NHL Forecaster: The whiff!

In order to score a goal, the players on your fantasy hockey team need to shoot the puck. But in order for them to turn a shot into a goal, that shot has to be at the net.

The NHL keeps a quirky, little-used statistic known as the missed shot. Here's the definition I think is the best, off the Nashville Predators website: "A missed shot is an attempted shot at the net that misses the net in a clear opportunity to score. In other words, the shot hits the goalpost or crossbar, or the shot went over the net or went wide of the net. A shot that is on net but blocked by the goaltender is a save for the goaltender and is not considered a missed shot. A shot that is on the net but is blocked by a defender is a blocked shot and is not counted as a missed shot."

A missed shot, more or less, is a botched opportunity to score by the player. The missed shot never got a chance to become a shot on goal or a blocked shot because it missed the mark entirely. While you might wonder why you should care about who is not scoring, the missed shot appears to be a good indicator of at least who is trying to score.

Would it surprise you to learn that a player on pace for just 30 goals after scoring 46 a season ago, Jeff Carter, leads the league with 78 missed shots this season? He had 116 all of last season and this year's pace puts him at 196. So what can that tell you? Simply that the explanation for Carter's drop in production is not his playing a different role this season, but rather his squeezing the stick too much and having execution problems. The opportunities are still there, Carter just isn't taking advantage of them.

In fact, you could take Carter's career shooting percentage of 10.8 and apply it to the 78 additional missed shots he is on pace for this season and estimate that he should be closer to 38 goals if he wasn't misfiring so often.

How about Shea Weber? Would it surprise you to learn that he is firing wide, too? Weber is on pace for 14 goals compared to the 23 he scored a season ago. He is also on pace the finish second behind Carter for missed shots with 157.

What about Henrik Zetterberg, who is on pace for the third-most missed shots this season? He looks to finish with 42 more missed shots than last season if he holds his pace, and Hank also happens to be on pace for 24 tallies, his lowest goal-scoring total since 2003-04.

Zetterberg's Detroit Red Wings and Weber's Predators have two of the lowest offensive ratings this week in the Forecaster, and since the Forecaster is using a running total of this season's stats to determine the matchups, some blame lays squarely at their feet. There isn't much you can actually do about their troubles from a fantasy perspective, but you can take solace in the fact that surely the coaching staffs are aware of the problem and are trying to fix it.

Make sure you take a spin over to missed shots before you sell low on any of your slumping players. With some minor adjustments, Carter, Weber and Zetterberg (if he didn't sustain a serious shoulder injury on Thursday from countryman Mattias Ohlund, that is) will get back on track.

"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.

The Christmas break

It's actually a bit of a crazy week considering the NHL annually takes Dec. 24-25 off, yet most teams still play three or four games. Watch for some backup goaltenders to get action during the weekend as teams cram in games. Specifically, Ty Conklin should get a nod for the St. Louis Blues, Michael Leighton could make his debut for the Philadelphia Flyers and Dan Ellis might make an appearance for the Predators.

Offensive highlights

Return of October Rangers: The New York Rangers kicked off what will be a solid week with a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders this past Thursday. After a meeting with the Flyers on Saturday (Dec. 19), the Forecaster has the Rangers' offense pegged for a huge offensive outpouring against the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and a rematch with the Islanders. This should serve as a reminder of what the Rangers' offense can do when they are playing to their potential -- like they were in October. Coach John Tortorella benched Wade Redden and Ales Kotalik on Thursday, and while that might have served as a wake-up call for some, the easy schedule should get some of the credit if the Rangers continue to score. Revisit the ownership of players like Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto or even Bobby Sanguinetti. Sanguinetti replaced Redden in the lineup and has 23 points in 27 games in the AHL this season. He is essentially Del Zotto with a bit more defensive ability.

Big week for the twins: Daniel and Henrik Sedin have been on fire since reuniting after Daniel returned from a broken foot, and the ride will continue this week as the Vancouver Canucks get a cakewalk schedule. The Canucks match up as a 10 on the Forecaster against both the Predators and Edmonton Oilers. The game against the Calgary Flames to end the week might not be terrific, but is more than made up for by the other two. Who needs to go in your lineup? Mason Raymond might be the only free-agent forward worth your time, but owners in deeper leagues can also consider Steve Bernier. With Alexander Edler out at the moment and possibly for the week, Sami Salo has some value from the blue line.

Habs take scoring on the road: The Montreal Canadiens' offense gets a progressively better rating in each of three away matchups, culminating with a 10 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a great excuse to slide Andrei Kostitsyn into your lineup and hopefully leave him there. Playing on the first line has lit a fire under the Belarusian, with seven of his nine goals this season coming in the past seven games.

Defensive highlights

Miller good for three of four games: Be wary of the fact that sitting in the middle of a solidly rated Forecaster week for the Buffalo Sabres defense is a lousy matchup with the Washington Capitals. With the type of numbers Ryan Miller is putting up this season, it's difficult for a team to bend the Sabres' defensive forecast calculation too far below average, but the Caps have the firepower to make a three out of them. Miller will dominate against the Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Blues, but the game with the Caps is trouble.

Boucher an option for wins: The Flyers have a good winning forecast for the week, and Brian Boucher is a cheap option to get some wins. You might have to settle with a 3.50 goals-against average to get them, but Boucher could win three games. The Flyers match up very well in games against the Panthers, Hurricanes and Islanders, and are even a half-decent bet against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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.