, Stars: He's a boom-or-bust type, as evidenced by his hat trick in his NHL debut this past Wednesday, then his scoreless, minus-2 performance the very next night. Still, players like that are well worth a look in four-game weeks -- as the Stars draw in Week 3 -- especially players with star potential. Only three teams play as many as four games, so take a look at the 23-year-old Swede.

"Tristan's Three" results (through Thursday, Oct. 16): 11 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, plus-1, 6 penalty minutes, 17 shots on goal, 2 power-play assists.

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