On tap: No Turkey Day hangovers allowed here; back to work in what's a busy week for the NHL, with only four teams playing as few as two games. Good week to pick and choose your matchups!
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The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 9 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.
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 9 stat sources:
Capitals (FLA, NYI, @TOR, @CAR): Offense, offense, offense. That's what this one is all about, because neither Jose Theodore nor Brent Johnson has been stellar in net for Washington thus far, serving up 3.18 goals per game through better than a quarter of the season. Oh, sure, either might make for a respectable one-day matchup play in those Panthers or Islanders home games, but the reason to load up on Capitals in Week 9 is their scoring potential. Those four opponents combined have allowed an average of 3.11 goals per game this season, 3.16 in November. With a hot month, Alexander Ovechkin finds himself back on a 100-point pace, and sophomore Nicklas Backstrom is quietly building a case for a 90-point campaign himself. But you know to roll with those guys; it's the recommendations of lesser names -- like Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti -- that you want, right? Health watch: Alexander Semin might be back by Monday, in which case, activate him.
Kings (TOR, @PHO, EDM, CLS): The key development in Los Angeles lately is that sophomore Erik Ersberg appears to have stepped up to claim the starting goalie job, with a 5-3-2 record, 2.38 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 10 games in November that make him a worthwhile No. 2 fantasy option. He's also a dominating force at home, with a 7-3-0 record, 2.13 GAA and .921 save percentage in 14 career games there, and that's a three-in-four home schedule. But this recommendation speaks more than just to the goalie; the offense draws three opponents allowing three or more goals per game in the month of November (Phoenix is the exception at 2.69). Defensemen Drew Doughty and Kyle Quincey have a combined three goals and 12 assists in 12 November games, with nine of those points on the power play, and Alexander Frolov has two goals in his past three contests.
Sharks (TOR, CLS, EDM): This is an easy one, three home games against teams that are all under .500, but I wasn't about to exclude it assuming you'd know it's favorable. Keep in mind San Jose has yet to lose a regulation game at home, rates third in the league in goals per game there (3.92), and sixth in goals allowed per game (2.41). Ryane Clowe (6 goals, 6 assists in 13 games), Milan Michalek (3 G, 7 A in 12), Joe Pavelski (6 G, 3 A in 13) and Devin Setoguchi (6 G, 10 A in 13) are most productive at The Shark Tank, so consider this a must-start week for them.
Wild (COL, STL, VAN, @NSH): There's only one opponent of those four in the midst of a massive hot streak defensively, and that's the Canucks. But ask yourself this: With Roberto Luongo out at least a month with a groin strain, do you honestly believe Curtis Sanford can sustain this Luongo-like hot streak much longer? Sanford got pummeled on Thanksgiving, and even if he's up to the task next Friday, there are still three other games with fantasy-friendly matchups for Minnesota. Eric Belanger, Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu and Marek Zidlicky have picked up the pace in Marian Gaborik's absence, and are well worth keeping in there this week.
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 Zach Parise -- 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.
Devils (@PHI, @MON): They might be in the midst of a massive tear, winners of five straight games, but I'm not ready to recommend the Devils as a whole until they shake this string of two-road-game weeks (this is the final one). Besides, if you've been reading lately, you already knew to have Patrik Elias and Zach Parise active in any circumstance; the only change to my advice for this week is that I'd tack Brian Gionta onto that list. Other than that, no, I can't recommend hot hands like Travis Zajac or Dainius Zubrus, not facing trips to Philadelphia and Montreal, battling teams that can neutralize their opponent's offense on their home ice. Incidentally, and for the record, I'm on board with Scott Clemmensen being the smarter fantasy play of the two Devils timeshare goalies; tuck that away for future weeks.
Ducks (@DET, @CHI, CLS): Detroit and Chicago are two pretty hostile environments for a hockey team to visit, and in Anaheim's case, this offense tends to take a bit of a nap in road games, averaging 2.56 goals per game compared to 3.14 at home. In addition, goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is in the midst of a mini-funk, with a 3.40 GAA and .887 save percentage in his past six games. Naturally, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the big three veterans (the All-Star defensemen and Teemu Selanne) need to be kept active, but the list of recommendations dries up after that.
Hurricanes (PIT, PHI, WAS): Cam Ward is not a member of the goaltending elite; and that is the problem. Look through his game log and the guy routinely gets beat up by strong offenses, only keeping his team in games against the weaker attacks. So while this is a three-game home schedule -- generally a favorable one for any team fantasy-wise -- it's troubling that they come against opponents who have combined to average 3.28 goals per game, with each at 3.10 or higher. Plus/minus is going to be a problem for Carolina this week, and that means you can only trust the Hurricanes who can light the lamp on a regular basis: That's Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Staal and Ray Whitney, and that's about it. Tuomo Ruuto? Uhhh, no [e] he has only one goal and one assist in his past six games.
Lightning (@PHI, BOS, BUF): I don't like either Florida team's schedule this week -- the Panthers draw the same two home opponents and visit Washington -- but I'm picking on the Lightning because they're the colder team, and the one I see finishing lower in the division at season's end. This team, fantasy-wise, is Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis. After that, Mark Recchi, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Smith are matchups plays, and this is a week to dodge their matchups. Smith might not win any of these contests, and his GAA might suffer as well.
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.
• Christopher Higgins, LW, Canadiens: He might be off to a disappointing start, but Higgins tends to play his best hockey at the Bell Centre, as evidenced by his three goals, two assists and plus-4 rating in six games there this year, and team-high 18 goals there last season. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist -- his Thursday opponent -- might be Higgins' steepest challenge of the week, but games against Atlanta on Tuesday and Martin Brodeur-less New Jersey on Saturday play in his favor.
• Jiri Hudler, RW, Red Wings: He and Valtteri Filppula seem to be sharing good chemistry with one another, with Hudler having amassed five goals and four assists in his past eight games skating on Filppula's line. That's how deep this team is; it goes at least two lines deep on offense. In a three-game home week for the Red Wings -- regardless of opponent -- you should load up with their players.
• Kris Versteeg, RW, Blackhawks: It never ceases to amaze me how a guy as productive as Versteeg remains available in nearly 50 percent of ESPN leagues; don't you want to win a championship? He has exactly 20 points in 20 games for the season, and four goals and three assists in his past five contests, so it's not like it was a fleeting early-season hot streak. Two of his games are home affairs against western teams coming east, and the other is in Detroit, versus a Red Wings team against whom he scored a power-play goal in their Oct. 25 meeting. Sounds like a favorable schedule to me!
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.