In going through some of the statistics from the past 21 days as I prepared this week's Forecaster, one of the most shocking numbers I've seen in a while jumped off the screen. As a team over the past three weeks (nine games), the New York Islanders have a collective 3.8 shooting percentage. Just 10 of the 263 pucks the Isles have sent toward an opponent's net have gone in during that time frame. That's terrible.
To put the number into context, most teams hang around the 8 to 9 percent mark for the season, with the poor teams dipping to 7 percent and the good teams rising to 11 percent. In fact, for the season the Isles have a 7.6 shooting percentage, so to sustain 3.8 percent over a three-week period is sufficiently impressive (in a terrible way).
It's no wonder coach Scott Gordon was let go to shake things up (by the way, headline writers, making a "Survivor" reference would have been funny 10 years ago, but it is not now).
Now, one cannot expect interim coach Jack Capuano to suddenly transform the players' ability to find the back of the net. But whether the man behind the bench changed or not, a 3.8 shooting percentage was going to trend back up sooner than later. It's just too extreme.
Why should you care if the Islanders have been a wasteland? Because this team is loaded to a fault with offensive talent. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp all have the potential to be a point-per-game player. Blake Comeau, Frans Nielsen and Matt Moulson are all stars by association if they play next to a motivated linemate. Even Doug Weight will contribute to fantasy owners if this team can turn its fortunes around.
Capuano comes from the Isles' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, where he collected a winning record, but so much negative momentum may take some time to turn around. But that glimmer of hope still exists if you can simply recall the optimism surrounding the first few weeks. James Wisniewski had 11 points through the team's first nine games (of which he missed two) before things went sour. Over those nine games guys like P.A. Parenteau (eight points), Weight (eight points) and Moulson (eight points) all looked like sleeper picks.
But I am here to say that they can be sleeper picks once more. Not only the coaching change is new, but Schremp is still getting his game legs back from knee surgery (he's played just four games) and Okposo is still due back in December. There are enough catalysts available to help get the Islanders playing good hockey again during the next couple of weeks.
Here is where you can start benefiting from a fantasy perspective: Quietly collect an Islander or two for minimal cost now and have a solid performer for the final four months of the season. Tavares and Wisniewski remain in good standing with fantasy owners and have 100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues, but that doesn't mean you can't send an extremely lowball trade offer at this point. It's hard for one to get offended when they realize Tavares is minus-11 over his past 10 games.
The interesting part here is that outside of Tavares and Wisniewski, not a single Islanders skater is owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. This is where you can start prospecting with the free-agent pile before things actually get better on Long Island. For shallow leagues, I wouldn't look much further than the availability of Okposo and Moulson. That is the pair with the best history with Tavares.
For deeper leagues, there is a laundry list of options, but to keep it simple I'd look at Schremp because of his potential and strong ending to last season, Bailey is going to be a regular contributor at some point this season and Comeau can be the consummate linemate if given the right situation. Feel free to choose your own favorites, as a solid argument can be made for Nielsen, Weight and even the speedy Michael Grabner.
I guess the nice part about the current sad state of affairs for the Isles is that they have been so bad that the statistics all but guarantee a significant improvement on the horizon. Of course, you can still slow play your Islanders hand thanks to a light week on the horizon with only two games for the team.
"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.
Beware the Pens' rating: The Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the better defensive ratings on the week, which is fuelled by a pair of road games to begin the week against the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers that rate a perfect 10 on the Forecaster. Here's where things can get tricky. That 10 rating is thanks to the Penguins' road stats from this season and the Penguins' road stats from this season are made better by Brent Johnson's sparkling 1.51 goals-against average and .947 save percentage on the road. Trouble is, it appears Marc-Andre Fleury has found his mojo and is being allowed to work out the kinks he began the season with through consistent starts. So if he is in net for those contests, his 3.38 GAA on the road is hardly as favorable.
Ride the Lightning: Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis may actually spontaneously combust if they continue to keep up the pace they are setting. A four-game week on tap offers the opportunity to skate away with some peripheral Lightning in your lineup. Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone join Stamkos and St. Louis as forwards on the Bolts' first power-play unit and both are intriguing for the week ahead, but if you just want the best pick regardless of position look to Brett Clark. The defenseman has taken over as the top power-play quarterback for the Lightning and he has four points in four games to show for it. You will have to stomach a poor plus/minus to use him, though.
Sharks secondary bite: The best line of the past week has been the San Jose Sharks' second unit. Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture have combined for 21 points over the past four games. That is no small feat. Pavelski and Clowe are not available, but the Couture train has been slow to leave the station and there is plenty of time to climb aboard.
Ease Anderson back: Yes, Peter Budaj has been a top-five fantasy goaltender over the past two weeks, but the joyride is ending. Craig Anderson is being activated this weekend and will resume his duties as the starting goaltender in the vast majority of the Avalanche's contests. However, the Colorado Avalanche have one of the weakest defensive ratings for the week ahead with games against the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild that look troubling. There may be value to be had from Anderson in the contest against the Edmonton Oilers midweek, but given the context of the week as a whole, you may want to hesitate with activating him in the fantasy realm.
Andy McDonald is catching fire for the St. Louis Blues. Although he seems to be doing it without his linemates. McDonald has seven points in the past three games, while David Backes has three and Brad Boyes has just four. It looks like Marian Gaborik has enough in the tank to pull his linemates up by their bootstraps. Erik Christensen and Alexander Frolov suddenly look fantasy relevant since Gabby's return. Nazem Kadri is starting to make some noise for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since earning a promotion to the NHL, the rookie has three points in three games. He is on a line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, which could only mean good things to come. David Jones continues to excel as the third member of the Avalanche's top line with Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart. He's definitely a solid pickup. Watch the Dallas Stars' second line. Brandon Segal was given the opportunity to wing Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow instead of Jamie Benn this week. The Mike Modano, Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary line remains hot and remains an option for fantasy owners.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here