NHL Forecaster: Stalking their prey

The Forecaster can do more than just help you set your lineup for the following week. As I'll illustrate, the ratings can also help you in the fantasy trade market.

My colleague Tim Kavanaugh poked some holes in Cristobal Huet's recent success in "In the Crease" this week, and he was right to do so. After a terrible start, Huet is 3-2 with a 1.41 goals-against average in his past five games. But as Tim pointed out, of Huet's past five games, four have been played against the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild, who are dead last and second-to-last in goals per game this season. In the one game of those five that wasn't against a bottom-dwelling offense, the Dallas Stars scored four times on Huet in beating the Hawks.

There is more than enough evidence that Huet's success of late has more to do with the impotent offenses he is facing, rather than his turning the corner on a bad start. Antti Niemi still lurks with overall better statistics and the schedule is bound to get tougher as the season wears on.

But don't be so fast to sell right now. The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the better defensive ratings for the week against the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. Why sell Huet now, when a strong schedule should help pump up his value even more next week? Let him win a couple more contests, maybe even post a shutout next week, then sell high.

Perhaps some easy games are all Huet needed to boost his confidence and he'll play some solid goal for the Hawks the rest of the way. But I see a November schedule that ends with seven of 10 games against teams in the top half of the league in scoring, and will be trying to swap Huet for another goaltender sooner than later.

"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.

Offensive highlights

Predators on offensive? A week after having one of the lowest offensive ratings the Forecaster has seen this season, the Predators are back with one of the best ratings for the coming week. It might only be a two-game set for the Preds, but it looks like they'll do plenty of scoring against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings on the road. Still, I wouldn't stray from the likes of J.P. Dumont, Patric Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan and the recently hot Joel Ward when looking for forwards to start. And don't look now, but this is your last window of opportunity to snag Pekka Rinne on the cheap before he quickly ascends the goaltender ranks.

No Filppula, no worries: The Detroit Red Wings will get to drown the sorrows of their latest injury (to forward Valtteri Filppula) with a very good week on offense. Games against the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs all rate very well for the Red Wings' scorers. Pavel Datsyuk will continue to turn on his boosters, and by the end of this coming week you will have all but forgotten about any slow start by the star center. Besides the obvious -- Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom -- Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams make good plays for these games as well. The Wings might have a little trouble dispatching a hobbled Bruins squad, but the games with the Sharks and Leafs should be high-scoring.

Rock you like a Hurricane: Will Eric Staal please show up? Fantasy owners looking at Staal's five points and minus-4 through 11 games might wonder where the real Staal is and why they didn't draft Michael Frolik in the second round instead. This will be the week Staal and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes get back on track. With games against the Florida Panthers, Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, it wouldn't be a shock for the Canes to score 15 or more goals in their three contests. Ray Whitney doesn't leave Staal's side on or off the power play, making him a good play as well. Owners in deeper leagues can roll Rod Brind'Amour and Sergei Samsonov, who, along with Staal and Whitney, make up the first power-play unit with defenseman Joni Pitkanen.

Defensive highlights

Coyotes continue to howl: The Phoenix Coyotes draw a four-game week with one of the better defensive ratings in the league. We warned you about starting Ilya Bryzgalov against the New York Rangers last week, but we'll encourage his use for this coming set of games. None of the Coyotes' opponents rate better than a six on offense, and only the Chicago Blackhawks are a threat to hurt Bryzgalov's numbers this season. Grab some other hot Yotes for plus/minus help as well, such as the checking line of Vernon Fiddler, Daniel Winnik and Taylor Pyatt.

Avoid waterfowl and bolts: The Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning both have terrible ratings for the week defensively, and with no redeeming qualities to their offensive ratings either, most players should be avoided. The Ducks have a homestand against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Predators and Coyotes, and looking at the numbers, you want no part of the goaltending. The Lightning play a four-game road schedule with a stop against the Philadelphia Flyers before contests in the three Eastern Conference Canadian cities. Don't dream of going with Mike Smith this week. The exception for the Lightning is that their offense won't be in for as tough a time as the Ducks, so Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone are still good to go in a four-game week.

Thrashers' seesaw sked: Quite an up-and-down ratings week for the Atlanta Thrashers, who have a four-game week with defensive ratings that read: nine, one, nine, two. The Forecaster is basically calling for solid defensive games by the Thrashers against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders, but some high-scoring affairs with the Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues. The offense looks good for the whole week, but stay away from Ondrej Pavelec unless you can slide him in and out of your lineup between contests.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.